When it comes to horror video games, you’ll find that the typical lighthearted connotations of the word “game” rarely apply. Rather, survival horror and all its variants provide an unrivaled sense of doom and atmospheric chills. From the 1996 PlayStation release of the original Resident Evil and its legion of copycats, to other innovative entries like Silent Hill, survival horror has become a lucrative and popular genre mainstay.
Nowadays, there’s much more to choose from. Accordingly, we’re here to give you 13 of the most terrifying horror video games available on modern and next-generation consoles, as well as PC. These games transport you to a world of desperation, despair, and loneliness in an immersive way that no other storytelling medium can achieve. When it’s just you and the controller, your fears and anxieties have nowhere to hide...
Resident Evil 7
The latest installment in Capcom’s massive horror enterprise takes you away from the clichés and zombie-filled setting of Raccoon City and drops you into rural Dulvey, Louisiana, which feels every bit like something out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre...only worse. This time around, you’re given a first-person rather than third-person camera angle, so there’s nothing separating you from the horror.
Ethan Winters is drawn to a worn-down plantation after receiving a video from his wife, Mia, who's been missing for years. There, he's introduced to a family that seems to be able to regenerate themselves; they cut off their own limbs and hunt him down relentlessly. The game is one of the scariest and most stressful experiences in modern gaming.
Silent Hill 2
I consider this to be one of my personal favorite horror video games of all time. The premise is similar to Resident Evil 7: Protagonist James Sunderland receives a letter in the mail from his dead wife, Mary, telling him that she’s waiting for him at their "special place." Sunderland traces her clues to the enigmatic town of Silent Hill, which is overrun by a dense mist and completely abandoned, save for a menacing antagonist known as Pyramid Head and countless other monsters. The developers took quite a bit of inspiration from the literary novel Crime and Punishment, as well as the work of David Lynch, David Fincher, Alfred Hitchcock, and even body horror innovator, David Cronenberg. The end result is a gaming experience that, to this day, remains unrivaled and utterly unsettling.
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This new release tries something quite new with the horror formula: think Left 4 Dead meets Ghost Hunters. The premise is simple and effective. You and a few other players use different paranormal investigation devices to explore haunted locations. Open-ended gameplay makes collaboration exceedingly important; headsets are a must.
The first time you enter a haunted location and search around, chatting with your teammates, only to wander off and actually hear their voices in your headset disappear one by one, it creates a sense of terror and loneliness that never lets up. There are no guns in the game, no direct linear moments; just a location, a ghost or demon to hunt, and the objective to make contact, figure out what sort of haunting is taking place, and, above all, survive.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Ninja Theory’s Hellblade was a surprise sleeper hit of 2017. Inspired heavily by Norse and Celtic mythology, the game introduces players to Senua, who is venturing to Helheim (Hell) to rescue the soul of her dead lover, Dillion. Utilizing a claustrophobic array of voiceovers that assault the player as they navigate the land, you quickly realize just how unstable Senua is. The voices are called Furies, and she believes she is being infected by “the Darkness.” The urgency of her curse forces players to desperately make sense of her situation, attempting to fight into and out of Helheim without being consumed by the darkness. This is psychological horror at its best.
This one’s a must for fans of the Alien film series. Set 15 years after the original 1979 film, players take control of Amanda Ripley, whose last name should be quite familiar to cinephiles. The daughter of Ellen Ripley, Amanda is searching for her mother, and follows leads to an abandoned salvage ship. Of course, an alien monster soon makes an appearance.
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The game favors the survival and stealth side of horror, with much of the game involving evasion and careful navigation. Some of the most anxious moments of the game happen when you’re hiding from the alien, heartbeat racing, with your loud breathing caught by the game controller’s microphone. If you love Alien and can handle extensive stealth, this one will definitely get under your skin.
Also known as "playable teaser,” this is the only surviving playable piece from the scrapped collaboration between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro in their quest to revive the Silent Hill series. Unfortunately, disagreements between Kojima and gaming conglomerate Konami led to the project’s cancellation.
Before the project started gathering dust, the teaser completely amazed the gaming public with its clever setting of a single hallway and bathroom. The player explores the rooms while learning about the horrors that took place in the home. There are many theories out there about the game’s plot and sadly, theories they remain. These days, PT is difficult to find, and is no longer widely available for purchase. However, it's not impossible for a clever sleuth to track it down, and it's even been remade from the ground up in countless game environments, such as Dreams.
World of Horror
This one might be the weirdest of the bunch. Dubbed a “1-bit horror game,” World of Horror is a sendoff to the work of cosmic horror authors like H.P. Lovecraft and Junji Ito. The game’s art was created entirely in MS Paint, creating a black-and-white gritty and simplistic look that emulates an 80s HyperCard game. Much like Ito’s masterpiece, Uzumaki, the setting is a quiet Japanese town full of wild-eyed cultists, humanoid forms, and more. The player reads and clicks around, unraveling the odd story while the art entrances you into a stupor. At a glance, the game doesn’t seem like it could pack in scares the way some of the other horror games on this list can…but just you wait.
The Evil Within 2
This spot could have easily gone to The Evil Within 2’s predecessor. However, I found the sequel produced by Shinji Mikami (the man behind Resident Evil) to be far more effective than the original. Whereas the first game favored the Beacon Mental Hospital and a highly linear storytelling experience, Evil Within 2 drops players once again into the role of detective Sebastian Castellanos, whose daughter has gone missing in STEM, a weird psychological world full of horrors. The gameplay is open-ended and, because it’s no longer limited to one setting, players get a myriad of scary places to explore, from a house on fire to a Silent Hill-like abandoned town.
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Detention is a 2D retro-style horror experience set in 1960s Taiwan, where Wei and Ray, students of Greenwood High school, navigate a nightmare version of their school. The gameplay involves a lot of puzzles and hiding from demonic versions of people that are called “lingered.” A similar game was developed by the same Chinese game studio, Red Candle. Devotion is a first-person psychological horror game set in an apartment complex. The game was pulled from Steam less than a month after its release, after imagery in one apartment unit was discovered to have a controversial reference to Xi Jinping. The game has yet to find release, but we hope it'll show up again someday.
When Outlast was released, it helped define a new take on survival horror. Gone are all the guns and archetypical protagonists. First-person POV became the name of the game, with limited light and mobility. Players take on the character of investigative reporter Miles Upshur, who sets his next groundbreaking story in a dilapidated psychiatric hospital in Leadville, Colorado. Armed with nothing more than your video camera and quickly-depleting batteries, you navigate one horror after the next, constantly chased by patients and other villains. Think of Outlast as the shaky-cam equivalent to your usual survival horror game experience.
Resident Evil Remake
In 2002, Capcom remade the original Resident Evil, with updated graphics and an improved storyline. This could have gone very wrong, given that the original was a prized classic; however, the remake not only met gamers’ expectations, but exceeded them. The creators of Resident Evil Remake single-handedly created one of the most perfect horror experiences on any console and set the standard for remakes to follow.
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Main characters Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield are back, along with the Spencer Mansion, the zombies, the T Virus, and Umbrella. But now the mansion is far more menacing, with amazingly rendered video rather than image stills, remixed puzzles, and a new and extremely tragic subplot. If there’s only one game you can pick up from this list, make it this one. It’s available on every modern platform, so you have no excuse!
The brainchild of game designer Swery, both Deadly Premonition and Deadly Premonition 2 proudly wear their Twin Peaks influences on their sleeves. There’s the small town, the weird dream sequences, a homicide, and a serial killer. But what sets the series apart is enigmatic Francis York Morgan, the ace FBI investigator who might have been just another Dale Cooper facsimile if it weren’t for his witty dialogue and his bond with Zach. Perhaps an imaginary friend, perhaps a guardian angel, Zach is most assuredly Francis’s source of investigative prowess, and he also has a pivotal part in Francis’s surprisingly deep and traumatic backstory. Try both the original and the sequel out if you want some B-level gameplay and a lot of horror charm.
This one’s not out just yet, but it’s set to be released exclusively on Xbox Series S/X and PC in January 2021. Using the now-standard SSD, the gameplay features Marianne, a medium who can travel in and out of the spirit realm as she explores haunted locations. The ingenuity lies in how the player can experience both the real world and the spirit world concurrently via a clever split screen mechanic. The soundtrack, which was written and performed by Akira Yamaoka, the composer for key entries in the Silent Hill series, doesn’t hurt either. The game is likely to be a must-play for horror fans and early adopters of the new Xbox.
Featured photo: 7780s Studio