From haunted houses to scary movies and even roller coasters, some of us go out our way to make ourselves scream. Now, virtual reality has opened the door to a new theater of terror, and some of the experiences you can have make The Shining look like The Lion King.
The hardware you own makes a difference. Mobile VR headsets, such as the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View, make up for the limited freedom of movement they provide you by exploiting it for terror — you’re essentially tied down, so you have no choice but to face your fears. Room-scale VR headsets, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, give you the freedom to explore your surroundings deeper, allowing you to walk right into a monster.
I decided to torture myself with some of the scariest VR experiences I could dredge up. The selections range from facing evil dolls and the boogeyman, to being eaten alive and staring at a killer from the perspective of a severed head. If you have a VR headset and nerves of steel, take a deep breath and step into one of these immersive frightfests.
Play With Me (Free)
In Play With Me, you navigate through a dark home, attempting to find a way out while a demented clown slinks around in the darkness. He warns you to not look directly into his eyes, which makes you afraid to even look around. The game makes good use of the positional tracking in the Gear VR to exacerbate this effect; the shadowy figure of the clown will usually crawl past the corner of your eye as you begin to look in a different direction. Opening doors requires you to point, click, and wait a few seconds before it opens. More times than I’d like to admit, I had to take deep breaths before opening a door, because in a second’s notice, you can be face-to-face with glowing, demonic clown eyes.
It: Float — A Cinematic VR Experience (Free)
Let’s just all agree that clowns doing anything but clowning is absolutely petrifying. If you saw Stephen King’s It and didn’t swear off demented clowns for the rest of your life, then the VR companion is right up your dark and lonely alley. It: Float — A Cinematic VR Experience takes a lot of the iconic moments of the film and traps you in them. As you float down a street, you’ll spy Pennywise the clown menacingly peering at you from the sewer drain. VR makes these iconic scenes so visceral, I actually tried to jump back in real life when Pennywise attempted to push me onto a bed of spikes. You will have to download the Jaunt VR app to access this experience on most headsets.
Few places are natural playgrounds for horror like the deep sea, and Narcosis puts all those aquatic terrors in your face. In this VR game, you traverse the ocean floor in an industrial diving suit while you try to find your way to the surface before your oxygen, and sanity, run out. At any point, you can come across gigantic sea spiders, or just a regular fish that flits into your line of view a bit too quickly. To make matters worse, the deep breaths your character sucks in after a fright drain the diving suit of more oxygen — and compound your fear even more.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard VR ($36)
Resident Evil has been paralyzing people with fear since the 1990s, and putting the franchise’s latest goresest in VR ups the horror ante even more. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard 7 forces you to navigate through zombies bursting through the walls of a mansion and face grotesque monsters as they stumble through your barrage of bullets. It’s absolutely terrifying when you can quite literally do nothing but face your fears. Nearly 300,000 people have tried the VR experience since its January release, so at least you can find some comfort in knowing others have made it out of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard VR alive.
Walking Dead: Feast (Free)
I’ve never thought about being eaten alive, but after the Walking Dead: Feast VR experience, it’s now the main plot of all of my nightmares. In Walking Dead: Feast, your perspective is from the head of a deceased body, with a front-row seat to a horde of the undead ripping organs with their teeth and spewing blood everywhere. The 360-degree field of view gcreates a supreme sense of hopelessness: No matter where you look, zombies are swarming toward you for their next meal. Fear will course through your body, even if you have never watched a single episode of The Walking Dead. You’ll only be able to access this experience by first downloading the AMC VR app.
Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul ($25)
Based on the same Paranormal Activity films that scared you into installing security cameras in your bedroom, Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul has you explore a creepy house with just a flashlight to find out all of its gruesome mysteries. The room-scale freedom of movement in The Lost Souls creates an atmosphere where you’re fearful of every step. One door could lead you to a child’s bedroom, and the very next door puts you in the middle of a satanic shrine. This is the type of house you run past when trick-or-treating.
Sisters: Faye & Elsa — Parts I-III ($1 each)
Sisters: Faye & Elsa, a three-part VR horror series, proves once again what we all know to be true: Dolls in the dark are too scary to ever trust. Sisters places you in the shoes of Emmanuel Burke as he attempts to uncover the mystery of Aunt Faye’s disappearance by solving puzzle games in her mansion. The game makes great use of Google Daydream’s spatial audio to make you feel surrounded by screams, the surprisingly disconcerting chimes of a clock, and mysterious footsteps. By the time you come face-to-face with the evil dolls, you may be too scared to continue.
Boogeyman is s strategy horror game where you are tasked with keeping petrifying monsters out of your room by shining a flashlight on them. There are five ways for terror to seep into your room: the door, closet, window, air vent, and sides of the bed. This game does a masterful job of immersing you in fear by forcing you to listen for movements in the dark, and rely on dim moonlight, since you need to conserve your flashlight battery. Before you know it, you’re flashing your light on the creatures climbing through your window, and by the time you turn your attention back to the door, it’s already too late.
ABE VR (Free)
ABE VR is a short horror film in which you are strapped on a gurney in a makeshift surgery room, while a robot explains to you the futility of life. Since your movements are restricted, you can only look around at your surroundings to see a tray of surgical tools on one side, and a lifeless body under another gurney on your other side. With every passing word from the robot, you wonder if you are next. As the robot picks up its instruments and cycles through them one by one, it’s the anticipation of what demented procedure it will perform that is the most terrifying part. The experience is only 7 minutes long, but that is more than enough time to scare the wits out of you.
Dark Corner (Free)
The Dark Corner app offers nine horrifying VR experiences, each one capable of scaring the headset off your face. Catatonic finds you being rolled through an insane asylum, and you’re only able to look left and right at the frightening patients before they eventually all surround you. In Burlap, you stare at a psychopathic killer from the perspective of a severed head that he plans to attach to a body. In 11:47, you are trapped in a dark dungeon, where a momentary flickering of light reveals zombies and other creatures that go bump in the night. As for the rest of the experiences, you will just have to be brave enough to strap on a headset and find out for yourself.