11 Gruesome Horror Games, Ranked By How Much They Made Us Scream

11 Gruesome Horror Games, Ranked By How Much They Made Us Scream

Despite being afraid of literally anything and everything on the planet, I love Halloween. Octobers mean dutifully logging a slasher a day in my Letterboxd account, or using my journal to hash out what Friday the 13th would have been if Jason were handsome under the mask (he’s a waterlogged hermit, but does he really need to look like a fucked up tadpole?).

Being a horror obsessive while feeling like a scared child can get confusing, emotionally. It’s shutting your eyes to see stars when you don’t like the dark. But to help categorise my uncategorizable, the fear and human inconsistency, I decided to talk to some Kotaku staffers about the horror games we like. Then, I ordered our games based on how much they creeped us out, from passive black cat to the wet-rags-over-skin shivers.

I see now that fear is a bumpy sliver of sound, a potholed road to confronting the unknown. “Long is the way / And hard, that out of Hell leads up to light,” John Milton writes in Paradise Lost. But by “light” I think he meant “slideshow.”

If Dave & Buster’s was evil: Dead by Daylight

I love the asymmetric multiplayer and survival horror game Dead by Daylight, but matches are repetitive — if you’re the killer, you need to stick survivors onto blood-caked metal hooks, if you’re being killed, you need to escape — so the game desensitizes you and becomes more strategic than scary. It’s like if whack-a-mole had really grotesque death animations for the moles.

A gentle yelp: The Quarry

Supermassive Games’ most recent interactive horror The Quarry is a spindly spider on your arm, creeping and dainty like a ghost story. Its darkness relies on your imagination and your input. Though, if you want to up the ante and elicit some yelps from friends, you could always play the game as its welcome “gorefest” movie mode.

But in its standard form, you play a rotating member of a group of camp counselors, hurt often by their teenage hubris and misguided confidence in the dark. It is a dark game — playing it seems to spread mist across your room.

It’s moody, filled with hard choices made tougher by the fact that a decision that saves one of the characters you control might destroy another. Though bloodthirsty werewolves lurk through the entirety of The Quarry, the game is never, I think, outright scary. It is great, though, for melancholy, rainy October nights, settling into the night and shushing the voice inside you that asks…what was that sound? Outside your door, by the stairs?

Going “eek!” at Chuck E. Cheese: Five Nights at Freddy’s

While I mostly find the Five Nights at Freddy’s series desperately sullen in a mall goth sort of way, when I was a kid, I couldn’t fall asleep in my bedroom because family members kept gifting me porcelain dolls. When I turned off my light, I imagined their impassive glass eyes blinking alive.

I could never watch Chucky, and even thinking about that doll’s squashed tomato head now gives me the shivers. Animatronics and clowns tried to appeal to me at birthday parties, but like dolls, they felt like a perversion of my childhood. I knew I was supposed to enjoy them, but I think I sensed that their performative youth was unnatural.

Five Nights at Freddy’s, a game about surviving a work week as a security guard in a restaurant where animatronics crawl down vents and want to eat you, is explicit about exploiting these kinds of childhood fears. That, occasionally, reads to me as a basic and easy route to horror, but, then again, I still don’t like looking a Raggedy Ann in the eyes.

Begrudgingly spooked: Layers of Fear

The name Layers of Fear should indicate that there’s some sort of depth and immersion, but generally it’s just a bag of cheap jump scares or atmospheric anxiety. I was so excited to play it (I was fresh off playing Outlast and Amnesia), and itching for a new first-person horror. It fell short of expectations. It just fell so flat. I could sum up the whole story with “painter really needs to go to a therapist.”

The jumpscares still got me, though, so I suppose it was scary. The story-driven thriller starts you off with the task of completing your magnum opus of projects, a masterpiece painting. Though, as you unlock more clues from your past, you’re forced to face the mistakes you’ve made that tore your family apart. Maybe the real masterpiece was the screwed up things you did along the way. -Jeb Biggart, associate social media editor

A lasting gasp: Bloodborne

Bloodborne is one of those games that, with the sheer utterance of its name, sends shivers down my spine.

Everything about FromSoftware’s gothic nightmare creeps me out. From the blood-drenched enemy design to the foggily dark environments and the eerie orchestral soundtrack, Bloodborne is easily one of the scariest games I’ve played in recent memory. And it’s not even technically a horror game!

But don’t let that lack of genre classification fool you. FromSoftware’s homage to Lovecraftian frights is totally horror at its finest, and it’s perfect for the spooky season. I mean, there are skeletons dying to compare bone structure with you, rotted dogs that definitely don’t want to be pets, and people cosplaying as hunters, aching to put a quick bullet in you. So, why not take a little stroll down the city of Yharnam? It’ll be an unforgettable — and very frightful — night. –Levi Winslow, staff writer

Yelling into a pillow: Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

All Resident Evil games freak me out to different degrees and in different ways, but first-person horror Biohazard panicked me uniquely, like a pill melting open in my stomach.

Small moments are spotlighted in my memory. Sitting down at a dirty green dinner table as protagonist Ethan Winters. Starting into the grinning, disfigured faces of the decaying Baker family. Plates topped with mould. The game can be so gross. And though I usually think of Ethan as a swoopy-haired idiot, in first person, I could empathise with him. I could understand how he felt, being captive and alone.

Yelling in the living room: F.E.A.R.

Image: Monolith Productions, Inc., Timegate
Image: Monolith Productions, Inc., Timegate

My brain decides, on its own, when a horror game is too much for me and I have no way of predicting what will set that off as it’s based on zero logic. For some reason, the original F.E.A.R. did not mix well with my unconscious mind. At the time, I had recently acquired an Xbox 360 and was excited to give this game a shot after hearing so much about it from PC players. Next-gen (2005) graphics and bullet-time in an FPS? Sign me up!

But something about those Alma sequences was just too much for me. So, I decided the solution was to use the 360’s music feature to play literally anything else over it. I settled on two Frank Zappa albums I saved to the drive: Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch and We’re Only In It For The Money. Let me assure you that this game is nowhere near as creepy when “Harry, You’re A Beast” is playing in the background. Or, maybe it’s somehow worse? Either way, Zappa is forever my unofficial soundtrack for this game. – Claire Jackson, guides writer

Truly screaming, probably in an empty forest: Silent Hill 2

I will never finish playing Silent Hill 2. I started it in a dark living room in college, while sipping on cans of upstate New York’s favourite Genesee beer, and I kept missing this one shot. As punishment, I and my friends had to sit through a cut scene of dirty butcher Pyramid Head having sex (???) with grimy, wriggling mannequin legs sewn to another set of grimy, wriggling legs. I felt violated. I will never get that scene out of my head. No.

AH!: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Image: Frictional Games
Image: Frictional Games

Though Kotaku editor John Walker would “definitely” recommend 2010 survival horror Amnesia, he can’t forget how two scenes made him feel.

“The first is this scene early on where you walk down some bland corridor, and it ends in a collapse where the ceiling’s fallen in,” he DMed me. “So you just think, ‘Ah well, dead end,’ and turn around to go back.

But as you’re turning around, for a fraction of a second, some hideous visage appears in the corridor ahead of you. It’s gone before you can really register if you saw it or not, and it scared the shit out of me.” John’s messages confirm that you can tell a scary story over a platform as austere as Slack

Then, there’s the invisible monster that cements Amnesia as owning what John calls the “scariest bit of game, other than Thief 3, I’ve ever played.”

“You’re in this flooded hallway, and there are tables and chairs strewn across the floor, but you can hear these footsteps,” he said. “If you touch the water at all, they suddenly speed up and get louder, as something comes crashing toward you. But there’s nothing there!”

And then you see the splashes in the water where its feet must be! And you scramble, scramble, to get up on a table and out of the water. It’s one of those moments that makes me lean in until my face is touching the monitor in my efforts to more quickly move forward and climb up, my heart racing, sheer panic making my fingers struggle to operate the mouse and keyboard.”

AHH!: Devotion

I’ve played your Resident Evil 4s, your Dead Spaces, your 7th Guests, your Haunted Houses on Atari 2600. I loved them all, and each, in its own era and in its own way, gave me a good jump scare or a memorably nasty gross-out moment or just sent shivers up my spine. But in my book, Red Candle Games’ Devotion is on another level.

An early sequence involving chilling life-size dolls of your character and his wife crowding your meticulously detailed Taiwan apartment had me more terrified to turn around than I’ve ever been in a video game, so yeah, it delivers the scares in spades on just a raw “Is it scary?” level.

But what makes it cut so much deeper is the way that the game’s horror is rooted in the real, relatable horror of domestic grief, betrayal, and tragedy. Devotion is an absolute masterpiece from one of the most exciting new studios in the world today. -Carolyn Petit, managing editor


Screenshot: Red Barrels
Screenshot: Red Barrels

I am telling you this in confidence — in 2013, I was fascinated by every aspect of first-person survival horror Outlast. The story, a journalist trying to expose the gory happenings of a dilapidated asylum, touched that apple pit in my chest that guides my voyeuristic interest in horror (and writing). What’s going to happen next? And if it’s bloody, what might that look like?

But as a 13-year-old, One Direction posters still hanging proudly on my wall, I was too afraid to play Outlast alone. So I watched PewDiePie play it. I’m sorry. I am so sorry.

Read More: Watching Someone Else Play Resident Evil 7 On YouTube: The Kotaku Review

Little is more frightening than a disgraced gamer. Except maybe Outlast itself, which is disgustingly lascivious, as muddy and bulldozing as a pig, and continues to keep me up at night even though I’ve taken those posters down.

Quiet evil: Disney Dreamlight Valley

Screenshot: Gameloft / Kotaku
Screenshot: Gameloft / Kotaku

Morally, this game repulses me more than anything on this list.

If it brings you joy, I’m happy. If you’ve read any of my gameplay guides for it, I’m happy about that, too. But I think this game is evil distilled. It’s the poison in a snake fang frozen and shaven into the actual movie Frozen.

Megacorps should not be allowed to create candied virtual worlds where their IP encourages you to perform manual labour. It’s disturbing, especially because it smiles. It’s possible that Mickey Mouse’s charming lazy eye has hypnotized you into believing Dreamlight Valley is a cute life sim and not a bundle of nascent evil. I can understand that. But I would lock my cottage doors, if I were you.

What games are you most scared of?

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