Being a survival horror fan isn’t easy. We’ve scoured dark hallways, come face-to-face with countless monstrosities, and pressed on even as our hearts raced. Each new title threatens to push us closer to that proverbial edge, to a point where we have to tap out for tamer, more lighthearted gameplay.
Even more difficult than being a survival horror fan is choosing which games are the best in the genre. With a library of entries that defined and redefined what it’s like to be terrified in a digital world, having to select only a few is more nerve-wracking than Mr. X’s rhythmic, pounding footsteps.
Yet here we are, poised and ready to deliver on what many are sure to agree are the games that help explain why we love survival horror games. To avoid a repetitive list comprised of just one or two series, we’ve pinpointed the best of that franchise.
Developer: Computer Artworks Publisher: Black Label Games Konami
Video games based off of movies are almost always guaranteed to be duds. However, Computer Artworks found a way to capture the tone of John Carpenter’s The Thing, at least enough to make an enjoyable title set in the same universe.
Taking place after the incident at Outpost 31, players control Captain J.F. Blake as part of a U.S. Special Forces recon team sent to investigate the American camp. It doesn’t take long for the creature to emerge and Blake’s mission to go awry.
To increase the tension, players not only have to deal with extraterrestrial lifeforms, they also have to ease their allies’ fears. Lose their trust, and they may assume you to be The Thing and open fire without question. There’s also the likelihood that someone in your team is infected, leading to unexpected conflicts that only further hinder Blake’s mission.
Developer: SCE Cambridge Studio Publisher: Namco
It’s not going to scare you out of your wits, but there are a few moments in this PS2 shooter that will have you moving cautiously. Ghosthunter is headlined by unwitting spectral trapper Detective Lazarus Jones. While on a routine call investigating unusual noises, Lazarus unknowingly releases imprisoned ghosts and his partner, Anna Steele (no, not that Anna Steele), is taken.
Equipped with an arsenal of special ghost-trapping weapons and gadgets, Lazarus sets out to recapture the spirits he let loose and rescue Steele. There are so many parallels to a certain quartet of ghost wranglers from New York, which lends to the charm of Ghosthunter.
Some of the set pieces, such as a haunted school, ghost ship, spooky prison, and creaky manor, lend to the game’s creepier moments. When you can get past Lazarus’ frequent quips, there’s a ton of atmosphere to find yourself immersed in.
18. Haunting Ground
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom
Serving as a spiritual successor to Capcom’s Clock Tower series, Haunting Ground is a familiar experience with an added perk – a white Shepherd named Hewie. Players are joined by their faithful canine companion as they evade pursuers on their trek to escape the mysterious castle that protagonist, Fiona Belli, woke up in.
With limited physical attacks at their disposal, players must primarily rely on the protective pup and Fiona’s ability to run to escape the horrors of the castle. When Fiona is attacked or is in a dangerous situation, she’ll start to panic, which diminishes player control and sends her running off on her own.
Capcom focuses heavily on atmosphere and a sense of helplessness to leave players feeling uneasy. There aren’t many monsters to fear in Haunting Ground, but Capcom’s use of sound and pacing creates an effective survival horror title that receives more love now than it did at release.
Developer: Hydravision Entertainment Publisher: DreamCatcher Interactive
Two-player survival horror experiences aren’t easy to come by, but Hydravision Entertainment found a way to make it work. Set in the nefarious Leafmore High, Obscure gives players five different characters to control. At all times, a player is accompanied by an AI-controlled character, which a second person can jump in and control.
It’s a story we’ve seen and played through before, but Obscure is just different enough to appeal to survival horror fans. You’ll gather weapons and combine items as you guide five high school stereotypes through the horror-filled halls of Leafmore, doing your best to keep every character alive. Lose one, and that’s the end of their story and your chance at using their helpful skill.
Playing with a friend doesn’t ease the effectiveness occasional scare, especially if they’re just as unnerved as you are during your playthrough. The game could use some polish for a smoother experience, but it’s the video game equivalent of 90’s horror movies with a cast of teens you can’t quite decide if you want to die.
16. Parasite Eve
Developer: Square Publisher: Square Electronic Arts
Parasite Eve serves as the sequel to Hideaki Sena’s novel of the same name, sharing similar thematic elements. It’s a unique game for several reasons, and not just because it’s the follow-up to a book. First, it was SquareSoft’s first Mature-rated title. It also was one of the first times the survival horror genre was crossed with role-playing.
As Aya Brea, an NYPD rookie, players battle a host of terrifying monsters all tied to the titular antagonist. From the grisly opening moments throughout Aya’s quest across New York to put a stop to Eve, players are immersed in a story-heavy survival horror game that has Square’s signature weirdness and unforgettable cutscenes.
Combat is a mix of real-time and turn-based action, which helps make up for its slower pacing and appeal to a broader range of players.
15. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Developer: Headfirst Productions Publisher: Bethesda Softworks / 2K Games
There may be an unwritten rule that says any horror list must include one Lovecraftian entry. For ours, it’s Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Players fill the role of private investigator Jack Walters as he responds to a missing person case in the eerie town of Innsmouth. Did we forget to mention that’s after he’s forced to leave the police force in response to witnessing two aliens emerging from a portal and immediately losing his mind?
The real horrors of Dark Corners of the Earth are the xenophobic residents of Innsmouth, who have it in for Walters the moment he enters the town. Deadly sea creatures aside, you never feel at ease from the moment you arrive at the coastal town. Locals are clearly plotting something, and in one very tense segment that completely changes the game, you find out what that is.
14. Nightmare Creatures
Developer: Kalisto Entertainment Publisher: Activision
Kalisto Entertainment went belly up in 2002, but thankfully that was five years after its team of developers gave us the gothic horrors of Nightmare Creatures. Playing as either Ignatius Blackward or Nadia Franciscus, you’re tasked with hunting down the sinister occultist Adam Crowley before he turns all denizens of London into a horde of nightmare creatures.
The only really scary thing about Nightmare Creatures was its often punishing difficulty level, but the dark setting and creature design fit right at home in the survival horror genre. The game thrived on atmosphere, from the blood-soaked streets of 19th-century London to the monster-filled sewers beneath. Even with clunky gameplay, Nightmare Creatures is a classic worth returning to.
13. Alien: Isolation
Developer: Creative Assembly Publisher: Sega
Just when fans of Ridley Scott’s Alien thought there was no hope for even a decent game in the franchise, Creative Assembly steps in with a bonafide horror title that puts the pacing and horror of the first movie in the forefront.
Alien: Isolation builds off Scott’s creation with Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley. In Isolation, Amanda is a capable engineer that gets trapped aboard the Sevastopol station with a tenacious xenomorph. Unable to kill the fully-grown alien, Ripley must sneak her way through the rickety station, battling deadly androids and unhinged survivors along the way.
Creative Assembly took cues from the movies by making the alien capable of using the station’s many vents to pop up literally almost anywhere. Make too much noise and the slick black figure will be on you in minutes, ready to plunge its inner jaw into your forehead. From the blip of the motion tracker to the rumbling in the ceilings, Isolation has plenty to make gamers shaky.
Dino Crisis may have used many elements from the Resident Evil series, but it’s a terrifying horror title that deserves to stand separate from Capcom’s zombie-romp.
In fact, the original Dino Crisis is, at times, even scarier than the two Resident Evil games that preceded it. Velociraptors may not be rotting corpses, but their persistence and ability to crash through doors, leaving you with little choice but to expend precious ammo on them, gave gamers quite the jump. Even the lumbering tyrannosaur, a dinosaur many of us have treasured since adolescence, found ways to be scary.
Though many movies have tried, Dino Crisis is the first across any medium to successfully root dinosaurs in horror (though Jurassic Park came really close).
11. Alone in the Dark
Developer: Infogrames Publisher: Infogrames
While the original Resident Evil is often considered the game that defined survival horror, Alone in the Dark came about four years earlier and quietly paved the way for games like Capcom’s unending franchise. The 1992 title was the first 3D survival horror game to release, but that’s not what earned it a spot on a “best of” list.
Though “first” in no way means “good,” Alone in the Dark was a critical success. It was one of the first games to utilize atmosphere to create fear and dread, though its clunky visuals may be more laughable today. When played upon release, it was easy to get sucked into the forbidding Derceto mansion.