The 7 Best Horror Games

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The 7 Best Horror Games

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.

Pick it up for Xbox One for $37.61 from Amazon

Or for $34.40 for PS4 from Amazon

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.

Grab a PS4 copy for $23.94 from Amazon

Splatterhouse

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.

Grab Splatterhouse on the Namco Museum Archives Collection for Switch from Amazon for $41.91

Eternal Darkness

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.

Alien Isolation

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.

Grab a copy for Xbox One from Amazon for $36.67

Or go one-on-one with the Xenomorphs on PS4 for $38.72 from Amazon

Manhunt

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.


As Kotaku editors we write about stuff we like and think you'll like too. Kotaku often has affiliate partnerships, so we may get a share of the revenue from your purchase.

Comments

    • (Maxwell Smart Voice)Would you believe that’s because I wasn’t counting Manhunt on account of it being banned? No..? (/Maxwell Smart Voice)

      Must be a Monday. I could never get the hang of Mondays. Now amended!

      • I was more thinking the double-down on Resident Evil, yeah they’re both great but feels like a place something the original Dead Space could fill.

        RE4, while great, feels a lot less horror than the others, much like the recent Dead Space entry, but the original still give the chills, theys multipling.

        Anyone remember The Thing?

        • I picked up a copy of Phantasmagoria at a used games store in Sydney back in the late 90s/early 00s. It is still banned for sale in Australia. There are ways!

  • These things are always subjective. But I’d replace Resident Evil 4 (whilst an excellent game, its action elements do a disservice to the horror elements IMO) with Condemned: Criminal Origins, Manhunt with FEAR (which IMO has held up much better than Manhunt has), and Splatterhouse I’d replace with Clock Tower.

    • nice, I played manhunt when it came out (its was legal to import for personal use, just not sell) and remember being kinda disappointed in it. Sub-par graphics for the time, dull plot and it wasn’t really scary at all. Just violent.

      Amnesia was decent, I loved the original AITD and I thought AITD2 was really great for it’s time.

  • This is a good list.

    I’d probably remove Resident Evil 4 simply because it’s far more campy and actiony than it is horror and I’d replace it with FEAR, as camm suggested or maybe the first Dead Space (It’s basically System Shock 2 with the horror dialed up).

    Other than that, I’m seeing nothing but gold in here. I’m a nuts Alien fan and I’ve only gotten through about the first 5 chapters of Alien: Isolation. It’s too damn nerve wracking for me.

    • +1 for F.E.A.R. and +1 for Dead Space. Definitely two of the better sci-fi horror games out there, even if there’s a good amount of action in them. Being action-oriented doesn’t mean they can’t be creepy.

      Heck I’d even put Doom 3 up there – while the game was divisive for not having pacing and level design that was true to the originals, what it DID do incredibly well was built a creepy and unsettling atmosphere.

      Would Bioshock count?

      • A lot of Bioshock was really unnerving. It had some really great moments of body horror that make me think the devs were into Cronenberg, especially when you take into account that they developed System Shock 2 before that. I’d definitely count Bioshock as fitting in a horror list.

  • Yeah nah, RE4 doesn’t belong on the list IMHO. It leans way too action heavy and far less on horror.

    Suggestions: Dead Space, Until Dawn, The Evil Within 2, RE 7 and Amnesia 1 & 2.

    • Agreed.. RE4 was more thriller/action than actual horror… the onky proper scarey moment that gave me re chills was the short but sweet regenerator/iron maiden section.. otherwise it was basically shooting, sniping and roundhousing monks n villagers.

      Incidentally we are talking about horror and neither Project Zero or Blood Siren series get a mention?

    • Dead Space has just as much action as RE4. Just because a game has action doesn’t mean it can’t be horror. Not every horror game needs to be survival horror.

  • No love for the RPG Maker horror games? While some are certainly hit and miss, stand outs like Corpse Party, The Witch’s House and Ib certainly hit the psychological horror notes fairly soundly. Especially since the low detail sprites leave a lot of room for your imagination to fill in the disturbing blanks.

    I’m surprised that Bloodborne isn’t on here too given that it’s Eldritch Horror and the game was quite well received. Fatal Frame is another series that tends to come up in conversation when talking about the horror game greats.

  • Wait.. there’s debate that SH4: The Room is better than SH2? Yikes. I mean, SH4 wasn’t bad, but it didn’t even hold a candle to SH2 in my opinion. ‘Best’ horror game is an interesting thing though, because horror is so specific to a person. Also, is it the ‘best’ at scaring you, or is it the ‘best’ overall game in terms of presentation, enjoyment, memorable etc? My top 7 would be:

    Silent Hill 2
    Amnesia: The Dark Descent
    Resident Evil 2 Remake
    Condemned: Criminal Origins
    Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly
    Dead Space 2
    Outlast

    I’d include Resident Evil 7, except for the fact that the last act was a big let down. I also have fond nostalgia for The Suffering on the original Xbox, however I don’t think it could be considered a good game.

    • The Suffering was really fun. I stayed up all night finishing that game in one marathon session with some mates back in the uni days. Good times!

      • I had a similar experience! I remember vividly that those jump scare flashes/hallucinations would only seem to happen when I was playing and I’d jump out of my skin. As soon as I handed it back to my friend they would stop…

  • I think that I’m in the same groove of missing titles. Fatal Frame/Project Zero, Siren/Forbidden Siren and Corpse Party top the missing Japanese titles. The recent Blair Witch was good as well, and of course FEAR 1/2. That and Until Dawn / Man of Medan… so much good horror!

  • No love for PT? Also good to see Condemned getting some respect here. FEAR was a good game and had some great scares (the girl at the top of the ladder got me GOOD), but it ended up being way more about the shooting than anything else by the end.

    • FEAR was designed to be a John Woo meets Japanese Horror, so yeah, shooting was always going to be a big thing, but I think it sort of works in favour of FEAR, by making you this big bad who can shoot everyone and slow down time, but are powerless against a spookyass little girl.

  • Has anyone got any good examples of games that wouldn’t be classified as horror games but had a section, or a mechanic, or an enemy that was terrifying?

    The mermaid woman in Inside comes to mind. Dark Bramble in Outer Wilds. Leviathans in Subnautica. I’m sure there’s more…

    • I replayed FEAR about 6 months ago. It’s still fucking great.

      The AI is still practically sorcery. The atmosphere is still top notch. It still looks surprisingly great for its time. The Penetrator is still one of the best guns in any FPS.

      I’m now wondering what it would be like to get a re-release using UE4 or something. Looks like the rights would be held by WB. They published the last few games and they now own Monolith.

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