The PC market has all the benefits of the AAA space — with a handful of console exclusives and Nintendo games being the main exceptions — along with the largest supply of indie, mods, and experimental projects on any platform. There is no genre that PC gaming is lacking, and the openness of the platform for both gamers and developers has unleashed an overwhelming amount of games over the past few decades. There’s no shortage of high-quality games to pick from, with scary PC games seeing a huge surge in popularity in particular.
PC horror games can take on just about any form. There are the traditional survival horror games, multiplayer horror games, ones that go for photorealism, and others that don’t have graphics at all. Plus, because PC games aren’t locked from one generation to another, you can access horror games from decades ago with relative ease. That also means that there are way too many PC horror games to reasonably know how to pick out the best ones.
- The best PS4 horror games
- The best horror games on Nintendo Switch
- The best horror games of all time
Alien: Isolation had at least two major hurdles to overcome before it was even released. First was the incredible damage to the Alien brand that Colonial Marines had done. Second was being a sequel to one of the most beloved sci-fi horror films of all time. Despite everything stacked against it, Alien: Isolation turned out to be one of the best horror games of the generation, if not the decade. It takes the hide-and-seek style approach to horror by bringing the scale down to how it was in the original film of there being one alien hunting you throughout the ship. You had some tools to fend it off temporarily, but there’s no way to completely eliminate this predator. It is a slightly older game now, having come out in 2014, but still looks amazing — especially on powerful rigs. You take the role of Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley in the films, set 15 years after the original Alien ended and her mother has been missing ever since. She learns that a flight recorder from Ellen’s ship has been found and recovered by a ship called the Anesidora and goes on board to see if it holds the answers to what happened to her mother. As it turns out, she finds the answer much sooner than she realizes as an alien has been running rampant on this ship, killing nearly the entire crew. Equipped with iconic tools like the motion tracker and flame throwers, you need to find a way to survive as the alien, and some other threats, hunt you down with impressive AI. As a love letter to the Alien franchise, this game looks, sounds, and plays exactly as you would hope. That is to say: Terrifying.
It’s almost become a meme now, and it certainly has been over-saturated in the let’s play and content creator communities, but there’s a reason this game was able to launch so many people’s careers. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is just plain scary. If you’re a regular horror game player and somehow haven’t touched this one, then it may not be as revolutionary as it was when it came out around a decade ago. It essentially started the trend of horror games where you have no tools to fight back with and instead you’re forced you to run and hide from purposefully obscured creatures. Amnesia: The Dark Descent understands that what you think you see stalking you in the dark, or what could be making those sounds, is far scarier than anything an artist could actually design and show you. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a simple story that is heavily influenced by Lovecraft tales. The majority of the lore is presented in notes and journal entries you find, most left from the main character to himself who knowingly induced himself with amnesia, which is a fantastic storytelling device to keep the player and character on the same level. The game takes place in a single stone castle, which can get a little repetitive, but it does ooze (sometimes literally) with atmosphere. Enemies will stalk the halls and hunt you down, but looking at them directly will lower your sanity. It would’ve been great if there were more effects caused by low sanity besides eventual death, but it does force you to not get a good look at the vaguely humanoid visages lumbering after you. Keep a candle lit while playing this one, because this tale is dark in every way possible.
Multiplayer horror games may seem antithetical to what a horror game is. We’ve seen plenty of examples of games that prove that point, too. Having one, or more, people with you just makes the illusion and atmosphere of horror break so much easier when you can crack jokes with a friend. Even in games where the multiplayer element is having the other player be the threat rather than an ally, it’s easy to lose all sense of tension if the one who’s supposed to be a dangerous and scary monster doesn’t play the role. Despite all this, Phasmophobia utilizes a bunch of innovative techniques, along with plenty of tried and true tropes, to make a hit multiplayer horror game on PC that put a massive spotlight on the game. Playing as a team — that’s right a team with other people — of ghost hunters, Phasmophobia puts you into different haunted locations with the goal of figuring out what type of haunt is occurring, how to stop it, and, you know, not getting killed in the process. It has all the trappings of a haunted house-type game, with dark hallways, ghosts, limited lights, creepy sounds, and all that, but Phasmophobia has a pretty ingenious gimmick. The game can pick up your microphone and reacts based on you speaking and making noise. This goes beyond just triggering a ghost to track you down, too. You can speak to ghosts and ask tons of questions to get information vital to your investigation. Grab some friends for this one, but just know you won’t feel any less afraid.
Another multiplayer experience, only this time the killer is player controlled. This asymmetrical horror title is wildly popular and very easy to understand the basics of. Four survivors attempt to power up four generators to open an escape route from the map while a Killer stalks and attempts to kill them all before they can. Survivors get a few tools to help, but mainly it’s their numbers that balance the odds against the Killer’s suite of powers and abilities. The game has incorporated tons of iconic horror figures over the years, including Freddy Krueger, Ghost Face, and even Pyramid Head. The tension of working on a generator, which will periodically trigger a QTE that, if failed, causes noise to be made and alert the Killer to your location, is never dulled over dozens of hours of play.
Another game that you wouldn’t expect to work as a horror game, let alone be one of the best survival horror games, is Darkwood. The uphill battle this game took on was perspective. Horror thrives in first person perspectives, through can be great in third as well. We even see plenty of fantastic 2D side-scrolling types (perhaps even some later on in this list), but 2D from an overhead perspective is rare for horror. This is mainly because of how much this camera angle lets you see. That is if you’re not playing Darkwood. This game gives you, the player, a very accurate and brutal vision cone as you explore this overgrown world. You can see nothing behind your character, and anything obstructing your view ahead will cast large blind spots exactly as they would in real life. Adding in elements from the survival genre, Darkwood puts you in the role of a man stuck in a malicious forest that is constantly changing. You have a home you need to stock up with supplies and defenses to hold out against what appears when the sun goes down. It also features a small cast of NPCs that you can interact with. Depending on how you speak and act with them, the game can go in some very different directions. What is always constant in Darkwood, however, is the difficulty. You will never feel comfortable, have enough supplies, and most of the time won’t even want to venture out into the deep woods that block your sight lines.
One key aspect to great horror is being exposed to things you’re unfamiliar with. For most people, a game focused on Taiwanese horror, made by a small team of devs from Taiwan, will be a completely fresh horror experience. As a game, it takes the form of a 2D point-and-click-style game, featuring plenty of puzzles and no combat whatsoever. The art is a little simple, but it has a great sense of atmosphere and place that all work, especially when they become distorted. It isn’t one looking to shock you into fear with overly grotesque images, loud noises, or sudden starts, but it will slowly allow the dread and helplessness to sink into your mind and climax in a fantastic and, dare I say, haunting resolution. You will swap between two playable characters in Detention. They are both trapped in a Taiwanese school during a true historical period in history that would later be named the White Terror. Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with that event, because the game will give you all the context you need. That’s also just the backdrop of the story, and it is more focused on the two leads. You will get to know them, and many other aspects of this time and Taiwanese spiritual lore, through very strong writing. Even translated, this game is excellently written, which is really what holds up half the game’s horror. Puzzles are mercifully logical and don’t require too much lateral thinking, and the light stealth segments are not as frustrating as they might seem at first. Check out Detention for a lesson in horror you may never have learned before.
Horror is a hard genre to sustain for a long period of time in any medium. That’s why some of the most effective and memorable horror comes in more short-form formats like short films, short stories or novellas, and anthologies. Stories Untold is one of the few packages of shorter horror games on PC and is packed with quality scares that will stick with you long after each experience has ended. This collection comes from Jon McKellan, who worked on another game in this list, Alien: Isolation, as well as a free version of one of the games included in this collection. Calling it a “collection” isn’t quite accurate, though. In a somewhat meta setup, you are playing as a character who themselves is playing a series of games. Each of the four games contained within Stories Untold — The House Abandon, The Lab Conduct, The station Process, and The Last Session — were all fictionally released between 1987 and 1991. That should inform you of the graphical style most games will take, primarily that of an 8-bit aesthetic but not exclusively. The first game, for example, is a text-based adventure, and later events even go into first person. While each game on its own is a great little horror tale, there is an overarching plot and connections to be made that are better left experienced than explained. This anthology is perfect for those who feel horror games eventually lose their edge the longer you engage with them.
Of any game on this list, this is likely the most high profile. Certainly the most recent, Resident Evil 2 Remake is a re-imagining of the already beloved Resident Evil 2 from so many years ago. While this new version ditches the fixed camera angles and tank control system of movement, it manages to retain the core of what made that game so horrifying and engrossing. The main location you explore is dim and in disarray, yet brimming with personality and details. Sure, it makes no logical sense why there would be puzzles to open secret doors in a modern city building, but looking beyond that is a satisfying test of exploration, puzzle-solving, item and resource management, and, of course, zombie combat. Playing as either Leon or Clair, you explore the Racon City Police Department, or RCPD, as the city is completely overtaken by zombies. You will slowly expand your arsenal of weapons and tools, only just enough to keep up with the threats, as you unlock more of the building in a very satisfying sense of progression. Then, there’s Mr. X. While he’s become a hit meme online, encountering him in-game remains a terrifying event. You can’t kill this pursuer who will stomp his way across the map to hunt you down. Having him show up when you’re trying to solve a puzzle, get to a safe room, or are already dealing with a group of other zombies is enough to raise your heart rate. Resident Evil 2 Remake doesn’t overstay its welcome, but encourages plenty of replays for unlockables, better scores, and times.
If you don’t count Counter-Strike or Team Fortress, Cry of Fear might win the prize for the most famous Half-Life mod ever made. Unlike those games, this is a pure single-player, or co-op, survival horror experience. Created by a small team of Swedish developers, Cry of Fear mixes a lot of inspiration from other survival horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. The game focuses on exploration, combat, and puzzle-solving, as most horror games do. What Cry of Fear excels in, and what makes it stand out from the crowd, are the environments, realism, disturbing designs, and mechanics. Light, for example is cast from a cell phone that also displays text messages that give story tidbits, as well as horrifying warnings or messages. The plot is easy enough to grasp. In Cry of Fear, you play as a 19-year-old named Simon who is hit by a car. After waking up, he finds himself in his city, which is now devoid of most normal people and stalked by monsters. You will swap between the more normal version of the world and a nightmare version, dealing with extremely limited resources and being led astray by messages trying to return home. The game is broken up into seven chapters, adding up to about an eight-hour experience in total, but with four possible endings. While the voice talent isn’t quite up to modern standards, the story itself is quite gripping and well-written, which is analogous to the graphics. In fact, the dated look of it might even make it scarier now than it was then.
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