Horror has many faces, and video games of the Horror genre have proved innumerable times that it understands this concept better than other mediums of expression. Interactivity adds an extra layer of tension, and horror video games, in particular, continue to shove players into diabolical situations where survival is not always guaranteed.
From multi-million AAA franchises to unexpected indie hits, we have had a diverse range of horror games in the past. And while they feature different aesthetics, themes, stories, and gameplay, they all succeed in executing one element that makes them a good horror game, that is, to make players feel unsettled. For those looking to find the best of the genre, here's our list of the top 10 horror games of all time, in no particular order.
Resident Evil 7
When it comes to horror, Capcom's Resident Evil franchise stands tall in so many ways. However, not every game in this long-running series could be described as unsettling and intense, which is one of the reasons why RE games have a love-hate relationship with the fan base.
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Resident Evil 7 served as a soft reboot for the franchise, set in a desolated plantation in Louisiana, where newcomer Ethan Winter is left with narrow corridors, scarce ammunition, intricate puzzles, terrifying bosses, and a mysterious overarching narrative worth unraveling.
With Resident Evil 7, Capcom delivered an excruciating experience that not only injected new life into the Resident Evil franchise, but also set a new standard for AAA horror games.
Movie franchises like Ridley Scott's Alien have set a high standard for the sci-fi horror genre with their high-octane action and gory details. While many video games have tried to implement the eerie, alienating, and brutal tropes of sci-fi horror, very few came close to executing those right. Glen Schofield's Dead Space is one such game.
Partly inspired by 2005's Resident Evil 4, Dead Space has players controlling engineer Issac Clarke from a third-person perspective, as he explores the claustrophobic derelict corridors of spaceship Ishimura. Clarke solves physics-based puzzles in zero gravity, survives horrific jump scares, combats invading alien species called Necromorphs, and unravels the bone-chilling mystery behind the disappearance of his girlfriend Nicole Brennan.
Speaking of sci-fi horror, another game that stands out is the 1982's adaptation of John Carpenter's movie. The Thing was just a glimpse of what would later become a major trope for sci-fi Horror games, that is, "unreliable companions." With its high production values and "fear/trust" gameplay system, in 2002, The Thing delivered one of the most nerve-wracking survival experiences of all time.
While games like Resident Evil 7 and Dead Space give players just enough tools and mechanics to fend off all kinds of horror, Outlast leaves players vulnerable with next to nothing at their disposal. It's first-person survival horror in its most raw form, where one's survival depends on diligently analyzing the hostile environments, staying in the shadows, and sneaking past everything that has the potential to make one's life a living nightmare.
It wouldn't be a horror list without mentioning at least one Alien game, and while we have had a ton of these, none of them comes close to capturing the essence of Ridley's Alien: Isolation.
Alien: Isolation is by no means a perfect survival horror game. It's a muddled experience, made worse by its sluggish pacing. However, the game excels in creating and executing these heart-pounding moments where one hides away with bated breath, waiting for the Alien to pass by. It's in these tense encounters where survival horror truly shines and makes Alien Isolation a flawed yet memorable experience.
The Evil Within 2
Often cited as the father of survival horror, it's no surprise that Shinji Mikami has crafted several genre-defining games, including his magnum opus Resident Evil 4. While Mikami's post-RE 4 projects never became as big of commercial and critical success, The Evil Within 2 in particular, felt like a perfect evolution of what we would call a modern Shinji Mikami game.
The Evil Within 2 features everything an ideal Shinji Mikami survival horror game should have, like over-the-shoulder camera angle, limited ammo and resources, immaculate enemy design, terrifying and tense boss encounters, a mysterious plot, and cheesy one-liners.
Before Monolight Productions worked on the Shadow series, it worked on a first-person psychological horror shooter game called F.E.A.R. In 2005, First Encounter Assault Recon took everyone by surprise with bone-chilling psychological Horror elements in what initially seemed like a first-person military shooter.
Unlike most military shooters, F.E.A.R. stands out not for its incredible gunplay or adrenaline-pumping action sequences but for its genuinely intense and often terrifying atmosphere that becomes more unsettling as the game progresses.
Every encounter with the main antagonist, Alma, who is largely inspired by Japanese Horror movies and resembles The Ring's Samara, is downright terrifying and will remain vivid in the minds of everyone who meets her for the years to come.
Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly
Speaking of Japanese horror, Fatal Frame is one such series that unhesitatingly dives deep into the dark and deeply disturbing corners of Japanese folklore. Whether it's walking players through some hair-rising forbidden ritual or shoving them with a jump scare terrifying enough to make them quit the game altogether.
While every Fatal Frame game is scary, it's 2003's Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly that diligently combines all the different aspects of the game to deliver a truly relentless and unforgiving Japanese survival horror experience.
Silent Hill 2
As mentioned before, horror has many faces. And while trapping someone in a dilapidated mansion full of zombies, spirits, or psychopaths is terrifying in its own right, there's another, more grounded horror that stems from within ourselves. Silent Hill 2 is one such game that offers its fair share of unique and terrifying monster encounters enough to make someone's skin crawl, though the scariest moments of this game are the ones that take place within the protagonist's mind.
Silent Hill 2, or any Silent Hill game in general, delves deep into the psychological aspect of horror, examining the nitty-gritty of depression, loss, and grief. Silent Hill 2 isn't afraid to touch on taboo topics and while several modern horror games have tackled these subjects in a far more efficient manner, Silent Hill 2's contribution to the genre over 20 years ago can't be understated.
The horror genre has significantly evolved over the last four console generations and continues to do every year. AAA single-player horror games are back in full force, with 2021's Resident Evil Village becoming the fastest-selling Resident Evil game in history. Upcoming AAA horror games like The Callisto Protocol and Slitterhead feel like the perfect evolution of classic survival titles.
While there's always the possibility of getting new survival horror experiences that terrifies gamers to the core, what if the sheer existence of a game is an act of horror itself?
Konami and Kojima's canceled Silent Hill game, aka PT, is one such game. What could have been a photo-realistic next-gen survival horror experience that borrowed religiously from horror genre tropes and broke those tropes with ease to present an absolutely fresh nightmarish experience ended up being nothing more than a figment of everyone's imagination.
It's possible that upon release, Kojima's iteration of Silent Hill may not have lived up to the exceptionally high expectations its short demo P.T. yielded, but the true horror is the fact that nobody will ever get to find that out. That concludes our list of the top 10 Horror games of all time.
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Featured image courtesy of Capcom.