Some people love to experience horror. Real, pure, unfiltered and unabashed horror. There are different forms of entertainment to accomplish this, and one of the most popular is through playing video games. Luckily, there’s no shortage of horror titles available designed specifically to creep out, terrify, and send you into a heart racing and adrenaline pumping frenzy.
Games have only become more frightening as graphics have evolved and with Halloween looming, we’ve been thinking about the scariest games we’ve ever played. From iconic franchises to chilling indie terrors, let’s take a look at the very best horror games you can play right now.
‘Resident Evil 7’
PS4, PSVR, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows
A return to the series’ roots, Resident Evil 7 casts aside the fast-paced action gameplay of the franchise’s later years for a plodding, methodical approach. The result is something truly terrifying. Ethan Winters receives a message that his wife, Mia, presumed dead for years, may still be alive. Upon arriving in rural Louisiana, Ethan winds up trapped by the maniacal and incredibly persistent Baker family. From Jack Baker, the patriarch who bears an uncanny resemblance to Walter White from Breaking Bad, to Marguerite, and their son Lucas, each Baker family member is not quite right, and that spells trouble for Ethan.
Like the early Resident Evil games, bullets are few and far between, but there are jump scares everywhere. The game’s slow pace and dark atmosphere make for a nerve-racking experience from start to finish. The game fits tidily into the mind control and experimentation tropes seen throughout the series, but Resident Evil 7 is also a return to its early, iconic form. If you really want to be scared, try playing the game on PlayStation VR. That really ratchets up the fear factor.
Read our Resident Evil 7 review
‘Layers of Fear’
PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Linux, Mac
A surprise 2016 indie hit from developer Bloober Team, Layers of Fear puts players in the role of an ambitious painter at work on his magnum opus. The game takes place in his lavish Victorian mansion and he adds a new layer to the painting following the completion of each chapter. Finishing the painting quickly seems to be secondary to the man’s psychological state.
Throughout the first-person experience, players are exposed to the man’s hallucinations about his disturbing past. Mirroring the style of P.T., Layers of Fear‘s main source of fear comes from the constantly changing environments. Turn back to a wall that was previously empty, and a creaking door with light emitting from its bottom crack may be there. While it could be categorized as a walking simulator, as there is no direct combat, players do interact with objects in order to solve puzzles to get the rooms to shift. From melting walls to ever-changing portraits, to eerie hauntings, Layers of Fear surprises throughout its brief but masterful journey.
PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac
Outclassing its predecessor, Outlast 2 is perhaps the hardest game to stomach on this list. The grotesque and vile manifestations you encounter throughout the game are bound to turn some players off — even those who really enjoy the genre. At the outset, Journalist Blake Langermann and his wife head off to a remote location in Arizona where a pregnant woman’s body was mysteriously found on the side of the road. The cause of death was unknown and it doesn’t make sense that she died there. What begins as an investigation quickly turns into a fight for survival.
Blake and Lynn garner the attention of a sex-crazed local cult and a vicious backwoods group. Just like Outlast, you can’t defend yourself. Besides sparse quick-time events, you must simply run and hide. And you have to do both of these well unless you want Blake to suffer a brutal, torturous death. Without going into the details, let’s just say that Outlast 2 isn’t for squeamish players.
Outlast 2 does both survival horror and psychological horror incredibly well, tells a gripping narrative, and will keep your heart beating a mile a minute as you navigate through its extremely terrifying setting populated with even more terrifying people.
Read our Outlast 2 review
PS3, Xbox 360, Windows
Dead Space was and is special because it managed the rare feat of simultaneously being an action-packed and deeply unsettling game. Released to near-universal acclaim in 2008, Dead Space remains one of the shining jewels of the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era.
You play as Isaac Clarke, a systems engineer tasked with working his way through a mining ship that has become overrun by aliens. The humans that previously occupied the ship have turned into devastatingly frightening and powerful creatures dubbed Necromorphs. The game’s satisfying action comes from dismembering these creatures limb by limb with high-tech weapons and gadgets. But you never know when they are going to crawl out of exposed corridors or slither from the ceiling. The broken-down starship is filled with atmospheric tension, and Isaac’s solitude amplifies the sense of dread.
Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3 gradually shifted toward more action and less horror, but the original’s terrific blend of action and quiet intrigue make it stand out as the scariest game in the franchise.
‘Amnesia: The Dark Descent’
PS4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac, Linux
From Frictional Games, the team behind the Penumbra series, 2010 indie darling Amnesia: The Dark Descent expanded on the company’s unique brand of first-person horror adventures and created something of a phenomenon among horror game developers and indie game fans.
Set in 1839, a young Londoner named Daniel awakens in Prussia’s Brennenburg Castle. He’s confused, not knowing anything but his name and that he is desperately on the run from something that is hunting him. His lack of memories, according to a note he wrote himself, was self-imposed for his own good. So begins the winding adventure that twists and turns with every room Daniel visits in the sprawling castle.
Along the way, Daniel runs into utterly menacing creatures called gatherers, who, like many horror game oddities, were previously human. Daniel can only run or hide from these nefarious beings. There’s danger lurking everywhere, but Amnesia tends to save its most startling scares for when you think you’re safe. Unraveling the mystery of Daniel’s past and the castle itself is a journey that will keep you up late at night — and perhaps even after you’ve exited the game.
PS4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac, Linux
Frictional Games has gotten so good at drawing screams out of players that it holds two slots on our list. In 2015 sci-fi chiller SOMA, you control a man named Simon Jarrett, who has suffered a traumatic brain injury from a car crash. As a result, he agrees to be a part of Mr. Munshi’s experimental research in reversing brain damage. However, during his brain scan, Simon seemingly loses consciousness and awakens in a desolate research center located deep in the Atlantic Ocean. To make matters even more confusing, the year is 2104, nearly 80 years since his brain scan. And even worse, all human life was eradicated by a comet the year prior. The PATHOS-II — where he wakes up — was the last place where human life was deemed safe. But he appears to be alone. What happened?
SOMA follows Frictional Games’ tradition of using an unknowing narrator to tease a grand and frightening mystery. More than Amnesia, SOMA emphasizes psychological horror, with each shadowy creature representing some form of emotional trauma. The game heavily relies on its atmosphere, which is further intensified by voice recordings, written notes, and its murky underwater environment. A bit more scenic in terms of its terrors, it succeeds in bringing you into its world and making you feel as if you are living Simon’s deep internal struggle. It achieves a different type of horror experience, one that latches onto your mind and doesn’t let go.
‘Silent Hill 2’
PS2, PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, Windows
The Silent Hill franchise sits alongside Resident Evil as a pioneer of the genre. While the first three Silent Hill games could all be considered horror classics, Silent Hill 2 edges out the others for a spot on our list. Though it isn’t a direct successor to the original, Silent Hill 2 returns to the eponymous dreary town. James Sunderland’s wife died three years ago — at least, that’s what he thought. After receiving a letter asking him to come meet her in their special spot (Silent Hill), he embarks on a journey that takes many unsettling turns. (Notice how the setup mirrors that of Resident Evil 7).
As James navigates through the town, Silent Hill quickly becomes a maddening dreamscape filled with monsters and eerie disturbances. What makes the Silent Hill games stand out, and particularly Silent Hill 2, are the psychological elements designed to mess with the player’s mind. Quite often, what James sees is merely a manifestation of his crumbling subconscious. And while all of the games on this list are worthy of being played more than once, Silent Hill 2 has a bevy of underlying themes, references to literature and film, and enough subtext to make your second playthrough even better than the first.
Ps4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows, Mac, Linux
A lot of players have a very intense love/hate relationship with the final game on our list. Alien: Isolation is a methodical, slow-moving sci-fi horror game that takes its premise of focusing on a single alien creature throughout its lengthy adventure to an extreme that, for us, raises the art of making the player feel incredibly vulnerable and isolated at all times to new heights.
Set 15 years after the original 1979 film, Amanda Ripley (Ellen Ripley’s daughter) is told that the flight recorder from the famed Nostromo is on a remote space station. Amanda decides to seek out the recorder in hopes of hearing her mother’s last words before she died. Over the course of the nearly 20-hour adventure, Amanda will kill enemy humans and robots, but here’s the thing — Alien: Isolation really revolves around one alien who you cannot kill no matter how badly you want to.
That alien is terrifying. Sure, you can run and hide from the alien, but rest assured, it will find you. No matter how many times you get devoured by the alien, you never really get used to having its jaws descending on you. Add to that a foreboding setting that would make Ridley Scott proud, and Alien: Isolation is an excellent addition to franchise lore.
‘The Evil Within 2’
PS4 , Xbox One, Windows
The Evil Within 2 is one of the best open world horror games we’ve ever played. Far superior to the original in every respect, it was one of the surprise hits of 2017. Once again you step into the shoes of Sebastian Castellanos, a detective who has seemingly lost everything. When he learns that his daughter may still be alive, he heads back into STEM, the portal to a lifelike dream world filled with surprises and terrors.
This time around, The Evil Within 2 dives deep into Sebastian’s psyche, and the result is one of the most unsettling psychological thrillers around. In STEM, there are also external threats, from grotesque beings to twisted bosses such as a maniacal photographer who wants to show you all of his grisly creations. Without spoiling anything, The Evil Within 2 has one of the most surprising reveals in recent memory, one that is both terrifying and depressing. Make no mistake, The Evil Within 2 isn’t a happy game, but it is compelling. Rounded out by great gunplay, an emphasis on survival, and a dreary open world filled with secrets and frights, The Evil Within 2 is well worth playing even if you haven’t spent time with the original.
Read our The Evil Within 2 review
Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn is probably the least scary game on this list, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great horror movie. Designed as an homage to slasher films starring hapless teenagers, Until Dawn charmingly plays like an interactive movie. Set on Blackwood Mountain, eight teenagers head up the snowy slopes for a vacation. One year ago, two sisters of one of the friends disappeared on that very mountain. Naturally, things go sideways quickly, and the group finds themselves in a desperate situation with a crazed, bloodthirsty man hunting them down.
Until Dawn switches perspectives throughout each of its chapters. Much of the gameplay is just walking, but the player has to make critical choices that alter the course of the story. This rippling effect, dubbed in the game as the “butterfly effect,” has consequences both small and large. Filled with jump scares, cheesy dialogue, and great performances, Until Dawn is the sort of horror experience that demands to be played alongside a group of friends.
PS4, Nintendo Switch, Windows
Little Nightmares makes a very simple gameplay loop utterly captivating. It’s essentially a terrifying game of hide-and-seek starring Six, a young girl who finds herself in the nightmarish world of Maw. Throughout a five hour adventure, you guide Six across a series of rooms in the Maw filled with dastardly individuals that will murder the little girl if given the chance. Six simply wants something to eat, but this leads to many problems with the Maw dwellers. Much of the terror induced by Little Nightmares comes from the fear of being discovered. You must remain unseen, but even when you think you are safe, there’s always the debilitating dread of getting caught looming overhead.
Little Nightmares has a series of excellent puzzles, all of which contribute to the ever-evolving story of this hellscape. It’s astonishing that Little Nightmares remains so frightening even when you almost always know where the danger lurks. This is accomplished through great visual and sound design, and a series of well-placed clues of what will happen to Six if she gets caught.
While Little Nightmares doesn’t have the scale of some of the other games on this list, it does pack an emotional punch at the end.