From subtle psychological tension titles to action-packed all-out gorefests, what are the best horror games of all time? Here’s my take.
It’s arguably a little simpler when you’re talking books or films, but dropping the label “horror” onto a game can mean a whole host of different things thanks to the interactive nature of gaming, not to mention different triggers for what’s actually horrible anyway.
It’s all kinds of interesting looking at the juxtaposition between horror games and the games that have been banned in Australia over time, too.
Horror gaming can be traced all the way back to at least 1976’s Death Race – I mean, it’s got chase and death elements in it, and was pretty controversial for those elements back in the 1970s:
We’ve come a long way since then in both the themes that the best horror games are happy to encompass and the way we can represent them.
Also, before we kick off, these are in no particular order, and there’s a big old heaping dose of subjectivity at play. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve played every single horror game ever, but then the odds are pretty good that you haven’t either.
I’m taking a wide view of horror here – it’s not just gore and it’s not just jump scares either.
All comments, criticism and hopefully not too many blood-soaked chainsaws below, please.
Resident Evil 2 Remake
I could have included the OG Resident Evil here – probably the slightly-better Director’s Cut version if I was looking over my own games library – but Capcom’s remake of the sequel ups both the gore factor and takes into account (at least a little) slightly kinder controls and viewpoints, making it an easy inclusion in any list of the best horror games.
Resident Evil 4
The one that changed it all again, Resident Evil 4 took those clunky tank controls and hurled them out the blood-soaked window, along with a story that unfolds in a way that allows for a lot of what I’d call creeping horror… along with lots of jump scares and great moments along the way.
While it started life as a GameCube exclusive, Capcom’s not been shy in making Resi 4 available pretty widely, including for the Switch and PS4.
Anyone who knows me knows I love a touch of retro gaming, and while it’s undeniably a scrolling beat-em-up (or in its case, hack-em-up) at its core, nobody’s going to argue that Splatterhouse doesn’t fit into the horror genre rather well.
It’s also worth a nod because while Namco’s game has some rather obvious inspiration, there really hasn’t been a really good game built around 80s OTT horror tropes – just a lot of defunct, odd or awful Friday The 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street or Evil Dead games. Splatterhouse isn’t original in concept, but it’s very well executed if what you want is a gore-drenched battle.
Eternal Darkness is an odd one in many respects. Sure, it plays with some standard creepy and disturbing tropes, and it does look a tad dated these days, but it’s also a game that rests on keeping your sanity intact… on Nintendo’s otherwise mostly-family-friendly Gamecube.
It still blows my mind that I can jump from the sundrenched sugary goodness of Super Mario Sunshine to slowly losing my mind – or being tricked by some of the game’s surprises that I won’t spoil here – with the flip of one of the Gamecube’s tiny discs. Sadly, the failure of the spiritual successor and the (ahem) red flags around the lead designer’s personal history means that this is a game that’s unlikely to see a Switch remaster any time soon.
Most games set in the Alien universe go for the action angle, because they’ve basically just taken Aliens as the core bit of IP. Before Aliens came Alien, a movie with a much stronger horror vibe, through a sci-fi lens of course. Going back in my own gaming history, my first taste of how scary an Alien game could be would oddly enough be via the Commodore 16 version of Aliens, but there’s no doubt that Alien Isolation does a considerably better job of making you scared, over and over and over again.
In space, nobody can hear you scream, but in the confines of your living room they almost certainly will. Read Kotaku’s review here.
OK, this one needs some explaining, because the chances are good the thing you know about Manhunt is that it’s still banned in Australia. That means there’s decent odds that you’ve never actually played it. What you have more likely played is Rockstar’s big and enduring franchise, Grand Theft Auto V.
You know how uneasy that torture scene makes most normal folks?
Manhunt is that unsettling all the time.
While many at the time decried it as sheer torture porn, there’s a deeper artistic message in Manhunt that makes you think about your choices, what you’re doing and why, and how it leaves you afterwards.
I played Manhunt back in the day – if anyone’s thinking legal consequences, I bought a copy in the period before it got pulled from store shelves, thankyouverymuch – and like good horror, it’s a game that will most likely leave you shaken.
No, you still can’t buy a copy in Australia – anyone selling you one is risking prosecution, too, even though we’ve had an R18+ rating for games for a good long time now.
Silent Hill 2
OK, blatant admission time here; Silent Hill isn’t a franchise I’ve spent a lot of time playing myself, but I’m so very well aware of its position in the horror game franchise hierarchy that it has to get a nod.
There’s some debate amongst the harder-core fans than myself about whether Silent Hill 4 or Silent Hill 2 deserves top spot. Somebody clearly thinks it’s worth it, given this $242.30 list price for a Greatest Hits copy on Amazon. Feel free to argue amongst yourselves or tell me which other titles in the series I must play below.
Editor’s note: Descriptions and features are as taken from manufacturer/seller claims and user reviews on Amazon.