The best place for horror: your gaming box
No video game drives the gripping, life-affirming rush of adrenaline that a horror game can. Unlike even the most frightening movies, games put you squarely in control, making for an innately more immersive – and therefore more terrifying – experience.
Your choices directly affect what happens on screen, making every movement that much more fraught with tension.
Back then, horror games used to be all about the classic jump scares and isolation tactics. And, while that’s still largely the case, horror games have come a mighty long way.
What follows are what we think are 10 of the best horror games that you can play on PC and consoles today. Go ahead and spook yourselves silly.
The Dead Space series
Dead Space, three games published by EA and developed by Visceral Games, is among the contemporary classic horror games. The story, first set on an abandoned space vessel (duh), takes terrifying twists and turns – most of which involving zombified aliens waiting around said turns.
Following the formula established by Ridley Scott’s classic “Alien” certainly helped – besides, the first Alien game to pull it off didn’t release for another few years. (See all about that one in a few slides.)
All in all, Dead Space was one of the pioneering horror games of the modern era, inspiring a renaissance in the genre that hasn’t yet died down. That comes down to some simple tenants: a compelling story, believable visuals and proper pacing.
You can play Dead Space on Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows.
Slender: The Eight Pages
Released in mid-2012, Slender is based around long pauses followed by sudden movements that are totally unexpected. In other words: jump scares. Essentially, it is a horror film in video game form. It’s a bit cheap, but – boy – does it work.
Your mission is simple: Don’t get killed, collect the eight pieces of a book and run. The “thing” pursuing you – known as Slender Man (directly inspired by the meme) – is a faceless, eerily (unnaturally) lanky man in a pinstriped suit.
Basically, he’s the perfect horror game villain.
The game relies heavily around the player having virtually no resources beyond a flashlight and the ability to jog. Naturally, both of which are limited for obvious reasons, making escape all the more difficult.
Overall, Slender is a fun, not-so-clever horror game that is guaranteed to scare you senseless nevertheless.
You can play Slender: The Eight Pages on Windows and OS X.
Left 4 Dead 2
While Left 4 Dead came first, the second version saw Valve nail original creators Turtle Rock Studios’ vision. Set in a world overrun by zombies, the game follows four characters in their mission to survive through several cooperative and competitive online modes, which – in conjunction with mods on PC – make for a veritable ton of replayability.
Our friends at PC Gamer have ranked it among their top FPS games of all time. We’re pretty certain that most PC players would agree with that.
The game was originally banned in Australia due to its graphic content, a de facto seal of approval, if you will. The ban has since been lifted, and so lovers of hardcore horror games are sure to rejoice in its gross, lengthy scenes of devastation and destruction worldwide.
You can play Left 4 Dead 2 on Xbox 360, Windows, OS X and Linux.
Outlast, developed by Red Barrels Studio, follows a journalist into an asylum for the insane. Shocker: it gets very weird, very fast. The game sees players try to escape hopeless encounters, including the protagonist becoming … less than what he was when he entered. (No spoilers!)
What helps make Outlast, well, last is that it follows a cardinal rule of horror games: don’t empower your players too much, otherwise it’s no longer a horror game. Perhaps it follows that motto too closely, as Outlast feels like a hopeless endeavor from the start.
A refreshing break from zombies and aliens, Outlast is a fine game to play if you want a longer – and arguably scarier – break from your average gun-toting jump scare-fest.
You can play Outlast on Xbox One, PS4, Windows, OS X and Linux.
Of the countless games to use this precious creative license over the years, developer Creative Assembly is the first to actually create a game that lives up to it. The game takes place 15 years following the events of the 1979 Ridley Scott film, putting players into the space boots of Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda Ripley.
Taking on a first-person perspective and squaring you off with a single xenomorph hunting you across a vast space station in darkness, Isolation nails what it felt like watching the film for the first time. The vibe is so much of what makes an amazing horror game, and Isolation feels as if you’re playing through the movie.
Throw in excruciatingly clever artificial intelligence afforded the alien, and an absolutely gripping virtual reality experiment, and you have the trappings of a modern horror classic.
You can play Alien: Isolation on Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, Windows, OS X and Linux.
SOMA, released in 2015 by Amnesia developer Frictional Games, is a thoughtful – and thought-provoking – game that could easily be considered an interactive film. Are you sensing a theme here at all?
The game contains neither zombies nor aliens, but instead a shift between 2015 and 2104, when humans have been wiped out by a comet and what’s left of humanity must fight to survive underwater in an abandoned research facility gone rogue.
While SOMA may not be as outright scary as, say, Amnesia, it is still a fantastic game, thanks to its brooding atmosphere, surprisingly fresh subject matter (for horror games) and incredible audio design.
You can play SOMA on PS4, Windows, OS X and Linux.
Five Nights at Freddy’s
Five Nights at Freddy’s is – undoubtedly – a different kind of horror game. With a premise seeing players “surviving” a night in a kid-themed pizza parlor, it’s unlike almost anything else in the genre.
However, it’s a surprisingly fun game to play, once you can get past the terrifying visage of an animatronic teddy bear guitarist come to life in the dead of night. Generally, players combat these twisted, possessed figures with security cameras – what? Poltergeists don’t like leaving evidence.
The game is the work of Scott Cawthon, an independent developer, who released it in 2014. Since then, there have been three more direct sequels, all of which have received positive reviews. Talk about staying power.
You can play Five Nights at Freddy’s on Windows, iOS and Android.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
As the name would suggest, this game is about forgetting things – but the only thing the player will not forget is how damn scary this game is. The game is based around a series of puzzles, which the player can opt-out of with dramatic consequences (usually a gruesome death).
Made by Frictional Games and preceding SOMA, Amnesia follows a protagonist – i.e. you, from the first person perspective – trying to figure out what is going on after waking up in a torturous dungeon. If you don’t, you get slaughter by some disgusting, slack-jawed humanoid creature, and that’s that.
Our friends at PC Format once said, “[it] isn’t a game, [but] a trip into the human psyche’s darker spaces. Not for the faint of heart, but horror junkies will lap it up.” You can’t really give much higher praise than that.
You can play Amnesia: The Dark Descent on Windows, OS X and Linux.
Sisters: A Virtual Reality Ghost Story
OK, so this is technically neither a PC nor a console game, but since chances are you’re reading this right now on an iPhone or Android phone, it gets a pass. But, we honestly let this one slip by for this reason: this is one of the scariest games you can play on your phone.
Using any sort of mobile virtual reality viewer device, e.g. Google Cardboard, you can explore an abandoned and clearly haunted house in VR. Developer Otherworld Interactive certainly lives up to its namesake with this one.
VR is arguably the future of not just horror games, but horror media across the board. And, Sisters is but one experience blazing the trail. Oh, and it’s free.
You can play Sisters on iOS and Android for free.
One corner of the gaming medium that has never managed to pull off horror well is two-dimensional, or 2D, games. With Superflat Games’ Lone Survivor, that changes now.
Driven by its unique gameplay style and ambiguous character placement, the game is immersive, curious and surprisingly unsettling given its visuals. The ending, too, is a break from gaming convention and just highlights how different Lone Survivor is from the pack.
In this game, you are the last survivor of an epidemic that has to wear a mask at all times in order to survive. There are so many unanswered questions in the game – for instance, the lead character’s name – that it becomes a horror-within-a-horror: you jump at every attack and at your own revelations.
You can play Lone Survivor on PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Windows, OS X and Linux.