It’s getting near Halloween and it’s time to start talking about the scary movies we all love to watch. But what about video games? Video games being a more interactive medium can be just as or even more immersive than a good horror film. I thought I’d make a list of my top 10 horror games of all time to get into the Halloween spirit.
10. Dead Space
The original Dead Space is a fantastic sci-fi horror game. It’s not scary in the same way that something like Silent Hill is scary, but it is a fantastic modern action and body horror game. Sure, it pulls the “Oh, the dead enemy behind you is actually alive.” Trick way too much, but I love the setting and story, even if main character Isaac Clarke could be out charisma’d by the dead bodies he walks by all game. I guess it’s better than when he talked in the second one though. It is well paced, knowing when to throw tons of enemies at you and when to sit back and let the atmosphere get under your skin. Sadly, the third installment of this series was neither a good action or horror game while also having been sacrificed on the altar of needless multiplayer.
9. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Frictional Games’ 2010 indie horror classic is a game that is as scary as it is endearingly wonky. The Lovecraft inspired game revolves around a young man named Daniel waking up in a 19th century castle full of nightmarish monsters. The gameplay is a mix of running and hiding from monsters (Daniel is not given any weapons to defend himself with) and doing physics-based puzzles. What really sets Amnesia apart is the stealth based gameplay and the sanity meter that goes up just from looking at the monsters, which makes you have to weigh the pros and cons of checking the monsters’ positions. Amnesia is a classic example of how taking weapons away from the player can lead to an even more unnerving experience. I do however blame it for every indie horror game ever being about a random dude having to run away from enemies because programming a gun is hard.
8. Deadly Premonition
Deadly Premonition is the answer to the question “What if a bunch of insane Japanese people decided to make a Twin Peaks game?” There aren’t really any words to describe just how unique and bonkers an experience Deadly Premonition really is. Well, I will say 3 words about it. It’s not good. Well, not in the traditional sense anyway. There are plenty “So bad it’s good” movies but no “so bad it’s good” games, because games being an interactive medium usually means that when one is bad, it either controls poorly or is just frustratingly designed. Deadly Premonition is the lone exception. It’s so weird it’s almost indescribable. It can go from tense scenes of chasing down a serial killer to scenes where a mute man in a wheel chair has his interpreter who only speaks in rhymes suggesting a sandwich he invented to an FBI agent while random Ska music suddenly starts playing in the background. I wouldn’t say it’s the best horror game ever, but it’s something that needs to be experienced nonetheless.
7. Silent Hill 4: The Room
Silent Hill 4: The Room is one of the most creative and immersive survival horror games ever made. The story revolves around protagonist Alex Townsend being locked in his apartment from the inside for 5 days straight while having a series of reoccurring nightmares. In the nightmares, he travels to a series of strange and terrifying worlds. Silent Hill 4 uses the concept of returning to Henry’s apartment in between trips to the nightmare world brilliantly. It gives you a safe haven until it takes it away from you later in the game. The music, story, atmosphere and sound design are all masterful. Well now you must be asking “If it’s masterfully crafted, how is it only 7th on the list.” And that would be because all its good ideas are amazing, but all its bad ideas are like sticking your hand into a hornet’s nest full of rusty barbwire. The biggest and rustiest part is that the entire second half of the game is an escort quest. Despite all its problems though, it is one of the most interesting and unique Silent Hill games, even if its faults cause it to be the black sheep of the franchise. Ok, the black sheep of the franchise before they started making inferior rip-offs of 2 for 7 years.
6. Condemned: Criminal Origins
Condemned is a game that was massively overlooked when it released, as it was one of the first games released on the Xbox 360 all the way back in 2005 and didn’t get a PC port until years later. It is an enthralling and intense story about a crime scene investigator trying to clear his name after being framed for two murders. It’s not a horror game in the same sense as other games on this list, but it is a tense and atmospheric experience. I particularly like the crime scene investigation and puzzle mechanics and how visceral the combat is with how you are able to pick up and use anything as a weapon. It’s a shame that this game went relatively unnoticed at the time of its release.
5. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
Fatal Frame is a franchise that has defined Japanese horror for over a decade now. It’s too bad 90% of the games were never released in the US. One of the few ones we did get was Fatal Frame II. It was originally an OG Xbox game, but I played the Director’s Cut that was released on PS3. The plot revolves around a young girl and her twin sister wondering into a haunted wood where there was an abandoned village tortured by occult activity. The gameplay, as the title would imply, is about staving off ghosts by using a magical ancient camera. This is one of the few games on the list that I found genuinely scary. In the game, your only weapon is the titular camera, and having to use it to fend off enemies in the game’s tense and oppressive atmosphere along with the surreal and engaging story makes it one of the best horror games ever made.
4. Resident Evil 4- When talking about survival horror games, you’d be hard pressed to find a list that takes too long to mention Resident Evil. The franchise practically invented the survival horror genre (Well, technically Alone in the Dark did, but everyone ignores that because getting it to run on a modern computer is like getting Stalin to admit he might have had people problems.) It was a toss up for me which RE game to put on the list. I really enjoyed 7, and I have a massive soft spot for 3 and Code Veronica, while the REmake of 2 earlier this year is also fantastic. But, I decided to go with Resident Evil 4 because not only is it a great action horror game, it is also a landmark title in 3rd person action games. While the other games in the franchise show how to create an immersive and claustrophobic survival horror experience, RE 4 shows how you can make a well-crafted action horror game by effective use of pacing. There are sections where nothing happens to build atmosphere, followed immediately by you being bombarded by enemies. It also has sections that harken back to the older games’ more claustrophobic design that are done well too. What really puts it over the top for me is the story, dialogue and characters that reminds me of a cheesy B horror flick. Older RE games always teetered on the edge of intentional camp and unintentional hilarity, but RE 4 was the first one to say “Goddamnit, I’m more camp than Bruce Campbell on a camping trip in a camper.” If for some reason you haven’t played Resident Evil 4 yet, then don’t worry. Capcom will have ported it to life support systems by the time you’re old enough to need one.
3. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem- Eternal Darkness was a Gamecube exclusive made by now defunct studio Silicon Knights. The game centers around a time leaping story of the Tome of Eternal Darkness, the games’ off brand version of the Necronomicon. Yes, Eternal Darkness is very Lovecraft inspired; which means, you guessed it, a sanity meter. The puzzles, sound design, story, lighting and atmosphere are all top notch, but it’s the combat that really sets this game apart. As you play through the game with the unique characters in different time periods, you get different weapons. This keeps the combat fresh, and this along with the ability to target individual parts of an enemy gives a depth to the Resident Evil style combat, allowing you to chose between going for a kill shot or just maiming the monster and trying to run by. Eternal Darkness is one of the best horror games, and games I’ve ever played period and isn’t to be missed.
2. Resident Evil HD- Resident Evil HD is a remake of the PS1’s seminal survival horror classic. The HD version (Known colloquially as re-re-re-REmake) is the PS4 / Xbox One/ PC port of the PS3 version of the Gamecube remake of the first Resident Evil game. Besides being built on the foundation of a great survival horror game, REmake also shows exactly how to do a remake properly. It keeps almost everything the same while offering improved graphics (The prerendered backgrounds still look as good today as they did back when the game released on the Gamecube) and adding more content, while also smoothing out some of the rougher gameplay elements. The game is a masterpiece of horror design. The brilliant puzzle design, atmosphere and music are all put together in a package that includes some great new additions like Crimsonheads; zombies that randomly come back stronger, making you have to chose which zombies to use your limited lighter fuel to burn the bodies of, which is also a new mechanic. The REmake also adds content and story cut from the original game due to development deadlines, and it all fits in seamlessly and adds a lot to the lore and story of the game world. REmake also allows you to play as many different characters, which adds replay value to the game. Resident Evil HD remains a game I play every year during Halloween, and I’ve played it enough that I can even speedrun it on the highest difficulty setting and am always trying to beat my personal record.
1. Silent Hill 2- What is there left to say about Silent Hill 2 that I haven’t already said? Everybody knew this was coming, because I’ve written entire articles about why I think this game is a masterpiece. It’s one of only 2 games I’d give a perfect score to, and for good reason because it deserves it. The soundtrack, atmosphere, lighting and characters are all amazing. The game is one of the few that really gives you the sense of oppressive, unrelenting dread that a horror game should. Ok, the gameplay isn’t great. At best it’s very clunky and at worst, frustrating and annoying, but it makes up for it by having one of the best stories of any game ever. The entire game is drenched in psychological symbolism, and you really get the sense that main character James Sunderland has nothing to live for after the loss of his spouse and the guilt he feels as a result, as he explores the eponymous town which is increasingly devoid of life. No more need be said about this survival horror masterwork, if you haven’t played it yet, please find a way to, because it is a must play for any horror game fan. It’s ironic that they tried (And failed) to recreate the magic of this game in 3 subsequent games when Konami couldn’t even actually rerelease the game properly when they fucked it up in the HD collection.