Banner featuring the characters Daniil Dankovsky [Pathologic], Alma Wade [F.E.A.R], Dj Scully [Killing Floor], Maria [Silent Hill 2], and Rei Kurosawa [Fatal Frame 3: The Tormented]

Cover of Pathologic 2005


Pathologic is a 2005 role-playing survival game from Russian developer team Ice-Pick Lodge. Set in the small Town on the Gorkhon River [Town on Gorkhon], you play as one of three healers, Daniil Dankovsky [The Bachelor], Artemy Burakh [The Haruspex], and Clara [The Changeling] during a mysterious plague that breaks out within the town's boundaries. Players must manage daily quests, rising prices in stores for rations, their failing immunity to the plague, looters in the streets, and select groups of people they must protect [labeled 'The Bound']. The longer the two weeks go on, the worse the plague and its spread gets, and more and more hints that this is not just a simple sickness begin to arise. A kickstarter was launched in 2014, aimed at remaking and retelling the 2005 original. With its funding secure later, and retranslation of the 2005 game in 2015, and a new publishing company at their side, Ice-Pick Lodge release Pathologic 2 in 2019. The premise remains the same, only the characterizations, gameplay, and set dressing have changed, allowing for a fresh experience in the harsh and brutal Town on the Gorkhon River.

Cover of Pathologic 2 Where do I even begin with this game? I picked the re-translation up in late 2019 and fell in love with the miserable little game. The setting charmed me, the characters entertained me, the mystery vexed me, the music in this fucking slaps, each route left me wanting more. I found myself with a distinct fondness for our lovely Bachelor Dankovsky [which I'm sure you can tell] and I just couldn't get enough of the damn thing. I also caught a flu midway through the Bachelor's route, which I still find funny, both Daniil and I were just properly miserable. The 2015 and 2005 games definitely show their age, there's no denying that, but there really is something about these games that people just seem to miss. There's definitely a small cult following around the original, but not near as much as it deserves. I think of this game, and it's... sequel? remake? retelling? all of the above all the time. I grew up in a small town, so ToG felt like a strange home away from home, with practices that, if you didn't grow up with, may just seem wholly bizarre. This may not be a game you enjoy, may be too harsh and hey, that's cool! But it's a game for me and my god I will expose everyone I know to it in some way, shape, or form. There's going to be other Ice-Pick Lodge games on this list, I really do think I just enjoy them as developers, but this will keep the title as my favorite. I finished both games chewing my nails hoping that everything was fine for everyone after. Kept hoping that maybe. just maybe. Something good would happen to every person I cared for, that somehow, even in the endings where the town is lost, that some small piece of it would survive and live on. And, after thinking on it for a while, I realize that is the case. In me. Because at the end of the day, I go on, and I take pieces of this game with me.

Cover of Darkest Dungeon 1

Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon is a challenging roguelike turnbased role-playing game about the psychological stresses of adventuring. You collect heroes from the stagecoach and essentially throw them at enemy after enemy until the die, or succeed. You are in charge of their stress, health, and items. You also manage a Hamlet between adventures. Darkest Dungeon relies on cosmic and closer to home horrors to try and tear the player down. And you're in charge on how much it manages to do so.

I like games that are very painful. Darkest Dungeon is just one of those. Shit world full of shit people trying to stop even shittier things from happening to it. You're not playing a specific character [some unnamed 'Heir' who doesn't have a model and by all accounts doesn't actually exist lol] but you do manage a team of mercenaries that have pulled up to your shitty little Hamlet. What's good about this game? Well, the art for starters. Darkest Dungeon's artstyle harkens back to the Hellboy comics and it works for the setting! The dark and dirty atmosphere is lended to by thick inks and messy color splotches in the color. It's just an incredibly oppresive game. It also rules. Micromanaging stress and hunger, heartattacks and diseases? Fantastic. Character dies? Oh well, check the stagecoach and try again. This game helped me make one of my favorite ocs [shoutout to Rose] and so it'll always have a special place in my hearth. The music also rules thank you Chatwood.

Cover of Deus Ex Human Revolution

Deus Ex

Futuristic cyberpunk game. This is a role-playing series about multiple augmented men trying to discover the dark secrets lurking behind every scrap of information they find in even the smallest of corners. Yes. This is the "illuminati did it" game. Deus Ex [the original] starts J.C Denton, while the sequels [that are actually prequels!] feature Adam Jensen.

This game series has a lot of conspiracy theories in it. So much so the original creator no longer feels comfortable making more due to the world's currently climate regarding them. Kinda wild if you think about it. Each game does feature the Illuminati [and both protagonists point out how ridiculous this sounds] and they're honestly? Just really fun. If you like games that let you rip apart someone's room and read their emails and steal all their shit you're gonna like this game. It's got its bad beats, the way augmented people are treated in Mankind Divided can be a little. Much. But the games are fun, you can sneak practically everywhere. And if you so choose, you can pacifist your way through all three games [kind of. Human Revolution requires you kill bosses, but 1 and Mankind Divided gracefully allow you to spare even the roughest of enemies]. It's also just funny how some of the dialogue in this game reads. "[Completely Deadpan] Yea, R.I.P." "I never asked for this." "[After someone's father died] What a shame." "Check the attitude, Doc. I nearly died trying to save you." Denton and Jensen are unintentionally fucking hilarious.

Cover of Silent Hill 3

Silent Hill

Eerie foggy town with janky combat. Play an everyman protagonist and witness horrific nightmares while trying to discover something deeper about yourself, or about someone else. The combat in this game sucks like mad but also feels incredibly fitting seeing as most of these people are literally Just Some Guy. Some of the coolest monster designs this side of the CD-Rom. Konami sucks.

I looooove the Team Silent developed games in this series. My controversial opinion about this is that I think 4 is actually good! A lot of people are on the fence about it, but I think it was a good book end. The first game's town focused more on Alessa and her trauma, and the last focused on Walter and his trauma. It just feels like a nice parallel and a good way to wrap up the series. Now, my personal favorite is 3. While 2 is definitely the best written one, and the one easiest to get into, as you need a bit of the backstory of 1 to understand 3 better [not entirely, but it helps!], 3 is still just, really good. The detail in this game is really something else. The animated textures on some of the walls? Holy shit. The voice acting has an off cadence that really just adds to the eerieness of the series. The whole world just feels a bit off. You can tell this series was very inspired by Twin Peaks' oddities. Team Silent was considered the 'weakest link' of Konami, but I think Silent Hill is the perfect example of how sometimes, you just need to let a creative team go and work on something that interests them.

Cover of The Void

The Void

Wake up, Yellow Eyes, The Void is fucked. Try to gather this mysterious substance called Color and make life bloom in The Void once more. Pick a Sister, send her to the surface, and let her birth a world we'll all be proud of, or will tremble at the thought of.

This game is a dream. I really think IPL might be my favorite small developer at this point. The scenery of this game is completely nightmare-ish, with confusing layouts, impossible landscapes, oppressive atmospheres. Every bit of this game is tinged in sorrow, like the entire Void is in mourning of the loss of Color and the inevitability of death. This world is dead, even with you reviving the gardens, it feels like you're just fighting against a lost cause. You're too late, and every piece of the game wants you to know it is your fault that the world is like this. I love the Sisters, each one has a unique fashion sense and color palette. Their rooms are all so intricately designed to fit with the mood each of them align with. The Brothers, however, are notably very gruesome, it's awesome. Melancholy and sad, this game feels like a dream you wake up from feeling sad. Like you dreamt about someone you failed in the past, even after you send a Sister to the surface. The music in this game is also both catchy as all hell, and sad as shit. There's a LOT of really good easter eggs in this game too. I see you, Pathologic herb room and sandbox. Ole's loft will always give me Daniil vibes. Idk why but I half expect him to be her roommate, lol. Depressed Duos.

Cover of Know By Heart

Know by Heart

An upcoming birthday brings childhood friends back to an old town long after they'd parted ways. Masha, the player character, spends time rebonding, relearning a lost love, and rediscovering old grudges he thought he left in the past. The game is a short, heartfelt, heartbreaking, adventure of love found, and love lost.

Remember when I said I like games that are painful? This one is also very painful. It starts out just a wonderful meetup of childhood friends, reconnecting over memories and pictures as the birthday of a deeply cherished family member approaches. Then, an outbreak occurs. A sickness that robs you of any and all memory of family and friends. It picks off important players in your life one by one, and you know that inevitably, it will all come crashing down, no matter how hard you try and fight it. Let me be honest here, I have some form of ADHD, and most people with ADHD know that sometimes it comes with some pretty fucked memory loss. This game really hit home for me, seeing pictures of your friends late game and knowing that they suddenly no longer recognize you slinging your arm over their shoulder? That they no longer remembered your old stomping grounds together? Fights? Make-ups? Hangouts? The jealousy you help because you both crushed on the same girl at a point? Cracking open a yearbook to realize you didn't know who you were looking at, despite how much they were smiling at you? Yea. This game broke me. You can try, you can really try to change the outcome, but no matter what the sickness takes your friends, and you. The only choice you're left with is that of abandoning your hometown you no longer recognize, or remaining miserable, an outcast, within a place you once called your home. I've gotten both endings, hunted down countless memories, trying to somehow, somehow make a change between Asya and Masha. But sometimes life is just like that, connections fade, and people you know sometimes just no longer recognize you.

Cover of F.E.A.R


F.E.A.R is a first person shooter about a guy who can make combat go slow with his mind. You know this game if you know anything about first person shooters. Kind of The First Person Shooter of the 00s. Paranormal spooky girl, mute protagonist, geometry is still mostly squares because we haven't quite figured out how to model anything that isn't a box, cannibal antagonist who smacks you with a wooden plank upon first encounter. The works.

This game turned me into a crazy person. This is my first shooter. I bought it at fucking Wal-Mart after my brother played a bit of it forever ago. I loved this ugly thing. With its fantastic for its time lighting, slow-mo enhanced combat, wild blood explosion upon shotgun blasts. And Alma. Clearly a reference to The Ring Alma. I'm not gonna lie being on the 'weird little girl to weird little man' pipeline I have a lot of affection for weird girls in video games and Alma is like a staple for the genre. Psychic powers? Check. Constant blood-stained feet? Check. Need to rip apart anyone she feels has wronged her? You know it. Being like 11 at the time [yea I know. Don't play adult games when you're little!] I was like oh man. I want to lift people in the air and throw them around. That's cool. You can't go wrong with telekinetic characters man, you really can't. She's also sympathetic. A science experiment who was seperated from her children as a teen, you can't help but feel bad for her. So yea, blow up scientists, Alma, why the fuck not. My most controversial opinion is that I like the expansion packs for this game [Perseus Mandate and Extraction Point] and I also like F.E.A.R 2 [this is a bad game, you should not play it!] there's just something about the apocalyptic scenery in F.E.A.R 2 that I like especially since this game came out during the brown tinted shooter era, it still managed to have color while making its color-less scenes make sense. Of course the city is brown now. F.E.A.R protagonist Pointman decided to blow a facility to kingdom come. Things just happen like that.

Cover of The Path

The Path

The Path is simple, pick a girl to go to Grandma's house, stay on the path. Or don't, and wander off to explore the vast woods. Who knows? You may find something else you're looking for.

This game is what set me on the IPL path despite not being made by IPL. This is peak jank nonsense art game. The devs have even interacted on twitter! I did not realize how close I was to getting into Pathologic at like 14. That would have been a nightmare. I would have been the most insufferable dude on planet Earth. I would have become a filmbro early. Scary. What is happening in this game. Various Red riding hoods get sent to Grandma's house, with the simple rule, don't stray from the path. It kinda bugs me seeing how the only theories on this game focus around sexual assault, like many of the ones for Yume Nikki do. Like, is that all we got in the theory department? X character has been sexually assaulted in the past? Real clever and original, guys. I personally see this game as a metaphor for growing up, and how as you grow up, you run into 'betrayals' within the lesson's you learn. Each of the riding hoods has an encounter with something they enjoy, something they've enjoyed, thinking it will always be safe for them only to find it's not so. Robin plays with a literal werewolf, makes sense, she's a small child obsessed with wild animals, her betrayal is that of a wild animal biting her while out in the woods. Rose is poetically fascinated with water and its dangers, wanders onto a boat alone, falls into the lake, nearly drowns. Ginger is a tomboy, loves being out and basking in the joys of youth, and her world [the girl in red] comes, it's pretty obvious with the barbed wire injury, she's reached puberty, and is suffering heavy dysphoria and stress because of it. The list goes on, but it's neat. I've come up with my own theory that each of the girls are stages of life the Grandma went through, and on her death bed, as the girl in white comes to take her away [as I see her as death] she reminices on her past.

Cover of Fatal Frame: Crimson Butterfly

Fatal Frame

Photography has never been so stressful. Fatal Frame [also called Project Zero] is about different villages being plagued by various supernatural curses. The only way to keep them away? Snapping pictures as they reach for you. Your goal in each game is to break whatever curse is holding the spirits to the world. And to not wind up strangled by an angry ghost hiding in a box.

Games you play with friends sitting next to you so you all shit yourselves over spooky ghosts. This game series, specifically the first three, were PEAK ps2 era spooky games. You idle for too long? Ghosts start haunting the screen. There's hidden ghosts all over this thing, as if the cds themselves are haunted. The game premises are pretty similar, strange village, scary rituals, something goes horribly wrong, town winds up a mess of angry ghosts eager to get at you. I think 2 and 3 are my favorites, sporting the best stories, tightest mechanics, and spookiest ghosts. I have a fondness for 4, the one that never made it to the west, because of its art style, and the attempt at making a game for the Wii [though I admit I emulated it, lol]. The sound design in this game is incredible, with every ghost having their own grunts and groans, the ways the scenic sound design plays into the environment is also phenomenal. The sliding doors and footsteps in particular just always make me smile :) I love how they sound. The atmosphere is AMAZING and the environments are all incredibly detailed, making the villages feel like real places, no matter what game they're in. The ghost designs are also just. Totally fascinating. Many are based on Japanese mythos, and almost all of the major ones have extensive backstories, journals to read, crystals to listen to, families to learn more about, roles in the villages, houses to search. Every single ghost feels real, they feel real, they feel angry, they feel trapped.

Cover of Resident Evil 2

Resident Evil

Resident Evil. You know Resident Evil. If you've played a zombie game within the past 25 years you've probably played Resident Evil. A horror game isn't a true horror game if it doesn't reference this series. How do you even sum it up? Virus breaks out in [insert location here] and one of the typical Capcom protagonists [Jill/Leon/Chris/Claire/Ethan] get dropped into the mess to deal with it. It's zombies. It's puzzles. It's guns everywhere. It's spraying yourself with herbs so you don't die. It's Resident Evil.

RESIDENT EVIL. This game series is fantastic and dogshit. Revelations 1 and 2 fucking rule and if you haven't played them yet please do. Capcom loves never using characters they introduce. Leon Kennedy makes me want to blow something up but if anything killed him I'd be upset. Capcom doesn't use Jill or Claire or Ada enough. Chris needs to die but he doesn't. I don't think anyone actually likes Ethan Winters, I think you're all playing a prank on me.The remakes of the games are so gorgeous it's honestly astounding. If Capcom doesn't remake Outbreak 1 and 2 I'll cry.

Button featuring image of Grandma's House from The Path. The Text says: Return Home?