Goblins and ghouls and zombies, oh my! Halloween's become a $3.3 billion holiday, according to the National Retail Federation, and gamemakers don't want to be left out in the ectoplasmic cold. While there's no super-scary game like "Resident Evil 4" this year, there are enough offerings to give you the same heart-thumping terror and suspense I found in movies such as "Saw" and "The Off Season."
•Stubbs The Zombie (Aspyr, PC, Xbox, Mac)
Stubbs is clearly the best game in the genre this year. The Mature-rated game mixes the mechanics of "Halo" with a twist that recalls a bit of "Destroy All Humans!" (another great game, released earlier in the year). Here you'll attack humans in the futuristic Stepford-like town of Punch Bowl using everything from your severed head to your own zombie gas. The whole game, from the way characters move to the soundtrack to the imaginative story, is full of top-notch humor, camp and horror.
•Evil Dead: Regeneration (THQ, PS2, Xbox)
Inspired by Sam Raimi's zombie movies and employing the voice of B-movie icon Bruce Campbell, the Mature-rated "Regeneration" is full of the movie series' cheesy humor. Plus, lead character Ash wields one powerful chainsaw to rip through zombies. Yet it suffers from an imperfect targeting mechanism and, sadly, truly innovative gameplay and story. However, if you're a fan of the "Evil Dead" franchise, you'll appreciate this one.
•The Suffering: Ties That Bind (Midway, PS2, Xbox, PC)
The followup to one of last year's creepier Mature-rated games is somewhat disappointing this time around. In this sequel, insane criminal Torque leaves the penitentiary to find a spine-chilling city filled with monsters. While eeriness abounds, the violence and cussing seem cliche. And the graphics aren't that great, even on the Xbox. It's scary that this game didn't get the time it deserves in development.
•Death Jr. (Konami)
This platformer for the PSP, based on a comic book of the same name, is about the travails of a young, sickle-wielding grim reaper trying to save his oddball pals. While the opening movie is intense graphically and story-wise with a humorous Addams Family feel, the game itself tends to get repetitive.
•MediEvil Resurrection (Sony)
Fans of the first PlayStation loved this game whose graphics I always thought were inspired by Tim Burton's "Nightmare Before Christmas." While this game for the PSP doesn't feel that much different from the original, it's been fattened up. For instance, protagonist Sir Daniel Fortesque has 200 moves with which to whomp the various spirits and creeps that keep him from battling the evil sorcerer Zarok.
Deep within this first-person shooter for the PC are ghosts - weird ones. The way they come at you from out of the blue is presented in a way that's as horrific and suspenseful as, say, "Ghost Story." While the military aspects are cliche and the industrial "Doom"-like environs could be far more varied, there's no doubt about it: "F.E.A.R." screams with horror.
•Castlevania: Dawn Of Sorrow (Konami)
Even though it's a 2-D game for the DS, this vampire hunting offering starring Soma Cruz is so full of adventure, varied weapons, RPG elements and inventive fiends, it's one of the better additions to the Castlevania series. There's even a mode in which you become an all powerful, pretty darn ugly super demon. Plus, you can cast spells with the DS' touchscreen.
•Far Cry Instincts (UbiSoft)
While this isn't precisely a Halloween monster game, the Xbox version has much of the tension and unseen horror that's found in the hit TV series "Lost." It's not the same twisted plot, but the mad scientist and weird island elements combined with a fair amount of apprehension make this choice perfect for those who like terror and stealth games.
Harold Goldberg has written about games for Entertainment Weekly, Wired and The Village Voice. He is co-author of the bestselling book, "My Life Among The Serial Killers." You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.