Halloween has long been an excuse to dress up, go door-to-door and beg for large quantities of candy. If you'd rather be horrified from the comfort of home, video games can provide a nerve-racking alternative to H.P. Lovecraft novels or slasher flicks starring Jason and a gang of hapless teenagers.
We looked at some recent games that'll make you think twice about playing alone in the dark, complete with a shriek meter to help you gauge the fright factor.
(Note: With one exception, all of the following games are rated "M" or "Mature." In other words, these aren't for the kiddies.)
Resident Evil 4
(Rated M, $49.99, GameCube, PS2)
Few games combine frantic action and unnerving atmosphere like "Resident Evil 4," which debuted for the Nintendo GameCube back in January but only recently arrived on the PlayStation 2. The seat-jumping frights and thrills contained within make it not only one of the best horror games, but one of the year's best, period. One round with the hulking monster El Gigante or the throngs of possessed locals is proof that few things are as much fun as being scared out of your wits. An undeniable 10 out of 10 on the shriek meter, so proceed with caution.
The Suffering: Ties That Bind
(Rated M, $49.99, PS2, Xbox, PC)
Torque returns in this blood-soaked action sequel to last year's "The Suffering" as a man with a dual personality and some serious anger management issues. After a while, my head was spinning from all the flashbacks and demonic visions, but slicing and shooting hordes of hellbent "malefactors" was sadistic fun. You'll even have some say about how evil you end up becoming: your choices affect the outcome of the game, so it's not always necessarily a good idea to kill everything and everyone in sight. I don't know if it's the dank urban setting or the menagerie of freaky beasts, but this is one vision of horror that's still stuck in my mind, earning it a nine out of 10 on the shriek meter.
(Rated M, $49.99, PC)
The name of this excellent new first-person shooter pretty much speaks for itself. In F.E.A.R., short for First Encounter Assault Recon, you're an elite soldier trying to unravel the mystery behind a deadly paranormal force using (what else?) a stockpile of weapons. It manages to transcend simple gunplay, however, with many unsettling moments of terror as you traipse through dank, shadowy warehouses. Prepare to have your psyche jolted with wandering ghosts, ravaged corpses and waist-high rooms of shimmering blood. The grisly graphics are drop-dead gorgeous, provided you own a high-end computer. Eight out of 10 on the shriek meter.
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse
(Rated M, $49.99, Xbox)
Why do zombies get such a bad rap? It's not their fault their guts are spilling out and they have an insatiable appetite for human brains. "Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse" takes this notion to gory, campy extremes. This time, you're Stubbs, a traveling salesman-turned-zombie who's just trying to get by in the 1950s city of Punchbowl. Amassing an undead army composed of the human foes you've just infected is a sickeningly fun, if ultimately repetitive, thrill. Only a three out of 10 on the shriek meter due spurting guts and brains, but it makes up for the lack of scares with rampant, demented humor.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
(Rated T, $34.99, Nintendo DS)
Soma Cruz may be Dracula reincarnated, but that doesn't make him evil. At least according to "Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow," the latest title in one of video gaming's great, long-standing franchises. An action hero with a haunted destiny, Cruz must eliminate a band of evildoers jockeying to replace his kinder, gentler vision of the prince of darkness with a truly nasty one. Hacking and slashing is de rigueur in this old-school side-scroller, but what makes the game so fun are the dozens of special soul powers which allow you to summon beasts and perform powerful attacks. What scared me the most about this one? The thought that I'd eventually have to stop playing. Seven out of 10 on the shriek meter.