What are the best horror games?
Listening to a good horror story should be able to stop your heart in its tracks one moment only to get your blood racing the next.
The best horror games, however, will have you punching your screen at the slightest sound, having an existential crisis, and leaving you with a sense of lingering dread after you’re done.
While horror stories have been around for as long as we can remember, and movies have matured during the century they’ve been around, games are a fairly new medium, with room to grow.
Having ample sources to pull from and multiple ways to convey emotion, we felt it was best to explain our ranking criteria for what we felt could earn the title of best horror game:
- Atmosphere – the ability to immerse you in its world
- Story – how the plot adds or subtracts from the overall experience
- Gameplay – the quality of its gameplay loop and the existence of an agency
- Quality horror – no jump scare only titles
While not a hard rule, we’ve avoided including multiple games of the same series as much as possible and preferred to include some of the lesser-known gems of the genre.
Note that this is a personal ranking and my tastes might not reflect your own.
The 15 Best Horror Games
Without further ado, here’s our list of the 15 best horror games:
Initial Release Date: 23 January 2018
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Developer: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
Publisher: Unknown Worlds Entertainment
To start, we’re going to stretch the definition of horror a bit and discuss what makes Subnautica a unique, and arguably terrifying experience.
Starting out you’ll be treated to a lush, vibrant, colorful environment, straight out of a tropical postcard.
The furthest thing from a horror game, right? I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong!
Subnautica is an open-world survival game with a large focus on exploration. You start off marooned on an alien planet after your ship has crash landed under mysterious circumstances. Your first moments are spent figuring out how everything works, how to feed yourself, how to not die of thirst, and getting your bearings.
Everything in the game is designed to get you to explore, to have you fulfill that basic human desire – satisfying curiosity.
While exploring, you’ll come to realize that while others have been here, you are now alone. This is one of the main driving forces behind your mission of exploration. You set off to uncover what went wrong, maybe even escape, but to do that you’ll have to venture further and dive deeper. Throughout your adventure you’ll come across all manner of wildlife, deceptively beautiful and peaceful from a distance, most won’t hesitate to defend themselves if you come too close.
From sand sharks to eels, to suicidal fish and even poisonous manatees, the waters are filled with danger.
You are the alien here, you’re the intruder on their home planet, and nothing will serve to remind you of that more than the Leviathans – giant creatures that lurk in the depths, in the unknown, you’ll know when you come across one, and learn to fear its roar. The developers have managed to create a fascinating and beautiful world while at the same time tapping into humanity’s most primal instincts and fears. Loneliness, the unknown, swimming into the deep dark only to never come out, drowning out of a lack of oxygen or becoming prey to some unseen creature lying in wait.
But what if there’s nothing down there? What if that’s where you’ll find the next piece of the puzzle and escape your watery end?
Its contrasting world is used to lure you into a false sense of security before giving you a rude awakening – every bit as deadly as it is beautiful. Subnautica might not quite fit the definition of the best horror game, but it’s sure to make you think twice about venturing into the water.
14. Alone in the Dark (1992)
Initial Release Date: 1992
Platforms: PC / DOS
It’s hard to talk about any horror titles without mentioning the granddaddy of them all, the original Alone in the Dark.
While the game’s outdated graphics might not hold up to modern standards and its gameplay can sometimes feel frustrating and unfair, we found it remarkably easy to see parts of what will become staples of the genre. There’s not a lot to say about the story.
The game asks you to pick between a male or female protagonist, regardless of who you choose to play, you’ll be tasked with finding an antique piano and navigating the haunted Derceto mansion, relying on your wits and investigation skills to get you out of trouble.
You have a limited inventory, fixed camera angles, pre-rendered backgrounds, and clunky controls, most being consequences of the hardware limitations of the time, such as the use of a window lookout, they all served to add to the eerie and tense tone of the game. There’s some actually eerie music and zombie moans, adding to an impressive atmosphere for its time. Despite it being a survival horror game, a lot of it plays out like an adventure game, searching for that one obscure item that will let you solve the puzzle and move forward.
Exploring the mansion also serves in adding to its Lovecraftian-inspired world by finding the Necronomicon in the library, or coming across notes referring to one of the game’s enemies.
At the same time, this is a game that won’t hold your hand and won’t hesitate to kill you. Powerful enemies roam the halls, and unexpected traps are prevalent and used to keep you on your toes and incentivize you to save often.
Should you still play Alone in the Dark? The enemies might look comical, and the animations and graphics dated and rigid. However, what is here, is a quality most modern games have forgotten.
Want to stop an enemy from crashing through a window? Better block that window somehow!
Sure I can fight and kill some of those zombies, but I can also puzzle my way past that encounter. The game trusts you as a player.
It trusts that you’ll not only fight but trust that you’ll think your way through as well, and it does this with the limited technology of the day while treading new ground and establishing the survival horror genre in the process.
13. Clive Barker’s Undying
Initial Release Date: 21 February 2001
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, OS X
Developer: EA Los Angeles
Publisher: EA Games
Undying is one of the action-horror genre’s most criminally unknown gems.
Written by one of the masters of horror, the titular Clive Barker, best known for movie adaptations of his books, such as Hellraiser and Candyman, the game sports an intriguing story and absolutely oozes atmosphere.
Starting off in an old Irish manor, attempting to unravel the mystery of an old family curse that’s threatening to claim your friend’s life, you play as a 1920s paranormal investigator. You end up traveling through space, time, and even other dimensions as you explore the manor, monasteries, graveyards, and fetid sewers of its world. While exploring, you soon discover things are not as they first appear.
Through almost every weapon and spell you acquire you are drip-fed tidbits of lore through which you can piece together the fate of the cursed family.
The graphics are great for the time, making use of particle effects, shadows, lighting, and animations to immerse you in its gothic horror atmosphere. You can even see the character’s mouths move as they speak! cough *From Software* cough.
Sound design however is phenomenal, serving to enhance gameplay, and never letting you fall into a sense of security. You can hear howls in the distance, the creaking of the manor, enemies lurking in the dark ready to pounce at you as well as audible cues when some hidden knowledge is near, and all distinct and eerie enough to keep you from playing with the lights on. Undying features mostly standard FPS combat, but with a twist.
A dual wield system reminiscent of Bioshock’s allows you to wield a weapon in one hand and magic in another, which all throughout the game you’ll have the chance to upgrade.
Despite the end, gathering a veritable arsenal of weapons and spells, and the game losing some of its scare factors, it’s still worth playing to this day by having a highly compelling story alongside a masterfully crafted world.
Initial Release Date: 17 October 2005
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games, Warner Bros. Games
An admittedly guilty pleasure, F.E.A.R. or First Encounter Assault Recon offers an experience few other games can match, even to this day.
Its seamless blend of John Woo movie action, Japanese horror-inspired scares, and bullet time serve to keep you on the edge of your seat and wondering what’s next. Its story has you step into the shoes of Point Man, a member of the titular First Encounter Assault Recon squad, tasked with containing paranormal events. Your mission is to find and eliminate Paxton Fettel, a rogue psychic commander in charge of an army of cloned soldiers.
As you progress through the game, Point Man starts having visions of a little girl named Alma while more and more of the backstory and your role in all of this gets revealed. While not entirely original the plot helps to lead the action along and successfully builds more and more tension as time goes on. But what good would all that built-up tension be if there was no payoff at the end? Here’s where F.E.A.R. excels.
One moment you’re shooting down an entire squad of armed soldiers, the next you’re hallucinating fire or blood dripping down from the ceiling only to wake up in an abandoned office space with no enemies, but always feeling like you could be attacked at any time.
Used as a benchmark before Crysis launched, the game was gorgeous at the time most of the atmosphere still holds up today, due in no small part to its stellar application of dynamic lighting, particles, and destructible environments and physics. Shelves come crashing down, walls get damaged and pieces start flying off, enemies’ shadows will give away their location accurately.
The AI and sound design helps immensely to add to the feeling of immersion as you’ll hear enemy chatter calling out your exact location, be it behind a wall, couch, or door. Enemies will react to changes in the environment, clamber over obstacles, crouch beneath them, attempt to flank you, or retreat when they’re in danger or alone. It all creates a fine illusion of reality that gives the game a visceral feel which carries over when the unexpected and supernatural happens.
While towards the end, you’ll be a walking arsenal, bored of office buildings, and will have caught on to its scare tactics, F.E.A.R. remains one of the most atmospheric and technically impressive first-person shooters.
It’s one great ride on a creepy carousel of action and horror and I highly recommend that you play it.
11. Layers of Fear
Initial Release Date: 16 February 2016
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Linux, OS X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Bloober Team
Psychological horror is a term that’s been tossed left and right without much weight behind it, however, Layers of Fear is proof of what the genre is capable of while taking a more hands-on approach.
A tough pick for the list, it falls in either the “love it or hate it” category. There’s not much that can be said about Layers of Fear’s plot without spoiling what makes it so great. You play the role of a painter having arrived home and ready to finish his latest masterpiece. Slowly exploring the house, you get a feel for the painter’s life, your life, and set to work.
The bulk of the gameplay involves you solving puzzles in order to progress. Most are not particularly difficult but manage to add to the nightmarish feeling of disorientation. Playing in the first person means you are the one experiencing everything and not someone else you’re looking down on. This allows for some creative perspective puzzles and has you immersed in its Winchester House ambiance.
The house is definitely its own character in the story. A decidedly Victorian-gothic aesthetic invites you to walk its eerie halls and indulge in satisfying your curiosity.
By searching for the pieces needed to complete your painting, madness will quickly begin to take hold. The house will warp and change, doors melting away in front of your eyes while other more subtle changes take place without you noticing.
It manages to feel like you’re Alice, lost down the rabbit hole, and uses its tricks for great effect. While there are jump scares in stock, they mostly seemed ineffective or predictable and served more as a distraction from the maddening, shifting rooms. One moment you walk into a room, only for the door you’ve walked through to disappear, another, you’ll turn around to discover you’re not even in the same place anymore.
It manages to instill an atmosphere of unease and confusion and have you doubting your own grasp of reality. Similar to its title, the game offers layered themes of madness, obsession, tragedy, and regret.
And despite not offering any major outright scares, it still manages to be one of the best horror games I’ve played due to its masterful representation of the madness – both visual and palpable.
10. Alan Wake
Initial Release Date: 14 May 2010
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Remedy Entertainment, Microsoft Game Studios
Alan Wake is a whirling wonder of a tale about a writer’s writing. A smorgasbord of horror and pop culture, it manages to sport a surreal, Twin Peaks-inspired world, peppered with references.
The game pays homage to everything from The Twilight Zone to Lord of the Rings, Stephen King to H.P. Lovecraft, and even their own Max Payne series, while at the same time building its own eerie world.
The storyline borrows from television presenting its content in a miniseries format spanning six episodes. Alan is a best-selling author that had been suffering from a long stretch of writer’s block, leading to his wife planning a vacation for the two in the small mountain town of Bright Falls. Shortly after arriving in town, his wife goes missing while the supernatural starts to encroach on reality. A large chunk of the story is told from pieces of a manuscript Alan finds, foreshadowing the future or retelling past events.
A clever and novel idea for a game has radio and television programs you’ll come across that add both to the story and to the atmosphere of the game. Every shadow, every sliver of darkness, is more than a cover for what goes bump in the night. Darkness is your literal enemy, covering the living, corrupting, and turning them against you. Enemies can’t be hurt without first clearing the layer of writhing, twitching darkness that clings to their bodies.
What at first might seem like a gimmicky shield mechanic, turns out to be a stroke genius. The darkness serves to visually tell the story, to set the stage, to challenge and have you facing your fears.
As enemies draw ever closer, even with a loaded weapon, you’ll feel helpless without a light source.
The light is both your weapon and your safe haven, you’ll be using your flashlight, torch flares, flare gun, and even flashbangs to stumble your way in the dark to your next save point, a spotlight, a lamp, a street light.
However to progress you’ll have to venture out of your beacon of safety, and here is where the game really *ahem* shines. While the game is mostly linear, you’re incentivized to explore as weapons, ammo, tidbits of lore, story or even comedy can be found throughout its world. With the shadows hounding you at every step, and moments of eerie quiet having you expect the worst, sighting a light in the distance becomes an immense relief and stays with you as a feeling you won’t soon forget.
Alan Wake stands out as one of the best horror games for its brilliant approach to storytelling and world-building.
Having been described by Remedy as “the mind of a psychological thriller” and “the body of a cinematic action game” put together, it’s a must-play for any horror aficionado.
9. System Shock 2
Initial Release Date: 11 August 1999
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux
Developer: Irrational Games, Looking Glass Studios
Publisher: EA Games
Released at a time when RPGs were still simulating dice rolls and FPS games were all about handing you bigger and bigger guns while on a power trip to kill the big bad, System Shock 2 innovates, merges the two and irrevocably changes the gaming landscape in ways that are being felt even today.
The story picks up after the events of the first game. The earth’s governments still reeling after near annihilation at the hands of the rogue malevolent AI, Shodan, they decide to restructure and unite as the UNN or United National Nominate. You get to play on a one-of-a-kind FTL capable ship created as a joint venture between the corporation that created Shodan and the UNN, on its way to another solar system.
Waking up out of stasis you immediately notice that something’s gone terribly wrong.
You’ve been implanted with some unknown cyber-neural interface losing all your memories, the ship is malfunctioning, and somehow the crew has been zombified. Most of the game’s story from here on out is delivered through audio logs and radio communications you’ll receive throughout the length of the game, a practice that is present today in most modern titles. When you first start, you get to choose your class, Hacker, Marine, or Psi-Ops, but the way you get to pick and choose engages you from the get-go.
The developers thought to immerse you into the story as soon as possible and use every possible moment to add to the world-building and atmosphere. You are first tasked with going through basic and advanced training by visiting separate VR rooms.
You’ll learn about inventory management, weapon types, psychic abilities, and hacking, all features you wouldn’t have thought to find in an FPS at the time and all given context and meaning in the game’s world and setting.
The theme of the game is survival, while progressively getting stronger, resources are scarce enough so you never become overpowered. Your ranged weapons degrade with use while melee weapons feel like they have palpable weight behind them and aren’t just mindlessly spammable.
You’ll always be doubting yourself. Should I really use my ammo here? Was I wrong to invest my points into hacking? Should I stealth my way around or run through?
Did that zombie just apologize to me? Everything loops back into creating a sense of realism and unease. You are just a soldier, very much human and alone, trying to survive on a spaceship infested with monstrosities that were at one point human, and maybe partly, still are.
A testament to how ahead of its time System Shock 2 was, 20 years since its release, games like Bioshock, Dishonored, Deus Ex, Prey, and even Dead Space, are still building on and refining the same formula.
Due to the love and interest people are showing to this day System Shock 1 is being remade, System Shock 2 will receive an enhanced edition, and System Shock 3 has been teased as being in production.
Initial Release Date: 18 August 2017
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer: Acid Wizard Studio
Publisher: Acid Wizard Studio
Darkwood is not a fun game to play. It’s uncomfortable, exhausting, and at times tedious, but always terrifying. No other game in recent memory has taxed my sanity and left me so thoroughly drained as it’s managed to.
Set sometime in late 1980 in what appears to be a Slavic-inspired setting, you play as a man lost in a plagued yet ever-expanding forest, struggling to escape its descent into madness.
Unlike your typical horror title, where you’re set on a linear path and jumpscares are the norm Darkwood takes a different more insidious route, that of a survival game. In order to find your way out, you’ll need to explore, scavenge for resources, cook to gain skill points, and find or craft weapons to upgrade – all that, during the daytime.
Nighttime, however – you are nothing more than food for what crawls, slithers, and goes bump in the night. Once the sun sets, you have to hunker down in your hideout and pray you survive by any means necessary. You can barricade windows with wood, move furniture in front of entranceways, lay down traps, and have light sources to at least let you see what will be trying to eat you.
However, despite all of your hard-built defenses, nothing can prepare you for what’s to come.
Particularly noteworthy is the art style and camera perspective which is used for great effect in gameplay as well as to build a pervasive feeling of dread.
A mostly 2D, top-down view of the world, with backgrounds and creatures that look to be hand-drawn, have Darkwood looking like a painting while your mind fills in all the gritty details.
In gameplay, while exploring you are only able to view a cone in front of your character, so anything off to the far sides or at your back is obscured by a “fog of war” of sorts.
The good audio design has you relying on ambient and creature sounds to fill in your blind spots. Chases become exhilarating and terrifying, as you’re more likely to hear what’s hunting you before you get a chance to lay eyes on it.
Getting lost in the woods has never been as terrifying and satisfying as in Darkwood. A foreboding and difficult game, it’s not a challenge for the faint of heart.
7. Dead Space 2
Initial Release Date: 25 January 2011
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: EA Games
Polishing a few rough edges while tweaking the formula to provide a leaner, streamlined experience, Dead Space is the game that showed us that action games can be every bit as terrifying and fun as a pure horror games.
Isaac Clarke is a space engineer. And like all space engineers he has to deal with the tedium and harsh working conditions that come with the territory. Long working hours, uncomfortable work suits, heavy tools and machinery oh, and fighting off hordes of alien space zombies. Our story catches up with Isaac waking up in a space station’s insane asylum, 3 years after the events of the first game. With no memory of his time spent aboard, he’s immediately greeted by a new necromorph infestation.
What’s a necromorph?
Think of a cross between Alien’s Xenomorphs, and Resident Evil 4’s Plaga parasites and you’ve got the main idea – a fast-propagating deadly alien entity, hell-bent on chomping on your squishy bits. The atmosphere is not as dark or gritty as in the first title, but gore abounds, messages are scribbled on the walls in blood, corpses litter the station and grotesque misshapen creatures stalk the halls. Great attention to detail was put in trying to immerse the player, as no HUD interface exists.
Isaac’s health and inventory is represented in-game by his suit’s status and hologram display. Claustrophobic hallways can give way to the 0G expanse of space, and have you rushing to the next jump scare, ahem, objective.
Seeing as how the game revolves around slaughtering hordes of mutant space zombies in your struggle to progress, combat is one of the main draws for the title.
Most enemies won’t go down with a simple headshot, in fact taking their head clean off might have them become even more aggressive, so other tactics are recommended. A wide arsenal of repurposed mining tools and even a few actual weapons are ready to help you deal with the situation by dismembering or utterly obliterating your assailant.
Later you’ll even get access to telekinesis and stasis, severely slowing down enemies or objects.
But none of this would matter if the actual combat didn’t feel any good. And it does. It’s never been as satisfying to slice a necromorph’s claw off, grab it with telekinesis, impale him, and proceed to stomp his head in, just to be sure.
Dead Space 2 might not be as subtle about its horror as many of the other titles on this list.
However, few other games have such a perfect perfect balance of action, horror, tension, story, and just pure fun. It’s a horrible gory mess, and I love every moment of it.
6. Alien: Isolation
Initial Release Date: 7 October 2014
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Linux, OS X, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Creative Assembly
Taking a page right out of the original film’s book of horror, Alien: Isolation has you feeling terrified, powerless and alone while the xenomorph’s heavy footsteps and hisses draw ever closer.
Our story starts 15 years after the events of the original Alien movie, as we’re introduced to Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda. While working as an engineer for the Weyland-Yutani megacorporation she learns that a salvage vessel has found the flight recorder from the Nostromo, her mother’s long lost ship. Setting out to retrieve the recorder from the space station Sevastopol she finds things have gone terribly, horribly wrong.
Isolation manages to precisely recreate the 1979 source material’s aesthetic and atmosphere. From the retro-futuristic computers with CRT monitors to the industrial, utilitarian-looking environments, to the blood-curdling, dread-building musical score and sound design. Everything serves to perfectly transport you into a setting that is easily believable while at the same time managing to evoke a feeling of familiarity and nostalgia.
Exploring the Sevastopol reveals a surprisingly realistic space station layout made all the more real by debris and excellent atmospheric lighting. Not that you’ll have enough time to notice all the details.
Staying true to H.R.Giger’s design, the original alien xenomorph drone is back and more than happy to hunt you down when you least expect it.
In a stroke of genius, the developer has imbued the alien with an AI life of its own. Largely unscripted, it prowls the station’s hallways, and air ducts, hunting by scent and sound.
While most of the gameplay revolves around solving puzzles by acting as a general repairman and hiding in terror from certain death, there are occasional changes to the formula. You’ll encounter human and android enemies, which can be killed by using conventional weapons like a hammer or a shotgun, and even some less conventional EMP and Flamethrowers. Despite the existence of weapons, the alien remains a prevalent threat, as at most, the weapons only be used to drive it off temporarily.
Due in part to the existence of an arsenal of weapons, and in part to backtracking to certain areas, the game does tend to run a bit long and struggles to maintain the same level of fear towards the end of its story.
However, there is little doubt in my mind that this is one of the best representations of what the Aliens franchise has to offer – A gut-wrenching trip through an apex predator’s hunting ground.
Initial Release Date: 22 September 2015
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Linux, OS X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer: Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games
SOMA is a thought-provoking Sci-Fi story at its core with a horror coating and a sprinkle of philosophy – What is it to be human?
Do I really like shocker candy? It’s a tale of man’s hubris and science gone awry.
Waking up at the bottom of the ocean in a mysterious, light-forsaken research laboratory might be parring for the course in most horror protagonists’ minds, but not for Simon. One of the last things he remembers is having to undergo an experimental medical procedure in order to save his life in the aftermath of a violent car crash.
As with most psychological horror, the story is the main focus, the main driving force behind the ever-creeping terror. And while I won’t go into many details the environment itself is the best storyteller here.
The neglected Rapture-inspired architecture devolves into Giger-esque biomechanical growths, while flickering lights serve to give you glimpses into the darkness and the horrors within. Enemies and characters each feel imposing and unique due to stellar visual design.
Each of them manages to tell a story of sadness, loss, ignorance despite them only serving as obstacles or challenges to be overcome. Much of the story revolves around traveling through the foreboding, claustrophobic halls of the PATHOS-II in hopes of solving the next puzzle.
While objectives will be drip fed to you, it never quite manages to feel forced.
A natural consequence of the situation you are in, you always want to keep moving onwards, striving to uncover PATHOS’ fate and yours with it. There is a pervasive feeling of wrongness, of something out of place, even as you find your answers, there’s always a feeling that things don’t add up, until they finally do, both for you and Simon.
Either by design or consequence of its philosophical quandaries SOMA never manages to utterly terrify through it’s monsters and jump scares.
True horror comes as a realisation of what you as a human would do to survive – What does it really mean to be alive?
4. Resident Evil VII: Biohazard
Initial Release Date: 24 January 2017
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
No horror game ranking would be complete without a Resident Evil title in the mix.
One of the most iconic horror game series is back and with a new fresh coat of rotting paint. Revived after a 5-year hiatus, Biohazard holds off on the previous few games predilection for gun toting action and practices a return to survival horror form.
A risk that could have alienated long time fans of the series, the action now takes place in first person. This serves to provide the game with a more intimate up close and personal feeling and drive home the gritty, grimy, gruesome horror that is to come. We are thrust into the story as Ethan, a fairly average joe by all accounts, that suddenly receives a message from his presumed dead wife, Mia.
She warns us to stay away while at the same time providing us with her new home address. Feeling the need to clarify mixed messages, and ignorant of the plot to any slasher movies, Ethan decides to travel alone to a derelict house in Louisiana where can get some answers. While the overall narrative is fairly standard Resident Evil, the execution keeps it feeling fresh throughout most of the story, but stumbles a bit at the end.
A large part of the action takes place indoors, with various human and monstrous denizens ready to help you shuffle off the mortal coil.
Unexpectedly, the bulk of true horror comes from your human adversaries that will have you wishing for a nice relaxing weekend in Raccoon City alongside Nemesis.
Never letting the tension die down, the game likes to play on various phobias – fear of the dark, tight spaces, insects, rot, drowning, isolation, even silence – why is it so damn quiet all of a sudden?
Whether sneaking or fighting your way through various houses, basements, a cave, or some other rather unexpected environment, everything is believably recreated. Aided by a muted color palette and atmospheric lighting the world has a grungy sense of realism to it that few other games manage to pull off. Pacing can be hit or miss depending on your tastes, as the game starts off with Ethan being powerless against his assailants and gradually ramps up to survival horror and even RE 6 levels of action by the end.
Resident Evil VII manages to breathe new life into a stale franchise by going back to its survival roots while at the same time not being afraid to change with the times or innovate.
A thrilling roller-coaster, one of the best horror games have to offer, it manages to deliver a highly immersive experience, and surely one that I won’t soon forget.
3. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Initial Release Date: 8 September 2010
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Linux, OS X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer: Frictional Games
Publisher: Frictional Games
Taking heavy cues from Lovecraftian horror Amnesia is one of the most atmospherically tense and nerve-wracking games you can play.
Set in an “abandoned” castle you find your protagonist suffering from *ahem* amnesia and, upon reading a letter from himself, departs on a quest to uncover the mysteries behind it all. Right off the bat however, you realize that this will not be a simple endeavor as your character is assailed by horrifying otherworldly sounds, frequently causing him to stop and stutter as he regains his composure.
You also quickly learn that the protagonist’s mental well-being is not the most stable, with constant exposure to darkness or the supernatural causing him to lose his grasp on reality. Amnesia plays much like a stealth adventure as you need to explore in order to find not only the means of solving certain puzzles but to also keep your stock of lamp oil high.
Exploring will also reward you with snippets of information regarding your pre-amnesia self and the castle.
As you delve deeper into the mystery, your surroundings will warp and twist under the sway of the supernatural and the oppressive nature of cosmic horror will draw closer still.
You’ll soon learn everything has a cost, the more you explore the higher the likelihood of encountering something of an unsettling nature.
You can’t always rely on your light for safety and sanity as not only is the fuel limited but it can also serve as a beacon, announcing your location to beings most unsavory. Having you feel powerless, the horrors in the castle cannot be fought at all and must be avoided at all costs for even gazing upon them for too long is to invite insanity.
This often leads to situations where you need to take refuge in the darkness hoping your already taxed sanity will hold, while your mind fills in the missing and terrifying details.
All these elements together form the mind-shattering essence of Amnesia. A game that provides you with light but makes you afraid to use it, that tasks you with exploring but makes every new zone, a source of indescribable dread.
An experience that will drive you mad just as much as the protagonist.
2. Silent Hill 2
Initial Release Date: 24 September 2001
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox, Microsoft Windows
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
Silent Hill 2 is THE definition of survival horror. It features a surreal story, in the titular, and by now famous, town of Silent Hill.
Hailed by many as the perfect game, one that can’t be improved upon, it’s very much a product of the era, a game that might not have existed had it been created in a different time. You take on the role of James Sunderland, a grieving widower, driving to town at the behest of a letter he received from his now 3 years deceased wife.
From the moment you step into town, everything feels like a fever dream. There’s thick fog all around, everything looks to be decrepit and rotting and slightly outdated, even for its time. Sure, there are other people around, but they seem as lost and confused as you are, each of them set on their own journey and fighting their own demons.
The game takes James, and you, on a journey of self-reflection. Its masterfully crafted story tackles themes such as death, loneliness, sexual assault, suicide, acceptance, rebirth, crime, and punishment all the while imposing a feeling of helplessness and vulnerability.
Nowadays developers have you riding a power fantasy, most of the time you’re the good guy, always in control, getting stronger, adding to your arsenal, plowing through countless enemies until you reach your happy ending.
In Silent Hill you’re never empowered, even when wielding a shotgun, you’re seldom in control. That was a conscious choice. The clunky controls weren’t perfect, technical limitations forced devs to thicken the fog, and the camera while following you around still had awkward or fixed angles. Most were deliberate choices that could not have been made today, all meant to depower the player.
I would recommend Silent Hill 2 be experienced by every horror fan out there.
It never reinvents the wheel, however, it’s an experience that isn’t afraid to address taboo topics and seamlessly blends traditional gameplay with a great psychological-horror story that stands the test of time even today.
Initial Release Date: 12 August 2014
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows (remake)
Developer: 7780s Studio (pseudonym for Kojima Productions)
Our number 1 spot is a ghost of a game, a dream, ahem, the nightmare that never came to be. P.T. is a rare beast, one of those games that having not even been fully released it’s taken on a life of its own.
Designed by Hideo Kojima in collaboration with Guillermo del Toro, it was originally meant to be a playable teaser for Silent Hills, a new game in the Silent Hill series.
The project was canceled with Kojima’s departure from Konami, which wasn’t without its troubles and ego clashes, following which, Konami removed the demo from the PS store. Compared to other games of the series, the teaser has you experiencing the story from a first-person perspective instead of the well-established 3rd person view. You start off by waking up in a dark, decrepit room that leads to a long and narrow L- shaped hallway on an infinite loop. Or so it seems. While traveling down the infinite hallway the world around you becomes more and more surreal.
At first, you’ll hear radio stories of fathers brutally murdering their own families. Later you’ll see lights flickering or hear banging on a locked bathroom door, but as you progress, mysterious writing appears on the walls, cockroaches infest the house, and the ghost of a murdered mother will make her appearance. Needless to say, the perspective and slow buildup of atmosphere combine to create one of the most immersive and terrifying experiences.
Despite only having you walk down a hallway, P.T. manages to feel like you’re gradually descending, each loop taking you one step closer to a place where the realms of the living and the damned intersect.
Interaction with the world is barebones, you’re only able of moving through the level and have one contextual button, allowing you to zoom in on areas of interest or attempt to open a door for example. Graphically P.T. was supposed to have been downgraded in order to keep up the appearance of being developed by an indie studio, however, the end result has been praised countless times for its photorealism and highly atmospheric lighting.
No other game has managed to fascinate, terrify and inspire so many with so little. As P.T.’s takedown by Konami has sparked fan controversy and debate, PC remakes have begun to appear only to quickly be taken down themselves.
However the internet never forgets, and the specter of P.T. is sure to be found if one looks hard enough.
Here’s a quick recap of the 15 best horror games:
- Silent Hill 2
- Amnesia: The Dark Descent
- Resident Evil VII: Biohazard
- Alien: Isolation
- Dead Space 2
- System Shock 2
- Alan Wake
- Layers of Fear
- Clive Barker’s Undying
- Alone in the Dark
What’s your favorite horror game? Leave a comment below.
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