Developer: Frictional Games Publisher: Frictional Games
Stuck in the bottom of the ocean in a mysterious research facility, players take control of Simon Jarrett as he pieces together the events that led to his abandonment in PATHOS-II. As if being trapped underwater wasn’t scary enough, Soma throws monsters and a lack of weapons into the mix, creating a feeling of helplessness throughout your time in the deep blue. At its core, though, the most startling moments of Soma are psychological and not the physical dangers.
There is no sense of safety walking the halls of PATHOS-II, even if the path ahead appears clear. You’re either being pursued by some monstrosity or being subject to constant psychological strain that’s sure to leave you questioning your surroundings.
Soma is a solid game with a strong and intriguing story that will leave you gripped every second you spend exploring the submerged winding halls of the PATHOS-II facility.
“SOMA offers a different kind of psychological horror experience: eschewing jump scares in favour of asking some probing questions about consciousness, identity, existentialism, and artificial intelligence. An effectively told, impressively presented, and immensely engrossing sci-fi mystery, SOMA proves that it’s very much worth your time on Xbox One.”
Not every horror game needs to feature some deadly fiend or a horde of nightmare creatures. Sometimes, the monsters you fear most can be your own mind. In Layers of Fear, you’ll experience the world through the fractured psyche of an artist trying to complete his masterpiece.
Finishing his “magnum opus” turns into quite the task as hallucinations of his past life come to life. Layers of Fear has many twisting paths as you dive into the troubled mind of the artist and learn his deepest darkest secrets. It’s not long before you realize there is something sinister at work, though it may not be the manifestation of evil you are expecting.
A mix of psychological horror and tragedy sends you on a rollercoaster ride of complex puzzles, jump scares, and disturbing imagery.
In gaming, it’s not uncommon for a sequel to surpass the original. The Evil Within 2 is a far more complex and complete game than its predecessor, leaving behind linearity in favor of a more open world filled with ungodly terrors. The result is an experience that is somehow scarier than the original, which was already some of Shinji Mikami’s most horrifying work.
When Sebastian Castellanos returns to the mysterious STEM system to find the daughter he thought had died, he must face old and new enemies, including a deranged killer and one of the game’s scariest supernatural entities – the singing ghost Anima. Play through The Evil Within 2 and we promise you will never get that haunting version of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune out of your head.
“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.”
7. Alien: Isolation (2014)
Developer: Creative Assembly Publisher: Sega
When Creative Assembly revealed they were working on a survival horror game set in the Alien universe, there were equal parts of excitement and skepticism. In the gaming industry, Alien hasn’t had the best luck, but the Horsham, England developer knocked it out of the park. Using the imposing size, intelligence, and relentlessness of the xenomorph, Creative Assembly delivered a tense game from start to finish.
A rather slow opening sets the stage for Amanda Ripley’s eventual encounter with the lone xenomorph. Unable to kill it, the crafty engineer uses handmade gadgets to distract and lure the ravenous being so she can accomplish her main goal – escape the Sevastopol space station and continue the search for her mother, Ellen.
With an entire system of vents running through the station, you never know when the xeno is going to show up. Just as you can hear it scurrying about, it can most certainly hear you and will react to the slightest noise, even the steady beep of your motion tracker. This all comes together for a non-stop heart-pounding game that doesn’t let up until the credits roll.
When Condemned first released as an Xbox 360 launch title, it wasn’t met with universal praise, but as the years went on, a much larger cult following seemed to latch on. Whatever may have happened at launch certainly doesn’t speak for the game’s popularity today as it has somehow withstood more than a decade to become a classic that’s still a fun, scary, and solid title.
The heavy-hitting gameplay (and we mean that literally) fits well into the gritty environment of the fictional city of Metro. As FBI Serial Crime Unit crime scene investigator Ethan Thomas, players set out to solve a series of murders pinned on the investigator. Using funky gadgets and a keen eye, Thomas seeks out clues that can clear his name. As you can guess, not everything is as it seems and there is something much darker brewing in Metro.
To survive through the mass of psychopaths and cold-blooded killers, Thomas uses brute strength and anything from frying pans to taxidermy knives. The weight of every strike may be the best part of Criminal Origins, but the game also succeeds in giving players quite a few scares.
5. Outlast 2 (2017)
Developer: Red Barrels Publisher: Red Barrels
Red Barrels could have taken the easy way out with Outlast 2. It could have returned to the familiar setting of Mount Massive Asylum and made players explore more of the sprawling psychiatric hospital for the small payoff of a slightly expanded story. Instead, it focused on the region of Coconino County, AZ and a series of villages caught up in cults, religion, and madness. Outlast 2 expands upon the lore presented in the original without coming across as a blatant repeat, though the gameplay is very-much-so the same.
Equipped with a night vision camera, players have to survive by running and hiding from the loons of the Supai region. Like many games where you’re defenseless, Outlast 2 is a thoroughly tense experience framed by a solid story and tight gameplay. Outlast set the stage and Outlast 2 did all it could with the source material to deliver a dreadful but still entertaining game.
“Outlast 2 is simply one of the most absorbing rides in gaming. 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.”
4. Dead Space (2008)
Developer: EA Redwood Shores Publisher: Electronic Arts
EA has certainly taken a spiral since the days of Dead Space, but at least we’ll always have this horror masterpiece to remind us of better times.
EA Redwood Shores knew what it was doing when it reinvented the survival horror genre with the necromorphs, an extraterrestrial spin on zombies. The mutated human corpses can’t just be subdued with a bullet to the head, however. They need to be dismembered – and there is only one man for the job.
Isaac Clarke may not have had a voice in the original Dead Space, but he had the plasma cutter, an industrial tool-turned-weapon that’s become as iconic as the Portal Gun, the Half-Life Crowbar, and the Assassin’s hidden blade. Having to sever limbs adds a sense of urgency to every encounter which compounds the fear instilled by the incredible sound design that brings the USG Ishimura to life.
Not to make the obvious comparison, but Dead Space was the Resident Evil of its generation. It wasn’t just “another survival horror game.” It was what would define the future of the genre – until Capcom pushed the Resident Evil series into an action-oriented direction.
As we’ve said, horror and multiplayer don’t always mix. You can easily lose that feeling of isolation that makes so many horror games scary. In Left 4 Dead 2, the waves of relentless zombies are equally as terrifying as being stalked by some lumbering beast, even if you are battling them with three other players at your side.
Left 4 Dead 2 wasn’t big on setting atmosphere as it knew players would be too distracted to pay attention to it, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t those moments that you just dread. The first time you hear a Witch’s cry is haunting and makes you rethink your “run and gun” strategy for just a moment. Then a Hunter comes hurtling toward you and you throw all caution to the wind.
Even nearly a decade later, Left 4 Dead 2 still stands up against the surge of zombie shooters that have emerged since.
2. Silent Hill 2 (2001)
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo Publisher: Konami
The first Silent Hill was a solid game, but it was its sequel that really helped the series flourish. From a more robust and heartbreaking story to a more memorable variety of twisted monsters, the overall experience simply resonated better with survival horror fans. Silent Hill 2, available on the Xbox One via the HD Collection, gave the town more life, focusing on some of the backstory that’s become part of the long-lasting lore.
When James Sunderland receives a letter from his deceased wife directing him to Silent Hill, he complies. While trying to track down Mary, he runs into others trapped in the nightmare that is the northeastern town and squares off against grotesque monstrosities such as the iconic Pyramid Head and nurses. It’s in Silent Hill 2 that it’s clearer that the monsters are symbolic of something, such as James’ guilt and sexual frustration.
This is the first game to really showcase just how messed up Silent Hill (the town and the series) really is and it is the best at doing so.
1. Resident Evil 2 (2019)
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom
Even when we have most of the Resident Evil series to choose from, the 2019 remake of Resident Evil 2 still comes out on top. Capcom excelled at creating an atmospheric and tense game from start to finish. Players that need frequent breaks between scares will find that Resident Evil 2 is not for them, especially when a certain heavy-footed fiend crashes onto the scene. The remake is a visual and auditory treat for horror fans that will have both novices and genre experts saving often.
If you’re worried about playing what amounts to little more than a graphically improved rehash of the 1998 original, Capcom completely reimagined the game from the ground up. There may be story parallels between the two, but the 2019 version looks, feels, and plays like a completely different game. So little of it is familiar, which enhances the scares. Iconic moments weren’t left out, but they were retooled in such a way that, even if you grew up playing the original, they’re even more shocking than they were.
There is a lot to like about Resident Evil 2 and it’s the perfect iteration to welcome a whole new generation of Resident Evil fans.
“Resident Evil 2 is, quite simply, one of the best remakes of all-time. Capcom have nailed their new vision of a classic just like they did back in 2002 by modernising a decades old game to feel like something completely fresh. Whether you want to take a trip down memory lane or are just experiencing the disconcerting decadence of the police station for the first time, Resident Evil 2 is the first essential purchase of 2019.”