There’s nothing that can make you feel alive quite like a great horror game can. 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 Red Candle Games 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.
This is a living list, so if a new horror game comes out — like Scorn (please be good) — this year and beyond and impresses, we’ll add it.
Developer: Darkworks Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s) PC, PS2, Xbox
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.
49. Slender: The Arrival
Developer: Blue Isle Studios Publisher: Blue Isle Studios Platform(s) PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Switch, Wii U
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.
48. Five Nights At Freddy’s
Developer: Scott Cawthon Publisher: Scott Cawthon Platform(s) PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS, Android
While there’s no denying that the seventeen sequels that followed ruined a lot of the magic for Five Nights At Freddy’s, the first game in the franchise is still a laser-focused jumpscare simulator that often succeeds at robbing you of your nerve.
You play as a new security guy at a creepy placed for kids by the name of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. Trouble is, the animatronics come to life at night, leaving you desperately swivelling from side to side to make sure they can’t get in while also balancing electricity levels. It’s not one for those who can’t multi-task.
47. Penumbra Overture
Developer: Frictional Games Publisher: Frictional Games Platform(s) PC
Penumbra Overture is almost always overlooked when it comes to discussing the best horror games ever made. Maybe it’s down to its younger brother, Amnesia, stealing all of the acclaim or it just not reaching enough people, but Penumbra Overture is almost always left out of the conversation.
The first in a string of episodic games, Overture follows physicist dealing with a loss who finds himself in Greenland at the behest of a mysterious letter. Curiously for a Frictional game, there is combat, though it’s definitely a little rough around the edges. Still, the spooks are solid and it has plenty of follow-up chapters to dive into if you’re feeling chilly.
46. Among the Sleep
Developer: Krillbite Studio Publisher: Krillbite Studio Platform(s) PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
We’re at our most vulnerable when we’re young, what with us not being able to say sentences that well and having a weird, squishy bit on our skulls and all. Among the Sleep pitches an unusual scenario for a horror game: you play as a young baby who ventures out of their cot and into a nightmare. But is it really as simple as that?
Such an interesting premise is backed by some solid, mostly PG scares built on suspense and a story that keeps going places you wouldn’t expect. There’s also a bear who tries to guide you through the nightmare, so that’s another tick for Among the Sleep.
45. Hunt: Showdown
Developer: Crytek Publisher: Crytek Platform(s) PC, Xbox One
A battle royale-esque game with disturbing elements may not feel like a great fit here, but just try playing it in the dark solo with a chunky pair of headphones and watch how often you twitch at every little bit of audio in Hunt: Showdown. The audio design in this game is designed to make you question everything.
It’s good that Hunt has the creatures to back up the things that go bump in the night, then. Featuring twisted designs, such as a woman with a severely broken neck who shoots out poisonous bugs and the scariest spider in a game since Limbo, and a superbly Southern Gothic aesthetic, we dare you to get little Timmy to play this instead of Fortnite and see if he keeps going on about V-Bucks afterwards.
He probably won’t be able to do much of anything, actually.
Hunt: Showdown is an incredibly intense and sometimes nerve-racking game that will require a lot from you. In return, it delivers an experience and a world you will have a hard time finding anywhere else.
Developer: Red Barrels Publisher: Red Barrels Platform(s) PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
While not quite as concentrated as the original game, Outlast 2 still has plenty of scares and blood-pumping chase sequences to induce a heart attack to offer. Our resting heart rate still hasn’t recovered from that cursed sawmill level.
Just like the first game, you take control of a defenceless protagonist armed with nothing but a camera as a bunch of lunatics seek you out in the dark. You have to find your missing wife who is deep within a cult in Arizona, one corn field at a time. The trial and error nature gives you some reprieve from the scares and kills the tension somewhat, but nobody forgets the first time they meet Nick and Laird.
“It dares you to look away, to give in and watch a documentary about red pandas, but if you can look the reaper in the eye and steel your stomach, prepare to be absolutely blown away.”
43. Clock Tower
Developer: Human Entertainment Publisher: Human Entertainment Platform(s) PC, PS1, Famicom, WonderSwan
The world of horror owes a debt of gratitude to Clock Tower, one of the originators of survival horror that started brightly before unfortunately dimming the longer it continued. A 3D sequel to Clock Tower, confusingly itself called Clock Tower, lost a lot of the magic of 2D point and click.
The series has been up and down ever since, it very much at a down right now with it being dormant since the early 2000s. It’s a shame, because the original game in which you must solve puzzles while being hunted by Scissorman still has plenty to offer. Sure, it’s not as scary as most modern games, but this Argento-inspired horror has proved influential for a reason.
Only a mind like Shinji Mikami could sit down at the drawing board and think “Resident Evil, but dinosaurs”. Following the rampant success of the zombie series and the popularity of Jurassic Park, he set to work on making a survival horror with his own bonkers touch.
Following SORT’s deployment to a remote research facility, they soon discover that a reportedly dead scientist isn’t dead at all and has actually been creating velociraptors and T-Rex, as you do. Featuring classic tank controls and frights, Dino Crisis spawned a more action-oriented sequel and a third entry that we just don’t talk about.
41. Layers of Fear 2
Developer: Bloober Team Publisher: Bloober Team Platform(s) PC, PS4, Xbox One
Almost a surprise release, Layers of Fear 2 was somewhat overlooked during the course of 2019 with not even the booming voice of Tony Todd to help it stand out among the crowd. It’s a shame because it offer a lot of improvements over the original.
Certainly a more visually ambitious horror, Layers of Fear 2 transports you aboard a cruise ship with a disturbing story revolving around a sibling pair of stowaways. A love letter to the golden age of Hollywood, there are plenty of layers to this one.
“Though its conclusion may perturb thanks to some obtuse storytelling, Layers of Fear 2’s unconventional and artistic approach to horror make it a real gem of the genre.”
Developer: Red Candle Games Publisher: Red Candle Games Platform(s) PC
The wild controversy surrounding Devotion has unfortunately meant that the game itself has been somewhat forgotten, not helped by the fact that it’s no longer for sale. It’s a crying shame that such a small detail could end up derailing an entire studio and stop so many potential fans from experiencing a true horror gem.
Red Candle’s first 3D game following the also excellent Detention, this Taiwanese production follows a family as they relive the stages of their lives in a creepy apartment complex before going to unexpected places. Low on scares, Devotion is a masterclass in how to build bubbling tension and storytelling that really deserves to see the light of day again.
Developer: Rockstar North Publisher: Rockstar North Platform(s) PC, PS4, PS3, PS2, Xbox
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 Platform(s) PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
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.
37. Dead By Daylight
Developer: Behaviour Digital Inc. Publisher: Behaviour Digital Inc. Platform(s) PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
We had to choose between this or Friday the 13th: The Game to be higher up, 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.
36. Silent Hill 4: The Room
Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami Platform(s) PC, PS2, Xbox
Arguably the last great Silent Hill game, The Room represented a pretty big change in formula for the franchise, so much so that it doesn’t even take place in Silent Hill itself. Instead, you play as Henry Townshend as he tries to escape his apartment while stumbling into supernatural worlds.
With the action in the eponymous room taking place in first-person and less obscure puzzles to tackle, Silent Hill 4 was a significant departure to a less demanding experience, though the scares from the first three games were certainly still present. Definitely one of the most underappreciated “big” horror games ever.
35. Siren: Blood Curse
Developer: Sony Worldwide Studios Publisher: SIE Platform(s) PS3
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.
Developer: Tecmo Publisher: Tecmo Platform(s) PS2, Xbox
Another horror game that’s not what you would call conventional, Fatal Frame II has become a cult classic and often agreed upon as the best in the franchise. A slightly more accessible game than its predecessor, it tasks you with taking photographs of ghosts, which should be enough to sell you all on its own.
While the passage of time has dulled the effectiveness of some of its scares, Fatal Frame II still constantly fosters a sense of unease and an almost unwillingness to look through the camera to see which nightmares await you next.
33. The Suffering
Developer: Surreal Software Publisher: Midway Games Platform(s) PC, PS2, Xbox
Not quite so much an out-an-out horror with scares a minute, The Suffering favours action by tasking you with killing some of the most deformed and unforgettable creatures ever depicted in a video game. It’s been almost a decade and a half and the needle eye guys still creep into our nightmares.
You play as Torque: a criminal locked up in Abbot State Penitentiary when all manner of supernatural madness is unleashed. With a healthy supply of weaponry and Torque able to call upon his inner demons for a more powerful form, The Suffering is more of a body horror and one that still holds up well to this day.
32. The Thing
Developer: Computer Artworks Publisher: Black Label Games/Konami Platform(s) PC, PS2, Xbox
The definition of a cult classic, The Thing is one of the most beloved movie adaptations for a reason: it picks up exactly where John Carpenter left off with you encountering the Things and all the paranoia that they bring among your squadmates.
The Thing should really be looked back on as a majorly innovative and pioneering horror game. Featuring multiple perspectives, utilising the fear of your squad to change the way they perform, and also your friends possibly being infected with the Thing, it’s a testing and stressful horror that we wouldn’t mind being remade.
31. Silent Hill 3
Developer: Team Silent/Konami Publisher: Konami Platform(s) PC, PS2
It was always going to be hard for Konami to follow Silent Hill 2 and the third entry in the series doesn’t take a huge amount of risks to deviate from what was previously so successful. It’s still completely malevolent and full of imagery that would likely make even the guys at Troma wince.
You play as Heather Mason, the daughter of the protagonist from the first game, as she becomes embroiled in the machinations of a cult. Silent Hill 3 leans into its aesthetic more than its prequels with a constant monochrome sheen to the game, giving it a gritty style that somehow makes it that bit more gruesome.
30. Until Dawn
Developer: Supermassive Games Publisher: SIE Platform(s) PS4
A horror game so successful that Sony commissioned Supermassive to take on more projects than they could feasibly handle, Until Dawn takes the tried and tested formula of old slashers and gives it a shot of 21st century cynicism right in the arm. If you loved Scream, there’s a good chance you’ll also appreciate Until Dawn.
One of the most “hands-off” entries on this list, Until Dawn focuses on crafting a customisable narrative and making tough decisions more than it does gameplay. There’s still real tension to be had, though, even if you aren’t directly in control of everything. If one of the game’s many obnoxious characters dies, that’s it: they’re gone for good. With stakes like those as well as some gorgeous visuals, it’s no wonder that Until Dawn is one of the PS4’s best exclusives.
Developer: Acid Wizard Studio Publisher: Acid Wizard Studio Platform(s) PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
It takes something really special to make a top-down game feel terrifying, especially when you can’t see all the little details of the things that go bump in the night. Thanks to a hauntingly muted aesthetic and some truly twisted design, Darkwood manages to create more scares than other games with many more times the budget.
A survival game with an open approach to how you play, Darkwood features a suitably dark and mysterious storyline that twists depending on how you approach other survivors. At day, you must scavenge all you can before the night comes, which, well, is not for the faint of heart. Thanks to some deeply unnerving audio and a mostly “show don’t tell” ethos, Darkwood is a lo-fi horror that’s high on giving you a heart attack.
A little girl in a yellow jacket aboard a ship full of warped passengers. That’s the long and short of it with Little Nightmares, and while the experience itself is a short one, it’s a journey that you won’t be able to shake for far longer.
Mechanically a puzzle platformer, Little Nightmares pits you as Six as she seeks to evade the clutches of barely human creatures, whose designs are memorable enough to keep pushing you on to see what’s next. Aardman meets Tim Burton as aberrations chase you down, you feeling utterly helpless to defend yourself before the true nature of the ship is revealed in grotesque fashion.
“It’s utterly distinctive, gripping, and darker than it lets on, but it’s over much too soon, whether that’s a fault of the pacing or myself just becoming too immersed in the squalor. Even if it is going to grab you by the throat for just a few hours, Little Nightmares is one game you won’t want to shake free from.”
Developer: Red Candle Games Publisher: Red Candle Games Platform(s) PC, PS4, Switch, Android
Taking places in Taiwan during the reign of an oppressive government, Detention isn’t really like the other horror games on this list. Not only does it double act as a thoroughly unsettling horror experience as well as a heartbreaking parable of the region at that time, it’s also considerably lo-fi compared to its peers. You don’t need a detailed 3D monster to jump through a window at you to feel ill at ease.
With a typhoon approaching her school, a young girl must venture her way around its creepy halls to save her friends while fending off the monsters that lurk. Hiding is the obvious ploy, but some of the monsters just want an offering to leave you alone. While it’s probably not the scariest game here, its varied puzzles and fascinating subject matter make Detention one of the most unique.
26. Resident Evil 4
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom Platform(s) PC, PS4, PS3, PS2, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Switch, Gamecube, Wii, iOS, Android, Zeebo
You may baulk at Resident Evil 4 being so low (or even this high, depending on how you feel about its change in direction) on our list. With it favouring action over the survival elements of the first three games, it’s more of a tense affair than the straightforward bed-wetting we’ve been accustomed to from the Resident Evil franchise, though they can put the Regeneradors back wherever they came from, thanks.
You play as Leon, who is sent on a mission to a village in Spain to recover the president’s daughter. It’s clearly not going to be easy as picking her up in a Ford Focus and driving off into the sunset — that becomes pretty clear when the first villager sprouts tentacles out of the neckhole you just created with your shotgun.