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The Best Horror Games of All Time

It’s fair to say I have something of a love/hate relationship with horror games. I’ve loved horror movies my whole life, gobbling them all up like a greedy little goblin. In fact, I like watching horror movies to relax, if you can believe that. But horror games? They’re a different beast altogether.

You see, horror movies are safe territory for me. There’s a sense of detachment from it all. I can sit back and happily let the carnage unfold, knowing that I’m just a casual observer. I’m safe and sound in my pit, and nothing can touch me. But with a horror game, you’re right in the thick of it, and there’s no escape (unless you switch the damn thing off!).

Every sound you hear in the distance could be an unseen threat, lurking, waiting for the right time to strike out at you. You have to constantly check your peripheral vision, just in case. You need to arm yourself against danger, find a good place to hide, or at least know where the nearest exit is at all times.

You’re reliant on your own reaction times. If you fumble a button press it could already be too late. It’s intense. You start thinking to yourself that if you ever found yourself in this situation in real life, you’d just want to find a nice little corner to sit in and cry. Horror games are stressful, not relaxing.

And yet, there’s something so compelling about them. Completing objectives in horror games feels so much more satisfying than in other types of games. There’s a real sense of accomplishment. Facing your fears and forging ahead, despite every fiber of your being telling you not to. It’s empowering.

Needless to say, tapping into that feeling is like finding lightning in a jar for game developers, and over the years we’ve been blessed with some of the most horrific and disgustingly brilliant titles that their warped minds have conjured up.

Here’s a look at some of our favorite horror and survival horror titles of all time (in no particular order).

Resident Evil 2

Resident Evil may be where it all began, but it was Resident Evil 2 that really wrapped its festering tendrils around me. Capcom’s second foray into the zombie-infested streets of Racoon City benefitted from a longer campaign, better set pieces, and two playable protagonists, Claire Redfield and Leon S Kennedy.

The horror of Resident Evil 2 was a heady cocktail of different elements. Tense exploration through the corridors of Racoon City’s police station was made more terrifying, thanks to Resi’s mix of pre-rendered backdrops (preventing you from looking round corners), a very limited ammo supply, and the ever-present fear of jump scares.

And speaking of jump scares, Resi 2 features the absolute Daddy. Cementing itself into my memory, I’ll never forget the moment when (spoilers) that bloody Licker bursts through the window! Who knew I could scream in such a high pitch?

Resi 2’s core mix of blasting and puzzling set the trend for the next couple of generations of survival horror. The ever-present threat of the insidious Umbrella Corporation unfolding around you as you played, and the abject horror of all they had created in the name of science.

Even Resident Evil’s most numerous inhabitants, the shambling undead, regularly reminded you of their threat factor. Stand still for too long, or fumble while reloading, and you’ll soon find yourself overwhelmed. Thank God for typewriter ribbons and the twinkly reassurance of that safe room music.

Silent Hill 2

While we’re sat around impatiently waiting for Bloober Team’s Silent Hill 2 remake to drop (currently due at the end of 2024), it’s worth taking a nostalgic look back at the 2001 original.

Silent Hill 2 was a brilliant horror game. Skillfully riding the wave of survival horror games from the early 2000s, it succeeded due to the extra dimension of psychological horror that it layered on top of that well-trod formula. That, and the fact that it was bloody terrifying.

Silent Hill 2 flipped the script when it came to horror game protagonists. Everything starts out innocently enough – as these things often do. Your character James Sunderland winds up in Silent Hill, searching for his (deceased) wife Mary, having received a mysterious letter “from” her – some 3 years after her death.

Your character’s initial confusion bleeds through the screen, as you stumble through the fog with him, piecing the puzzle together, while trying to survive the living nightmare that is Silent Hill. The further you venture into the town and into the game, the more is revealed about James, his wife, and the life they shared together.

Subtle hints are dropped as you progress through the campaign to suggest that all is not as it seems. By the time you reach the final reveal, the rug is pulled, and your jaw will drop. It’s a brilliant examination of horror (both human and supernatural), and an effective exploration of how perception can warp reality.

Dead Space

In space no-one can hear you scream, but in Dead Space, everybody in the house can hear you scream – like the great big wuss that you are.

Dead Space is set aboard the starship Ishimura, which has become infested with Necromorphs, undead monsters who have run riot through its insides. You play as engineer Isaac Clarke who boards the Ishimura as part of a rescue effort, following the discovery that the spaceship has gone eerily radio silent.

During the campaign, you navigate your way through the Ishimura’s maze-like structure, solving logistical puzzles, and battling Necromorphs as you complete level-based sections of the game. As an engineer, you are not armed with an arsenal of firearms. Instead, you use your crafting know-how to cobble together various engineering tools and instruments to deal damage.

The tense exploration plays a big part in building up Dead Space’s atmosphere. Often, you’ll pass along pitch black corridors, with only your torchlight to illuminate the way. Plus, it has some of the best sound design of any horror game, with many of the distant off-camera sounds giving you a chilling auditory taste of the terror to come.

Tactical gameplay can be a literal lifesaver in Dead Space. These Necromorphs move quickly, and it can take more than a few blasts from your favorite tool to bring them down. Instead, consider taking out their legs so that they can’t run, or blast off their arms so they can’t grab you. Combat is visceral and unforgiving, and you have to think on your feet during every encounter.

Dead Space’s environment is brilliantly realized, and by putting you in the shoes of hapless everyman Isaac Clarke, it ratchets up the scare factor no end. Plus, thanks to the excellent 2023 remake, it can fuel your nightmares on current-gen consoles, too!

P.T.

Ah, what could have been. If ever there was irrefutable evidence of the damage caused by corporate meddling and in-fighting, it’s in the shape of the oft-lamented P.T. (or ‘playable trial’), from the early PS4 days.

This 2014 horror game arrived rather unceremoniously in the form of a downloadable and playable demo. Little was revealed about the demo at the time, with most players diving in blind and not knowing what to expect. What they were presented with was the most pant-wettingly scary horror game that never was.

Shown from a first-person perspective, you begin P.T. as an unnamed protagonist, waking in a seemingly haunted apartment, with no knowledge of how you got there. What follows is an explorative loop, as you travel through the apartment, searching for clues and a means to escape.

Once you reach the end of the apartment, you descend a staircase – at the bottom of which is a door. Go through the door and you’ll arrive inside the front door of the apartment again. This time, however, things appear to have changed. You’ll notice pictures hanging where there were no pictures before, messages scrawled onto the walls, and so on, with each loop initiating fresh changes.

Every time you complete a successful loop of the apartment, new changes appear, which become ever more disturbing and terrifying. As you progress, you start to become aware of a presence in the apartment that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand tall, with one false move triggering a bowel-loosening jump scare that transports you back to the beginning of that loop.

It’s unbearably tense, incredibly atmospheric, and (as anyone who ever completed P.T. – or read its spoilers knows) was intended to mark a brand new chapter in the Silent Hill franchise. Finding a way to break free from this hellish loop is the aim of the game, but the longer you stay trapped in the apartment, the worse things will get.

In retrospect, it seems strange to mourn the fact that P.T.’s final form never saw the light of day, seeing as it would have caused so many sleepless nights for the global gaming community. However, we deserved every one of the scares it promised, and it’s a crying shame that developer differences couldn’t be smoothed out for the sake of P.T. and Silent Hill’s fanbase.

Alien Isolation

Every self-respecting Sci-Fi fan has Alien and Aliens near the top of their ‘best horror films’ list, and rightly so. But in the wake of a couple of lackluster movie sequels, people began to forget just how terrifying these xenomorphs were as adversaries. The world needed reminding. And boy, did Alien Isolation remind them!

Alien Isolation is a first-person horror game that puts you in the shoes of engineer Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Sci-Fi’s most kickass heroine, Ellen Ripley. As Amanda, you’re investigating your mother’s disappearance aboard the space station Sevastapol.

Once inside, things go from fine to tits up rather swiftly, as it’s discovered that an Alien creature is on the loose inside the space station. You must find your way to safety quickly, and very (very) quietly, strapping your best stealth shoes on, and searching for an escape route.

You must crouch, crawl, and hide your way through the bowels of the Sevastopol, punching in at every available save point, and hoping to God that the Alien doesn’t find you. Because if it does find you, you’ve got no chance.

Alien Isolation is a dramatically tense game, that forces you to hold your breath in real life too, knowing that a single misstep could see the walls of the Sevastapol sprayed red with your innards. Armed with only a motion tracker (and later a flame thrower), the tension is almost unbearable at times.

You see, this Alien can’t be stopped. It can’t be killed, beaten, or suppressed. A burst from your flame thrower might grace you with a few extra seconds to run and hide somewhere, but that’s it.

Alien Isolation is a game that reminds you time and again just how helpless you really are. And we love it.

The Outlast Trials

Seriously. As if Outlast and Outlast 2 weren’t already scary enough, Red Barrels goes and drops The Outlast Trials on us. Set in the same universe as the previous games (though not a direct sequel), it centers around test subjects involuntarily recruited by the mysterious Murkoff Corporation (there’s always a sinister corporation involved, amirite?), who are being used as human guinea pigs.

Set during the Cold War, these poor souls are subjected to horrific methods of brainwashing and mind control. In this first-person psychological survival horror game, you must complete a series of tasks (either co-operatively with up to four other players, or single-handedly), while avoiding deadly enemies.

Choose from distinct character classes and skill trees as you play through these devious trials. Armed with a pair of night vision goggles to help you sidestep enemies, you can find useful tools and items to aid you in your endeavours. But be warned, you cannot directly take on enemies, and must do what you can to avoid detection and remain anonymous.

Essentially a series of missions to be played through rather than a central storyline, The Outlast Trials represents a bit of a departure for the franchise. Undoubtedly geared towards the multiplayer aspect, some of the tension is inevitably diluted by the co-op nature of the gameplay. A horror shared, and all that.

Nevertheless, The Outlast Trials remains an effective slice of horror, with tense gameplay that’ll put you on the edge of your seat, regardless of whether you’re playing alone or not.

Sons of the Forest

Fancy being stranded alone on an island full of cannibals? Of course, you don’t. Well, in Sons of the Forest, that’s exactly what you are, whether you like it or not. This sequel to 2014’s The Forest ups the ante, and puts you in the shoes of journalist Jack Holt, who’s about to have a very bad day.

Assigned to a team of private military contractors for plot reasons, Jack is dispatched with them to investigate an island called “Site 2” to search for missing PuffCorp CEO Edward Puffton (no, really), who has mysteriously disappeared there – along with his wife and daughter. Mid-flight, the team’s helicopter is shot down by persons unknown, with Jack emerging as one of two survivors, the other survivor being the infamous, Kelvin who becomes yours to command.

Stranded and alone, Jack must craft and build like MacGyver to protect himself from the elements and the (as yet) unseen threats on the island. What ensues is a strategic risk/reward system of exploration, where better equipment can be found or crafted, the further in you dare to explore. You’ll stumble across underground bunkers, cave systems, disused facilities, and more in your campaign to survive the wilderness.

Along the way, you’ll uncover various tribes of cannibals and mutated humans who don’t take too kindly to your presence on Site 2. You need your wits about you to outfox them and keep yourself off the menu.

Boasting a much larger map than its predecessor, Sons of the Forest does what every good horror sequel should – expand the universe and deepen the mystery. Packed to the rafters with scares, this is an all-consuming and immersive survival horror experience that stays with you.

7 Days to Die

It may have a rather Bond-esque title, but there isn’t a single vodka martini in sight in 7 Days To Die. And, instead of playing as a debonair British spy, you play as a survivor of the Third World War, who has to survive in a post-nuclear landscape by any means necessary.

7 Days To Die is a survival horror title that puts a heavy emphasis on the survival element. In this irradiated world, your character is in constant need of food and water and must find adequate shelter from the elements. Oh, and did I mention that there are zombies, too? Well, there is. Hordes of them.

Thanks to a dynamic day/night cycle, the threat level that the zombies pose differs depending on whether the sun is up or not. During the daylight hours, expect the undead to shuffle about in a similar fashion to those on The Walking Dead. But at night time, you’ll be up against terrifying feral zombies who move faster and are infinitely more aggressive.

Hunt for food, build shelters, tools, and weapons during daylight, and prepare yourself for the horrors that peel forth after sundown. You do not want to be out in the open and alone in the dark in this game. Luckily, 7 Days To Die is a multiplayer title, so you can find some safety in numbers with other players in the Survival or Creative modes.

In case you’re wondering about that title, it refers to a blood moon event that takes place once every seven in-game days. When the blood moon happens, legions of the undead spill forth from every crack and crevice of the world, converging at your location to tear things up.

If you’ve failed to make adequate preparations and haven’t reinforced your shelter properly, or haven’t leveled up quickly enough, you’re in for a very very bad night indeed.

A bit like Minecraft for grown-ups, 7 Days To Die is as immersive as it is terrifying. With different biomes to explore across different types of terrain, there’s a real pull to explore the world in search of better crafting components and resources. Just make sure to haul ass back home before the stars come out!       

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