Some of my favourite gaming memories have spawned from horror games. I say spawned because with most games something disgusting and hideous will be ‘spawned’ out of something at some point during the course of the game.
I have recollections of playing Silent Hill 3 on the PlayStation 2 and being so terrified by a few moments that I fell backwards off my inflatable chair and banged my head. Other moments where the anticipation of such a jump scare led me to dilly-dally in a hallway for 10 minutes, reluctant to face whatever creature was lurking in the next room.
It’s that very reluctance to continue and that anticipation of fear that compels you to play these games in the first place. Yes, you can argue that a great horror game should provide more than the odd jump scare here and there and I agree, but sometimes you just can’t beat a good jump out of your seat and scream like a little kid moment.
With that in mind I decided to put a little list of the top 10 games of the current console generation that have made me shriek like the aforementioned, or worse, forced me to change my underwear.
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10. Dying Light (2015)
So, I’ll dive right in with Techlands Dying Light. Whilst I’m firmly in the camp that zombies have been played out to the un-death, Dying light’s take on a zombie outbreak in the fictional city of Harran is good old fashioned, blood and guts fun.
As an open world game, it lacks some of the punch that scripted linear survival horrors provide, very rarely is there any kind of “Oh hell no! I’m not going through there!” moments.
It truly shines brightest when the in-game sun sets and the zombies become more aggressive. The combination of frantic parkour across rooftops and satisfyingly brutal melee combat provide for some frenzied and panic-stricken moments that make Dying Light one of the most fun survival horrors of the current gen.
9. The Evil Within (2014)
The Evil Within by Tango Gameworks doesn’t have the greatest gameplay with its often infuriatingly lethargic combat system. It doesn’t even boast the best narrative in a horror game and at times you scratch your head pondering “Who thought that was good dialogue?”
What it does have however, is plenty of grotesque and terrifying creatures that wouldn’t be out of place in a classic Silent Hill. While the game attempts to portray a physiologically scarring narrative which misses the mark, it more than makes up for that with the visceral imagery and full on gore fest in some of the environments.
8. Until Dawn (2015)
Take all the clichés of the teen slasher genre of films and put them in a game and you get Until Dawn by Supermassive Games. Although you’d think the slasher film genre would provide more laughs than scares, Until Dawn actually delivers both.
Of course, it’s got the horny teens and the cabin in the woods you’d expect from a teen slasher, but it delivers abundant scares as you navigate the game attempting to stop the characters suffering gruesome deaths.
An added bonus is that the game must be replayed multiple times to enjoy the full content of the game as it functions on a decision system that often creates unforeseen consequences later down the road.
7. Prey (2017)
Arkane Studios Prey is a reimagining of the 2006 game of the same name by Human Head Studios. Apart from the name and the basic premise the games share very few similarities. Designed as a spiritual successor to System Shock, it certainly captures the essence with a healthy sprinkling of BioShock.
Talos 1 is a massively explorable space station filled to the airlocks with nasties known as Mimics. These alien life forms can take the form of almost anything in the vicinity. From something as innocuous as a coffee cup to weapons that you really want.
This uncertainty of what is real and what’s potentially a nasty alien as you explore the behemoth station creates a type of tension that is unseen in other survival horror games.
6. Little Nightmares (2017)
Despite initially appearing child friendly, Tarsier Studios Little Nightmares is most certainly not and holds an PEGI rating of 16 for good reason. It plays out in a dark fairy tale style that invokes memories of childhood fears. The game itself suffers from some irritating controls and perspective issues but if you can look past those you’re treated to a stunningly disturbing game.
You play as a little girl named Six in her little yellow rain mac that is trapped in the Maw, a mysterious ship that contains depraved and grotesque creatures. With a modest run time between 3 and 5 hours, Little Nightmares is a haunting game that provides more chills than thrills.
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5. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017)
Capcom shook up the long running series with the 7th instalment of the Resident Evil franchise by switching from the traditional 3rd person to a 1st person perspective. The game retained its emphasis on survival horror with the new perspective’s limited field of view being utilised very effectively to create some memorable scares.
Despite the welcome change in direction from Resi, the repetitive enemies and quickly dissipating sense of dread leave the whole game lacking a little punch by the time the credits roll. Well worth a playthrough but you probably won’t go back and revisit the Baker family.
4. Alien Isolation (2014)
Developer Creative Assembly had a tough task back in 2014. Just a year earlier Sega had released the stinker that was Alien: Colonial Marines so it was always going to be tough to recover the Alien franchise from that debacle. But that is exactly what Creative Assembly did.
Alien Isolation boasts an incredibly faithful visual package to Ridley Scott’s original 1979 film. DOS-Based terminals, lovingly recreated motion tracker, crackling VHS style cut scenes and oh so many blinking little lights on what could easily have been a toaster, but who cares what they thought the future would look like in the 70’s; it’s Alien, it’s meant to look like that.
Isolation’s strongest mechanic is the complete unpredictability of the Xenomorph that stalks you relentlessly throughout the gargantuan Sevastopol space station. Hiding in lockers, vents and generally anywhere you think you’re safe is pretty much all you can do to avoid the insta-death if caught, which at first, is butt-clenchingly tense.
3. Outlast (2013)
Outlast, by developer Red Barrels, is a fine example of good things, or in this case petrifying things come in small packages. The original game without DLC comes in at roughly 4 to 6 hours in length but in that short time it will drag you through hell and make you want to sleep with the lights on.
Being a powerless protagonist means you spend the majority of your time in an Asylum running for your life and hiding from horrifically altered patients/inmates. Unlike Alien, where this mechanic is played out over 20+ hours, Outlast’s short length and variation in antagonists means the tedium never sets in. In fact, it never allows the tension to subside as you’re almost constantly shrouded in darkness on tenterhooks waiting for the next big scare.
2. P.T (2014)
If you’re unfamiliar with P.T, it was a ‘Playable Trailer’ for the now cancelled Silent Hills project by genius games producer Hideo Kojima and now Oscar winning film director Guillermo Del Toro. As a huge fan of the Silent Hill series words cannot express how disappointed I was when this project was canned.
What makes P.T such a terrifying game is its subtle ability to manipulate the player into feeling fleeting moments of safety in the banality of its environment before immediately tearing it away. An absolute must play for horror game fans, it was removed from PSN but if it remains on a PS4 hard drive it can still be played. Check with your friends.
1. Layers of Fear (2016)
Bloober Team had clearly been doing their homework on horror when this absolute gem was released in 2016. Perhaps taking some lessons from P.T, Layers of Fear expanded upon the gameplay to produce something so scary that it still gives me the odd nightmare.
Layers of Fear contains some of the most pleasingly disturbing imagery in a modern horror game. It revels in manipulating the inanest objects into twisted monstrosities before your very eyes, then quickly builds upon the players already unsettled psyche by using a more traditional scare to completely horrify you.
A masterclass in modern horror gaming. Layers of Fear gets under your skin and leaves you rocking back and forth, clutching your knees in the shower and asking yourself “Why did I play that?”, at least until the next time you want to play it anyway.
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