The scariest games frighten us through a combination of atmosphere, narrative and plain shock factor. These ten had us reaching for a new pair of pants on a regular basis.
Fear is an odd thing. We're hard-wired to avoid it at all costs, but there is very little in life that gives us the same rush of adrenaline as absolute terror. Games that utilise fear for this very reason are a very careful balancing act - and the horror factor only works if you care about the narrative.
The ten games before you are not just about simple shocks. They range wildly from mind-messing psychological thrillers to post-apocalyptic horror, but they all have one thing in common - they'll scare the living cheesy corn-based snacks off you.
Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
The long running J-horror franchise returns this year with an entry that delivers plenty of jump scares and unsettling imagery. You play as three different protagonists as you explore Mount Hikami, a location infamous due to it witnessing a large number of suicides. As you navigate various haunted locations on the deadly mountain, you must battle a wide variety of hostile undead, using nothing but a Camera Obscura to defeat them. Yes, you heard that right, ghosts and ghouls are dispatched in this game by taking pictures of them, with the closer you get the more damaging your snaps. Dare you get close enough though to take a 'fatal frame'?
If you want lots of Lovecraftian horror then look no further than Bloodborne, the super hard spiritual successor to Dark Souls and Demon Souls. While the beasts that come to flay you never really get too disturbing, the fact that they can all pretty much take you down in but a few hits really adds to the horror, with a vice-like tension barely ever subsiding. Dark and foreboding at all times, Bloodborne is a game that will give you nightmares.
Want to get a The Ring-style, long haired, creepy supernatural girl vibe going this Halloween? Well, then look no further than the F.E.A.R series, which smashes together J-horror and FPS in a surprisingly scary way. Alma, the psychic ghost girl antagonist, acts like a messed up version of the White Rabbit throughout the series, with her actions directly and indirectly dragging you down a frightening rabbit hole that sees a lot of men die in some really grusome ways.
Psychological survival horror with a distinct Western flavour, Alan Wake sees you take up the role of a Stephen King-esque novelist suffering from writer's block. Travelling with your wife to the secluded town of Bright Falls, things quickly go amiss however, with your wife Alice dragged off into the town's lake by mysterious forces. From here on out Alan must combat shadowy figures using light from his hand torch - which of course has limited battery - unravel the mystery of his wife's dissapearance and finally take on the ominous 'Dark Presence'. Slow burning but creepy as hell.
Metro: Last Light
Set in post-apocalyptic Moscow, Metro: Last Light successfully blends FPS, survival horror and stealth genres together in a manner that never fails to get the adrenaline pumping. With most of the game set in the pitch black tunnels of the Moscow Metro system, the player must fight off deranged humans, irradiated mutants, shadow figures and even hallucinations, utilising an armoury of heavy weaponry and an all important flashlight. Nice touches like a minimal hud - which does not show a health meter - audible cues like heartrate and visual details like a wristwatch timer for your gas mask (needed in many areas to breathe), help create a realistic and super tense experience.
The best survival horror games are often the simplest, something that is definitely true with Outlast. You play as a journalist, who heads out to, as you do, investigate a remote psychiatric hospital situated deep in the mountains of Colorado. During the game you cannot perform combat, so you have to hide and avoid the terrors that come your way, using only your night vision camera as an aid. It has that ‘found-footage’ style and is truly terrifying. Probably best to play with the light on, and someone close by for comfort.
Virtual versions of one our favourite horror films have been fairly dull, but Isolation is a tense stealth game deserving of the Alien name. You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of the hero from the movies as you search a deserted space station to track down a lost flight recorder. One small issue though, there’s a blood thirsty Alien on the loose that’s hunting you down. Isolation does a few things well, especially the mechanic that means you can’t actually kill the Alien, you just have to dodge and avoid it. It feels distinctly like the original film, rather that the more action packed sequel.
Resident Evil 4
While it’s development was long and arduous, Resident Evil 4 stands as one of the finest survival horror games ever and one of the games that really made third person shooters mainstream. Originally a GameCube exclusive, the skin-crawling European set adventure boasted fantastic characters, a gripping story and strong gameplay.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
The year is 1839 and you play as Daniel, an amnesiac who wakes in Brennenburg Castle with a letter, from himself, stating he deliberately wiped his own memory and instructing himself to murder Alexander, the Baron of the castle. Daniel only remembers three things: his name, where he lives and that something is hunting him. There is no combat mechanic, so you are forced to hide, and to run. As Daniel spends more time in the dark hiding from monsters, he gradually descends into insanity, seeing and hearing things that aren’t there.
Slender is a free first person survival horror game based around the urban legend of the Slenderman, a tall, faceless, suit wearing individual who makes a habit of abducting children. In the middle of a dark wood, you have to collect 8 cryptic notes explaining the true terror of the Slenderman, before succumbing to his horror. It is a chilling game with incredible atmosphere that greatly succeeds in furthering the terror spread by the urban legend.
Set in a dark and distant future, mankind has the ability to “crack” planets: literally crack a planet open and harvest its resources. When a religious artefact related to a twisted cult is discovered on the planet Aegis VII, The Ishimura mining ship goes dark. Isaac Clarke, whose girlfriend is stationed aboard The Ishimura, is part of the engineering team sent to uncover what is really going on. What follows is, in our humble opinion, one of the best and most terrifying gaming experiences of the last decade.
Rockstar London’s psychological horror game follows Daniel Lamb and his escape from Dixmor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Daniel is an amnesiac and his journey brings him face to face with insane inmates and mysterious, deadly organisations. The gameplay centres on stealth combat and brutal third person “executions”. What makes Manhunt 2 a truly frightening game is the “horror film” setting which provides the perfect atmosphere to compliment the game's gut wrenching brutality.
Penumbra: The Black Plague
The Black Plague is the second instalment of the Penumbra series of first person survival-horror games. Penumbra is the spiritual prequel to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and both games are developed by Swedish studio Frictional Games. Penumbra follows Phillip and his unsettling journey through an underground research base. Much like Amnesia, combat mechanics are shelved in favour of puzzles, stealth and just plain running away to survive at all costs.
Silent Hill 3
Silent Hill 3 follows Heather, adopted daughter to Harry Mason who ten years prior to the events of the game defeated a god brought forth by the cult of Silent Hill. Set in the aforementioned Silent Hill, a place shrouded in fog and evil, Heather attempts to discover the truth about her father and why the cult of Silent Hill is following her. With gritty hand to hand combat, exploration and puzzle solving in a dreary, twisted universe, Silent Hill 3 is intensely unnerving.
Siren: Blood Curse
Siren: Blood Curse is a 3rd person, over the shoulder survival horror game from Project Siren. Recently released episodically on the Playstation Network, the story focuses on an American Television crew in Japan looking for a lost village where supposedly human sacrifices took place. Whether solving puzzles, fighting or fleeing the undead, Siren: Blood Curse offers a blood curdling narrative with the most tense of atmospheres.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
Stalker is an open world FPS from Ukrainian developer GSC. In an alternate reality, a second disaster in Chernobyl has caused widespread mutation leading to the creation of a race of mutant animals. You play an amnesiac (who saw that coming?) and you’re forced to search the post-apocalyptic wasteland to discover the strange truth about “The Zone” and why you are referred to as a “Marked One”.