Since the dawn of time, humans have been fascinated with fear. From cautionary tales to telling ghost stories, there comes a primal thrill to being afraid. Horror may not be for everyone, but when done well, the sensation of being terrified can leave a lasting and oddly satisfying impression on a person.
There are few mediums better suited for horror than video games. Injecting a player into the middle of the experience provides that sensation of having to survive and endure. Where a film or a novel usually only manages to make the audience an observer, games have a unique perspective of putting their players in the middle.
Updated on May 15th, 2023 by Casey Coates: This list has been updated to include video game trailers for some of the scariest games out there.
10 Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is an indie horror game designed by Thomas Grip. When thinking of terrifying games, even if someone hasn’t played this indie gem, they’ve likely heard of it, and for good reason. Like other indie games in the survival horror vein, The Dark Descent proved that it didn’t need a massive budget to be terrifying.
Set in a first-person perspective to really make the player feel like they are trapped in a waking nightmare, the entire point of the game is to survive and escape the monster-filled Brennenburg Castle. As the name suggests, Daniel, the MC, has little memory of himself or how he got to this place, adding to the terror.
9 Five Nights At Freddy’s
Five Nights at Freddy’s is an indie game created by Scott Cawthon. Although there are many games in the franchise now and over the years, the games have adapted to a more sophisticated experience. Notably, when the original Five Nights at Freddy’s game debuted, many people called it the scariest game of all time.
With extensive but difficult-to-piece-together lore, an unsettling environment, and jump scares that had seasoned players screaming, the game was a hit. Inspiring dozens of fan games and other indie games, such as the recent Poppy Playtime, Five Nights gave birth to a simplistic but immersive survival horror genre.
8 Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill as a franchise has long been remembered as one of the grandfathers of survival horror. While the franchise is known for many terrifying games, the most iconic of them is Silent Hill 2. Introducing the world to the iconic horror monster, Pyramid Head, this is often the first game that comes to fans’ minds when considering horror gaming.
Playing the questionably immoral protagonist, James, after he’s trapped in Silent Hill, players must navigate the ash-covered town with limited resources. Due to the age of this game, it may not live up to modern horror games in the fear department, but for a long time, this was considered the scariest game ever made. Rumors of a remake have sparked, so there’s a chance this horror classic may be brought into the modern era.
7 The Evil Within
The Evil Within is a creative addition to the survival horror genre. Following the story of Detective Sebastian Castellanos after his daughter’s alleged death and his wife’s disappearance, Sebastian finds himself trapped in a living nightmare. The Evil Within can sometimes be confusing, as piecing together the story heavily depends on finding all the collectibles and documents.
This game explores the horror of being trapped in the mind of a malevolent force that only wishes to cause harm. STEM, the machine that transports those attached to it into this nightmare landscape, is an interesting interpretation of science gone wrong by mind-melding victims together and seeing its effects on the subjects.
6 The Last Of Us
With a remake released last month, an HBO show coming in 2023, and a Part III in production, The Last of Us Part I is buzzing more than ever. In truth, the hype for this game never died. Regarded as one of the best zombie games, this game has a terrifying take on zombies that will leave seasoned gamers shaking.
Although the horrifying clickers can take players down in a single attack, the game isn’t all bleak. Yes, Joel and Ellie have to take on zombies and corrupt humans alike, and the game highlights how horrific a world post-outbreak would be. Still, it does have a lovely found-family narrative of Joel letting Ellie into his heart and the pair enduring the horrors together.
5 Until Dawn
Until Dawn must be experienced by any lover of the genre. At the time of its release in 2015, it had some of the best and most immersive graphics ever put on console. What made Until Dawn so unique, however, was its approach to the Butterfly Effect.
The idea that one decision, no matter how small, would change the entire course of events through the game, Until Dawn presents itself as a slasher story where players are forced to keep the entire cast alive. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that there’s a supernatural force at work. Every choice the players make can lead to devastation, and it’s possible to get each character killed in a multitude of ways. Until Dawn is relentless in its brutality, often punishing players for making a decision that seems like the right option.
4 Alien: Isolation
Alien: Isolation is a beautiful example of a popular film successfully adapted to gaming. While there are multiple Alien games in the franchise, none are as effective or immersive as Alien: Isolation. Although the game follows Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Ellen Ripley, and tells its own story, it follows a similar formula to the original Alien film.
As the name suggests, the game isolates players within a space station being terrorized by a Xenomorph. Focusing almost entirely on stealth as a means of survival, this game will have anyone holding their breath.
3 Dead Space
With a remake due January 2023, Dead Space has become quite the topic for conversation, and for good reason. Competing with games in a similar vein to the Alien franchise, Dead Space had a long road ahead of itself. Still, it succeeded in making one of the most memorable horror gaming experiences.
Players control Isaac Clarke as he attempts to repair his spacecraft overrun with alien-infected crew mates called necromorphs. Combining the isolating fear of being stranded in space with something similar to a zombie outbreak, Dead Space combines several popular horror tropes into one stellar horror game.
Outlast is a terrifying game from start to finish. Playing as Miles Upshur, a journalist who finds himself locked in Mount Massive Asylum, players are forced to navigate the psychiatric hospital with little more than his camera. Filled with dangerous inmates, Miles has no way to defend himself.
Even games that rely heavily on stealth usually give the player some sort of weapon or means to fight back. Outlast, however, does not. Simply put, its motto is: hide, run, or die. While many games since have copied the formula, Outlast is remembered as one of the first to make the player feel entirely powerless.
1 Resident Evil 7
Since Resident Evil dropped in 1996, it has been the dominating foundation of the survival horror genre. The franchise has nearly 30 games, and it’s hard to narrow down which one is the most terrifying because so many of them will have players keeping their lights on.
In 2017, after a 5-year hiatus between the 6th major installment and the 7th, Resident Evil finally released RE7: Biohazard. Returning to the roots of the original game and putting the players in a first-person perspective, fans were forced to endure the slow burn of Ethan Winters’ attempting to save his partner, Mia, from the deranged, mutated Baker Family. Giving the franchise a fresh story connected to the main timeline through fan-favorite Chris Redfield rejuvenated the franchise after the disappointing RE6.
NEXT: 10 Hardest Encounters In Resident Evil 4 Remake
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