The 10 Best Horror Games

The 10 Best Horror Games

If you'd like to be scared shitless tonight, you've come to the right place.

Horror is a bit like comedy. What scares one person might not scare another person. Have you tried explaining why a joke is funny? It's a bit like explaining why a monster is scary.

But there's something undeniably attractive about horror, especially horror games. It's a safe place to experience an adrenaline rush, an opportunity to flirt with the existential nightmare that is inevitable death. It is also, by far, the best possible use of a huge stack of cheap beer.

Let's be clear. This list is not about honouring and recognising the horror genre's historical milestones. Resident Evil and Silent Hill remain important horror games, but if you're simply looking to download a video game and scream on the couch with a beverage in hand, this list will serve you well. Eternal Darkness? System Shock 2? Aliens vs. Predator? I love you, I'll always love you, but without a dose of hypnotic nostalgia, you're not scary anymore.

With that said, here's the list. Good luck!

The 10 Best Horror Games

1. Amnesia: The Dark Descent

When I saw the credits roll on Amnesia, it felt like I'd earned the kind of t-shirt you buy at the end of a rollercoaster. "I survived The Dark Descent." I'm still not sure how I managed to make it through the infamous water sequence without screaming. Getting to the end is a harrowing journey, a slow-moving exploration into a perturbed mansion with many secrets to hide. To survive, you must hide. To hide, you must remain in the dark.... but the dark makes you go mad. That means that to avoid dying, you must flirt with death for as long as you can. Devilish.

The 10 Best Horror Games

2. Outlast

Even if you're over the found footage thing, Outlast is scary as hell. You're a journalist entering into an insane asylum with nothing more than your wits and a night vision camera. Most of the game takes place in the dark, which means the camera becomes your best buddy. The camera's batteries run out quickly, forcing you to choose wisely. It's about hiding, watching, and running very, very fast. Everything is out to get you, and in the DLC expansion, there's a sequence that involves cutting off your...well, you'll see.

The 10 Best Horror Games

3. Five Nights at Freddy's

Welcome to the jump-scare factory. Five Nights at Freddy's has a comfortable predictability that makes it so utterly effective. Pretty much every game of FNAF's ends with a mechanical demon screaming at the screen and running at you. Every time, it will result in you nearly falling out of your chair. It's easy to call the game's scares cheap, but it's more subtle than that. FNAF's represents some elegant game design. The jump scares are a consequence for failure. In most horror, jump scares work because you don't see them coming. In FNAF can see every jump scare from a mile away, but that's what makes it frightening. If you screw up, if you forget about a room, it's time to cover your eyes.

The 10 Best Horror Games

4. Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly

Project Zero: Crimson Butterfly is one of the few games here transcends the advance of technology. There have been several Project Zero games since Crimson Butterfly, but the second one remains the definitive take on horror photography. In Project Zero, enemies are omnipresent: they're ghosts. You can't touch them, sometimes you can't see them, yet they're always there. It's trendy in horror to strip attacking, but Project Zero proposes an interesting compromise. The Camera Obscura, is a magical device capable of hurting spirits. The game's played through a third-person perspective until combat begins, in which everything moves into first-person and you're suddenly firing photography bullets at creepy phantoms. Ugh.

The 10 Best Horror Games

5. Siren: Blood Curse

Years later, I'll still think about a few sequences in Siren: Blood Curse and shudder. Anyone who's played Blood Curse will remember approaching the church and know what I'm talking about. Fuck that. Like Project Zero, Siren's always been able to differentiate itself with a neat mechanic that no one else has picked up on. The trick is that you're able to hop into the minds of the enemies around you. You can leap from enemy to enemy to learn the map, and when you're looking through the eyes of the menacing Shibito, the screen splits in half. In Siren, the enemies are — for a brief time — your friends. Without them, there's no way to survive.

The 10 Best Horror Games

6. Alien: Isolation

Games have not been kind to Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger's monster from deep space. Hell, the movies haven't done right by the xenomorph in ages, either. It seemed unfathomable that someone could make the primordial alien scary again, but Alien: Isolation pulled it off. (Our review here.) Several times, my wife straight up walked out of the room because she was tired of screaming while I was playing. Sure, Alien: Isolation sticks around 10 hours too long, but the highs outweigh the lows by a hefty margin. Be warned: I hope you like sulking in stuffy lockers and patiently waiting to die.

The 10 Best Horror Games

7. Condemned: Criminal Origins

Brutal. That's Condemned. Plenty of games take place in the first-person, but precious few make the experience as raw and unnerving as this one. The game makes you feel the buckling crunch of your knuckles as a right hook collides with someone's face, and bristle at the devastating impact a pipe can have when swung swiftly at the human elbow. The story somehow devolves into an alien conspiracy and other stupidity, but that hardly matters when you're in the midst of a fist fight underneath the city streets. What remains remarkable about Condemned is how the A.I. will try to mess with you by running away and hiding. In a game with minimal lighting and plentiful shadows, this prompted many "oh, shit" moments.

The 10 Best Horror Games

8. Dead Space

The Dead Space series has been on a steady decline since the first game, and my personal preference of Dead Space over Dead Space 2 is pretty similar to the split between fans of Alien and Aliens. (Alien is the right answer, but I'm trying to be civil here.) Dead Space relies on the element of surprise; it knows how to tease out the moments where a seven-armed thing finally pops out of a vent. You'll walk down a hallway for long stretches, the screechy violens building in the background. You'll hear creatures rustle in the vents. The tension builds to a breaking point. If you're lucky, the game offers the satisfaction of killing whatever was moving around you. Often, though, the game keeps its monstrosities in the shadows, forcing you to cautiously walk through the next door, not knowing when a screaming death will finally appear.

The 10 Best Horror Games

9. ZombiU

Otherwise known as the best horror game no one played, ZombiU introduced a slew of fresh ideas to the horror genre few games have picked up on since. You will die a lot. The walking dead in ZombiU are vicious, unrelenting, and endless. You have little more than a wooden stick to defend yourself. Like Dark Souls or countless other roguelike-inspired games, when you die, you start from the beginning but your items remain at the spot of your death. If you can make it back, they're yours again. That's a big if. The tension ramps the longer you're able to survive. The more you have, the more you have to lose. The first time I fell off a ladder and lost several hours of progress, I put my head into my hands and nearly sobbed. ZombiU also features some ingenious uses for the Wii U's GamePad, as players must stare down at the secondary screen to quickly rearrange items and equip weapons while a zombie slowly shambles forth.

10. Until Dawn

The 10 Best Horror Games

Otherwise known as 2015's most pleasant surprise, Until Dawn is a must-play for anyone familiar with the world of horror. It uses the genre's tropes — Final Girl, Dumb Blonde, etc. — as a foundation for tearing them apart. To that end, players have a surprising amount of control over the fate of the game's characters. You can even buck the tropiest trope of them all and have everyone survive, if you play your cards right! It's full of amazing jump scares, too. The yelps were frequent enough that my wife and I ended up shutting our windows, lest someone think horrible things were happening to us in apartment.

The 10 Best Horror Games

Bonus #1: P.T.

The 10 Best Horror Games

Hail to the (cancelled) king of horror. There's no defending the awful puzzles and confusing endgame of P.T., but the first hour with Hideo Kojima's playable teaser for Silent Hills is an unforgettable experience underscoring what's possible when patient design is paired with the latest in technology. The photorealistic quality of P.T.'s singular, tormented hallway lulls one into a familiar and emotionally disarming place. We've all been in a hallway like that. We've all wondered if something was around the corner. In P.T., there is. If you have a friend with P.T. on their PS4, you owe it to yourself to finally play this.

The 10 Best Horror Games

Bonus #2: Dreadhalls

Dreadhalls didn't make the proper list is because strapping on an Oculus Rift is required for the full experience. (It's possible to play Dreadhalls without the aid of virtual reality, but it's not the same.) In Dreadhalls, you're dropped into a dungeon and the goal is simply finding the exit. Unfortunately, you're only equipped with a lantern and a map. The map fills in as you explore, but you can't see the map without looking down. With Oculus, you're physically looking down to inspect the map. The game is aware of this dynamic, leaving you in situations where looking down creates a risk of coming face-to-face with a cackling demon. It's the absolute worst. When my brother played it, he smashed his knee into the table and knocked over two beers.

The 10 Best Horror Games

This isn't a comprehensive list, and your favourite game probably isn't on here. Like I said, my hope was to provide a thorough guide to scaring you as soon as possible. I'm always looking for new ways to scare myself, though, so please let me know what some of your favourites are below! Happy hunting!


Comments

    The Evil Within had some genuinely gut twisting tense moments and could deserve an honourable mention. But what let it down is that much of the gameplay felt really forced and shoehorned in. They could have left it as survival horror, but then it turned into a shoot em up. ah well.

      Artificially inflating the difficulty was also an issue. You stop being scared when you're frustrated.

        Wait, how have I already responded to this? Is this an old article?

    I'd potentially put Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem on that list (unless it's considered a different genre than horror).

      That game always goes on ANY and EVERY list i make, serious MUST play for everyone.... ive never seen a game do what Eternal Darkness did (and do it right at least).

      It's considered more psychological horror, like Silent Hill 2. In fact, so is Amnesia, so it really shouldn't be on this list.

    Dreadhalls is so simple in concept. But with an Oculus rift, the terror is so overwhelming. There were times stuff got so close to me that I would have to rip the headset of my head just to regain composure.

    Last edited 29/10/15 12:38 pm

      Dude, I know exactly what you mean. The first time I played it on my DK1, I was so terrified only a couple of minutes in, I tore the headset off when I ran into the girl. I started to wonder if me, a horror film geek, could even handle horror in VR. It's simply THE most terrifying experience I've ever had gaming.....and yet it's so simple and probably lame on a 2D screen. Imagine when AAA VR horror titles come out. People are gonna literally die in there.

      Also, Condemned is probably the second scariest thing ever to VR horror....good list.

    I haven't played the first Dead Space since it was released. Might pick it up again. Definitely need some horror gaming for the weekend.

      after you have done that dead space 2. It got a really good horror action mix going.

    WHERE IS SILENT HILL 2!? This is an outrage.

      beat me to it, instead they prioritise cheap jump scare games then ones that actually have a creepy atmosphere...

        Nailed it.

        I'm also inclined to include Silent Hill (1) and 3. Gloriously disturbing adventures into the surreal..and, yes, the atmosphere. The soundtrack - Akira Yamaoka; genius. My goodness.....

      This. 1000 times this. Silent Hill 2 is by far the best horror game I've played. Hell it's one of the best games I've ever played.

      Let’s be clear. This list is not about honouring and recognising the horror genre’s historical milestones. Resident Evil and Silent Hill remain important horror games, but if you’re simply looking to download a video game and scream on the couch with a beverage in hand, this list will serve you well

      Its almost like you didnt read the article but just looked at the top 10 listed and went straight to the comments

        I wast blinded by my OUTRAGE dansdans.

        But my problem is...it's a shame to just relegate them to a single sentence. Why not include them? Project Zero and Siren are just as 'in-depth' as SH and not just simple scare video games. But hey, I'm just making an entertaining comment in a comments section.

        To be fair, one would sort of expect an article titled "The 10 best horror games" to be a list of the 10 best horror games, not "The 10 best horror games (if you exclude the actual best horror games)".

        Last edited 09/08/16 6:40 pm

          Here's the best 10 horror games, with all the best games removed. Think of it as a hipster best horror games list, but you've heard of most of them. =P

    Looks like I'll be picking up Alien Isolation this weekend.

    My 2 cents:

    Dead Space - I loved this game, hard. Strongly recommend Impossible difficulty using only the Plasma Cutter (for the double achievement). All those other fancy guns make it too easy and the Cutter has become one of my all time favourite video game weapons. The tension in this game is fantastic. Disliked DS2 because it ditched tension in favour of action. Havent bothered with #3.

    Condemned - I also loved this, played it through a few times now. Such a great game. Don't touch #2, they take a gritty believable horror game into Dragonball Z.

    F.E.A.R. - I loved the first game. Sure, theres a kid that turns people into chunks, what got to me by the end of the game was not fear but realisation that Alma is well deserving of her vengeance after what the scientists put her through. I would have killed them all too. I also like my coffee black. #2 did the Dead Space/Alien trick and turned suspense into action. It also played the first half of the game as though you'd never played #1, then halfway through, its like your character all of a sudden knew everything. Poorly done, never touched #3 though I heard recently that #2 was by a different developer and the original guys came back for #3 so maybe I should.

    Deadly Premonition - As close to a Twin Peaks game as you'll find. While goofy at parts still have a very dark undertone. If you can get past the old style controls, this is a keeper.

    I know you're steering away from Resident Evil and Silent Hill as, well, they're the popular ones. But damn, Silent Hill 2.

    For me, Project Zero/fatal frame 2 was the least scariest as you had company. 3 had some amazing moments like the random ghosts in Rei's house or the crawling segments.

    reboot dino crisis as a horror game in the vein of Alien:Isolation with hard to kill dinos (unkillable with normal weapon t-rex but an end game set piece level that kills him in a cool way) and I'd be in heaven. Why can't someone do this!?!?

    Last edited 29/10/15 1:37 pm

      I would buy this day one. Full price. I'd even pay australia tax.

    System Shock 2 is still king as far as I’m concerned.

    The graphics may have aged by the sound design and roaming enemies mean that you’re ALWAYS on your toes.
    Give me that over Dead Space and its ‘Run around the room, trigger all the jump scares and relax’ method any day.

    Or don’t…. because it’s stressful.

      Dead Space is basically an updated, reskinned SS2 without the RPG elements.

      It's a great game, but it's no System Shock 2.

    Yeah I agree, thanks for sticking up for SHODAN. Also the SS series is crying out for a remake.
    Also also, I'm surprised S.T.A.L.K.E.R. didn't get a single mention here. **** is terrifying.

      Oh yeah, stalker has some truly messed up things!

    Dark Corners of the Earth- trying to flee the Inn from the fishermen *sob sob*

    I'm a huge horror fan but horror games always botch themselves and are rarely actually frightening.

    Take note developers, the following things are not frightening.
    - clown masks
    - B&D imagery
    - gore
    - zombies with guns
    - dolls/children who are evil

    Things that are frightening
    - the unknown
    - the dark/dynamic lighting
    - isolation
    - bodies of water
    - low frequency hums and drones in place of music.

    Why can't someone make a game where less is more and it doesn't devolve into a bunch of stupid Hollywood cliches learned from slasher and torture porn films.?
    Horror game developers could learn from people like David lynch. Or genuinely chilling films like Jacobs ladder or lake mungo.

    Great to see condemned get some recognition. I picked this up at the 360 launch with a mate, hooked it up to my brand new surround sound, and we pretty much crapped ourselves into the wee hours (midnight launch didn't help!).

    I hadn't felt that since I sat down with my friends to play res evil 1. The sound design is still top tier.

    Also good to see ZombiU. It made small groups of regular zombies frightening for time in a decade. Survival mode is nerve wracking even once you know the game. I also liked the way you lost your weapon skills between characters.

    I was about to question why Blood Curse was on the list instead of the other two Forbidden Siren games, but then I remembered they only came out in Japan and PAL areas.

    This is a scene I can never forget whenever I'm reminded of the games: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_OYpi188qI

    The 10 Best Horror Games

    A.K.A.: 10 Perfect Cure-alls for Constipation.

    Interesting, I thought ZombiU was complete rubbish.

      That's the thing; if one finds a copy in his or her collection, the typical reaction is to run for the hills screaming in terror, :-P

    Undying.

    That is all.

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