First, we had horror fiction, where people would gather and tell scary stories around campfires about escaped lunatics with hooks for hands preying on young couples. Then it evolved into TV and movies. Suddenly, all those scary stories we were hearing had visuals to go along with them.
And horror was truly getting audiences to react. From the birth of real horror movies in the 50s on, people were sold on the idea of being scared. From that moment forth, horror has invaded every area of pop culture. From horror songs to horror themed parties to even horror food (oh look, gummy eyeballs), but one of the last places for horror to pop into has proven to be the most effective: video games. The reality is, horror video games have out-shined horror movies for just the effect they can have on the player and watcher.
An example: a person watching a scary movie jumps when something scary happens. However, a person playing a horror game feels actual dread when something scary is coming. Horror video games take you from being a third person witness to being an active participant. You may watch a moment from a horror movie where someone is running from a killer and imagine how scary it would be, but in a horror video game, it is you running from the homicidal killer or deformed creature. That is how horror in video games has surpassed all other mediums. It is interactive and palpable. You are no longer watching someone become a victim - you are the victim.
Here are the ten horror games that pull that off most effectively.
10 Alan Wake
Why is it that no one played this awesome seventh generation game? Alan Wake is the closest anyone will ever come to playing a Stephen King story. You are a writer who goes out to the Washington countryside to work on a novel, and wouldn't you know it, scary stuff starts happening.
What made Alan Wake so cool was the gameplay mechanic. Enemies were called "Taken", and they were regular people dipped in shadows. You had to use a flashlight to make them vulnerable, then take them down while they were in that state. It made for some very tense combat scenarios, and the graphics and writing were top notch. It's a great, spooky game not nearly enough people played.
Go fix that. It probably costs $5 now.
9 I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
This is an older PC game based off a Harlan Ellison short story of the same name. Humanity has been wiped out except for a handful of humans who are being kept alive by an evil A.I. who is intent on tormenting them over and over based on flaws in their character. For example, in one section, you play as a Nazi doctor experimenting on people - twisted stuff and definitely not easy to take.
Check this point-and-click game out on Steam right now. It will ruin you.
8 Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Another amazing older game that places low on the list because, like, 6 people played it. A First Person Shooter that was based around the entirety of writer H.P. Lovecraft's universe, this was one of the first batch of horror games that left you without weapons on many occasions so you would have to run to try to survive.
Suffice it to say, even the initial segment of the game when you need to escape the hotel while the crazed occupants are trying to kill you is scarier than most moments in modern horror games. Find and play this underrated gem - you'll thank us.
7 The Condemned Series
The Condemned series was about a detective facing a town full of homeless people who had turned rabid and feral - sort of like zombies, but with human speed and attributes (and lead pipes to beat your skull in).
What REALLY made Condemned so memorable was the fact it only gave the player one gun and six bullets, meaning you needed to find pipes and wrenches and pieces of wood on the street to literally bludgeon these people with because ammo was so scarce. The thing is, it worked incredibly well and was creepy as hell. Oh, and that mannequin sequence...
6 Dead Space 2
Dead Space was an amazing game, but by the time the second one came along, they really nailed down the atmosphere and feeling of not only being trapped in space, but being trapped in space and surrounded by things that just want to decimate you.
The opening scene alone with you trying to escape the mental institution as all the madness starts to unfold around you is better than most opening horror scenes in movies. Insane, scary, and unforgettable.
Another PC game that makes you powerless, Outlast is more about the sick things you witness and then trying to escape them. It all takes place in an old mental asylum and you are walking around using a night vision camera to try to pick up on all the eerie stuff you've been hearing about.
It is right around the moment you catch a guy doing terrible things to a corpse and then he calls you a pervert for watching it that you realize this game is not pulling any punches and is gonna screw you up a little - or a lot.
4 Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly
Now this is how you do an interesting and unique game mechanic to add to a horror game. The Fatal Frame series is more akin to Japanese Horror (think The Ring and Ju-On as examples) and does something unique in its gameplay as well.
In this game, you play twin ghost hunters who have to use a special camera to take pics of the ghosts you encounter. When you take the photo at just the right time, it does massive damage to the spirit (playing off the old theme that a camera can capture part of your soul). Though the entire series has been amazing, part 2 just has such a cool ending and a few ghosts in particular which you will never forget.
3 Until Dawn
A game that is just an elaborate quicktime event places this high? Yes, and it will make sense in a moment. While all the above games felt like you were playing horror games, Until Dawn was the first time it felt like gamers were playing an actual horror movie. From the real actors cast and rendered, to the quick decisions that would mean life or death, Until Dawn grabs you by the throat and never lets up.
This game was so unique and fun (and scary), they should release an actual horror movie of this game. Think about how meta that would be? A game that is supposed to be like a horror movie gets made into an actual horror movie (based on a game). Wow.
2 Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Simple graphics, simple gameplay mechanic, yet simply a terrifying game - few games out there make you feel as powerless as Amnesia does. Though there were games before that left you helpless, Amnesia brought that to new heights. It did this by essentially telling you nothing and letting you learn about the game the hard way.
It could also be said this is the game that kicked off the idiot teenage YouTubers screaming at their laptops and PCs videos, the "watch me play" craze which is annoying as hell.
1 Silent Hill 2
Though the whole early part of series was exceptional, anyone who claims that Silent Hill 2 is not the best horror game ever made did not play it all the way through. Be warned: spoilers ahead.
The simple fact that you find out that you killed your wife at the end of the game and that particular version of Silent Hill is like your own self-made Hell (with Pyramid Head being the manifestation of your guilt) is about as profound and brilliant as games get. Add to that the sound design and creature design as well as the gameplay and you have what is very much the perfect horror video game, straight up.