The slasher genre is one of the great lost genres in video games. While its grip on the classic console generations was apparent, slashers have all but faded from the market except for a few examples here and there.
The slasher genre of horror films has always been a dependable classic to scare you when you need it most. So it’s a little surprising that the idea of slasher games has hardly been embraced in the video game industry at all. The survival horror genre has ruled horror gaming for a very long time, pushing slashers aside in favor of a more intricate exploration and puzzler experience. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any great slasher video games out there.
Here are 15 great examples of the genre:
1995 | Human Entertainment | SNES, WonderSwan
The Clock Tower series is pretty revolutionary. It’s not based on combat or trying to kill your attacker, but rather, hide and avoid him. Acting as a pretty seamless mix between survival horror and a point-and-click adventure game, your characters are collecting clues, trying to solve the mystery behind the Scissorman murders (a hulking menace wielding giant shears that cannot be killed, who is as good an antagonist as Jason or Michael Myers). Periodically, Scissorman will appear and you’ll be forced to hide in order to evade him. Sometimes Scissorman will even wait for you in your hiding spot.
The game requires you to mash a “panic button” when confronted by Scissorman, and if you can’t do it fast enough, you’ll succumb to fear and be killed. This is a pretty wonderful way to simulate the fear and tension of being stalked by a slasher, and the fact that he is invincible and your only survival option is fleeing, is a nice twist tailor-made for the genre. The games were also known for their multiple endings, depending on how well you played and successfully solved the crime, adding another layer to everything.
PlayStation 2’s Clock Tower 3 mixed things up a little bit by adding a “Panic Meter” that would raise every time your character got frightened or encountered enemies. In “Panic Mode,” your character becomes harder to control, will fall over, is unable to hide, and the screen flashes repeatedly, pushing this sanity/fear aspect to a whole new level.
Friday the 13th
1989 | Atlus | NES
You would think that this would be the pinnacle of all slasher games, as you enter the eponymous Camp Crystal Lake as camp counselors trying to take down Jason! It’s unfortunately a mess akin to the ones Jason makes of teenagers. Here you do things that serve a platformer but have nothing to do with the series, like throwing rocks at zombies and wolves (a broken function), bombarding them with knives, or problematically moving from cabin to cabin.
There’s a huge map screen that’s far too big to be of any help to you. Periodically, an alarm goes off, telling you to switch to your map screen and find the blinking cabin that contains Jason. You need to get there quickly enough, or a counselor will get killed. If you navigate the map and get there, you’ll fight Jason, a clunky process that isn’t as scary as it should be.
This game is just frustrating, unclear, and trying to do too much, which is bizarre for a franchise that is so simple. At least when you get a game over, you’re greeted with a weirdly bitter “YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS ARE DEAD” message.
Still, this NES title is such a strange adaptation of the Jason movies that we just had to recommend it.
1988 | Namco | Arcade, PC
One of the first overly violent games that worried parents, Splatterhouse’s box even had a warning on it that said “The horrifying theme of this game may be inappropriate for young children…and cowards.”
The game uses a pretty basic set-up that’s streamlined quite well. You’re a hockey mask-wearing, cleaver(or 2×4)-wielding “maniac” named Rick who sidescrolls and beat-‘em ups his way to rescue his girlfriend. It should be noted that he was just a hapless individual before the “Terror Mask” seized control of him and turned him into a killer.
The game’s style and enemies are obviously aping on popular slasher and horror franchises, but it all leads to a fun, violent gaming experience where even though you’re the hero, you still look and act like a villain.
As the game grew into a popular series, the games became increasingly gory and violent, culminating in the 2010 remake of the original, which practically focuses on the gore, adding elements like “Splatter Kills” to the mix, while still being faithful to the story and slasher ambience.
1983 | VSS, Inc. | Atari 2600
First off, this game has an amazing soundtrack. Seriously. Hearing the now-classic Halloween theme translated to 8-bit chiptune is an unexpected piece of art and leagues above the forgettable, lazy scores of games like Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street.
You play as Laurie Strode, who is trying to stop Michael, sidescrolling through weird brightly lit areas produced with orange, blue, green, and hot pink colors. I understand this is an Atari game, so the level designs and graphics aren’t amazing (there’s no furniture or details at all, besides windows), but the colors here are actually distracting, and feel more kid-friendly than you’d expect.
Basically, you try to kill Michael, while avoiding being killed and preventing the infinite number of children that you’re babysitting from being killed. Throughout the game, you’ll be tasked with getting the kids to safety.
There’s a pretty beautiful “death” screen: your head is cut off by Michael, but your body keeps running around, spurting blood everywhere. Pretty graphic and cutting (heh) edge for the time, and as far as an Atari game can go, this isn’t the worst and manages to respect the material well enough.
Later copies of the game were released with no cartridge sticker, but simply “Halloween” written on them in orange markers. It’s actually a creepy little touch.
2001 | Crazy Games | Dreamcast
Illbleed is a slasher game like no other out there. It’s set at a horror theme park. Every level lampoons a different genre of B-horror movie, whether it be killer dolls, worms, or zombies, with characters and dialogue that intentionally reference old, bad horror movies.
While this structure is hardly revolutionary, the game separated itself from the rest by setting up traps within the level that would scare your player, either making you bleed, heightening your pulse, depleting your strength, or zapping your adrenaline.
The level is just as much a threat as the enemies themselves. There are also time limits in place. If you don’t beat a level in a certain amount of time, your friends will die. There are real consequences here, and people are expendable just like in a slasher film.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
1982 | Wizard Video | Atari 2600
This was actually one of the first horror movie games ever made, and was a tremendous failure since the only goal in the game was to slaughter women. No plot whatsoever. At least you get to play as Leatherface! It should be pointed out that this was one of the first slasher games that allowed you to play as the villain and not the victim.
There’s a fuel meter for your chainsaw, which actually acts as your life meter. When you run out of fuel, you essentially “die” in the game.
The constant high-pitched beeping throughout the game every few seconds is kind of maddening. Supposedly, it’s the sound of the innocent women screaming, but even if that is true, it’s far too frequent and almost immediately infuriating. There’s an out of place bright color palette in this game, as you run around vibrant, nearly neon green grass fields. .
2013 | Red Barrels | Xbox One, PS4, PC
Outlast takes place in a run down insane asylum that’s become infested with homicidal patients. As you move through this asylum, equipped only with a camcorder and a notebook, you fall deeper down the rabbit hole. Pretty soon, you’re in a hellish nightmare that could very well stop your heart from fear.
You’re unable to attack your threats here, but rather only hide, with a deeper emphasis on stealth. But even hiding in lockers or under beds doesn’t guarrantee that you’ll make it out alive. Enemies can find you in any place and at any time.
The story borders on the religious and science fiction that makes for a truly horrifying combo. I mean, really scary. Seriously.
Condemned: Criminal Origins
2005 | Monolith Productions | Xbox 360
Condemned, along with Manhunt, made tremendous waves with their fancy AO ratings and their severe violence that put you in the mind and hands (aided by the first-person perspective) of a psychotic killer. You play as Ethan Thomas, who trying to hunt down the killers Torturer and Serial Killer X, non-descript names in a non-descript game that does a lot of things right.
Many were critical of the game’s emphasis on violence and melee combat with a lack of story to sustain it, which is valid, but some of the best slasher films out there are flimsy pieces of storytelling held together by atmosphere and scares, which Condemned: Criminal Origins has in spades. You’ll no doubt feel disturbed by the game’s end.
Nightmare on Elm Street
1989 | Rare | NES
Ugh. This is just such a frustrating, confusing gameplay experience that it’s going to give you nightmares for all the wrong reasons. Not only does none of this correlate to the film series or make sense, but you’re given no context at all. You’re just supposed to know what to do, as you randomly collect bones that are scattered through the levels; and if you don’t get them all, you can’t progress. The idea is that these are Freddy’s bones, and you’re trying to put them all in a furnace to try and end his terror.
Once you get all the bones in a house, you’ll fight a Freddy boss, which is him in some segmented form, whether it’s a giant claw attacking you or whatever. How will you know when he’s coming? Oh, just the big “FREDDY’S COMING!” disclaimer that will flash on the screen.
This all feels incredibly like Simon’s Quest, as random supernatural, spooky stuff (your generic ghosts, skeletons, zombies…yawn) is thrown at you. Strangely, the game offered a four-player hook up option, which almost certainly wouldn’t get used and is a weird inclusion. It’ll at least help evoke the slasher vibe a little more, as you have a whole team of people on the run from evil.
Slender: The Eight Pages/Slender: The Arrival
2012 | Parsec Productions | PC
This is a bit of a deviation, considering it’s a free-to-download indie game that uses the Unity engine. And in spite of this title not having the team or money that any of these other games do, it’s still a very worthy addition. Basing its storyline on “real-life” events, like so many great classics have, it adapts the infamous “Slender Man” legend.
The game takes the very smart first-person approach, equipping you merely with a flashlight, as you try to collect eight pages and avoid the Slender Man, who can teleport anywhere. This is minimalist gaming, but it’s the game’s inherent knowledge of horror and how to scare you that makes it such a triumph.
Every time the Slender Man appears, he’s accompanied by a cacophony of static and harsh piano dischords. It cuts into you and scares you, and the sound design is really phenomenal. Noises like stomping, droning, and an annoying beeping plague you as you trudge through. Soon you realize you can’t win. Even if you do collect all eight pages, the Slender Man still appears. He might not be as right on your tail as he was before, but he still comes, and the game ends in a bleak fashion.
Saw/Saw II: Flesh and Blood
2009 | Zombie Studios | Xbox 360, PS3, PC
While this obviously didn’t pan out, there was a time (obviously between 2009 and 2010) when Konami was saying that their Saw games were going to be their next big survival horror franchise. Silent Hill would represent psychological horror and Saw would be the counterpart delivering visual intensity horror. Two games is hardly a franchise, and they clearly didn’t deliver as planned, but the two games (which are pretty interchangeable) are in fact pretty decent interpretations of the films and not bad gaming experiences, either.
Of course, you’ll really only be into these games if you like the torture porn film series. If not, you’re better off just skipping these games, which had fussy controls anyways.
1992 | Digital Pictures | Sega CD, 3DO
And just for fun, here’s Night Trap! A game that is absolutely a slasher in concept, but not in the least in execution. In fact, it’s technically all about surviving a slasher-style killer, who is attacking everyone at a party, but it definitely isn’t a scary game.
Released for the Sega CD, the game is more of an interactive movie, where you mostly watch (cheesy) cutscenes and try to prevent the slasher attacks from vampires at a slumber party. You attempt to catch the invaders with built in traps in the house. While primarily seen as a laugh and camp, it’s connection to slasher films made it feel like a necessary inclusion here all the same. This is what you shouldn’t do in a slasher game.
Night Trap even led to senate hearings and the withdrawal of the game in 1993, which is kind of ridiculous. It was one of the examples cited in a case against violence in games (alongside Mortal Kombat, Doom, and Lethal Enforcers) that resulted in the creation of the ESRB ratings system.
2015 | Supermassive Games | PS4
Using a modified Killzone: Shadow Fall engine, Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn isn’t interested in fixing what isn’t broken. It follows the basic slasher formula: eight teenagers are stuck in a log cabin with a serial killer. Oh, and did we mention it’s on the anniversary of the death of their friend? The game is penned by horror legends Larry Fessenden (You’re Next) and Graham Reznick (I Can See You).
While Until Dawn‘s nod to the slasher films of the 80s is already a big draw, the true brilliance of the game lies with its unique design. Gameplay works on a cause and effect system. Throughout the game, players make important choices that then affect other sections of the game. Things like choosing to open one door and not another could lead to your death or a gruesome end for one of your friends.
With multiple ways to go through the game’s story, you can play this one several times and come out with a different horror experience each playthrough.
Friday the 13th: The Game
2017 | IllFonic | XBO, PS4, PC
Two asymmetrical slasher multiplayer games were released in 2017. Friday the 13th: The Game is the return of Jason Voorhees to Camp Crystal Lake, as up to seven players try to stay alive in tense online matches. This is the slasher genre in its purest form. The camp counselors have to complete objectives around the map in order to kill the slasher, escape the camp, or run down the clock.
This is easier said than done, of course, as Jason possesses several abilities that give him an advantage over the players. The killer can sense camp counselors nearby and can also teleport to any point on the map, giving the villain the unique feel that we could be anywhere.
If you’re a big slasher fan, the thing you’ll love most about this game is the myriad ways you can execute the poor counselors. This game can get very gruesome.
Dead by Daylight
2017 | Behaviour Interactive | XBO, PS4, PC
Dead by Daylight also pits up to four survivors against one evil slasher out for blood. Once again, the survivors must complete objectives, such as turning on generators, in order to open exit points on the various maps in the game. The slasher is out to kill as many players as possible before they can all escape.
Killing isn’t as easy for the slasher as in Friday the 13th: The Game, though. In order to dispose of players, he must first capture his victims, drag them to the nearest meat hook on the map, and hang them there. Then, a supernatural force known as “The Entity” claws them to death. It’s definitely different…
Dead by Daylight’s biggest draw is the inclusion of several movie slashers, such as Michael Myers, Leatherface, and Freddy Krueger. You can even choose to play a match in Haddonfield, the setting of the Halloween movies!
A version of this article first appeared on October 29, 2014.