Horror isn’t a genre that can be easily represented in a video game. Most games are fun because they empower players to do things that everyday humans can’t. Halo lets players command nine-foot-tall super soldiers. In Grand Theft Auto, you’re a criminal who can steal whatever he wants and respects no laws.
Horror games are defined by what they don’t let the player do. Effective survival titles tease the exact nature of your enemies, keep you low on resources, and challenge you at every turn. However, the best horror entries must balance challenge with gameplay. Players must feel like they can progress through the storyline even when facing overwhelming odds.
These challenges make horror games notoriously difficult for developers to get right. If the game’s too easy, it’s not scary enough. If it’s too hard, it’s not fun to play. A horror dev’s most challenging task is balancing fear and forward motion. When they get it right, the results are electric.
Today, we’re looking at the ten best horror games ever made. Are you ready to get scared?
Content warning: several of the following games contain disturbing images and unsettling themes. These titles aren’t for the faint of heart!
SOMA is terrifying in ways that are hard to describe. Players control Simon, a man who survived a car accident in 2015 and agreed to an experimental brain scan for scientific research. Simon awakens in an underwater research facility in 2104, realizing to his horror that his mind inhabits a robotic body.
The game relies on psychological horror over jump scares or gruesome imagery. Most of SOMA’s scariest concepts revolve around the nature of the mind. What makes a person real? Do artificial intelligence constructs have souls? Is a robot with a copy of your memories effectively an extension of you, or is it a separate entity?
The game leaves players with lingering, uncomfortable questions. Fans of psychological horror will find a lot to love in this sci-fi adventure.
9. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Eternal Darkness is a cult-classic GameCube survival game. The game takes cues from tabletop horror games like Call of Cthulhu by threatening more than the player character’s life. In addition to the health bar that gamers are accustomed to, Eternal Darkness uses a sanity meter to track how the protagonists handle the unbelievable monsters they defeat.
As the protagonists’ sanity dwindles, things go off the rails. Characters might hallucinate, seeing spectral enemies that aren’t real. In extreme cases, Eternal Darkness breaks the fourth wall and makes players think their system is glitching. The game will show a bluescreen with the flashing “input” logo in the corner, suggesting that the player switch back to the correct AV input.
Eternal Darkness will even tell the player that the saved data is corrupted, and they’ll have to start from scratch. The player finds themselves back on the title screen, but everything looks wrong. When you fire up a new game from this fake title screen, you’ll resume where your main save left off. In short, Eternal Darkness doesn’t just mess with the characters. It challenges the player’s notions regarding reality and perception.
8. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is one of the most frightening video games ever made. Developers Frictional Games crafted a masterpiece, tasking players with guiding the protagonist, Daniel, through a monster-infested castle. Daniel is completely defenseless, making enemy encounters deadly at any point in the game.
Players must employ stealth and puzzle-solving skills to get through the game’s claustrophobic hallways and around its relentless enemies. However, sticking to the shadows isn’t the best idea. Daniel’s sanity meter will gradually deplete if you spend too much time in the dark. This can result in Daniel hallucinating, making the game even trickier.
Fans of point-and-click adventure titles will love Amnesia’s puzzle-based gameplay. The game’s gripping storyline and hair-raising monsters have solidified it as an all-time great horror title.
An astronaut named Selene crash-lands on an abandoned planet. She finds her bearings and notices human corpses littered around the broken landscape. To her horror, the bodies are her own. Whenever Selene dies on Atropos, she returns to life at her ship’s crash site. She’s haunted by memories of her life on Earth and trapped in a loop that only she can break.
Returnal is an action-heavy roguelike that challenges players at every moment. The gameplay is fast-paced, and enemies are breathtakingly deadly. A few missteps can spell the end of a run, sending Selene back to the start of the game. Players are confronted with unsettling images and ugly truths about the nature of life and death as they battle to break the eternal cycle Selene has become trapped within.
Returnal isn’t just one of the best horror games ever made; it’s also an unparalleled roguelike. Fans of games like The Binding of Isaac and Hades will feel right at home on Atropos.
Bioshock is a first-person shooter that boasts elements of horror and action in equal measure. On higher difficulty settings, the game is unforgiving and terrifying. Players creep through the creaky hallways of an underwater city named Rapture. Society collapsed beneath the waves years before the protagonist, Jack, discovered the lawless installation.
Mutated human survivors have gone mad with power, injecting themselves with genetic modifications. These modified humans, called Splicers, possess gruesome superpowers that they wield at the cost of their sanity.
Bioshock is more than an action-horror game. The game’s story meditates on the nature of free will and the dangers of unethical scientific advancement.
5. The Last of Us
Do you have complete control over the characters that serve as your digital avatars? That’s the question at the heart of The Last of Us, a gripping PlayStation exclusive that channels The Walking Dead and World War Z. Players ostensibly control Joel, a guilt-ridden survivor of a zombie-like apocalypse. Joel is a reluctant hero tasked with escorting a teenage girl named Ellie across the ruins of America.
The game’s narrative slowly builds Joel and Ellie’s relationship. It uses tense set-piece battles against other survivors and mutated zombies to heighten the tension. The game’s chilling storyline suggests that the deadliest monsters in the ruins of civilization aren’t the reanimated dead. Instead, it focuses on the evil that dwells in the hearts of wicked survivors.
That wickedness threatens to overtake Joel, too. The game’s final level famously asks the player to commit a series of horrible acts, as Joel refuses to accept the reality of a grim situation. The stunning last minutes of the game leave players wondering what kind of person they’ve been playing as and whether they were mistaken to ever root for Joel.
4. Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 is a definitive piece of horror media. It takes inspiration from the classic psychological thriller Jacob’s Ladder, presenting an eerie world that hangs between life and death. The game kicks off when protagonist James receives a letter from his wife. While James would typically be happy to hear from Mary, he’s distressed to see her handwriting. She passed away three years before the start of the game.
Something horrible comes into focus as the player carefully picks their way through the ruined buildings of the titular town. James isn’t a hero, and his actions before the start of the game slowly catch up to him. His guilt, frustration, and desire to be punished come full circle as he literally faces his demons.
Silent Hill 2 is equal parts body horror and psychological horror. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it remains one of the best horror games ever made.
3. Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil Village came out in 2021, but it’s already earned a reputation as one of the greatest horror games ever made. It follows in the mold of Resident Evil 6, sticking with a first-person perspective to force players closer to the non-stop scares.
The game also features the second appearance of Ethan Winters as a playable character. Ethan is more capable than he was in Resident Evil 6, and the game reflects this in his increased combat prowess. Players gain access to a much deeper armory of weapons to battle the titular village’s werewolves and vampires.
The game is full of gruesome body horror and uncomfortable gameplay sequences. If you love adrenaline-pumping action and white-knuckle terror, you’ll relish Village’s devilish twists.
2. Dead Space 2
Dead Space 2 improves on its predecessor in every way. Players step back into the shoes of Isaac Clark, a no-longer-silent protagonist, as he navigates the deadly ruins of The Sprawl. The Sprawl was once a bustling space station, but the arrival of the mutated Necromorphs has turned the orbital outpost into a house of horrors.
The game features spine-tingling challenges both in and out of combat. Players must employ quick reflexes to shoot off Necromorphs’ limbs before the monsters can attack. Top-notch sound design helps elevate the terror, as players typically hear threats long before they see them.
Squeamish players might want to avoid Dead Space 2, though. For instance, Isaac must perform optical surgery on himself in one infamous scene late in the game.
1. Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4 redefined the survival horror genre when it was released on GameCube in 2004. Players once again take the role of Leon Kennedy, one of the protagonists from Resident Evil 2. The federal government tasks Leon with rescuing Ashley Graham, the president’s daughter, after a mysterious cult operating in rural Spain kidnaps her.
Resident Evil 4 uses a claustrophobic over-the-shoulder camera to focus players’ attention on the horrors in front of them. Leon can’t move and shoot simultaneously, adding tension to combat. The endless streams of enemies require players to employ unconventional tactics on the fly in combat.
It’s easily the most exciting horror game ever made and the best entry in the long-running Resident Evil franchise. If you haven’t played it yet, give it a try. Ideally, in a dark room. With headphones. Unless you’re too scared, of course.