My 2016 Game of the Year

This year, I’ve decided to post a few of the highlights I’ve come across in 2016 to share with you all. They won’t necessarily be things published or released this year, but will all be relatively recent works that I – at least – discovered in 2016.

 

While SOMA came out in 2015, I played it over the winter and completed it in 2016.

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Suffering from brain damage after a car crash, Simon Jarrett agrees to an experiment brain-scan. Blacking out half way through, he wakes to find himself in a seemingly abandoned deep sea research facility in the year 2104. What follows, as Simon tries to work out what has happened, is a terrifying exploration of the nature of the human soul and the sense of self.

This is one of those games you irritatingly can’t say much about in a review for fear of giving too much away. Half the appeal of SOMA is the experience of playing and discovering the story for yourself.

If you’ve played any of the Amnesia series of games, then you’ll have an idea of the gameplay. But SOMA is a massive step up in terms of story and voice acting. This is a story-driven, survival horror game, so you’re not going to be battling monsters. Rather, you’ll be running from them, helpless, as you solve puzzles and try to work out what the hell is going on. But as you creep or spirit through the game world you discover a plot that’s both depressing and fascinating. It will make you really think about who “you” are, and then leave you in a deep, existential mire.

Honestly, when I finished this game I lay awake at night with an honest to god existential crisis. It will make you question your very existence.

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I wouldn’t exactly call this a “fun” game, although I don’t want to give the wrong impression from that statement. What I mean is, this isn’t something you throw on after a stressful day at work when you just want to switch your brain off for some mindless entertainment. You’re going to have to think through this one. Not because it’s especially hard, but because the story is so smart and thought provoking that you will need to pay attention to get all the benefit. But don’t worry, it’s so well written and perfectly balanced that it never feels like a chore to do so.

I would say the better descriptions for this are “rewarding” and “satisfying”, rather than “fun”. But, damn, is it both of those in spades.

 

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Yes, it’s finally here. Whether you were out partying all costumed and made up, or curled up at home with a scary movie I hope you all have a great weekend.

And so what have I picked for this, the final day of my Halloween Countdown. It’s a little different to the other entries. It’s also not new. The first episodes of this series have to be at least a decade old now. But if you’re looking for something to creep and unsettle you this Halloween, to get under your skin and truly leave an impression of dread, then you’re not going to find anything better than David Firth’s Salad Fingers.

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I know a lot of you will have seen these videos before. Like I said, they’ve been out some time now. Firth’s animations are pretty famous, or at least cult, in the social groups in which I count myself as a member. Whether, like me, you absolutely love them, or if you watched them once and swore never again, if you were around the internet ten years ago you would have run into David Firth.

So why pick Salad Fingers? Because horror isn’t all about jump scares, and it’s not all about being situations you can picture yourself in. Horror can creep under your skin and make you physically uncomfortable. Images and sounds crawling from the twisted nightmares of childhood. This is what David Firth creates. I’ve never found anyone who’s been able to get under my skin quite so well. He use of sound and images gives his work such texture that you can almost feel the videos as much as see them.

So get over to his channel, take an hour and watch your way through all 10 episodes. You can do it in one sitting if you like – I would – or you can also find the individual episodes as well if you feel the need to space them out.

Enjoy. And Happy Halloween!

 

Also, if you’re interested, the Film Theorist did a very interesting couple of videos (here and here) looking into the meanings behind this series that I never considered where there. Once you’ve watched the originals, I recommend giving these a watch as well.)

Halloween Countdown: 1 Day

Okay, we have a slight discrepancy in the countdown. I’m sure some of you have noticed – though no one mentioned it, so maybe not – that I’ve had my numbers a little off. You may have thought at this point we had 2 whole days left. But we were wrong. We only have today and then the big day is here!

Today I thought we’d look to the future, and the next big holiday season. So with that in mind, I have one more entry from Liam Banks; Season’s Greetings.

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The corruption of childhood ideals and beliefs lends itself strongly to horror. The fairytale fantasy that is Christmas gives such a strong vein for horror to tap into.From a modern, adult sensibility, the idea of a someone keeping a watch on you all year round and then slipping into your bedroom while you sleep is a rather unsettling one. I’m always surprised there isn’t more of it out there.

And don’t forget to download your free copy of The Serpent’s Eye from Amazon while you still can. The offer only lasts until tomorrow night.

Halloween Countdown: 4 Days

Can there only be 4 days left to go? 4 days until Halloween is upon us once again?

And as we’re so close I think it’s time to move away from jump scares and quick shocks and share with you something a little more… creepy. A tad more Twilight Zone-eque, if you will.

I present to you Closet Space.

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It’s also the final entry on this list from David S. Sandberg. Yes, I know, I’ve talked about how much I love his work already, but I think I haven’t yet mentioned his actress/collaborator/wife Lotta Losten. One thing that researching for this list has shown me is that acting in horror shorts is apparently hard to do convincingly. There are a lot of videos out there where the main actor comes across as not scared or far too scared than the situation warrants. Losten always comes across naturally, in a way you would expect in these situations. And she gets more do in this film, with more agency than just being simply cornered and scared.

 

And don’t forget, from now until Halloween night you can get your hands on a free copy of The Serpent’s Eye  over at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Grab this Halloween Special Offer while you can!

Halloween Countdown: 5 Days

We’re getting close now. Just 5 more days to go.

Or possibly less, if you happen to run into Mr. Creek.

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While there’s nothing particularly ground breaking about this film, it’s a solid example of the fundamentals of a horror short film done exactly right. Every aspect is used perfectly. Music, sound effect, creepy nursery rhyme, acting, briefest glimpses of the monster? Check, check and check.

It kind of feels like this should come in the middle of a longer piece. It has the feel of part of a larger story. Possibly the end of the prologue or the first act. It very much has a Babadook vibe going for it, which is definitely a good thing.

A genuinely creepy video, it’ll make you jump even if you’re expecting it.

 

But that’s not all I have for you today. Oh no. To coincide with the Halloween Countdown 2016, the e-book of The Serpent’s Eye is available free from Amazon from now until midnight on Halloween. If you haven’t got your copy already, head over there now to download a tale of creeping madness and incomprehensible fears.

And of course, if you prefer, the paperback version is available for purchase as well.

All I ask in return is a review on Amazon or Goodreads. I always like to hear what you all think, and it honestly helps me no end.

Halloween Countdown: 8 Days

With just 8 days left on the Halloween Countdown, I bring you another short from the annoyingly talented David F. Sandberg; Attic Panic.

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Sandberg’s work just stands out for me of all the short films I’m seeing. He has a pitch-perfect sense of exactly where sound and effects need to be placed to create an atmospheric haunt. He doesn’t fall for the all too common trap of believing music cues can replace craftsmanship, or using generic horror imagery. (It’s amazing how many people still think a girl with long tangle hair hanging in front of her face is scary). He simply comes up with a simple idea and puts together a quick, slick, eerie film.

I mean, he actually manages to make the traditional person-with-a-sheet-over-their-head ghost costume genuinely creepy.

My only issue with this film is that the setting doesn’t look anything like an attic to me. But that’s not enough to put me off. It might well be his attic. Maybe attics in Sweden have cages. Who am I to judge?

Halloween Countdown: 9 days

We have 9 days left in our Halloween Countdown, and as it’s a Sunday and we all hopefully have a little more free time today I thought I’d suggest something a little longer; Vicious by Oliver Park.

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There’s so much going on in these 13 minutes, but without any superfluous padding or spelling out of the story. A girl comes home one night to find her front door open. After a search of the house turns up nothing she settles down to sleep, only to be woken first by nightmares, and then something more.

I was surprised by this one. I usually find that the ideal length of short horror films is between 3 and 6 minutes or so. Once they go over that length they tend to lose the tension. Either the core idea gets flabby and the audience loses interest, or it just feels like there is too much going on and they need more time to set every up.

A lot of this goes to Rachel Winters, who manages to pull off the exact balance of terror and proactivity needed to keep us. Another cardinal sin I’ve noticed over and over again researching this list is characters acting scared because they are supposed to, but when there is no reason for them to. (Note to directors, a call coming in with a blocked number at night isn’t scary in itself. Stop thinking it is). Here, the protagonist acts far more like someone might actually react in the situation, rather than acting scared because the film requires it.

So make yourself a cup of tea, turn out the lights and give it a watch.

Halloween Countdown: 11 Days

11 days to go in my Halloween Countdown, and it’s time to introduce you to ‘The Smiling Man’, from A.J. Briones

I hadn’t seen this one before doing research for the countdown. It does do the one thing that usually annoys me in horror films – both long or short – by lingering on the monster, but here they manage to make it just about work. I’ve been watching quite a few short films for this list, and so many of them fail to be effective because the director lets the camera linger on the monster. You can tell they’re so proud of the makeup – often justifiably so – that they want to show it off, but if you have time to look you realise it’s just a person in a costume.

But it can be done well. The Smiling Man itself manages to hold on to its sinister feel, despite the lingering gaze. And I do love the creepy, primeval clown motive they create.

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Halloween Countdown: 12 Days

It’s my birthday! I’m 33 years old today, with all the wisdom of those years settled like a mantle about my shoulders.And it being my birthday means that we’re only 12 days away from Halloween. So, in honour of the season, I thought we should mark the remaining days with a daily taste of horror!

Yes, it’s time for a Halloween Countdown! Each day from now until Halloween itself I will be posting up a link to a short horror movie for you all to enjoy. Something short enough to watch during a lunch break or on your way home. That way, no one will have an excuse not to sample some of the excellent horror creators out there. Come on. Live deliciously.

To start us off we have a short a lot of you will already have seen when it went viral a year or so ago; ‘Lights Out’, by the amazing David F. Sandberg. Be prepared to question whether it’s worth turning off the lights before bed tonight.

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Sandberg is the poster boy for YouTube success stories, as this short led to him being offered a deal to direct a full-length movie based on the premise of his original short. There will definitely be more of his stuff on this countdown, don’t worry.

So, switch out the lights and turn up the volume for… ‘Lights Out’