Happt Halloween! What better time than to look at the most horrible, the scariest, most unforgettable, most sleep-depriving, most essential horror games ever made.
Thes criteria for this this is simple? Critical reception, either taken from MetaCritic or reviews gathered at the time of release where MetaCritic data is unavailable. And cultural significance. The best horror novels and movies endure because they were great but also because they changed the whole genre, the same is true of horror games.
So, light your pumpkins, grab a fistful of candy, and huddle up as we count down The 10 Greatest Horror Games of all time.
Eternal Darkness feels almost revolutionary; for a game this scary to appear on a Nintendo system was unheard of at the time and, in many ways, still feels like an anomaly.
The title popularised ‘sanity’ mechanics in the genre, something many games would imitate in the decades that followed its release. It’s influenced remains significant to this day, even if the broader culture does not acknowledge it. Eternal Darkness was a Gamecube release and that means its cultural dissemination is limited, as the PlayStation 2 dominated that era and only a small handful of non-PS2 titles broke into the public consciousness. Eternal Darkness was not one of those titles, alas.
Critical acclaim was a major boost for this Nintendo chiller, though. On the review aggregate site Metacritic it stands as one of the best-reviewed horror games ever.
Taking obvious cues from Eternal Darkness, Amnesia would go even further into the depths of madness and popularise a play style that enhanced the terror in ways few games before could match: It made you utterly helpless.
Of course, some games have toyed with this idea, such as Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of The Earth, which made most of the monsters you encounter simply too powerful to beat in combat but a combat system existed. You carried that feeling that at least you had a fighting chance, at least you went down swinging. It was oddly comforting to know while you were being mauled by Lovecraftian nightmares.
That was not the case with Amnesia: The Dark Descent. There was no combat, no way to fight back. If you get caught, you are doomed. This changed the way many smaller games developers approached horror; the Outlast franchise, in particular, seizing the full potential of a survival horror game with no guns. This made the sanity mechanic, that Eternal Darkness introduced, all the more effective. When all you can do is hide in the dark, what effect will the darkness have on you?
Five Nights At Freddy’s was a monster hit in every meaning of the word. The survival horror/strategy game/job simulator saw you trying to survive a night or two (who’s counting?) on a security job at a kids pizzeria, where the animatronic attractions get up and walk around after dark, and offered a perfect mix of iconic horror imagery and perfect jump scares.
This was a massive indie breakout hit, spawning a whole franchise, a sub-genre that even properties like Alien would imitate, and even Hollywood has taken note.
What’s more, the franchise was tailor-made to play perfectly on your mobile device, making it one of the first genuine horror hits of the smartphone age. The impact of Five Nights At Freddy’s cannot be downplayed.
Every group of friends has, at one time or another, debated whether they could survive a zombie apocalypse. Left 4 Dead presented four players the chance to test that theory.
This thrilling title from Valve brought the co-op multiplayer experience to the horror genre and did so perfectly. This was a play style that arrived fully formed, no awkward teething issues, and it opened the doors for developers to have fun with the spine-tingling potential of co-op horror. Without Left 4 Dead, it is unlikely we would have games like the Call of Duty zombies modes, Dead By Daylight or Phasmophobia. Imagine Twitch in October without those games, that’s just a small part of the legacy of Left 4 Dead.
Following up on of the seminal games of its generation is a massive undertaking but did anyone ever doubt Naughty Dog were up to the task?
That is not to downplay the magnitude of what they accomplished with their latest opus. While its predecessor was hailed as one of the defining arguments in favour of games being art, The Last of Us Part II went even further. It dared to challenge its audience, show them things they may not be ready to see and risked angering many. And anger it did, sometimes for valid reasons and sometimes because it became another nexus point in the endless far-right culture war. The implications of this game extended far beyond the PlayStation housing it.
The Last of Us Part II was a masterpiece, controversial but undeniably brave and challenging, presenting a much more unsettlingly human take on horror which makes it stand out in the world of video games.
Two titles from two different decades on two different platforms, set in two creepy mansions, sharing one spot on this list. Why? For the shared impact these games had on one particular title.
Sweet Home was an audacious attempt at craft a horror experience on the NES in 1989, where the tricks we know today were not possible due to limitations on the tech. Instead of jolts, it opted for something else. It would challenge you to stay alive. Sweet Home invented many of the tropes that we know and fear in the survival horror genre; inventory management and diary entries as an exposition device in particular.
Alone In The Dark came in 1992 and made some major enhancements for horror gaming that would go on to define the genre forever. The use of advanced (for the time) 3D graphics, sound design, and cinematic camera angles to create atmosphere and dread as you tried to make your way through this sinister manor.
You probably know what game Sweet Home and Alone In The Dark inspired, but we will save that for later.
There were two major PlayStation horror franchises. Silent Hill was one of them. This franchise focused on provoking you on a deeper psychological level rather than provoking your fight or flight response, and Silent Hill 2 was the series at its zenith.
Silent Hill 2 set a standard for cerebral horror that is still felt to this day. The story was full of unexpected and dark twists, the protagonist was a morally complex character and the creatures were all designed to be thematically tied to his flaws and traumas. The iconic fog, originally designed to mask the technical limitations of the original PlayStation, was now an essential tool in building dread in the player, director Hiroyuki Owaku used every tool at his disposal to truly get under your skin in a way few horror games have ever achieved.
PT, the Playable Teaser for the now-cancelled Silent Hills, felt seismic the second it arrived in the PlayStation Store. Hideo Kojima’s first full exploration into the horror genre showed that the Metal Gear Solid creator’s design genius perfectly translated to horror. Set within a single corridor, the game is built around a continuous loop where things become increasingly more horrific the further into the loop you get, creating a genuine sense of spiralling into Hell. It was a masterstroke of design, making the player feel like they were trapped in a nightmare.
The dissolution of Kojima and Konami’s relationship saw Silent Hills cancelled and PT was removed from the PlayStation Store, never to be seen again. PT is now a lost game, its legend lives on in the form of Lets Play videos and enthusiastic fan remakes. PT created increased interest in first-person horror, even inspiring a massive aesthetic shift in another major horror franchise. Interest in Silent Hill remains higher than ever, with rumours lingering of a Silent Hill revival on the way, while Kojima teases plans to make his horror debut with a new title.
PT made a massive impact on gaming culture for the short period it existed and its rarity only enhances its legacy.
Taking the first-person shooter and using it to craft a story of societal collapse and ideological turmoil that is as tragic as it is terrifying, Irrational Games did something miraculous with Bioshock. Mixing in political rage and human drama with massive sci-fi concepts, Bioshock feels like it should have been a classic novel from the 1950s. Plot twists galore, agonising moral dilemmas, gruesome body horror contained within an atmosphere of melancholy and anger, it all comes together to make an unforgettable gaming experience.
There are only two other first-person shooters that had as profound an impact on the genre as Bioshock and they are Doom and Half-Life. The bar is that high. Many games since have tried to copy what Bioshock achieved, including its sequels, but nothing comes close.
Could it really be anything else? Everything fundamental to the survival horror genre, Resident Evil pioneered. It may have taken influences from Sweet Home and Alone in the Dark, but Resident Evil created the survival horror genre by merging the two styles of play and made history. Unforgettable creature designs, instantly iconic scares, and a template that countless horror games would follow, the importance of Resident Evil on the medium is unparalleled. In its own long-running games series, every sequel owes something go that game-changing original, even the shift to a PT-esque first-person style in Resident Evil 7 was deeply referential to the original game, using every trope that came introduced, just with different cinematic reference points.
But it’s not limited to just games, the Resident Evil movie franchise is the most successful action franchise starring a woman, and a new movie adaptation is in the works while Netflix has two separate series planned, based on the franchise. The zombie movie had fallen out of favour between the ‘80s and ‘90s but Resident Evil revived interest in the genre, paving the way for new Romero movies and some excellent modern zombie movies like 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead.
The zombie genre remains as popular as ever, with a host of Walking Dead shows out there, and a non-stop stream of zombie games. It is fair to argue that none of this would be possible without Resident Evil. No horror game will ever do as much for the medium or the horror genre as a whole as Capcom’s classic.
Some links on this site are affiliated. This means we earn a tiny percentage of any sales made through the link. We appreciate your support.
PlayStation 4, Capcom, Resident Evil 2, Horror
World news – GB – The 10 Greatest Horror Games Of All Time