If you’re a horror fan who’s also a gamer, you’re always on the lookout for your next spine-chilling interactive experience – especially on Halloween. Finding a video game capable of scaring your socks off is easier said than done, though. Sure, there are plenty of horror titles on the market, but very few of them manage to illicit genuine fear. That’s why I’ve pulled together this list of the 10 scariest horror game video games to play this Halloween, to ensure you’re suitably terrified on the spookiest night of the year.
10. P.T. (2014)
A “playable teaser” for Konami’s Silent Hills, P.T. packs in more unsettling imagery, sustained atmosphere, and straight-up horror than most full video games. But then, what do you expect from a collaboration between Metal Gear Solid mastermind Hideo Kojima and Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro? Admittedly, P.T.’s puzzle-solving aspects are a bit undercooked, but the core gameplay experience of tiptoeing around a haunted house – complete with a roaming ghost and looping corridor – is so satisfyingly scary, the odd busted brainteaser is easy to forgive. Sadly, Konami pulled P.T. from the PlayStation Store after cancelling Silent Hills and has since made concerted efforts to block gamers’ access to it, although there are a few workarounds available.
9. Dead Space (2008)
Dead Space arguably represents the biggest leap forward for the survival horror genre since Resident Evil (a franchise creator Glen Schofield cites as a key inspiration for the game). Developed by EA Redwood Shores, Dead Space derives a lot of its effectiveness from its stellar sound design, taunting players with the gurgles of grotesque monsters lurking on the fringes of their third-person perspective. The haunting score and Gothic architecture-inspired art direction certainly don’t make proceedings any less disturbing, either. Heck, even scrolling through Dead Space’s menus is a heart-racing affair, since (unlike in other games) this doesn’t pause the action. These innovations, along with a combat system that emphasises limb-serving, set Dead Space apart from previous entries in the genre – and rank it among the scariest video games you can play this Halloween.
8. Condemned: Criminal Origins (2006)
You know you’re in for a wild ride when you boot up a video game banned for gratuitous violence. That said, “wild” is almost too mild a word to describe Condemned: Criminal Origins, even when you go in knowing that Germany pulled the game from shelves back in 2008. Monolith Productions’ first-person survival horror title sees you on the trail of a serial killer modelled on the likes of Hannibal Lecter and Jigsaw and, unsurprisingly, it’s an unrelentingly grisly undertaking. Gameplay in Condemned: Criminal Origins consists of brutal melee encounters – shootouts are rare but deadly – and crime scene investigations involving detailed forensics. The result is a game that tests your reflexes, wits, and most of all, nerve.
7. Darkwood (2017)
Darkwood’s top-down perspective doesn’t immediately scream “scary” – but trust me, Acid Wizard Studio’s survival horror outing is plenty frightening. The set-up is deceptively simple: you live in a hideout located in a dark forest inhabited by monstrous plague survivors. Inside your hideout, you’re relatively safe from the monsters… but only so long as supplies are high, and the number of damaged barricades is low. This means you spend your virtual days in Darkwood venturing deeper into the forest to forage, while you devote your nights to warding off would-be intruders. It’s a nerve-wracking gameplay loop that – in tandem with a compelling story and delightfully demented character and environment design – elevates Darkwood’s old-school presentation into truly terrifying territory.
6. Alien: Isolation (2014)
Great horror video games are rare, great licensed video games even rarer. Yet, somehow, Alien: Isolation is both of these things. Taking their cues primarily from the first film in the franchise, the team at Creative Assembly drops players into the space boots of Ellen Ripley’s daughter Amanda as she tries to outwit and outlast the lone Xenomorph aboard a damaged space station. As Amanda, you can’t beat the Xenomorph in open combat – the best you can do is track its movements with a motion tracker and ward it off with a flamethrower. Stealth is the name of the game here; crawling through vents and creating distractions via improvised explosives are your best shot at survival. Alien: Isolation’s titular extra-terrestrial beastie won’t fall for the same plan of attack twice, though, as its AI adapts to Amanda’s behaviour. One of the scariest games you can play this Halloween? Too right it is.
5. Until Dawn (2015)
Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn is a post-modern slasher flick that you control. An interactive drama, the game boasts a talented roster of actors – including big names like Rami Malek and Hayden Panettiere – who bring to life a narrative that adapts in response to the choices you make, and the lives you do (and don’t) save. Because of this, Until Dawn serves up one of the scariest things a horror game can deliver: real consequences. There’s plenty more than cause and effect to keep gamers on the edge of their seats, though. Until Dawn also does a stellar job recreating the tension of the movies it’s designed to emulate – especially when players are required to keep the motion sensor-based controls as still as possible, praying that danger will pass them by.
4. Fatal Frame II: The Crimson Butterfly (2003)
This list wouldn’t be complete without at least one example of pure J-horror and is there a better choice than Fatal Frame II: The Crimson Butterfly? Not according to many prominent figures within the video games industry, including Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann. Developed by Tecmo, Fatal Frame II forces players to confront spectral threats armed only with an enchanted camera, with an almost unbearable sense of dread flooding your body every time you bring up the viewfinder. Things aren’t any cheerier in the game’s exploration-based “field mode” either since you’re left to wander around a creepy ghost town searching for clues. It’s a simple yet effective gameplay formula that regularly leaves you rooted on the spot with fear, just like Fatal Frame II’s protagonists, sisters Mio and Mayo Amakura.
3. Silent Hill 2 (2001)
Silent Hill 2 is widely considered the scariest entry in Konami’s long-running survival horror franchise. That’s a big call, but it’s also pretty easy to back up, too. Combining the original game’s infamous, GPU-friendly fog with top-shelf sound design and scoring, Silent Hill 2 is a masterclass in moody, psychological horror. What’s more, like the best horror stories, the game uses the trappings of the genre to explore timeless themes like guilt and grief, even as it petrifies you with a bevy of nightmare-inducing supernatural creatures. This monstrous menagerie includes iconic antagonist Pyramid Head, surely one of the scariest creations in video game history. Together, these elements make Silent Hill 2 an uncommonly lyrical interactive experience – laden with symbolism and bold storytelling choices – that’s no less bone-chilling for that.
2. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017)
When you’re talking about the scariest games to play on Halloween, the Resident Evil franchise has to be part of the conversation. The only problem is singling out just one entry from Capcom’s seminal survival horror series to spotlight – after all, I could easily have filled this entire list with Resident Evil titles. That’s ultimately why I settled on Resident Evil 7; not only is it among the most frightening titles in the franchise, but it also pays homage to Resident Evil’s past while ushering in its future. The game combines the “zombie-infested mansion” setting of the very first Residential Evil with a new first-person, VR-enhanced gameplay perspective to terrorize gamers in ways its predecessors never could. Notably, the jump scares are more heart palpitation-inducing than ever, although the game’s renewed focus on slow-burn tension and hard-to-find ammo deserve plenty of credit, too.
1. Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010)
Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent pushes the sanity of its protagonist, Daniel, to the limit – something players will relate to before they’ve finished this survival horror title. This is thanks to Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s ingenious gameplay design, which forces you to constantly weigh up how long to spend going quietly crazy in the dark versus locking eyes with the monsters of Castle Brennenburg out in the open. It’s basically the horror game equivalent of a Hobson’s choice: freak yourself out now or run the risk of an even bigger scare further down the line. Sure, running for your life is a harrowing ordeal, however, hunkering down and depleting your sanity meter does more than just open you up to Daniel’s unsettling hallucinations – it boosts the odds that a monster will spot you, too!
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