Developer: Endnight Games Publisher: Endnight Games
While you may try (and fail) to argue that The Forest isn’t a horror game as its more closely tied to a survival experience than anything, you try descending into the darkness for the first time and then try to stick to your story. Tottering around in The Forest’s underground caverns with barely any light made us never want to go spelunking.
Things aren’t much better on the surface, either. Cannibalistic natives stalk you at seemingly every turn: you may think you’re safe, but they’re probably watching you more than you know. Worse still, trying to defend yourself just brings on even bigger and more hideous abominations, so the best option may in fact just be to run away like a coward. We won’t judge.
“If you’re yet to try the game on PC, its PS4 version is a surprisingly sleek and arguably just as rewarding time-sinker that won’t even make you feel bad for being a terrible parent. Sorry, Timmy, I am one with the trees now.”
One of the most frenetic horror games on this list, Monolith’s F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon if you’re feeling particular) is not so much about the hiding and cowering as it is the exploding and murdering. An FPS game with a horror flavour, F.E.A.R.’s brand is one that feels unique and, importantly, scary.
While it may lean on jumpscares too much sometimes, it’s hard to deny the efficiency of a creepy little girl at making pants turn a decidedly darker colour. Alma is always waiting to bring the terror, most infamously right at the top of a ladder. The latter two games in the F.E.A.R. trilogy are also good, but for keeping things (relatively) simple, the original game provides the biggest scares.
18. Dead Rising
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom
Legend says that no list of the best horror games is complete without an entry that allows you to plop a Servbot helmet on top of a zombie. Dead Rising may not offer conventional scares in the sense that the undead aren’t all that threatening, but what it does provide is a constant state of unease with the clock ticking away.
Losing time to do what you need to do around the Willamette Parkview Mall is the real horror of Dead Rising, meaning that you have to constantly be watching the clock. Thanks to a save system that we’ve all now retrospectively agreed is terrible, death in Dead Rising can be a real killer, adding to the stakes. The second game in the franchise, Off the Record in particular, offers similar fun.
17. Condemned: Criminal Origins
Developer: Monolith Productions Publisher: SEGA
Monolith were certainly on a tear with their horror output last generation with Condemned bringing some more traditional scares compared to F.E.A.R. and its constant action. Something of a cult classic, Condemned is a franchise that’s always in demand for another entry by those who know what everyone else is missing out on.
Banned in Germany as a result of its brutality, Condemned is a first-person couch-clencher that doesn’t shy away from showing the depravities of humanity. Playing as Ethan Thomas, you must track down a serial killer while fending off the twisted minds of Metro City. It’s tense, unflinching, and like all good survival horror games, never makes survival feel like an easy feat.
16. The Evil Within 2
Developer: Tango Gameworks Publisher: Bethesda
One of 2017’s most severely underrated games, The Evil Within 2 takes some of the unnecessary baggage and strange mechanics from the original game and streamlines the experience to great effect. While it could be argued that the first game is scarier, there’s nothing like stalking around a demented town as zombie-like creatures stalk their way across its streets.
Aesthetically, The Evil Within 2 is a complete screenshot factory: it nails what would lie in the darkest recesses of a mind and throws up more than a few memorable monsters in the process. While it may be hammy at some points, it’s a far leaner affair than the one that polarised so many in the original game and a more consistent and terrifying descent into darkness as a result. You can even play in first-person, just in case the terror isn’t quite terrifying enough already.
“It may have made some design concessions that could dissuade fans of the original, but The Evil Within 2 is a far more engrossing nightmare that you won’t want to wake up from.”
15. Layers of Fear
Developer: Bloober Team Publisher: Aspyr
Speaking of descents, Layers of Fear shows the disintegration of the psyche perfectly with you playing a painter who is deep in denial. While its gameplay may be somewhat on the basic side, where Layers of Fear really shines is in its constantly shifting world and head-spinning twists. You can enter one room one second and be transported to something far more nefarious the next.
The environments reflect the way the protagonist is spiralling: as the game continues and the mystery unspools, so too does his grasp on reality. An innocuous painting on an easel morphs into something completely hideous over time, which is reflected in the mansion as things continue to not appear as they seem. Not one to play if you’re riding high on drugs, that’s for damn sure.
14. Dead Space
Developer: Visceral Games (FKA EA Redwood Shores) Publisher: EA
While some may argue that the second entry is overall the better game, the original Dead Space delivers the better scares due to just how vulnerable Isaac feels as he traipses his way around a spaceship infested with nightmarish necromorphs. The early goings are particularly tough, equipping you with just a barebones Plasma Cutter to take on abominations in their hordes.
Where Dead Space comes into its own is in how it approaches combat. Shooting limbs off of the spindly bastards who want to eat your neck off is the only way to slow them down, but how do you fend off a rampaging rhino creature. Dead Space is unfortunately as dead as its name would suggest, but nobody will ever be able to forget their first sobering trip aboard the USG Ishimura.
13. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
Developer: GSC Game World Publisher: Deep Silver
It’s strange that Chernobyl as a setting has been so ineffectively explored in movies over the years. Leave it to video games to fill the gap, then. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise has done more than enough to bring the creep factor up to eleven in one of the most unnerving places on the planet with Call of Pripyat arguably representing the series at its peak.
You play as Agent Alexander Degtyarev, who travels to an irradiated zone to search for missing helicopters and discovers far more than he bargained for in the process. With a sense of depth that is so sorely missing from its modern peers and that all-important scare factor as deformed creatures (appropriately) stalk you, Call of Pripyat is held up as an example of superb game design all these years later for good reason.
Developer: 2K Boston Publisher: 2K Games
You may be thinking to yourself that BioShock doesn’t really deserve a spot on our list as it isn’t certifiably horror. So did we. That is until we went back and played it for the first time in a decade and rediscovered a fear that must have been so unnerving that it was shaken from our memories forever. Rapture is such a beautiful world filled with so much ugliness.
Granted, some of the scares are nullified by how overpowered you eventually become, but there’s no taking away from the first time you innocuously turn around in the doctor’s surgery and find yourself staring into the eyes of a rogue splicer or when you hear the maniacal laughter of an unseen and demented aristocrat just waiting to leap on you. For a truly horrifying experience, try playing it on the hardest difficulty without using a Vita-Chamber.
11. Dying Light
Developer: Techland Publisher: WB Games/Techland
It’s become a bit of a running gag here at CV that Dying Light somehow always manages to find its way onto our lists. That’s not a coincidence, and neither is it due to us being slipped money under the table (although we probably wouldn’t say no to a small loan of a million dollars). No, Dying Light keeps cropping up here because it’s just a damn good video game and one more people should play, especially with its sequel in sight.
While slowly shuffling zombies may have lost some of their fear factor over the years, Dying Light at night is when the game’s at its most terrifying. A thrilling game of cat and mouse between you and the deadly Virals unfolds as you desperately try to find safety. While they’re less of a death sentence the higher the level you are, the first ten or so hours of Dying Light’s nightmares are sure to get the palms sweating.