There’s nothing that can make you feel alive quite like a great horror game. Sure, FPS games can provide some high-speed, furious action and open world games may take your breath away when you gaze upon a new horizon, but there’s nothing close to the feeling from playing the best horror games to remind you of your mortality, whether that’s through creeping tension or some loud and proud jump scares.
Just like their movie counterparts, horror games tend to attract a more niche audience but one that’s still pretty sizeable. There’s a reason why so many of them litter Steam: any chance players can get to feel their hearts fall out of their backsides and they will take it. It’s led to a lot of half-baked games in recent years to try and entice YouTubers, meaning that there’s a pretty poor ratio of essential scares to jumpscare fodder.
It also doesn’t help that the biggest publishers don’t really see them as profitable. Well, profitable enough to appease their shareholders, at least.
Trying to fill out the bottom line led EA to plague Dead Space 3 with microtransactions and abandon the scares for more action. Really, it’s only Capcom who are even trying to release big budget horror games these days with the Resident Evil franchise still going strong, though they did try to make Resident Evil 6 more of an action game than a horror.
That’s where the indie developers come in. Horror games have always been more of a niche than, say, FIFA, which is why there are so many low-scale devs catering to those who typically aren’t catered to at all.
Frictional Games have remained independent and just as good at eliciting scares as the day they wowed everyone with Amnesia, but there are also names like Bloober Team and RedCandleGames showcasing just how good horror can still be when done with some restraint.
To remind the industry of what good can come from spending money on producing stuff people actually want, we’ve compiled a list of the best horrors that are sure to scare you rotten. To make things a little spicier, we’ve tried to limit the amount of games from a single franchise, otherwise this would just be packed with Resident Evil and half of the Silent Hill series.
Consider this our vanity pick for this list. While memories of Cold Fear are no doubt faded for many, they shine brightly in ours, even if we know that our nostalgia will be shattered if we go back and play it now. Father Time is a cruel master.
The first horror game to be directly influenced by Resident Evil 4’s over-the-shoulder perspective, Cold Fear borrows heavily from Capcom’s franchise, though its unique setting — a ship all out at sea — marks it out as still feeling like enough of its own game. With the ship constantly rocking, you must steady your aim and also your nerves to survive.
35. Slender: The Arrival
Developer: Blue Isle Studios Publisher: Blue Isle Studios
Everyone is sick to the back teeth of Slender Man with Hollywood grinding away just about any fear of him remaining thanks to the disastrous adaptation from 2018. Slender is also guilty of inspiring many half-assed imitators, though you don’t tend to imitate something that isn’t fantastic.
Heavily reliant on jumpscares, Slender: The Arrival also has a creeping tension throughout thanks to excellent audio design. A sequence in an underground bunker with a hooded assailant and also Slender himself to content with is pure torture on the nerves. The game loses its effectiveness somewhat after that, but it’s still a deeply unsettling experience.
Developer: Rockstar North Publisher: Rockstar North
One of the most controversial games ever made, and for good reason. Manhunt went for shock value when it released in the PlayStation 2 era and it certainly made the headlines it craved. Finding itself banned from release in certain countries, the Texas Chain Saw Massacre of video games is a horror game where the real monster is the “hero”.
You play as James Earl Cash, who’s “sentenced” to a sick game of life or death in Carcer City. Sneaking your way around its gang-infested areas, you must survive any way you see fit, including suffocation by plastic bag — and that’s one of the game’s most PG moments. Dark as they come, Manhunt is a visceral game that ruined the youths of many, though it might not quite have the same effect these days.
Developer: Bloober Team Publisher: Aspyr
A cyperpunk horror game, Observer (stylised as >observer_) is the most recent effort from the mind-warpers over at Bloober Team, who are also responsible for the equally chilling Layers of Fear. Set in the near future, you play as the titular Observer as he “jacks” into the minds of criminal suspects.
Like a twisted version of Minority Report, Observer doesn’t flinch away from taking you to the darkest recesses of the human mind. Featuring a surprisingly committed performance from Rutger Hauer and the unforgettable visuals that Bloober are becoming notorious for, Observer is a game you should plug in to if you haven’t yet.
32. Dead By Daylight
Developer: Behaviour Digital Inc. Publisher: Behaviour Digital Inc.
We had to choose between including this or Friday the 13th: The Game, but with the latter’s current stick spot regarding licensing, we went with the multiplayer horror game with some stability. Dead By Daylight may also arguably be the better of the two anyway, thanks to its wider cast of murderers.
Teamwork is key in Dead By Daylight as you work to power generators to escape a massive but also somehow claustrophobic map. On the flipside, you can play as a killer and hunt other players down and even hang them on hooks for a sacrifice. If that isn’t the most metal sounding game ever, we don’t know what it is.
31. Siren: Blood Curse
Developer: Sony Worldwide Studios Publisher: SIE
Probably the most “abstract” entry on this list, Siren: Blood Curse is a PS3 title that didn’t get much of a look-in in the West. It might be down to it treading a fine line between the bizarre and innovative thanks to the Sight-Jack System, which allows you to see from the perspective of your attackers.
Those attackers take the form of deranged villagers who have become the victims of a curse with you playing as a cast of hapless TV crew members. It’s a tough experience and one that may annoy with its trial and error approach, but Siren: Blood Curse’s oppressive mood and constant twists will keep you hooked.