There’s nothing like finding that great little horror game that makes you jump out of your seat. We’ve seen reactions from YouTube streamers and influencers as they try to play their way through something like Five Nights At Freddy’s, insisting that the boogeyman isn’t going to get them. And just when they settle into a comfortable groove, BOOM, and they go and question everything again.
But scares in games didn’t start with Freddy’s. We’ve gotten some absolutely astounding horror experiences over the past few years, and lately, some talented indie developers have really gotten a sense of what makes a great horror game – it’s not just about the jump scares, but building up to them and creating an aura of absolute tension that will make you wonder if you can go to sleep the night you played it. That’s the best kind of game.
So join us as we take a terrifying journey through some of the best horror video games ever made. Your tastes may vary, and we know some of you may be wondering why Layers of Fear didn’t make the cut (it’s a great game, but not quite there), but these will definitely leave you shaken and stirred as you try to question what’s real and what’s a ghost story…
There’s nothing like the original Dead Space. It’s a fantastic action game where death can literally come at any turn, whether you get crushed by something in the environment or taken out by something as simple as a creepy crawly head that will stop at nothing to rip off yours, place its head on your body, and then take control of it. Visceral Games really nailed the creepy atmosphere of this game, as you investigate a nearly abandoned space ship loaded with all sorts of alien/human hybrids that will leave your skin crawling. And the boss battles really feel like battles, instead of the usual sort of “shoot him until he drops” kind of tactic. Hell, the last boss requires utmost timing, or you’ll end up torn to ribbons. The following two games weren’t bad, but there’s something about the unnerving nature of the first that still gets us.
Plus, the song in this trailer…
Horror games aren’t always about spilling blood. In fact, in Alan Wake, you won’t really find that much to speak of, but you will be shaken to your very core as you make your way through Bright Falls, helping this author attempt to track down his wife. The story actually has a lot going for it, but that shouldn’t be a surprise since it comes from Remedy Entertainment, the team behind the early Max Payne games. But Alan Wake is a superb, tension-filled experience, one with shadow demons that send your nerves into a tailspin as they come charging at you. For that matter, the jump scares included here are very well done, and not just thrown in for “gotcha!” effect. And if you need an idea of just how deep this experience goes, remember…”It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean.”
Any game can mess with your bladder, but when’s the last time that a game truly messed with your psyche? Silicon Knights was the master of this with Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem for the Nintendo GameCube, making you freak out in all the right ways with its many mysteries. For instance, tell us you weren’t knocked for a loop the second the game told you that it was erasing your memory card. Or, for that matter, insisting that the controller was unplugged…even though it’s a wired controller. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as Eternal Darkness goes much deeper with its second guesses, and a story that remains truly satisfying right up to the end. It’s a shame we’ll never see a sequel to it, but hopefully, we’ll see the original re-introduced for the Switch in the future.
Out of all the tools we’d call upon to face off against ghosts with, a camera would probably be the lowest on our list. But Crimson Butterfly’s spectral camera is something else, and using it really adds to the overall experience. Of course, Koei Tecmo’s series has always been about great scares and a creepy atmosphere that very few games can match, and Crimson Butterfly really captures this the best. On top of that, you really feel like you have to face your fears in this game, as the only way to make discoveries is jumping in with both feet – even if it’s right into the midst of a ghost-laden trap. Plus, the story in Butterfly is really good as well, adding some depth to the overall proceedings.
Okay, if we are going to simply talk “jump scares,” one could easily bring up how effective the Five Nights At Freddy’s games have been. But let’s point out a shining example in the genre, Outlast, where you find yourself in an asylum filled with all sorts of bloodthirsty crazies. But besides that, you can’t really fend them off – all you can try to do is find a way to survive, and even that doesn’t come easy, because you never know what’s lurking around the corner. Outlast perfectly nails its dark, blood-curdling nature, and the scares come often and aplenty. The sequel’s not bad, but if you really want to challenge yourself from pooping like crazy, the original is the best way to go. Oh, and turn off the lights for this one – we guarantee a few screams well into the night.
While we’re talking sneaking around and trying to stay out of harm’s way, we might as well talk about the best Alien game to hit the franchise since Konami made the Aliens arcade game back in the 80’s. Isolation puts you on a ship loaded with the creepy little things, which will stop at nothing to hunt you down once you’ve been spotted. That’s why it’s vital to use your survival resources the best you can, so you can stay out of harm’s way. Even if you think you’re invincible with a flamethrower in your hand, these things happily remind you that you’re not. The game has dividends in fan service (even more so than Alien: Covenant), and it’s just plain scary to play. Tell us you didn’t freak out when an alien caught you and shredded you with its extended jaws.
Some people have differing opinions when it comes to their favorite Silent Hill games – a few even prefer the tension that comes from Downpour – but there’s something about Silent Hill 2 that sticks in our gut, even after it’s over. This chapter really nailed down the creepiness of the series, as poor James finds himself visiting the foggy city after receiving a letter from his dead wife. The tension mounts up throughout, with plenty of characters appearing (including the signature king of creeps, Pyramid Head), and the many endings guarantee that even if you think you’re doing everything right, that’s not always the case. While the graphics may have aged a bit, Silent Hill 2 retains that level of terror that’s still surprisingly fresh.
We’re not sure what’s scarier – the fact that Hideo Kojima was able to ratchet up so many incredible moments within a small demo, or the fact that Konami is trying to bury it so quickly they want to forget it exists. But P.T. represented an unprecedented moment for the company, packing quite a bit into a small, free gameplay experience that very few players could forget. Granted, it was supposed to lead to something bigger – the now cancelled Silent Hills – but just seeing the little things that came up in this demo were really something. It’s a shame we’ll never see the full game reach fruition – or, for that matter, the demo become available again for those that missed out the first time around. Damn it.
Up until this game’s release, Resident Evil 4 was the definitive survival/horror experience for the saga, although some may argue it still is. But Resident Evil 7 is a rare treat, a game that proves that you can go back to basics, even when things go entirely off the rails like they did with Resident Evil 6. Biohazard introduces you to one of the creepiest families in existence, who are hiding all sorts of devastating secrets that – surprise! – tie in to a much bigger picture. The first-person perspective works wonders for this game, and its atmospheric design is truly off the charts. On top of that, some of the creatures you’ll run into here are absolutely unnerving. Good luck playing this one without your stomach tied up in knots.
Finally, we have to hand it to the team at Supermassive Games. They took a concept that could’ve easily been one note and turned it on its head, with a 90’s style teen horror film that takes a surprisingly good direction. What starts out as a typical slasher drama in Until Dawn goes a lot deeper, as we start to learn more about characters and wonder who truly will make it out alive – even with us at the controls. The game has plenty of intense moments, and when someone bites you, you really feel the loss as you move on to the next scene. And, really, you can’t go wrong with a game that throws Peter Stormare into the mix. No, he may not be the killer, but he brings greatness to his role and has us questioning things even further. (The rest of the actors are great as well.) If you haven’t played this underappreciated gem yet, you need to fix that.