I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream | Psychological Horror Games
Of the many horror sub-genres, psychological horror is known for leaving a lasting impression because it plays on the fragility of the human mind. Psychological horror doesn’t usually need jump scares or heavy gore. Instead it manipulates us in ways that may seem a little sadistic. Isolation, instability, and paranoia are used to incite an internal crisis that makes you want to stop but at the same time compels you to go on.
The best psychological horror games are those that exploit the common human fears of helplessness and loss of control. Zombie games can be horrifying in their own right, but the hero is usually heavily armed and level-headed, creating a feeling of semi-empowerment against the horde. The games on this list, however, are psychologically terrifying because their characters are weak in the face of enemies.
When there’s no fighting back, one wrong move means the end. When you can’t even trust yourself, you may have already lost. That’s what makes these the best psychological horror games for confronting your darkest fears.
The Best Psychological Horror Games
15. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Developer: Ninja Theory Publisher: Ninja Theory Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, Switch
The first game on our list, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, doesn’t play like a horror game in the traditional sense because it’s more reminiscent of dark fantasy games like Dark Souls.
Senua suffers from psychosis and frequently hears voices that she, like many others, doesn’t know constitute a mental health condition. Senua believes she’s being haunted by something she calls “the darkness”.
There’s a constant feeling of anxiety as the player progresses in Senua’s mission to rescue her lover’s soul from hell. But the psychological horror elements stem from her unreliability as the main character of the story. Although Senua is strong and determined, the voices in her head try to convince you that this battle can’t be won.
14. Alan Wake
Developer: Remedy Entertainment Publisher: Microsoft/Epic Games/Remedy Entertainment Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Xbox Series X | S
Given that the developer’s biggest inspiration for Alan Wake was Stephen King, you probably know the drill: Struggling writer travels to a sleepy town for inspiration while a sense of evil looms like a dense fog rolling in.
Although Alan Wake is considered more thriller than horror because of its focus on narrative over cheap scares, it definitely offers a mystifying ride through an eerie story.
When Alan’s wife goes missing shortly after arriving in the Twin Peaks-esque Bright Falls, some dark presence begins to take over and he can’t tell if what he’s experiencing is reality or a cruel hallucination. This story is full of twists and turns, ending with a reality-shattering conclusion that is straight up nuts.
Developer: Bloober Team Publisher: Aspyr Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, Switch
Observer is a dystopian detective story that uses smart psychological horror elements. It features a dark cyberpunk aesthetic akin to classics like Blade Runner or Akira to create a vision of the world in 2084 that we can only hope never comes true.
The player character, Detective Dan Lazarski, has the special ability of being able to hack into the minds of victims and perpetrators, using their thoughts and emotions as clues to solve crimes.
These ill-fated people are usually troubled and deranged, and the things you get to see from their perspective are disturbing to say the least.
Developer: No Code Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
Coincidentally, the next game on the list is Observation.
No Code’s game first seems like just another spooky space story where a crew of astronauts is in trouble thousands of miles from earth. But there are a few key differences that really make Observation a unique and unpredictable psychological horror game that nails the unreliable narrator trope.
For starters, you play as the space station’s AI unit, S.A.M, who’s been experiencing disturbances in his systems and bouts of amnesia. You still have to go about your duties and help the crew, all the while knowing that you might also be their biggest threat. Observation concludes with an emotional and mind-bending scene that answers a few questions but provokes many more.
11. Among the Sleep
Developer: Krillbite Studio Publisher: Krillbite Studio Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Among the Sleep evokes a feeling of vulnerability in its players that goes all the way back to early childhood.
Being one of the few games where you play as a toddler, Among the Sleep’s main character is two years old, an age when the world feels incomprehensibly big and comfort is found in simple objects like teddy bears.
Among the Sleep uses the perspective of a young child to ensure that the player feels helpless as they toddle away or hide under the nearest chair from a hulking monster. This game is emotionally distressing as much as it is scary, and it will leave you with burning questions about human decency.
10. Doki Doki Literature Club!
Developer: Team Salvato Publisher: Team Salvato, Serenity Forge Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One, Switch
From the perspective of someone whose sole experience with the visual novel genre was Dream Daddy, Doki Doki Literature Club! is captivatingly strange on so many levels. It’s not unreasonable to wonder if the “psychological horror” game might have been mislabeled as you boot it up to hear gentle, upbeat music and read from a baby pink polka dot text box.
In Doki Doki, you play as a boy student who is basically coerced by his neighbor into joining an all-girls after school literature club. At first, the four girls are alluring and the club is inspiring, but then things start to feel more chaotic in almost every way possible. Doki Doki is full of surprises, and you don’t have to be super familiar with visual novels to appreciate this genre-bending, fourth-wall-breaking good time.
Developer: Killmonday Games Publisher: Killmonday Games Platform(s): PC, iOS, Android
Fran Bow is a 2D adventure game that boasts a storybook art style, heavy symbolism, and a whole lot of macabre imagery.
After witnessing her parents’ gruesome deaths, the titular character is committed to a mental institution which she escapes by slipping into a drug-induced fantasy world. Fran Bow is highly reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, or maybe more so Pan’s Labyrinth, as she uses this fantasy world to escape from her harsh reality.
Like many of the best psychological horror games, it plays with themes of sanity and delusion to show you that enough traumatic experiences can actually loosen a person’s grip on reality. Fran Bow’s ending is so open to interpretation that just thinking through all the possibilities is as distressing as it is haunting.
8. Layers of Fear
Developer: Bloober Team Publisher: Aspyr Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Nothing says “psychological horror” like a tortured artist with a mysteriously dark past living all alone in a mansion.
In Layers of Fear, your objective is to finish your masterpiece painting at all costs, but something deep in your psyche is haunting you. With each layer of paint applied to the canvas, the game slowly reveals more of the tragedy that befell the artist’s family.
Layers of Fear is as hallucinatory as it is scary, like a psychedelic horror experience inspired by a bad trip. The moments where you lose sense of the environment around you, unable to distinguish illusion from reality, are what make Layers of Fear one of the best psychological horror games out there.
Developer: Omocat Publisher: PLAYISM Platform(s): PC
Omori is video game genre-bending at its finest.
With inspiration from Earthbound and Yume Nikki, Omori resembles many turn-based RPGs where the titular character goes on adventures and battles enemies with his friends. But it soon becomes clear that this fun daytime dream world is actually a façade, concealing some serious trauma.
As Omori strikes a careful balance between light and dark, you may find yourself unable to stop playing because you’re so nervous about what might happen next to the group of friends. Omori’s realistic and compelling portrayal of common phobias is what makes it easily one of the best psychological horror games.
Developer: Playdead Publisher: Playdead Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Switch
Puzzle platformer Limbo is terrifying from the very start because you really don’t know where you are or how you got there. Only one thing is certain: Everything wants to kill you.
Without music or color, Limbo is minimalist in a way that somehow feels both empty and claustrophobic. The white noise from the forest and factory is actually deafening at times, suffocating the player with a cruel atmosphere.
Limbo is a disturbingly gorgeous game that has been compared to German Expressionism or film noir. The boy character is always killed by a single hit and his death scenes are pretty vivid, even in black and white 2D. The many different ways he can meet an untimely end are paired with just enough gore to make you want to play more carefully with him.
Developer: Red Barrels Publisher: Playdead Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
It’s almost as common to see investigative journalists as horror protagonists as it is to see blade-wielding murderers as horror villains. Everyone knows those crazy journalists will do anything for a story, even if it means trespassing in a remote insane asylum after hours armed with only a camcorder.
The true terror of Outlast comes from the seriously uneven playing field between the player character, Miles, and the murderous, mutated inmates stalking him. Nothing is more distressing than not being able to fight back against attackers, only being able to watch them with a night vision camera and then choosing whether to run or hide.
Developer: Red Candle Games Publisher: Red Candle Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, Switch, Android
Indie gem Detention is a 2D puzzle side-scroller set in a high school in the remote mountains of 1960s Taiwan. As the game’s somber atmosphere hints, this was a dark time in Taiwanese history due to the rule of martial law by China that lasted for nearly 40 years and caused people to live in constant fear.
Player character, Ray, awakens to find herself alone, trapped inside the school at night. She’s powerless against terrifying spirits that roam the halls and her best chance at survival is to figure out why she’s there in the first place.
Detention serves as yet another example of the power of guilt on the human mind, and just how far we’ll go to avoid facing the consequences of our actions.
3. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
Developer: Cyberdreams, The Dreamers Guild Publisher: Cyberdreams, Night Dive, Acclaim, DotEmu Platform(s): PC, Android
Coming in at the oldest game on this list, 1995’s I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is a point and click adventure based on the post-apocalyptic short story from the 60s.
I Have No Mouth is renowned for being one of the best book-to-game adaptations of all time, but that doesn’t mean it’s pure enjoyment. This might be one of the bleakest and most horrifying games you can play.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, a supercomputer has killed all of humanity and now keeps five people alive to torture for eternity. I Have No Mouth is capable of challenging our humanity and shaking us at the core. The story is gut-wrenching and six of its possible seven endings are grim, but if you’re looking for the best psychological horror games, none may be more deserving.
2. Silent Hill 2
Developer: Team Silent (Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo) Publisher: Konami Platform(s): PC, PS2, Xbox, PS3, Xbox 360
The Silent Hill series is a study in psychological horror game excellence with its disorienting environment, disturbing enemy design, and atmosphere of pure desolation. But one installment stands out as especially strong in the distressing department: Silent Hill 2.
Silent Hill 2 may be 20 years old, but it still holds up as one of the best psychological horror games of all time because it revolves around a haunting story of personal trauma that is truly timeless.
This game has a way of embodying human emotion through physical beings, creating monsters that stalk the main character and fill the Otherworld in which he finds himself trapped.
1. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Developer: Frictional Games Publisher: Frictional Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
When you think “psychological horror games,” Amnesia: The Dark Descent may have been the first one that came to mind. That’s no coincidence. Amnesia is an absolute classic and has all the hallmarks of compelling psychological horror with the amnesiac main character being unable to engage in combat or even brave the darkness.
Released in 2010, Amnesia may not have been groundbreaking for survival horror gameplay, but it makes a point to not-so-subtly remind us how delicate the human psyche really is.
Amnesia shows players the atrocities that humans are capable of committing against each other and, ultimately, the power of guilt and atonement.
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