The horror genre has always been a staple of gaming. From the earliest days of survival horror in NES’ Clock Tower to later classics such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Amnesia, Dead Space, Fatal Frame, and BioShock, games have always been around to terrify you. And that tradition continues as the industry continues to venture into new technologies, such as virtual reality. Early next year, we’ll even get the first Resident Evil game made with VR in mind.
To celebrate the genre, we’ve decided to create a list of 31 scary games we’re playing this month, titles we think showcase the best of what the genre has to offer.
You will absolutely see some omissions, but this is by no means a ranked list. This is a diverse list of games that we decided we wanted to play and write about this year. There are countless other fantastic games we could’ve included. But hey, we heard Halloween is happening again next year!
Here are 31 great horror games to play in October:
2008 | Visceral Games | Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Easily one of the scariest games ever made, Dead Space is a true work of art when it comes to demonic space creatures that make you pee yourself. Something to note right off the bat is the game’s setting, which strays away from the fantastic or mundane tendencies of other games in its genre. You’re in space, on a mining frigate called the USG Ishimura. As the story often goes, the crew of the Ishimura dig something really evil up on the planet Aegis VII. What ensues is a grotesque and seriously disturbing chain of events that lead back to an ancient relic that turns everyone in its vicinity into crazed zombie space monsters that enjoy eating your face off. If there’s one game that the upcoming Alien: Isolation will be compared to, it’s this one.
1998 | Capcom | PlayStation, N64, Dreamcast, GameCube, PC, PSN
1998 was a great year for the PlayStation. It was the year of Parasite Eve, Metal Gear Solid, and the long-awaited sequel to the original Resident Evil. Resident Evil 2 strayed away from the haunted mansion trope of its predecessor and introduced a larger universe in which many zombie stories were told for the next few years. How many times did the zombies invade poor Raccoon City? Almost as many times as it was blown up in a desperate nuclear attack. RE2‘s biggest contribution to the series was the way it spun its narrative, whose foundation was a “create your own story” mechanic that allowed you to play alternate versions of the same level, switching between two protagonists. Speaking of the protagonists, this game introduced the beloved Leon S. Kennedy and recently-resurrected Claire Redfield, sister of Chris Redfield (Resident Evil). Oh, and this was the first time that double agent Ada Wong broke out hearts with her awesomeness.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
2013 | The Chinese Room | PC
Whether you enjoyed this game or were completely disappointed, this sequel to Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent is undoubtedly NOT what you expected. A Machine for Pigs is the complete polar opposite of the original. While it keeps the haunted mansion trope, it trades in the monsters stalking the long hallways of a castle for a more interactive story approach. The setup is familiar: you journey through a creepy mansion, solving puzzles and unlocking rooms, while you search for your lost children. The story isn’t immediately apparent, but it’s an incredibly smart narrative about fatherhood at the turn of the 20th century with a bit of steampunk to boot. Most detractors will point out the lessened difficulty and exclusion of the insanity mechanic that made the first game so scary. Still, A Machine of Pigs brings its own brand of terror and refreshes the horror series in an ambitious way.
2009 | Tripwire Interactive | PC
Killing Floor is a nice twist on the zombie horde modes we’ve been playing for a long time. Left 4 Dead‘s grittier cousin takes place in London after the mutant apocalypse. Cloning and genetic manipulation has gone terribly wrong, and suddenly people are turning into flesh-eating monsters with chainsaws for arms. It doesn’t really make any sense, but that’s okay. You’re here for the multiplayer mode, which pits you and 5 of your friends against horde after horde of monsters. No, this game isn’t necessarily scary, but there are moments when things get pretty intense ,as you try to balance your flashlight and heavy weapons, all while being attacked from every corner. This is not a game you want to play solo.
System Shock 2
1999 | Irrational Games & Looking Glass Studios | PC
The spiritual predecessor to BioShock is one of the scariest games out there. This game also heavily influenced Dead Space and Portal — the latter’s psychotic AI villain GLaDOS is undoubtedly an homage to System Shock‘s SHODAN. Once again, human spacefarers discover a mysterious evil thing on the planet Tau Ceti V that turns them all into mutated monsters. Your character wakes up in a cryo-tube with no memory of what’s happened since the chaos began. As you journey through your spaceship, fighting off monsters at every turn, you must team-up with the treacherous AI SHODAN — a female HAL, if we’ve ever done seen one — in order to escape with your life. Is it terrifying to know that there’s a crazed AI watching your every move? Does she betray you in the end? Find out if you dare.
2010 | Access Games | Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Okay, sit down for a second and let us explain why one of the most polarizing survival horror (?) games in history is on this list. The graphics are dated, it’s buggy, and the combat system is for the birds (a Director’s Cut of the game that fixed most of the issues was released last year). But Deadly Premonition also executes a complex narrative full of Lynchian horror that is both charming and terrifying at the right moments. The game feels like an extension of Twin Peaks with how weird it is: a cross-dressing cop, a detective with an imaginary friend, evil tree seeds, a serial killer known as the “Raincoat Killer,” a travelling tree salesman, a woman who dies from a tree sprouting out of her body, and an alternate reality where things are fine and dandy…Basically, lots of trees and murder. It all makes sense in the end. Promise. (?)
Silent Hill 2
2001 | Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo | PS2, Xbox, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Suffering binds the the events of Silent Hill 2 together. Never has there been a more thorough examination of human cruelty in video games. The characters presented in the series’ second outing all have dark, violent pasts that cripple their sanity as soon as they step into the town of Silent Hill. Protagonist James Sunderland must travel to the town in order to find his dead wife. Along the way, James encounters characters who have suffered some sort of loss in their lives. Of course, not all the things lost are things the characters want to find. In fact, they’ve buried many of their secrets deep in their minds where only Silent Hill can find them. What proceeds is a tragic play about loss of innocence, guilt, and death that is masterfully executed by Team Silent, the development team that worked on the first 4 games. This is a must-play for fans of the survival horror series. While the graphics and combat system are a bit dated, you won’t find a darker and more successful horror game than this one.
2005 | Midway Studios Austin | PS2, Xbox, PC
It is oft-forgotten and underrated, but few games handled scifi survival horror as well as Area 51 did back in 2005. Owing more than a little to Half-Life‘s Black Mesa disaster, this game takes place in the famous secret American military base where aliens and their technology are said to be kept. Of course shit hits the fan, and it’s up to Ethan Cole (voiced by David Duchovny because aliens) and the rest of the ill-fated Delta Squad to contain the the alien threat. Area 51 did something I haven’t seen many survival horror games due since: it built up to the horror very slowly. The game starts off as a straight shooter, as Cole and his squad blaze through the mutant horde. But as more and more of his squad is thinned down (through very gory dismemberment), Cole finds himself alone in the latter half of the game and in a very dire situation.
Dead Space 2
2011 | Visceral Games | PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Things escalate quickly in Dead Space 2. Once again, you take control of Isaac Clarke, who is good at being at the wrong place at the wrong time. He also has great luck with women. Clarke finds himself in an insane asylum on a space station above Saturn, where the dumb humans are meddling with that evil marker again. Obviously, the government loses control of the relic, and Clarke’s newest vacation spot turns into a cannibal’s wonderland. He spends the first level of the game tied in a straitjacket, and after he’s cut out, without a weapon. Oh, and both the necromorphs AND the military are hunting him down. Don’t forget his dead girlfriend Nicole, who is haunting him through the marker. And things only get worse.
Fatal Frame 2
2003 | Tecmo | PS2, Xbox, Wii, PSN
This game ruins lives. Well, no, it’s not like tomorrow your house is going to burn down, but it is one of the scariest games on this list. You play as Mio, who is trapped in The Lost Village with her sister Mayu. The village is said to have vanished after a failed ritual sacrifice, and is now full of malevolent Japanese spirits — which are the worst kind. Mio’s only weapon? An old camera that can detect ghosts and take pictures of them. That camera and a flashlight become your only hope for survival. As it usually goes in Japanese ghost stories, the sisters must right past wrongs in order to escape the village with their lives. There’s nothing more horrifying than being forced to defeat a monster by looking it straight in the face.
2002 | Computer Artworks | PS2, Xbox, PC
Survival horror games based on movies are usually not very good. Most of these licensed games try to bank on horror franchises as quickly as possible, without a second’s thought towards user experience. Luckily, Computer Artworks’ The Thing is an exception. Serving as a sequel to John Carpenter’s remake, you play as a member of U.S. Special Forces team that must investigate what went wrong at the Antartic outpost. Although it is a conventional shooter at its very core, The Thing had really interesting survival horror features, including a “trust system,” in which your team could start to suspect that you were The Thing and attack you. This was a genius way to inject the tone of the movie into the game. If you can find this one, definitely pick it up!
House of the Dead 2
1999 | Wow Entertainment | Dreamcast, PC
Sega’s The House of the Dead light-gun series sure knows how to hit that sweet spot for fans of scary horror games, thanks to its seedy story featuring secret agents and fast-paced zombies, its reflex-based on-rails gameplay, and its larger-than-life boss fights and alternate pathways. This winning combination is only heightened in 1999’s The House of the Dead 2, one of the series’ crowning achievements to date. Many fans of the franchise often consider The House of the Dead 2 to be among the series’ golden age, before it went off the figurative rails a bit with bizarre spin-off titles like The Typing of the Dead and an over-the-top attempt at a reboot with The House of the Dead: Overkill in 2009. The game has managed to take on a very campy role in today’s world of gaming, thanks to its horrendous voice acting and exaggerated set pieces, but there’s still no arguing The House of the Dead 2’s important place in the history of horror games.
Silent Hill 4: The Room
2004 | Konami | PS2, Xbox, PC
By the time that Silent Hill 4: The Room was released in 2004, Konami’s survival horror franchise had already become a staple of the franchise, thanks in no small part to the masterful game design of Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3. So then it almost comes as a shock to see Konami take such huge risks with the fourth installment, which ultimately paid off in a very big way. For one thing, The Room primarily takes place in a town called South Ashfield, and not the titular Silent Hill: a stark first for the series. Adding to that, the game progression is focused around protagonist Henry Townshend’s apartment, which is presented in a first-person perspective (another first for the series) and features the only save point. The good thing is that all of these changes worked well for The Room, and its unexpected and unconventional nature somehow makes it even scarier.
1996 | Capcom | PS1, PC, GameCube, Nintendo DS
And now we come to a classic horror game if ever there was one: the original Resident Evil. The game that started it all and spawned countless sequels and film adaptations, Resident Evil cast players in the role of either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, two members of the Raccoon Police Department’s Special Tactics and Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.), as they attempt to find any trace of their missing Bravo team in a sprawling mansion. In addition to its dark and mysterious storyline, Resident Evil is so important to the world of horror games for the true survival nature that pervades the actual gameplay, where items are scarce and each confrontation is absolutely critical. In fact, the game has become so iconic to the genre that it has received several remastered versions over the years, including the 2002 acclaimed GameCube remake and the upcoming 2015 version for next-generation consoles.
2007 | Rockstar London | PS2, PSP, Wii, PC
There is no denying that Rockstar’s Manhunt 2 is terrifying in its own unique right. The game follows the murderous tale of Daniel Lamb, an inmate at the Dixmor Asylum for the Criminally Insane who manages to escape during a power failure. The many unexpected turns in Daniel’s twisted story paint a heart-pounding and bloody narrative, and the realistic sense of horror is only emphasized by the unnerving stealth gameplay that culminates in disturbing execution sequences that have Daniel using everything from scissors and plastic bags to viscerally gut his opposition. The game is wondrously horrifying and horrific in every sense of the word. Rockstar was even forced to edit some of the execution cut scenes in order for Manhunt 2 to receive an actual rating classification, which almost prevented the game from seeing the light of day a month before its release.
2012 | Superflat Games | PC, Mac, PS3, PS Vita
In the age of the independent game developer, Jasper Byrne of Superflat Games successfully brings survival horror to the world of 2D pixel-art sidescrollers with Lone Survivor. In the game, players are cast in the role of “You,” a mysterious man who wears a surgical mask and camps out in a decrepit apartment building amidst a post-apocalyptic setting. In keeping with the theme of survival, players will regularly need to make sure that You is fed and well rested in order to continue on in the story, which involves either engaging with or slinking past monsters that call to mind a serious Silent Hill vibe. And much like the Silent Hill series, players can also expect to interact with different items in order to solve environmental puzzles, and ultimately view several different endings to You’s dark and frighteningly hallucinogenic existence.
2013 | Red Barrels | PS4, Xbox One, PC
One of the most recent entries on our horror games list this year, and also one of the scariest, Outlast and its equally chilling prequel DLC Whistleblower are here to help usher in the new age of survival horror video games. Playing as journalist Miles Upshur, players are tasked with investigating the psychotic Mount Massive Asylum and exposing the underlying horrors within. The catch is that Miles is incapable of fighting back the villains who inhabit the asylum, and only relies on his notebook and camcorder to advance through the building and document the grisly truth. Throughout the adventure, you’ll use the night vision mode on Miles’ camcorder to better navigate particularly dark areas, and this makes the game’s action look so realistic that it’s impossible not to feel a little unnerved. It also makes fleeing for your life and scrounging for batteries a key component to Outlast’s winning horror formula.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
2010 | Frictional Games | PC, Mac
If the sheer number of reaction videos on YouTube is any indication, then Amnesia: The Dark Descent is one scary game. Building off the minimalist horror mechanics of their Penumbra series, developer Frictional Games crafts a haunting and historical world set in 1839. You play as Daniel, a young London man who must venture through a shadowy Prussian castle to rediscover his own past. The most terrifying thing about Amnesia is that the game doesn’t allow you to look at its monsters for more than a second: any longer, and Daniel’s sanity will quickly plummet into darkness, an effect that can also be achieved if you run out of oil for your lantern. With no way to ever defend yourself, there is an indescribable thrill that comes with hiding in a shadowy corner and praying you aren’t seen, and Amnesia handles this sense of tension wonderfully.
2004 | Surreal Software | PS2, Xbox, PC
In The Suffering, players take control of a prisoner named Torque, who has been given the death sentence for murdering his ex-wife and two children. The action of the game takes place in the island setting of Abbott State Penitentiary and its surrounding island areas, where Torque must battle hordes of monsters to prove his innocence. Plagued by visions of his deceased family, Torque must make a number of morality decisions throughout his escape, and can even turn into a monster himself through filling a special insanity meter. A horror-action game at heart, The Suffering excels in both its monster designs and level layouts that have you progressing through dim prison corridors one moment and moving through the dense outer wildlife the next. The game was so scarily good that it eventually spawned a sequel in 2005 called The Suffering: Ties That Bind.
1999 | Sega | Dreamcast
The short-lived Zombie Revenge from Sega features some of the greatest arcade-style goodness that you can get from the horror genre in games today. A Dreamcast exclusive and spin-off to The House of the Dead series, Zombie Revenge is all about action and speed. Up to three players can take control of secret agents Stick Breitling, Linda Rotta, and Rikiya Busujima as they battle through the zombie-infested streets to bring down the alleged leader of the attacks: the mysterious Zed. The agents accomplish their mission through hand-to-hand combat and the rare gun pickups — ammo conservation is your best friend and the key to survival. But you’ll need to be quick, too, as each screen features a heart-pounding timer that you’re constantly racing against, even during the monstrous and deliciously evil boss fights.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
2002 | Silicon Knights | GameCube
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is not only one of the most inspired horror games you can play today, but also one of the most ambitious video games ever made. An incredibly dense and intricate storyline takes players through a long family lineage filled with dark and ominous secrets, and puts them in control of over ten characters from different eras in history. But the pure genius of Eternal Darkness comes in the form of its sanity meter, and the memorable meta effects that mess with you if your sanity falls. These effects could range from lowering the game volume alongside a fake TV volume indicator, skewering the camera angles, or switching to a fake error message that mimicked a GameCube kill screen. Fans have been clamoring for a sequel or spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness for over a decade now, and I can only imagine the new-age meta scares in store if a project like that ever came to light.
2010 | Remedy Entertainment | Xbox 360, PC
There’s nothing like a good horror novel. But what would happen if the horror novel you wrote started to come to life in the real world? I’ll tell you what: a horrifying experience. Not only is novelist Alan Wake seeing his book come to life, but it all happens while he tries to uncover the mystery behind his wife’s disappearance in a small town in Washington. It is the perfectly-paced horror game inspired by Stephen King — what’s not to love?
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
2007 | GSC Game World | PC
Alternate history is a common theme in video games, but S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl‘salternate reality is a unique concept: what would happen if a second nuclear disaster occured at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Exclusion Zone. Simple — terrifying humanoid mutants. It’s a great mix of survival horror and RPG with a unique twist using a bit of actual, real-world history.
Resident Evil 4
2005 | Capcom | PC, GameCube, PS2, Wii, Xbox 360, PS3
Capcom took the best running horror video game series, Resident Evil,and basically reinvented it in Resident Evil 4.Your role is that of former Raccoon City po-po Leon S. Kennedy, who is sent on a mission to save the U.S. President’s daughter, who has been kidnapped by Los Illuminados, a Spanish cult. Resident Evil 4was THE gem of the GameCube era, although it soon made its way to PS2 and eventually other consoles. It was the first Resident Evilgame with great voice acting, making the characters more believable and their situation more horrifying.
2007 | 2K Games | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
BioShockis a game like no other, and that is its greatest appeal. The story and biopunk underwater game world are both such unique concepts that gamers can’t help but love it. And while it isn’t exactly a horror game, some of the imagery and characters are terrifying. You know, like a Big Daddy or a creepy little girl. It tugs at the heartstrings and remains intelligent throughout, with gorgeous visuals and the right dose of terror. Basically, Ken Levine’s masterpiece is exemplary artful horror.
The Last of Us
2013 | Naughty Dog | PS3
When it comes to nearly flawless games, The Last of Usis the first game that pops into mind. Its story is heartwrenching, its visuals are incredibly stunning, and the level design is second to none. To me, nothing is as terrifying as survival horror game set during a plague or apocalypse. The Last of Usforced us to make truly tough decisions and put us in some of the scariest situations that one would expect during an apocalypse. Nothing says terror like cannibalistic mutations, hostile humans, and a volatile environment. Joel and Ellie’s story is the most resonating story we’ve seen in a video game so far.
Condemned: Criminal Origins
2005 | Monolith Productions | Xbox 360, PC
Being that this game is from Monolith (the makers of F.E.A.R.), it’s no surprise that Condemned: Criminal Originsis as terrifying as it is. You play the role of Ethan Thomas, and quickly learn that you’ve been framed for the murder of two officers by the serial killer you’re hunting down. The game takes you through some horrific crime scenes, tasking you with investigating. This leads to the discovery of some disturbing imagery, such as faceless mannequins or an apple orchard at night, and humanoid enemies that are sort of human but not really. You’re not really sure what’s going on with them, as they continue to assault you. It’s messed up. And, it’s a horror game with a great plot twist!
Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason
2009 | Action Forms | PC
Cryostasis: Sleep of Reasonis a widely underrated horror game, mostly criticized for its technological flaws. But it’s a unique and chilling tale of a Russian meteorologist named Alexander Nesterov who is forced to uncover the mystery of a ship’s tragic past, all while battling time and the arctic elements. The story is told through flashbacks, and they’re all quite spooky. Mutants with axes, frozen mutants, and giant chain-covered bosses are the types of terrifying enemies you can expect in Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason.People are afraid of being frozen to death, which is why the game works so well.
2005 | Monolith Productions | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
F.E.A.R.remains one of the most memorable horror experiences to date, in no small part due to the fact that the entire story revolves around a creepy little girl named Alma, who just so happens to closely resemble that creepy girl in The Ring.Even some of the game’s scariest moments were clearly inspired by The Ring,such as getting quick glimpses of Alma at unexpected moments (similar to seeing Samara creepily standing around in The Ring). There are more than a few lasting scares contained within F.E.A.R.,and they’re all strung together nicely by Alma’s story. Don’t play this one with the lights off. Seriously. Don’t do it.
1998 | Square (Enix) | PS One
Parasite Eveis one of those video game series that started off incredibly strong but then dwindled off into the land of forgotten franchises by its third installment. The original game was clearly the strongest of the bunch, and takes place on Christmas Eve in Manhattan following a crowd of opera-viewers spontaneously combusting during the performance, excluding two survivors — the opera singer, and a rookie of the NYPD, Aya Brea aka your first crush. Parasite Eveis a true gem in the cinematic horror video game category, as its cutscenes and creative enemies leave a lasting impression you’ll never forget.
2004 | id Software | PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Doom 3was the first Doomgame to make the jump from DOS to a full-fledged PC and console experience. It scrapped everything we thought we knew about the original game and set a new standard for survival horror. While Doom IIwas pretty much the same game as the original Doom,Doom 3 is drastically different. You’re basically killing either zombies or demons in Doom 3,but they’re all so ugly and terrifying you don’t really care which type you’re killing. It is the dark, atmospheric scares that make Doom 3such a great horror experience. Fans of the franchise are waiting for Doom 4,aka simply Doom,to hit the PS4, Xbox One, and of course, PC.
What scary games are you playing this October? Tell us in the comments!
A version of this article ran on October 21, 2014.