The world is in a rough state. People are feeling trapped and afraid, the mood is oppressive and uncertain.
There is no better time to stay home and play scary games.
As Stephen King once said, we make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones. We ca have anxieties around our health, our ability to make ends meet, and other real-world issues and we can take some of the pressure off by fighting zombies and fleeing from supernatural serial killers.
Or, even better yet, we could take a break from low humanity and become the monster.
Here are some of our favorite games, both recent and classic, that have provided us hours of enjoyment.
And, look, I know most of you who'd click on this are probably familiar with a lot of these titles. So I'll try to provide a fresh take on the subject matter at hand.
Here we go:
Silent Hill 2
No list about horror games will be complete without Silent Hill 2. This mindf**k of a game makes a person's internal hells external, with their deepest darkest secrets turned into monsters.
I came to this game long after its release, during the Silent Hill HD Edition on PS2 and I was expecting something with a more linear narrative structure, but the game really is dreamlike. Every character that Sunderland encounters seems like they're going through their own personal interpretation of the game's events, and there are very little straight answers going on around you. Like most things, its reputation has somewhat eclipsed the actual experience of playing the game, but you can see why it's a foundational game in the horror genre.
Remothered: Tormented Fathers
While playing this game, I really wondered if they got rights to use Jodie Foster's likeness rights for the lead character. The character looks and acts so much like Foster that it kind of threw me. But she's also the perfect protagonist for this tense, gothic game.
You play a woman trapped in a house where weird shit happens. Most of the game feels a lot like the old Clock Tower series, where you're running and hiding from an unstoppable monster. The mechanics may be simple but the game wins on the oppressive decaying atmosphere. It feels like Agatha Christie took a stab at a horror tale and it really works.
Left 4 Dead 2
Zombie games barely qualify as horror anymore, mostly because they're just excuses for players to go nuts and blast everything around them. Resident Evil pretty much defined the genre for a long time, building tension by underpowering players against the swelling hordes of zombies. Left 4 Dead games, conversely, are full of run-and-gun mayhem. You feel pretty powerful for most of the time.
Until the horde starts bearing down on you.
I've played a lot of games that made me feel tense, nervous, and creeped out, but I've never felt panic in the same way I felt when my back is to the wall and the beasts are barreling down on you. Combine that with a very cool New Orleans setting and one of the best set pieces in any zombie game, where you're forced to create a very loud rock and roll stage show to escape, and you get one of my favorite zombie experiences of all time.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
Eternal Darkness is one of those games that I'd want to preserve in amber and keep forever. It's so good that it's a reason to keep a hold of a Gamecube. People who played it treasure the experience, and any hint of a sequel or similar project is immediately newsworthy.
One of the only video games that embraces a sense of the horrific grandeur of Lovecraftian horrors without relying just on tentacles and creepy books, the story follows a battle against cosmic forces that spans hundreds of years and a dozen doomed protagonists. The historical details, quality of writing, and the arcane magic system make this game an unforgettable experience. I figured out how to do a sanity boosting spell early in the game that made me invulnerable to the famous 4th wall-breaking game effects, but I found plenty to be afraid of in the meantime.
Friday the 13th
In the year 2017 I became one of the best Friday the 13th players in the world, as far as I can tell.
I'm a lunatic for the franchise and I couldn't wait for this game to drop. I got in on the Kickstarter, which gave me all the fun bells and whistles, including the Tom Savini skin that pisses off players, and I got straight to mastering the game.
There are moments in the game that perfectly recreate the best moments of slasher movies; the tension of hiding from the killer under a bed, watching your stamina fade as the tireless monster draws nearer, stunning Jason with a lucky swing, and barely escaping while the killer howls with frustration. Even better, playing as Jason gives you a visceral feeling of monstrous power and cruelty. It's a nasty good time but it doesn't mean it's not fun.
For lore junkies like me, there's a lot of fantastic stuff that touches of the shoddy patchwork storytelling of the films and oodles of in-jokes to satisfy the deepest of nerds. The game is a treasure and I keep coming back to it.
Five Nights at Freddy's
No discussion of horror video games would be complete without at least a mention of Five Nights at Freddy’s. This series, made popular by younger viewers who would watch famous streamers like Markiplier and PewDiePie reacts to the jump scares of the game, is often derided for being too simplistic and gimmicky. This can often be true, and it’s definitely not the kind of game you should play if you’re adverse to jump scares, I often feel that the series gets a bad rap. The concept behind the monsters is genuinely scary, and there’s a lot of neat lore that goes on behind the scenes that makes the game more enriching. Sooner or later, someone is going to make a movie out of it and, if done right, I think it would be really good.
Fatal Frame 1 and 2
The Fatal Frame series are the games that have most terrified me, full stop.
The premise, where you’re a character trapped in a haunted house with nothing but a camera to defend yourself, is simple enough that it crosses cultural lines easily while being very recognizably Japanese. The ghost you encounter are horrifying variations of the spirits seen in films like The Grudge and The Ring. In a game that is not overly reliant on jump scares and instead on a endlessly oppressive sense of dread, I often would have to take breaks between playing just because I couldn’t hack it.
The one time I was able to get the farthest in one go, I was playing the game in broad daylight with the Wu-Tang Clan 36 Chambers of Shaolin playing in the background. I’d like to imagine the spirit of the RZA, Ghost Face Killa and the rest of them were guiding my poor heroines through the gauntlet of terror using their music as an encouragement.
Or maybe I’m just weird.
The game that could have been.
But now we all know the story of Konami is canceled Silent Hills game, which was supposed to be a joint effort between Guillermo Del Toro, Norman Reedus, and Hideo Kojima.
Based on the little slice that we get from the PT trailer, it would have been a master work that took a now stagnant series into a new and innovative direction. Everything about the game, from its endless hellish loops to the monster creeping up on you is terrifying and one of the most iconic ordeals in all of video game history.
If I could go into another universe where the game was successfully developed and bring it back here, I would make millions of fans' dreams come true.
Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines
My earliest encounter with the Goth scene was in playing Vampire the Masquerade as a teenager. It’s a fantastic world that is familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a vampire movie, but detailed enough enough to be compelling on its own. The first video game adoption of the series was only so-so, but Bloodlines has stayed in the public memory as one of the most legendary computer games of all time.
The game succeeds based on its wealth of detail and it’s customizability to tailor a unique playthrough experience rather than its game play or combat mechanics, which are both admittedly only so-so. From the choice of vampire clan that you take on to the multitude of paths your characters can take to its various endings, the game is a master work of characterization and depth of story.
I am going to be first in line for the upcoming sequel.
Dead Rising 4
Not all horror games have to be super serious, and the Dead Rising series is a great example of that.
The main stories are often unbearably grim, but it’s hard to go completely dark when you’re also playing as a guy who can drive around lawnmowers over zombies while wearing a summer dress. It’s fun to open the wrong door and see hundreds of zombies bearing down on you and it’s fun to wack them with everything that’s in sight. Plus, I really like the lead character Frank West. He’s the closest thing that video games have to The Evil Dead’s Ash. He could be a selfish jerk, but eventually he learns to be a better man. He’s one of my favorite protagonist in the entire genre and I can’t wait to see what he gets up to next.
One of the earliest horror experiences for me was playing a nervous young woman trapped in an old house being chased by a deformed maniac with oversize scissors. You would run, very slowly at times, while you heard the maniac opening and closing the scissors as he pursued you. You couldn’t really fight back, all you could really do is hide. Add to that a house full of mysteries to explore and psychological trauma for your completely unprepared protagonist and you get clock tower, one of the earliest and most effective slasher games.
The game doesn’t hold up particularly well these days, as the mechanics make for a very slow grind of an experience, but the atmosphere and lore of the game are a blast to rediscover and, for many of us, running away from the Scissor Man was one of the defining experiences of video game terror in our lives.
Resident Evil 2
This one is a two for one, as I have feelings toward the original and I recently completed the remake. I got into Resident Evil 2 before I played Resident Evil 1 and, to be frank, I kind of preferred 2. The mansion is a cool enough setting, but it doesn’t equal to the labyrinthian weirdness of the police precinct that rookie officer Leon Kennedy finds himself trapped in. You also get a sense of the city as a playground of horrors. He’s just a more interesting character than the protagonist of the original games, and Claire Redfield has a kind of spunky determination that I adore.
The remake is an excellent game, especially because of Mr. X. He’s a blank, faceless, unstoppable menace and I think he is a good model on our future iterations of the Frankenstein monster should be portrayed in the film.
The Evil Within 2
The creation of Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, the Evil Within series has always vexed me. The plotline makes no sense, the world building is a mess, and the lead character is kind of like a damp washcloth. But the monsters he fights are so eerie, interesting, and imaginative that it makes the experience a lot of fun. The games tend to be more action heavy than most on this list, but when you get into them they have a sort of oppressive menace that I find really enjoyable.
The Coma: Recut
This oddball Korean horror game plays like half a visual novel and half a creature fest. I gathered that there are a lot of games out there, like Corpse Party and others, where you play students trapped in a nightmare version of your high school after hours with monsters chasing you,
I've always had an affection for this oddball game because the writing is really fun and the scares can be genuinely shocking. It’s a hard one to sell to people who aren’t into Korean themed visual novel 2D horror, but people have recommended this game to have enjoyed it.
Resident Evil 7
I kind of like games like this and Dead Rising, which are made by Japanese developers recreating American horror tropes. Inbred rural weirdo horror is very much an American thing, with isolated dilapidated farmhouses serving as breeding grounds for insane cannibalistic madness, The game does a great job of capturing these tropes.
This game revitalize the Resident Evil series. After Resident Evil 4, which I personally believe is somewhat overpraised, the games started turning more and more to action. It takes a brave and confident leap in the series to go from third person shooter to first person horror. The gamble paid off as this is one of the most fun games of a generation.
It’s also not mentioned often enough, but I like how droll the protagonist is. He’s under stress, but he doesn’t seem super phased by the weirdness around him and even maintains a dark sense of humor about the whole thing. Stand out scenes include being trapped in a Saw-like puzzle by the lunatic genius of the family and the doomed camera crew looking for a place to shoot their next horror special.
Dead by Daylight
Dead by Daylight is the most popular asymmetrical multiplayer online game, which means that you play as one killer against a group of survivors trying to get away from you. I encountered this game only recently, after I played a lot of Friday the 13th, and it’s very different in terms of experience. The game is essentially a sort of tag between you and the human victims (I never plays the victim, it’s monster or die for me)
It’s a creepy game and the amount of customization you can do is a lot of fun, but it never quite feels like a horror movie. Instead it feels more like a weird dark fantasy. Also someone should hire an editor to trim down the heroes and monsters storylines. Still, I take my homegirl Rin Yamaoka out every few days to take out a bunch of human jerks.
(The following reviews are written by my roommate)
FromSoftware's games have always favored developing lore through scattered messages and subtle indications instead of direct storytelling, which is a perfect mechanism for this Victorian Gothic-meets-Lovecraft action RPG. As the long night wears on, you'll piece together the disturbing secrets of Yharnam's past--if you can master its challening combat and defeat its nightmarish enemies.
About as close as you can get (outside of VR) to playing a horror movie--albeit a fairly conventional found footage movie about exploring an asylum for the criminally insane during a breakout. Its tense chase sequences, effective use of night-vision cameras, and over-the-top violence make it worth a play.
The Last Door
This lo-fi pixelated point-and-click adventure pulled me in with its beautiful graphics and and moody atmosphere and kept me hooked through its story of occult goings-on at a late-Victorian boarding school. The puzzles are rewarding, and never frustrating--no cat-hair moustaches here!
Looking for an in-depth, interactive engagement with the Elder Gods and their crusty New England worshippers? Anchorhead takes the basic text-adventure mechanics of classic games like Zork or The Lurking Horror, and expands their scope and responsiveness for this Lovecraftian tale.
I count Frictional's games (including Soma and Amnesia: The Dark Descent) as some of the greatest horror games, but Penumbra: Black Plague remains my favorite for its strong balance of exploration, puzzle solving, and creeptastic story. Travelling to an Arctic research facility to find his father, the protagonists sanity is ripped apart by what he discovers.