The best horror games leave an impression that isn’t easy to shake. Like a scar that refuses to heal, they haunt our waking lives, our memory of them serving as a trophy of what we have overcome.
Before starting our list of the best horror games of all time, there are few caveats that we should first address. Horror fans can be a prickly bunch, and I don’t want to get on anyone’s kill list by omitting someone’s sacred cow.
Firstly, I will be focussing on the best horror games that haven’t seen time dull their previously sharp blade. Graphics aren’t the most important factor in determining if a game is truly frightening, or indeed good, but how a game plays in a modern context will be considered. Therefore, while a game’s age will not rule it out, its scope of influence will not factor into our equation.
Secondly, but no less importantly, this is a list of the best horror games. I will not be excluding titles based on them being part of a sub-genre of horror, or any other silly nonsense. If it’s a video game and it has horror themes, then it’s in the running. How scary a game is, which is obviously somewhat subjective, will also be viewed positively, but not as the only relevant criteria.
So with all our housekeeping in order, let’s get started. Here is our list of the 10 best horror games ever made.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
The Resident Evil franchise needs no introduction. It is the bedrock on which so many of the best horror games have built their foundation. Therefore, the fact that at least one entry from the iconic franchise would end up on this list was practically a given. Deciding which one, however, was decidedly more tricky.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is, in many ways, a course correction for the series which had been gradually losing steam since Resident Evil 4. Biohazard stopped the rot and reenergised the whole genre. The move to a first-person perspective was a gamble that paid enormous dividends, bringing players closer than ever to some terrifying creatures and the world they inhabit.
And what a world it is. Riffing on everything that made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a masterpiece (a decrepit house in the backwoods, a twisted redneck family, chainsaws) Capcom created a game that remained true to itself, while still breaking new ground.
Darkwood is a truly horrifying experience that is a lot scarier than it initially looks. This little indie game is inspired by Polish folklore and feels a lot like a dream – until it begins to transform into a horrifying nightmare.
The game starts in a twisted forest that has been cut off from the rest of the world. Darkwood doesn’t hold your hand, or give much direction in general, other than to tell you that you must escape the forest. So starts the nerve-wracking process of gathering supplies and exploring during the day, and trying to secure your home at night. Because at night, terrible creatures will come looking for you.
Or not. It really depends if they feel like it.
The tension this dynamic creates, and the fear of what may be lurking just out of sight, is critical to Darkwood’s success. It’s what makes it one of the best horror games to come out in years. And in my opinion, it’s one of the scariest games on this list.
Bloodborne is a hellish journey through cursed lands, with a mystery so wretched at its heart that it will make your skin crawl. The game’s seamless combination of gothic and cosmic horror works extremely well, almost guaranteeing that horror fans will find something to their taste.
The game starts with you waking up in an abandoned health clinic and, after a famously quick and grisly first death, never really lets up. It has all sorts of beasts: werewolves, madmen, giant spiders, you name it. It also has a wonderful array of weapons to dispatch them with.
Bloodborne is available on PS4.
SOMA explores the fascinating relationship between technology and humanity, focusing on the existential horror that comes when the line that divides them begins to blur. The fact that most of the story takes place in PATHOS-II, a damaged underwater research station on the bottom of the ocean, only adds to the list of trigger warnings.
You play as Simon, a young man who has recently experienced significant trauma to his head, but little else in SOMA is straightforward. It’s the sort of game that gets inside your head and then starts to slowly squeeze. By the end of your adventure you won’t be able to tell up from down, or even alive from dead.
Like many of the best horror games, SOMA will plague your mind long after you have finished playing it.
SOMA is available on PS4 and PC.
Layers of Fear
The notion of the tortured artist has rarely been as disturbing, or less romantic, as it is in Layers of Fear. While accused by some of being a walking simulator – which considering how many of the best horror games have received the same criticism should perhaps be considered a badge of honour – it has a lot more going on than first meets the eye; much like the mysterious painting at the centre of its narrative.
Taking on the role of a curiously motivated 18th-century painter, the player must complete a gauntlet of tasks and puzzles to try and finish their ‘magnum opus’. However, the closer to completing this masterwork you get, the deeper into madness and psychosis your character falls.
It is a twisted experience that is a close to loosing one’s mind as most of us will ever hope to come.
It is surprising how long it took for someone to actually make a horror game around the central premise of the original Alien film. Sure, we’ve had loads of first-person shooters that take inspiration from James Cameron’s action focused sequel – but that really isn’t the same thing.
Alien: Isolation narrows in on what made the original Alien film so terrifying; the experience of being stuck in a confined space, sans military weapons, with one of the most horrific creatures to ever grace celluloid. That is what Alien: Isolation promises, and that is what it delivers. And that is why it is one of the best horror games of all time.
Alien: Isolation is out on PS4, PC via Steam, plus PC, and Xbox One via Game Pass.
There will be those that feel Amnesia: The Dark Descent is far more deserving of a place on this list than Rebirth. And while it pains me to leave The Dark Descent out, I honestly believe that Rebirth offers a better modern gaming experience.
It also doesn’t hurt that the developers really leaned into the Lovecraftian horror, realising an alien world that strikes wonder and terror into the heart of the player in equal measure.
Combined with Rebirth’s intriguing premise, and associated gameplay mechanics, of carrying a child, there is fertile ground to explore a breed of body horror that has perhaps never been attempted in video games.
Possibly a controversial pick, but I firmly believe Amnesia: Rebirth holds its own against the very best horror games.
Amnesia: Rebirth is out on PS4, PC, and Mac.
Left 4 Dead 2
Not all the best horror games are cut from the same cloth. While the majority prioritise scares, atmosphere, and storytelling, Left 4 Dead 2 is a very different beast. This multiplayer phenomenon emphasised gore, cooperation, the feeling of surviving against all odds, and above all else: fun.
Playing Left 4 Dead 2 is the video game equivalent of curling up on the couch with a few of your very best mates and watching a classic zombie film. Sure, it will quicken your heart rate and provide a few jump scares, but the main attraction is the experience of camaraderie and messing around.
The game deserves special praise because, despite being over 10 years old, it is still reigns supreme in its particular subgenre of horror games.
Left 4 Dead is available on PC, Mac, and Xbox 360.
Resident Evil 2 (2019)
Resident Evil 2 took what made the original game successful and opened it right up. Rather than taking place in a secluded mansion (which most people won’t exactly relate to), Resident Evil 2 brought the series’ unique brand of zombie apocalypse somewhere far closer to home: the urban landscape.
It’s a similar trick to George A. Romero bringing his zombies to the mall in Dawn of the Dead, and it’s just as successful in terms of grounding the horror in reality. The 2019 remake of Resident Evil 2 flawlessly captures what made its precursor so special, and manages to incorporate a number of quality of life improvements to make it more palatable to modern gamers.
Essentially it’s a triumph, and one of the best horror games of all time.
The Last of Us Part 2
The Last of Us Part 2 tells an emotionally complex tale of survivors trying to find their way in a world that has been ravaged by a mutant fungus. It’s a gruelling adventure that few who have played will ever forget, despite some of their best wishes.
While The Last of Us Part 2 is somewhat resistant to classification (other than being a hard R), its insistence on examining sights and feelings we’d rather not just about solidifies its allegiance to horror.
Its resonant narrative and grounded world function to further highlight the inherent horror in the characters’ situations; combining to create not only one of the best horror games, but one of the very best video games ever, period.
The Last of Us Part 2 is available on PS4.
Closing thoughts on the best horror games of all time
Well that’s all folks! Do you feel like we missed something that is simply unforgivable? Hit us up on our socials and we’d be happy to enter into a bit of friendly debate.
Also, feel free to check out our list of the best survival horror games – it’s got a bit of a different focus and a bunch of titles that are definitely worth giving a go.
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