These days, every major video game creator has entered the world of survival horror. Be it Resident Evil or Silent Hill, these atmospheric genre touchstones have offered users some of the scariest story-driven video game experiences in modern gaming.
Though we hear about horror bleeding into all sorts of genres, be it FPS (think Call of Duty’s zombie modes) or even fighting games (looking at you, Terrordrome), there are so many scary video games in the genre that fly under the radar. When a game’s popularity spikes, more of them enter the marketplace—and they’re all scrambling for users’ attention. It’s a shame, because there are some truly remarkable, absolutely unsettling titles from horror gaming’s past and present that should be played more often.
Nothing is more thrilling than the discovery of an obscure—yet utterly chilling—gaming experience. If you’re looking for some of the scariest video games that may have been lost in the shadows cast by more popular games, we've got you covered.
Released in 2005 during the height of the PlayStation 2 craze, Haunting Ground is by all accounts a terrifying game that demands your attention. Much like the Clock Tower series, the game prioritizes stealth rather than combat. Players are dropped into the role of Fiona Belli, a young helpless woman who ends up held captive in a mysterious castle after getting into a car accident. Her only friend is a dog named Hewie.
The game is a blend of sneaking around and attempting to manage Fiona’s anxiety and fear meter as she is pursued by relentless enemies—like a butcher and an enigmatic woman. Despite being one of the scariest videogames in recent history, it didn’t find an audience during its original run—and has since become one of the rarest and most expensive games for the system. If you want to take a deep-dive into the lesser experienced world of survival horror, you can’t go wrong with Haunting Ground.
Rule of Rose
Another niche and mostly-forgotten PlayStation 2 horror title, Rule of Rose was released for the console towards the end of the platform’s lifespan. The game’s limited print run by Atlus almost ensured it would go silently unsold and unnoticed by gamers. Punchline, the developer, had previously created the game Chulip, a pseudo action role playing game where you go around (I kid you not) kissing people; so you can expect Rule of Rose to at least be unique.
Inspired by Brothers Grimm fairy tales, the game follows Jennifer, who is stranded in the outskirts of Bedfordshire, England, where she ends up exploring the Rose Garden Orphanage. Its inhabitants have developed a strange ritualistic religion, which takes a nod from Children of the Corn. Jennifer is relatively helpless and has only a dog, named Brown, to come to her aid. It's spiritually similar to Haunting Ground in numerous ways—right on down to its rarity and high price tag. However, Rule of Rose goes one step further than the aforementioned title, diving even deeper into its fairy tale inspiration. If you can find it, Rule of Rose is a game that’ll definitely leave you scared.
Some games eschew attention on purpose. Murder House is one such game. It was designed to look and play like an old worn out VHS tape. Though Kotaku gave the game a nod due to its eerie and unsettling game icon, which depicts Murder House’s central killer, the Easter Ripper.
The game’s short runtime is divided into two parts, 1985 and 1988. In the 1985 section, you play as a young boy named Justin, who ends up stuck in a shopping mall after dark. The Easter Ripper appears and hunts the child down. A few years later, in 1988, a film crew goes to the Easter Ripper’s abandoned, rundown house in hopes of getting a scoop. As you might expect, things go awry—and the Easter Ripper arrives to hunt the crew down. Players are given everything from the tank controls reminiscent of the original Resident Evil or Alone in the Dark and are pursued nonstop by the Easter Killer.
While this game looks like it shouldn’t be any good, it is one of the best throwback retro horror game experiences currently available on Steam, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Network. And it’s scary as hell.
Cry of Fear
Cry of Fear was originally a Half-Life mod that went on to have its own PC-only release years later (and it’s now free on Steam!). Despite the creepy game being quite popular among PC gamers of the time, it hasn’t maintained longevity in gamers’ minds. A shame, given that it has one of the most effective openings in horror game history.
The game drops us into the role of Simon Henriksson, a 19-year-old who awakes after being hit by a car. Players navigate a haunted and disturbing city full of, you guessed it, monsters and other menaces. The game taps into the terror and macabre usually found in the likes of Silent Hill and other game franchises that aim for more of psychological edge. Be it getting lost in the labyrinthine city or being hunted by a serial killer wielding a chainsaw, Cry of Fear is as its name suggests: it’s designed to get under your skin. Given that it’s free, this scary videogame is one nightmare worth experiencing.
Fears to Fathom
One of the newer titles on this list, Fears to Fathom is an episodic (and scary!) horror game that focuses on retelling creepypasta and other supposedly-true survival stories. The idea was derived from developer Jake Karns’ own odd experiences. After moving back home to his mom’s place—a safe gated community—they experienced odd occurrences. Enough food would go missing that they began to notice. After installing a security system, they discovered that an elderly man was living in their attic, sneaking into the kitchen while everyone was asleep to gorge on food. This disturbing experience resulted in Fears to Fathom.
There are currently two episodes available, one involving a home invasion and another involving an ill-fated drive into the boonies. Both games can be completed in an hour—much like an episode on Netflix—but it’s how effectively the game portrays these real-world survival stories that makes it such a scary experience. Sometimes, real world is even stranger than anything we can make up. Give the frightening first episode a try—you’ll be too scared to stay home alone ever again.
Developer Red Candle Games is more widely known for the controversy surrounding their second game, Devotion, which was taken down from online marketplaces for containing “political propaganda.” However, before Devotion, there was Detention: a side-scrolling survival horror experience set in a cursed Japanese high school.
Within the game, two students become trapped in Greenwood High School as it transforms into a place of evil. Set during the White Terror Period in Taiwan, the game begins when Wei Chung-ting falls asleep in class. Awakening to find himself trapped amid an incoming typhoon, players must navigate the increasingly unfamiliar school as monsters called “the lingered” appear to haunt its hallways and hidden chambers.
The game is a deadly sendoff to survival horror of a previous generation, back when getting lost, learning the map, and solving obscure puzzles were essential components of the gameplay experience—and you just don’t see that anymore.
From the Darkness
Developed by N4bA, this game is part of a wonderful surge of indie horror being developed in small, digestible games for the PC. Fears to Fathom occupies a similar space. In From the Darkness, players are given an experience undoubtedly inspired by both the canceled Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro Silent Hills (specifically the now legendary PT teaser) and cosmic horror.
This scary video game begins with the unnamed protagonist venturing into their dead grandfather’s apartment in a Soviet housing block to retrieve photographs and other mementos. What happens next is pure terror: a nightmare in domestic manipulation. The game masterfully uses small cramped and claustrophobic spaces to tell the story. One minute you’ll be looking in one corner, swearing something just moved—only to have the lights flicker and go out in the next room. It’s a sleight of hand that can easily be lost, especially when you can’t outright control the player. Yet in From the Darkness, players are teased and tortured subtly as they navigate an apartment that becomes bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Condemned: Criminal Origins
It’s a shame to have to put this game on the list, especially since it has experienced a bit of a resurgence over the last couple of years—due to the retrogaming community finally deeming the Xbox 360 “old” and “retro.” The console launch title was among the first of its kind, blending FPS game mechanics with highly claustrophobic spaces.
Players don the role of agent Ethan Thomas as he investigates the Match Maker killer in a city that has rapidly degenerated due to rampant homelessness and crime. Wearing its influences on its sleeve (films like Se7en, The Silence of the Lambs, and Saw), Condemned: Criminal Origins leaves players with limited ammunition and blunt objects as they enter the underbelly of a city that has taken a turn towards the supernatural. This scary game experimented with crime scene investigation with moderate success, allowing players to use a variety of devices to find evidence in the field. The game is available to download as a backwards compatible title for Xbox Series S/X making it a perfect candidate for a revival.