'Tis Halloween, when ghosts and ghouls come out to play, and when Epic Games shoves a new batch of freebies onto its store because it's also Thursday. But what's this! Today's releases - SOMA and Costume Quest - are a spooky lot, as befitting of the season.
SOMA, of course, is developer Frictional Games sci-fi-hued follow-up to acclaimed horror, Amnesia: The Dark Descent. This time around, Lovecraft-inspired scares make way for something rather more philosophical, but no less unsettling, with SOMA ruminating on the nature of identity as it lurches deep beneath the waves.
Mostly its journey is one of richly atmospheric, and frequently claustrophobic exploration, although SOMA's impeccably handled narrative is occasionally interrupted by shambling terrors, almost always wishing to give chase. These tend to be SOMA's weakest moments, as frustrating as they are uninspired. Thankfully though, Frictional has added an optional Safe Mode since launch, easing the pain of these encounters.
"While the themes being explored are far from new to science fiction," said Eurogamer contributor Dan Whitehead in his Recommended review, "this game puts a unique spin on them and uses your own first-person involvement in the tale to build and deliver a killer payoff."
"That Frictional has been able to take such an over-used concept as exploring an abandoned research base, populated by bloody corpses and monsters, and turn it into a sombre philosophical adventure that is also exciting and even funny, is quite the achievement," he concluded, "It may not move the genre forwards much in terms of mechanics, but it spins a story you'll be glad to have experienced."
As for Epic's second free offering of the week, Costume Quest is about as seasonally appropriate as they come, sending players trick-or-treating on a particularly perilous Halloween night. Developed by Double Fine, it's a wonderfully warm-hearted blast of autumnal nostalgia, blending neighbourhood exploration with turn-based combat, in which its young protagonists become towering versions of their Halloween costumes.
"There's a genuine, childlike thrill to witnessing the transformations: a tinfoil hat, large sheet and feather duster make for a perfect home-made Statue of Liberty," wrote Eurogamer contributor Chris Schilling in his 8/10 review, "and while the charmingly simplistic art style - halfway between Fairytale Fights and Animal Crossing - doesn't show off the sticky tape, the loose threads and the crinkles in the foil, you know they're there.
"Like Psychonauts before it, Costume Quest presents a world that deserves to be savoured as well as saved. It's another delightful look into the minds of children; a window into their vivid imaginations, and the wonderful places their ideas and dreams can take them - and you."
Both games will be free on the Epic Store until 7th November, whereupon Ruiner and Nuclear Throne will pop on their freebie hats and take their place.