Much like with movies, the horror genre in video games is very much a hit or miss scenario. Some games can actually induce fear and cause panic, while others fail to reach the desired effect. Since Halloween is coming up there’s bound to be a slight resurgence of horror games among gamers. Just like it’s natural to want to see a scary movie around this time of year it’s also normal to want to play a game capable of scaring you silly.
Sadly though, as it is with horror films, there aren’t many games that do it well anymore. Most developers keep putting out games with the same tired clichés, and instead of relying on scaring the player with a well told story and unsettling atmosphere, most horror games look like they’re becoming sub-genres of the first person shooter. While weapons and ammo were originally limited in supply (if offered at all) you’re now getting so much that you’d think theses games were set in an armory.
There are still new releases that stay true to the old formula while not falling into the trap of copying the same tropes, or turning themselves into what is essentially a shooter with cheap jump scares. And if those don’t work you can always revisit some of the old classics.
That being said here are the top 10 scariest video games ever made.
10 Condemned: Criminal Origins
Condemned puts you in the shoes of protagonist Ethan Thomas, an FBI agent with the ability to see into a suspect's mind. Throughout the game your main objective is to hunt the conveniently elusive Serial Killer X, who kills other serial killers using their own grotesque methods. While most horror games put emphasis on shooting, Condemned makes you get up close and personal with your enemies and focuses heavily on melee combat. Like many other horror games, Condemned has its fair share of puzzle solving. Crime scenes allow the player to uncover more about the story’s mystery while giving them a number of forensic tools to use during their investigation. Most of the investigation takes place in dimly lit empty buildings. With only a flashlight to keep you going and a ton of mutant-like crazy enemies chasing you, along with a few jump scares here and there, Condemned injects players with a healthy dose of fear and curiosity.
9 Clock Tower
The 1995 point-and-click-adventure follows orphan Jennifer Simpson and her three friends who’ve just been adopted by a wealthy family and are set to live in the mysterious and eerie “Clock Tower” mansion. Upon arrival things seem weird and Jennifer soon finds her friends being picked off one-by-one by a murderous lunatic using a giant pair of garden shears as his weapon of choice. Scissorman, as he’s justly named, then goes on to stalk and hunt Jennifer while she tries to find out what’s going on around her and survive the attacks of her seemingly invincible pursuer. Since the player is being stalked throughout the game, things like puzzle solving and investigating must be delayed upon moments notice if the player intends to survive, which makes hiding a big part of Clock Tower. In order to escape her attacker Jennifer will often have to hide somewhere or find something to fend off Scissorman. When directly confronted the player enters a panic phase. Mashing the “panic” button allows the player to escape the attacker, failure to do so means game over. Instead of a health bar Clock Tower gives the player a sort of “fear bar”. A small box in the corner of the screen with Jennifer’s face shows four different colors, each indicating a different level of fear. When the box is red that’s when Jennifer is most vulnerable to attacks from her pursuer.
8 Corpse Party: Blood Covered ...Repeated Fear
The original Corpse Party was released in 1996 using the RPG Maker software. Since then the game has had two remakes, one for the PC and another for the PSP\PS Vita. The story follows a group of high school students who decide to perform a charm after school. As soon as the ritual is complete they are transported to a haunted elementary school. Separated, they must now search for each other as well as a way home. Right off the bat the name doesn’t paint a pretty picture, and rightfully so. The school that players must navigate through is riddled with decayed or decaying corpses, so many in fact that one of the game's side missions is to collect name tags off of the deceased.
Corpse Party was originally made on the RPG Maker software, and staying true to the original the remakes are all 16-bit style horror-adventure games. While this doesn’t leave much to be desired in terms of the game's graphics it doesn’t in any way affect the stomach turning narrative. More disturbing than scary, Corpse Party relies on its greatly detailed narrative to both draw players in and engulf them in unsettling fear. The game does a great job of describing the macabre surroundings as well as brutally detailed death scenes and offers superb voice acting that allows the player to grow emotionally attached to the main characters. Corpse Party’s story is told in chapters. With multiple “Bad Ends” to each chapter the game forces players to continuously play through each one, making different decisions each time in hopes of getting the coveted “Good End” and moving on to the next chapter.
7 Haunting Ground
A spin-off of the Clock Tower series, Haunting Ground revolves around Fiona Belli, who wakes up after a car crash that’s killed her parents, and now finds herself trapped inside a castle. Accompanied by a White Shepherd named Hewie, Fiona must find a way out of the castle while evading the castle's inhabitants. Like Clock Tower, Haunting Ground focuses on hiding from and evading enemies. Weapons are available but aside from the boss battles most of the game is spent running away from your pursuers. Hewie is an important part of the game as he can be controlled by the player alongside Fiona. He can be used to fend off attackers, solve puzzles and can be given commands, then be scolded or praised which affects his attitude towards the player. Similar to "fear" in Clock Tower Fiona can enter a panic mode that causes her to run off mindlessly while the screen blurs, loses color and causes a freeze-frame effect. While in this state it is important to guide Fiona away from walls and obstacles. Failing to do so causes her to fall and become vulnerable, increasing the chances of getting killed.
6 Fatal Frame
The first in a long line of survival horror games, the original Fatal Frame follows Miku Hinasaki as she searches for her missing brother in the supposedly haunted (shocker) Himuro Mansion. The story takes place throughout four chapters or "nights" as they are referred to in the game. What makes Fatal Frame so unique as compared to other survival horror games is that it gives the player a camera – not a gun – as the main weapon. The “Camera Obscura” as it’s called allows Miku to combat attacking spirits by taking their photographs. Film for the camera serves as its ammunition, with different kinds of film having their own special ability. The game forces you to explore the mansion in its entirety while searching for your lost brother and fending off the angered spirits Miku encounters, as well as solving puzzles with objects found throughout the mansion.
5 Siren: Blood Curse
A re-imagining of the original Siren on the PS2, the PS3’s Blood Curse follows a group of interconnected characters trapped in the small Hanuda Village in Japan. The story's main protagonist is an American high school student named Howard Wright who meets several strangers who are all trapped inside the village and cut off from the outside world. While inside, they must investigate the strange happenings while avoiding the zombie-like inhabitants of Hanuda. Blood Curse’s most innovative feature has to be the “Sight Jack” mechanic, which allows players to see through the eyes of an enemy via a split screen. Weapons are provided throughout the game but players normally start levels off unarmed, this is done to emphasize the stealth features of Blood Curse which encourages players to sneak around and find a more tactful way of dealing with enemies rather than just mindlessly slaughtering them.
4 Amnesia: The Dark Descent
A surprise hit when it was originally released, Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a breath of fresh air to a genre that had become dry, living off the same tropes and spawning multiple clones. The game is set in 1839 and follows a man named Daniel who awakens in a castle with no recollection of who he is. All he can remember is his name, his residence and that somewhere in the castle's dark depths, something is chasing him. Apart from the standard health bar, players must also manage Daniels sanity. Staying in the darkness too long or staring at monsters will cause him to hallucinate and eventually attract monsters to his location. Keeping close to sources of light as well as stocking up on tinderboxes are essential to managing Daniel's sanity. The enemy AI is pretty spectacular as it will chase the player till they are out of sight. Since there are no weapons provided in the game, Daniel must hide and barricade doors with objects around them, or hide in the shadows. The later option sacrificing some of the player’s sanity which ultimately leads to more monsters attacking.
3 Resident Evil
The game that started it all, Resident Evil inspired many survival horror games and set the groundwork for the genre. The story gives the player the choice of following either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, two members of S.T.A.R.S. a special task force investigating a series of murders occurring in the fictional Raccoon City. While investigating a mansion on the outskirts of town the Beta division loses contact with the Alpha group, and it’s up to them to then go find the others - thus begins Resident Evil. The game consists of navigating through the environment while searching for clues related to the main story, as well as some pretty challenging puzzles. Resident Evil was the original king of the jump scare; the game was responsible for many of the sadly tired tropes we're now used to seeing in horror games. Not only is ammo and inventory space limited, but so are your save game attempts. The game uses ink ribbons as a tool for saving progress but just like everything else in the game they’re limited in supply. So while saving your progress is taken for granted with most games, Resident Evil forces players to tactfully space them out.
Outlast is another modern horror game that’s given the genre new life. The game follows freelance journalist Miles Upshur. After receiving an anonymous tip from a whistleblower, Miles goes to a remote psychiatric hospital to investigate the report of inhumane experiments being done to the patients. Inside he finds terribly mutilated and dismembered corpses belonging to the staff, and for some reason decides to investigate the matter further. The game is presented in a format similar to found footage films. Without any weapons, Miles is forced to run away from the psychotic patients roaming the asylum, using parkour to get around obstacles. The protagonist has only a notebook and a camcorder with night vision. The batteries must be replaced frequently, and can be found throughout the asylum. The camcorder's night vision can be used to navigate the asylum's darker areas as well as document the events taking place.
1 Silent Hill
Silent Hill is definitely one of the more unique experiences you’ll ever have playing any horror game. It’s right up there with Resident Evil as one of the great classic survival horror pioneers. The story follows Harry Mason after he wakes up following a car accident. After noticing that his daughter Cheryl is missing he quickly goes out in search of her, finding himself in the mysterious town of Silent Hill. The town is empty, and somehow it’s snowing in the spring. As well as being covered in fog, the player’s visibility is greatly reduced. This fog serves as a perfect veil for oncoming enemies to ambush you. With the only indication of their presence being an ear piecing buzzing noise coming from your radio. You will find yourself stuck in many dark and closed spaces once you enter certain areas in the game. A flashlight is provided early in the game but visibility comes with a cost; just as you can see the narrow corridors and empty alleyways clearly, your enemies can find you and attack you with much more ease with the flashlight on. The melee mechanics are choppy, and ammo is sparse so it’s best to conserve it, but that’s because Silent Hill is not a first person shooter, it’s a survival horror game. The main objective isn’t to be some madman rampaging through town guns blazing; it’s to find your missing daughter while navigating the cursed town, solving the mystery as you go. The most important aspect of Silent Hill’s gameplay however is the sound. Put on a good pair of headphones while playing and you’ll be stunned at what the industrial sound effects, tribal drums and haunting music can add to this masterpiece and how you experience it.