Everyone loves to get scared, plain and simple. It humanizes us. It exhilarates us. And when we get this experience while playing a video game, it’s so much more effective than watching a movie. You’re immersing yourself right into that experience, and that’s pretty special.
Survival horror is one of the more (relatively) recent video game genres, but it’s more than exploded in the past decade. Regardless as to whether you are a pushover with these sort of games and throw your controller at the wall after every jump scare, or a veteran survival horror gamer who is actively hungry for their next fright, this list will show you the height of horror that will keep you haunted.
10. System Shock 2
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into a cyberpunk future dystopia…
System Shock 2 might not appear to be the scariest game on paper. It’s a precise first-person shooter with RPG elements, and it certainly doesn’t look so scary at first glance, but that’s what makes this innocuous game’s power hit you even harder.
The game is set in the year 2114, stranded on a ship, desperate to prevent the outbreak of a rather nasty infection. This sterile, bleak premise helps the atmosphere as you mow down autonomatons, but what really helps this title is how it gets into your head and messes with you. That’s not something a lot of games are capable of, but as you find yourself negotiating and complying with the unseen voice of SHODAN, you realize what you’re being manipulated, and what is really going on is actually deeply terrifying.
Horror that sneaks up on you is the best kind, and System Shock 2 makes you question what to believe, who to trust, and truly makes you feel alone.
9. Clock Tower
The Clock Tower series for the PlayStation was around with the best of them, like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. What caused Clock Tower to be different though is that rather than taking down hordes of enemies, you had a singular threat, and you weren’t going to fight him at all. Instead, you’d spend your game hiding and running away from him as you try to survive. For a genre that has “survival” in its name, you’d think that more titles would adopt this more “realistic” approach. It works wonders here.
And the person you’re spending that game running away and hiding from is the appropriately awful: Scissorman, a serial killer who charges his way at you with a very oversized pair of shears. He’s a terrifying, simple villain that makes him all the scarier and the fact that you can only hide from him, never getting the upper hand just makes this an even more chilling experience.
8. Alien: Isolation
Taking a page out of Clock Tower’s book, Alien: Isolation suddenly found the perfect formula for an Alien title that nobody realized they wanted. The Alien series has been marred with many a sloppy and inadequate action game, relying on the concept alone and forgetting what made the original film so scary in the first place.
What’s smartly done here is that you aren’t assassinating hundreds of aliens on end. No. There’s one alien on your ship. Singular. And you just need to avoid it, hide, and make sure you don’t get caught while trying to outsmart it. You know, because it’s a giant, overwhelming alien. You can’t fight that thing! It’s remarkably simple, but even shockingly more effective.
A lot of credit has to go to the phenomenal, advanced AI system that the titular alien has been given. It’s smarter than you’d think, and watching how it works out situations and exits a room is fascinating. It feels real. Beautiful graphics, a freaky sound design, and basing the film within the lore of the actual series all help the title even more, not that it needs it.
Okay, we swear this isn’t the “hide-and-seek” list, but Outlast is also a terrifying title largely because it sees you being helpless and needing to hide from your enemies. There’s even a lengthy disclaimer at the start of things that confirms that you “are not a fighter” so don’t even think about it. Meanwhile, you’ll find yourself trapped in an insane asylum with some really awful individuals. There are seriously too many little vignettes of devastation that you run into from room to room or patient to patient, not even thinking about the constant cat-and-mouse you’re stuck in with a madman on the loose.
The twist that pushes all of this a step further too, is that as a reporter, you’re only equipped with your trusty video camera. The asylum is particularly dark in a lot of spaces, and you need to rely on your camera’s night vision to get around, distorting your visuals and making you feel more vulnerable. I know a lot of games of this concept have been highlighted here, but Outlast is the most disturbing and really takes it to the extreme.
6. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Even if Eternal Darkness were a complete failure in gameplay and scares, it would already have a strong leg-up on itself amongst other survival horror games. Cleverly, what this game does is present to you nearly a dozen different samples of survival horror tales. Each level focuses on an entirely different character in time, almost acting like a game of short stories. It causes the title to have such variety and confidence as it whirls you through many inspired tales, all with relatively depressing endings.
You navigate the game in the present, reading about all of your ancestors as you go about the game. What really causes Eternal Darkness to stand out though is its brilliant idea of a sanity meter. As you go through the game, seeing terrifying stuff, your character loses their mind accordingly. Once your sanity meter is depleted, you’ll see a number of fantastic in-game hallucinations, like the screen being flipped upside down, your controls not working, your character slowly dismembering, or even a game error screen. These smart touches push this survival horror title to another level and help you get more on edge through the game. A healthy Lovecraft and Poe influence in the title also doesn’t hurt. You’d even forgot that all of this was happening on the GameCube, somehow.