Horror in games has evolved massively throughout the decades. What was once considered scary — Friday the 13th on NES — is tame by today’s standards. And the foundations set for modern horror — Resident Evil and Silent Hill on PS1 — have led to incredible shifts in the genre. Because it evolves so drastically and branches out into several sub-genres, it’s impossible to narrow horror games’ hallowed grounds to just one title.
As Halloween draws near and yourstandard.us’s Spookytacular 2020 celebrations come to a close, we’re taking a look at 10 of the best horror games of all time. Note: These aren’t by any means the definitive best of the best, but we’d like to think they’re up there. Don’t see your favorites on the list? Let us know which horror games resonate with you the most in the comments!
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
A great example of atmospheric horror and tension-building, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is scary because of what you don’t see. The first-person horror game from Frictional Games features dark visuals and creepy sounds to create fear within the player. In addition to your character’s health, you also have to manage sanity, making things more mentally taxing. Sanity is affected by multiple elements including looking at monsters and staying in a dark space for too long. This means if you’re hiding from something supernatural, you can only do so in an unlit corner for so long before madness takes over.
Due to its success, Amnesia: The Dark Descent has led to a couple of sequels, with the latest game in the series, Amnesia: Rebirth, having launched earlier this month. It’s also inspired a lot of similar first-person horror titles, from Soma (also developed by Frictional Games) to Outlast. Speaking of which…
Released three years after Amnesia, Outlast from Red Barrels was clearly inspired by its predecessor. Where the former was more about atmosphere and dread, though, the latter is all about blatant, in-your-face scares. Here, what you actually see is what’s scary. There are monstrous creatures with glowing eyes, filthy labs that look like set pieces from the Saw movies, and a dude who bears a striking resemblance to Dr. Satan from House of 1,000 Corpses.
The similarities between Outlast and Amnesia have led to countless forum debates between fans of both series. Ultimately, while Outlast is obviously inspired by Amnesia, it’s able to take its brand of first-person horror in a wildly different direction. Since its release, Outlast has received DLC and a sequel, but the series has been dormant for a few years now. Will it rise once again to capitalize on the release of Amnesia: Rebirth?
One look at a few random screenshots of F.E.A.R., and you could mistake it for a standard military-based first-person shooter. While there’s plenty of solid shooting action in the game, it actually takes equal cues from the horror genre. Sure, you’re a soldier, but you’re a soldier who’s part of a task force that deals specifically with paranormal threats. As such, you’ll be shooting your way through dark corridors and dreary spaces, only for the player character to begin hallucinating and seeing a small girl eerily reminiscent of Samara from The Ring.
Creepy imagery aside, F.E.A.R. also tasks you with taking down bloody, monstrous creatures. Not to mention, there are plenty of jump scares spread throughout the game. F.E.A.R. sort of just came and went, spawning expansions and sequels before coming to an end, but it made a splash on the FPS genre by combining its shooting and melee combat with Japanese horror-inspired themes.
Resident Evil 2 (Remake)
Last year’s remake of Resident Evil 2 isn’t just a great revival for fans who loved the original — it’s also a fantastic introduction for anyone who may have missed it back in the ‘90s. Rebuilt from the ground up, RE2 succeeds because it does more than just slap a hi-res coat of paint on an older game. By reworking and re-imagining a lot of the game’s mechanics, Capcom essentially created something that blurs the line between remake and completely new.
Interestingly, Resident Evil 2 still feels retro where it counts: in its portrayal of aggressive flesh-eating zombies. Like a good ol’ George Romero film, you’ll be tasked with surviving by taking on massive hordes of zombies. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Silent Hill 2
Before Amnesia was blending the worlds of supernatural and psychological horror, Silent Hill was messing with players on PS1. Though the first game is undeniably iconic, it’s Silent Hill 2 that took the series to the next level. With a haunting, hopeless atmosphere and bizarre, gory imagery, the game is still able to provide unsettling terror for players.
Maybe due to how the graphics have aged, everything in Silent Hill 2 just has a grimy look to it. As you guide protagonist James Sunderland in search of his deceased wife, you can’t help but feel that the foggy, claustrophobic town is closing in on you.
Dead by Daylight
If you’ve ever enjoyed a good, campy slasher flick, Dead by Daylight is the game for you. It mimics the look and feel of old school slashers within the confines of a four-versus-one multiplayer game. As one of four survivors, you’ll fix generators to (hopefully) open two exits as you run and hide from the killer, who’s also controlled by a human player. Dead by Daylight makes for good, creepy survival-horror fun. Even after years of playing the game, I still get that gut-wrenching feeling of dread whenever I hear the loud sound of a heartbeat as a killer approaches.
Dead by Daylight may have a simple premise, but it’s executed in a fun, twisted, and bloody manner. And thanks to the addition of so many licensed characters like Leatherface, Michael Myers, Ash Williams, and Pyramid Head, it feels like one giant horror crossover.
Like Silent Hill 2, Manhunt is successful in large part due to its chilling atmosphere — there’s something about those PS2 graphics! Rockstar Games’ first real venture into stealth-horror played out a lot like an exploitation horror film. Set in the decrepit Carcer City, the game follows death row escapee James Earl Cash as he stabs, guts, and beheads mask-wearing gang members that look like they came straight out of a slasher flick.
Manhunt is gritty and gross. It’s dark and twisted. And carrying out the villainous Director’s bidding as your kills are recorded for seedy snuff films results in ultimate violence and gore. The game was so violent and gruesome for its time that several Rockstar employees have admitted to feeling gross after making the game.
Control may be more horror-adjacent than just straightforward horror, but Remedy’s supernatural thriller is filled with twists, turns, and creepy imagery. The game combines a little bit of horror with some superhero-esque action to create an action-adventure experience that’s able to cross over into multiple genre formats.
If we’re being cheeky, you could call it a superhero take on Carrie, though the story and setting here are much different than the Stephen King novel. While being able to use telekinetic powers to lift large debris and rip chunks of wall out certainly makes for a badass protagonist in Jesse Faden, she’s up against equally powerful people with equally powerful abilities. Remedy strikes again with yet another excellent supernatural thriller.
Worse Than Death
Worse Than Death combines the small-town vibe of a Stephen King novel with the subtle oddities of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. The end result is a horror game that’s filled with excellent writing and a protagonist you care about. The story follows Holly, who’s returned home for her high school reunion. It isn’t long before some strange, supernatural happenings occur, leading Holly to look for her missing friends.
Developer Benjamin Rivers, who previously worked on Alone With You, tells a compelling narrative. Top-notch writing aside, Worse Than Death is also pretty frightening at times. You’ll encounter twisted, grotesque creatures, forcing you to hide in the shadows. When you’re not running from monsters, you’ll piece together the mysteries of your childhood town, all the while encountering the disemboweled victims of whatever is out there hunting you.
The Last of Us
There was a time when The Walking Dead balanced great character-driven story with rotting zombie horror. Similarly, The Last of Us treats us to some interesting characters — some of whom we witness meet a tragic death after we’ve become attached to them. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the game trades zombies for clickers, which are, well, practically zombies, but creepier-sounding.
The game’s awesome survival-horror gameplay and story were continued earlier this year with The Last of Us Part 2. Ultimately, both games were able to create something wonderful for fans of action-adventure and horror.
Okay, One More: Pony Island
Because the Halloween gods have deemed it so, here’s number 11 in our list of 10 of the greatest horror games of all time! In Pony Island, you’re tasked with reprogramming an arcade game that’s possessed by none other than the Devil himself. Gameplay is a mix of platforming mini-games and coding puzzles.
Pony Island is a weird game, but the bizarre imagery verges on eerie at times, giving a creeping sense of unease. It’s not filled with jump scares or gore, but it successfully captures that sinking feeling… by showing you pixelated unicorns!
Happy Halloween! What are your favorite horror games?