‘Tis the season for ghouls, ghosts, ghastly beings, and grotesque goblins to emerge from the shadows. Monsters and monstrosities threaten the sanctity of our realm with their bloodlusts and insatiable hunger. While the average person must prepare for the terrors of October, for gamers, it’s just another season. Any gamer worth their salt has already faced off against countless wretches by the time they hit their teens, making them numb to it all.
If Halloween is anything to them, it’s a time to reflect on the most horrifying (aka “best”) ghosts and ghostly encounters. The following list represents a selection of the most memorable specters across generations of gaming.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game
Sure, he’s not scary, and we’ve known Slimer since the mid-80s, but to recreate that iconic scene from Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters is an unforgettable moment in gaming. Slimer taunts the quintet during the game’s opening segment but ultimately squares off against the boys one last time in a very familiar location.
Being back in the Hotel Sedgewick throwing blasters at the oozing specter is not something we will soon forget. We just can’t help but feel bad for the Rodriguez bat mitzvah scheduled immediately after the ghostly encounter.
Despite being really good and atmospheric, The Suffering is an often-forgotten 3rd-person survival horror game. The prison setting and twisted creatures that stalk silent protagonist Torque from the shadows are the stars of the show, but there’s another piece of the puzzle that lingers patiently in the background. Dr. Killjoy is the spectral mastermind behind all the torment Torque is put through after he’s imprisoned for the murder of his wife and two sons.
The haunting psychiatrist, who bears a striking resemblance to Dr. Vannacutt (House on Haunted Hill, 1999), sets a host of horrors loose on Carnate Island to force Torque into unleashing his inner beast. Literally. Appearing as a film projection somehow makes him even spookier.
The Ghost Master
It’s always nice to be on the “scaring” side of the equation, and Sick Puppies gave us that opportunity with Ghost Master. The puzzle strategy game pits you as the titular master of spirits in control of a whole team of ghosts and sets you on a quest with a simple goal – terrify the living. Overseeing a rogue’s gallery of specters that bind to different environments and objects, the Ghost Master can manipulate the living or focus all energy on scaring them witless.
Ghost Master plays like a modern Haunting Starring Polterguy, though there’s a bit more to consider. Plasm limits how many ghosts you can bind and how many abilities you can set off, and certain ghosts can only bind to specific objects. The result is a whimsical strategy game peppered with fun, yet challenging, puzzles.
Broken Neck / Broken Neck Woman
Fatal Frame / Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
Choosing just one ghost from the rogue’s gallery of spooks in the Fatal Frame series isn’t easy. As Haunting of Hill House (2018) reminded us, however, bent-necked ghosts are always terrifying. The spooky ghoul makes herself known on multiple occasions through Fatal Frame. Though she’s far from the deadliest of specters in the game, her encounters are hard to forget.
Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly has its own version of Broken Neck known more formally has Broken Neck Woman. This iteration has no ties to the original and is far more persistent, appearing for more than four encounters. Both are equally horrifying and are sure to stick with you long after you’ve shut your console down.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
There we many key players in the Metal Gear Solid series, but Snake Eater’s The Sorrow can be considered among the most crucial. As the father of Revolver Ocelot, The Sorrow inadvertently set in motion the events of the whole series. He also happens to be one of the most memorable boss encounters of the entire series, largely because he’s dead long before the events of the game.
Depending on how you played Snake Eater, The Sorrow boss battle can either be incredibly trying or supremely simple. If you threw caution to the wind and killed everyone (and everything) you encountered, Naked Snake is forced to wade through a river of their deadly spirits. For many, it was a real lesson in the importance of showing restraint.
Haunting Starring Polterguy
It’s rare to take control of a meddlesome specter, but Haunting Starring Polterguy found a clever way for players to jump into an ethereal form. As the newly dead Polterguy, players exact devious revenge on the man responsible for the untimely passing. Vito Sardini and his family make excellent targets for mischievous poltergeist activity as you scour the home, looking for furniture and trinkets to possess.
Making inanimate objects come to life to spook the Sardini family doesn’t get old. Every possession has to be strategized to prevent depleting your ecopolasm, which results in being sent to the Underworld. Scaring the Sardini family is fun, but the platforming gameplay in the dreary Underworld is quite the opposite.
Ghost children are creepy enough on their own. Give them telekinetic powers and a desire to kill everyone in sight, and you have the stuff of nightmares. The black-haired Alma and her supernatural antics were effectively used to break up the action in Monolith Productions’ fast-paced first-person shooter F.E.A.R. The two genres hadn’t really been successfully combined yet, but F.E.A.R. proved it was possible to frighten players without overshadowing the action of a shooter.
F.E.A.R. was the perfect mix of action-packed FPS segments and slow-burn horror. In between gunning down waves of enemies, players were tormented by the ruthless spirit with jump scares and more subtle frights.
Super Mario Bros. / Luigi’s Mansion
I’m pretty sure it’s against the law to make a list of the best ghosts in gaming and leave Boo off. He started as a simple enemy of the Super Mario Bros. series, but he’s become so much more. We cuddle up to Boo plushies, eat candies from Boo containers, illuminate our desks with Boo lamps, wear Boo merchandise – you get the point.Luigi’s Mansion allowed Boo the chance to stand out as the main villain for once. Instead of being relegated to haunted mansion levels, the bulbous white specter took the spotlight form Bowser as King Boo. King Boo serves as Luigi’s foil, giving the otherwise cowardly brother a reason to step up.