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The Scariest Horror Games of All Time


The Scariest Horror Games of All Time

The Scariest Horror Games of All Time

Video games have been trying to scare us since the early ’80s. While the seminal Haunted House Atari game, one of the earliest survival horror games, presented its scares through a mix of heavily-pixelated ghosts and spiders that weren’t so frightening at all, it was indicative of where the genre would one day go. With another push, thanks to titles such as Sweet Home and Alone in the Dark, the survival horror genre would give birth to some of its most frightening creations: Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame, Eternal Darkness, and Dead Space, to name a few.

Today, the genre lives on and continues to evolve. From interactive horror movies like Until Dawn to first-person experiences beyond comprehension like P.T., the survival horror genre continues to prove why it’s one of the mainstays of the industry and why it will always rise from the grave for one last scare.

After taking a look back at the long history of the horror genre, I’ve chosen eleven titles that I believe stand as the scariest games ever made. Yep. Not ten. Eleven. I had to.

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Dead Space

Visceral Games 2008

Many of the best examples of sci-fi horror rely on the terror of the unknown. From Alien to Event Horizon, sci-fi horror stories often show us the consequences of going too far and facing something we don’t entirely understand.

That idea is at the heart of nearly everything that makes Dead Space brilliant. While the game’s atmosphere and world-class sound design deserve all the praise they’ve gotten over the years, Dead Space truly distinguishes itself in the ways its enemy design influences the combat and storytelling. You’ll never forget the first time you fell for a Necromorph “playing dead,” a shocking moment that assured that you’d never feel safe in this game, whether in a save room or walking down a quiet hallway.

What begins as gory jump scares quickly turns into a deeper feeling of dread for the player that, when combined with the incredible art and sound design inside the USG Ishimura, makes you feel like you’re constantly in danger. Any second, a Necromorph could pop out of a vent or sneak behind you or…


Red Barrels 2013

While Resident Evil and other early horror hits were appropriately labeled as survival horror, the “survival” element in those titles typically revolved around managing limited resources. Even modern survival games are still largely about item management.

The appropriately named Outlast takes a different approach to survival horror. Yes, it deprives you of resources (your battery-hungry camera is equal parts annoying and your only real weapon), but surviving Outlast is really about finding a way to mentally overcome the game’s relentless scares. Some may rightfully ask what’s so fun about a game that largely consists of hiding and running through the dark, but genre veterans will see Outlast as a test of their resolve and wit. The joy of Outlast doesn’t necessarily come from playing it or even beating it but from getting to say you survived it.


Monolith Productions 2005

F.E.A.R. released around the height of the “scary little girl” movement that really kicked into overdrive when The Ring became a surprise hit in the US. Without a doubt, the ghastly little Alma remains one of the best uses of the “creepy child” trope in gaming.

What’s easy to forget, though, is that F.E.A.R. was also an innovative action game that set a new standard for the quality of enemy A.I. in a first-person shooter. It’s that combination of Western action and Eastern horror that not only makes F.E.A.R. unique but the kind of horror gaming experience that finds a way to keep you on your toes while still letting you blast your way through rooms of enemies.

The Thing

Computer Artworks 2002

Back in the early 2000s, it was easy to dismiss a licensed game meant to tie into a movie or TV show, which is why you may not know that The Thing was ever adapted into a video game. But despite all of that, The Thing offers a truly innovative take on horror gaming.

Much like the film it’s based on, The Thing‘s gameplay revolves around mistrust and isolation. You never really know which of your NPC companions is infected, but what’s truly fascinating are the ways that the game makes you work to gain the trust and loyalty of those same characters who are also unsure whether you are who you say you are. Never knowing who is friend and who is foe makes for a truly unnerving experience, to say the least, and few horror titles since have come close to replicating the terror of The Thing‘s trust system.


Kojima Productions 2014

It sometimes feels like the drama surrounding P.T. (its stealth release, the involvement of Hideo Kojima/Guillermo del Toro, the cancellation of Silent Hills) overshadows the game itself. That’s understandable, but when people talk about P.T., the conversation should begin and end with how it may be the scariest piece of entertainment in any medium.

The brilliance of P.T. lies in its ability to disorient the player no matter how many times they navigate its labyrinthine environment that somewhat invokes the maddening maze of Hellraiser 2‘s vision of Hell. Much like when you have a nightmare that takes place in your own home, P.T. constantly finds ways to alter seemingly familiar surroundings until you feel so betrayed that you don’t want to look around the next corner. It’s that invocation of insanity that truly defines P.T. scares, even if the visuals of the game’s ghosts and disturbing occurrences are enough to leave you petrified. Many have tried, but few other developers have come close to replicating the pure fear that P.T. instills in those who were brave enough to play it.

Until Dawn

Supermassive Games 2015

The thrill of ’80s slasher films was rarely about the story, the message, or any other traditional cinematic virtues. It was more often about the dark pleasure of finding out who is going to get it next and how they are going to die. Until Dawn takes that thrill and mixes it with the interactivity you can only find in video games.

In this game, your choices can directly – or indirectly – affect whether a character lives or dies. You know how horror fans sometimes shout at the movie screen to warn characters to run or turn around or not to go in there? Well, now you get to see how far your advice will really get those characters.

Of course, the novelty of that mechanic sometimes results in people forgetting just how scary this game is. Granted, most of the horror revolves around jump scares, but the way that Until Dawn is able to consistently make us jump out of our seats through an escalating series of terrifying moments showcases not only the developers’ love for the slasher genre but its understanding that a jump scare is only as good as the feeling of dread right before it.

Until Dawn is the ’80s slasher film that gamers spent decades asking for, but it’s also more than that. It’s a game that manages to turn quick scares into lasting nightmares that are as fun to share with friends as the most memorable horror hits of the ’80s.

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

Cyberdreams 1995

Many of the scariest horror games tend to be a little more modern. Various advancements in technology and developers’ knowledge of the genre have led to increasingly scary games over the last 20 years or so. If you’re looking for the scariest game of the pre-Resident Evil era, though, it may very well be I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.

Blessed with one of the greatest names in horror history (a name it shares with the short story it’s based on), I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream lives up to every word of its intimidating title. You may not think that a point-and-click adventure game can be scary, but that’s only because you haven’t played a point-and-click adventure game that forces you to explore the personal hells of five deeply disturbed people.

This is the kind of game that will leave you feeling like you need a shower. It’s truly amazing that this was unleashed upon the world way back in ‘95.

Silent Hill 3

Team Silent 2003

Silent Hill 3 exists in a weird cultural vacuum. It’s clearly overshadowed by its legendary predecessors, and I’d argue that it sometimes gets lumped in with some of the…lesser Silent Hill efforts that would follow. However, there is a strong case to be made that Silent Hill 3 is the absolute scariest Silent Hill game ever made.

Like the first two Silent Hill games, Silent Hill 3 is really a deep dive into its character’s psyche that forces us to confront a lot of personal demons. The ace up this game’s sleeve, though, is its somewhat surprising number of well-placed jump scares that usually feature one of this game’s all-time great monster designs.

Whereas some other Silent Hill games are content with letting you stew in a vat of vague uncomfortableness for as long as they’re able, Silent Hill 3 is perfectly happy to interrupt your cesspool soak from time to time with something that will remind you that should never be so comfortable as to get lost in your own thoughts again.

The Suffering

Surreal Software 2004

I don’t know why there aren’t more works of horror set in prisons. Most prison systems are basically the biggest living nightmares possible, so you’d think we’d have more notable works of horror that push that natural nightmare to new extremes.

The Suffering is certainly one of the most notable works of prison horror in any medium, and I think it would retain that title even if there was a little more notable competition in that category. As the story of a mysterious convict forced to battle demonic forces within the confines of hell on Earth, The Suffering certainly makes the most out of its often underutilized setting.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that The Suffering is nothing more than ghouls behind bars, though. Indeed, only the bravest gamers will discover the darkest depths of where this game dares to go.


RedCandleGames 2017

Tragedies can be strange things. Most of us can relate to certain tragedies like the death of a loved one or the loss of something sacred. Yet, there are other tragedies that we may understand or empathize with but could never truly feel in the way that the person most affected by them must feel them.

The magic of Detention can be found in the ways it forces you to feel every part of so many tragedies. This game sets itself up as a ghost story set in an abandoned school, and it is certainly an effective piece of horror as nothing more than that. Yet, the more you learn about this game’s characters, world, and history, the more you realize that Detention is actually the story of a series of personal and historical tragedies that are almost too much to process.

The greatest burden of living in a world of nearly infinite knowledge is the realization that we may only be equipped to handle and know so many things. Detention will test the limits of your ability to process so many different kinds of nightmares.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Capcom 2017

Of course, no list of horror games would be complete without the inclusion of maybe the greatest horror game franchise of all time, Resident Evil, and Resident Evil 7 is without a doubt the scariest ever made. While there are some notable contenders to that title (the remake of Resident Evil 2 primary among them), Resident Evil 7 brought pure horror back to the Resident Evil franchise in the biggest and best way possible.

In fact, Resident Evil 7’s opening moments rank right up there with some of the scariest games ever made. Great survival horror games should make you feel helpless, and that’s exactly what Resident Evil 7 does. From the game’s isolated Louisiana location to the number of times it forces you to simply run, Resident Evil 7 expertly blends roller coaster pacing with atmospheric scares.

Of course, only the bravest souls will be able to get through the incredible VR version of this game.

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Jordan Heath is a writer, artist, musician, and amateur historian. He’s the co-host of Campfire: Tales of the Strange and Unsettling and a contributing writer at Paranormality Magazine. A husband and father of five, this bonafide enthusiast of all things bizarre is on a personal quest to revel in the mysteries found in the blurry edges of our reality.

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