15 Best Sci-Fi Horror Games Ever
In space, no one can hear you scream while you're playing the scariest sci-fi horror games ever made.
Horror games come in so many (usually unnerving) shapes and forms. However, you’re not alone if you feel that there’s just something special about the best sci-fi horror games.
Actually, some of the earliest true horror games were sci-fi horror games. Right from the start, developers knew that are few things scarier than being thrown into an unknown time and unknown place while relying on unknown tools to battle unknown horrors. Of course, the best sci-fi horror games often find ways to exemplify the best of both genres.
Before we dive into all of that, though, take a look at some of the rules and criteria used to assemble this list:
- This list is based on a pretty traditional definition of science fiction. Games that emphasize advanced scientific concepts typical of the genre (space travel, the distant future, advanced AI/technology, etc.) were generally considered to be eligible.
- Zombie games were not considered eligible for this list unless they strongly emphasized some kind of sci-fi element. Our look at the very best undead in gaming history will have to be saved for another day.
- There is a “one entry per franchise” rule in place for this list, though that rule only really impacted one franchise.
- As mentioned above, games that emphasized both science fiction and horror had a better chance of making this list. Ultimately, though, there are so many incredible sci-fi horror games that just missed the cut.
With that out of the way, I must kindly remind you that nobody can hear you scream in space, even if you’re playing one of the 15 best sci-fi horror games ever made.
15. Iron Lung
As the newest game on this list (it was just released in March 2022), I have to say I was hesitant to place Iron Lung above so many worthy contenders. Slight concerns about recency bias aside, I truly believe that this game will one day be looked back on as an unsung gem of the genre.
Iron Lung sees you pilot a submarine across an ocean of blood on an alien moon. Developed by the brilliant David Szymanski (DUSK, Gloomwood, The Music Machine), this game is not only genuinely terrifying but contains sci-fi horror ideas I’m not sure I’ve really seen in many other genre projects. It’s almost like an even scarier version of Subnautica. The only thing worse than the claustrophobia the game induces is the knowledge that whatever you run into will be so much scarier than whatever you’ve been imagining. It’s a truly intense game.
14. We Went Back
I was tempted to include The Outer Wilds on this list, but it’s obviously a bit of a stretch to call that a horror game. Luckily, there is another time-loop sci-fi title that is most definitely worthy of that horror tag.
We Went Back begins with your character waking up in a seemingly abandoned space station. An already terrifying scenario gets that much worse when they realize the space station isn’t nearly as abandoned as they feared. Essentially a hallway horror game (think P.T.) with some time-loop twists, We Went Back’s dynamic environments, retro aesthetics, and brilliant storytelling elevate it above some considerable competition. Granted, you can beat the game in less than an hour, but a free, creative, and short game is honestly something close to a miracle these days.
13. The Thing
It’s always a little bittersweet to find an opportunity to talk about 2002’s The Thing video game adaptation. On the one hand, it really is one of the best horror game adaptations ever and a truly incredible sci-fi horror title to boot. On the other hand, it’s impossible to legally play the game now without all the original hardware. A lot of people missed out on this one back in the day, and a lot of people will continue to miss out on it for that reason.
However, The Thing remains a simply brilliant example of this genre. By focusing on the paranoia aspect of the movie it’s based on, The Thing manages to keep you on the edge of your seat even during otherwise quiet moments. It turns out that the only thing scarier than being alone in a sci-fi horror game is being surrounded by “allies” that could turn on you at any moment.
As you’ve probably guessed, there’s another sci-fi horror game that perfectly captures the terror of the original Alien film that we’ll talk about a little later on this list. However, there’s only one sci-fi horror game that perfectly captures the terror of Aliens, and it’s not one of the many games that are officially based on one of the greatest movie sequels ever made.
GTFO is basically a Rainbow Six Siege-style (with a little Left 4 Dead tossed in) team shooter set in space. As the name implies, the hook of this game (at least for some) is the absolutely overwhelming odds it asks you to overcome. Some will find this game to be “too difficult,” but what you have to realize is that GTFO is the rare game of its kind that doesn’t always measure victories by how many creatures you’ve killed. You and your squad should feel like heroes whenever you manage to simply survive facing off against an army of advanced monstrosities that have you surrounded and want you dead.
11. Echo Night: Beyond
There are surprisingly few games worth playing that combine outer space and the traditionally supernatural. Even if there were, I doubt that few such sci-fi ghost adventures would be as compelling as Echo Night: Beyond.
Echo Night: Beyond sees a recently married couple crash on a remote base in outer space on the way to their honeymoon destination. What follows is a weirdly wonderful sci-fi story that emphasizes freeing the spirits that stalk you rather than simply destroying them via combat. Mind you, the game is still incredibly scary. In fact, it’s possible for your character to die of fright if you don’t watch their “heart meter.” Just be sure to watch your own heart meter when you play this one.
10. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
While I recently got to talk about this game in our look at the most disturbing horror titles ever made, any excuse to talk about this truly twisted 1995 sci-fi horror title is a good one.
I Have No Mouth is a sci-fi point-and-click adventure title that sees you play as five wildly different characters. Despite their personal differences, each character is united by the fact that they’ve been captured by a supercomputer who has decided to perform cruel experiments on them for both “pleasure” (of a kind) and research. Some of the things you’ll see and do in this game are so horrific that I hesitate to describe them in any detail. Still, this is undoubtedly one of the best sci-fi horror adventures gaming has to offer.
9. Doom 3
When Doom 3 was released, there was a lot of controversy over what the game was and what the game wasn’t. At that time, quite a few people expecting the next great Doom shooter were stunned to learn that Doom 3 was actually a slightly more methodical horror title that emphasized atmosphere and scares over pure action. Of course, those same qualities happen to make Doom 3 one of the best games in this genre.
Even if you play a version of this game that allows you to keep your flashlight up at all times (a welcome quality-of-life addition), there are moments in Doom 3 that will get under your skin. Yes, Doom 3 largely relies on a “jump scare” brand of horror, but so many of those jump scares are expertly set up by the game’s use of dark corners, ominous sounds, and other environmental tricks. This is just an incredible example of what atmosphere can contribute to a horror game.
Blooper Team catches a lot of (often uncalled for) flak for their supposedly formulaic horror game designs. Yet, a deeper look at their development history reveals a series of titles that prove that this studio just gets what makes modern games scary. While Observer is certainly an example of the studio’s knowledge of the genre, I’d also argue that it’s Blooper’s most ambitious horror game to date.
This cyberpunk horror game places you in the role of a detective that has to jump into people’s brain implants in order to solve crimes. If that doesn’t sound scary to you…well, you’ve obviously never delved that deep into your own mind, let alone some demanded stranger’s mind. This psychedelic, and often psychologically unnerving, horror game forces you to pay a lot of attention to things that arguably never should have left someone’s subconscious.
7. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
I’ve always been terrified of those Cold War-era nuclear panic movies like Threads and The Day After. Their often unrestrained visions of the end of everything really go to show that only the end of the world is the end of the world. Well, Shadow of Chernobyl basically offers a way to play through one of those terrifying visions (if you dare to do so).
Set in an alternate future in which mercenaries venture into the contaminated area around Chornobyl in search of strange treasures, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is one of those survival horror games that really emphasizes the survival part of the equation. While this game features its fair share of mutated monsters, your biggest challenges will be suffering through radiation and dealing with a constant lack of resources. Though obviously loosely based on a real event, this game offers a terrifying glimpse of life in a nuclear wasteland that we all most hope continues to be a fictional vision of what could happen.
Prey is certainly not the scariest game on this list. There are elements of this title that will freak you out (one of the game’s primary mechanics is basically an expanded jump scare), but those who typically worry that certain horror games may be too intense for them will likely still be able to work their way through this one.
However, Prey’s level design, storytelling, and core gameplay mechanics all benefit from one of the best blends of sci-fi and horror that I’ve ever seen in a game. There are some truly stunning futuristic sights and concepts in this adventure, but nearly every aspect of this title’s world is often corrupted by forces both unseen and, unfortunately, very much seen. This is just a masterful example of the potential of this genre.
Given that SOMA comes from Frictional Games (the same team responsible for the revolutionary Amnesia: The Dark Descent), I probably don’t have to tell you that it’s scary. Yet, the thing that really elevates SOMA is the quality of its sci-fi storytelling.
Simply put, SOMA features one of the best science fiction stories I’ve ever experienced in a video game. While this title explores concepts that you may have seen in certain sci-fi films, TV shows, and books, the way that Frictional Games force you to endure this game’s musings on fate, identity, and technology will haunt you forever. Honestly, this game’s unforgettable ending should probably earn it a spot on this list.
Returnal may feature shockingly good bullet-hell style combat and some incredible Metroidvania design concepts, but the highlight of our 2021 GOTY is its truly shocking horror storytelling.
Returnal is one of those rare sci-fi horror titles that expertly blends the terrors of the deeply personal with the nightmare of being trapped in the vacuum of space. While there are few definitive answers to this game’s biggest questions, even having to dwell on some of its narrative implications will leave you feeling hollow. Even then, you won’t be able to stop yourself from diving a little further down this game’s rabbit hole.
3. System Shock 2
There’s no shortage of great entries in the sci-fi subgenre of “evil computer hates humanity.” There’s even one such game on this list already. Yet, there are many reasons why System Shock 2 is considered gaming’s greatest example of that weirdly classic concept.
At the risk of overusing the word, System Shock 2 really is one of the best examples of “atmosphere” in a video game. Nearly every area in this game successfully sells the idea that you have been transported to a space station filled with sci-fi terrors that border on the supernatural. The worst thing about how easy it is to lose yourself in this game is the fact that you’ll soon discover a world you most certainly do not want to be lost in. It’s almost cruel that this game is as good as it is. Games that are this unnerving shouldn’t feel so good.
2. Alien: Isolation
There have been very good Alien games in the past, but there was a long time when the dream of that horror game that captured everything that made the original Alien great felt like it was destined to remain a dream. That is until Alien: Isolation realized the potential of that concept so completely that it almost made it easy to forget that Isolation is something of a dream game.
Whereas so many other Alien games are happy to treat the Xenomorphs as canon fodder, Isolation treats that creature as an apex predator backed into a corner in an unfamiliar environment. One Xenomorph can easily be the star of one of the scariest horror games ever made. Familiarity can dull the edge of any great horror film, and a series of Alien sequels and adaptations have made it all-too-easy to forget how scary the Xenomorphs really are. Isolation pulls off the minor miracle of making that creature feel just as (if not more) terrifying than they did in 1979.
1. Dead Space
There’s a strong argument to be made that Dead Space is the best survival horror game ever made. Resident Evil may be the biggest name in that genre filled with all-time classics, but few slightly more traditional survival horror games combine action, exploration, and truly terrifying moments quite as well as Dead Space does.
I suppose that some of Dead Space’s basic concepts could have worked if it was a Resident Evil-like zombie game, but it’s really Dead Space’s sci-fi elements that turn it into something special. From the isolation of the game’s setting to the “blue-collar needs meet advanced technology” nature of the game’s tools and weapons, Dead Space explores the various ways that the future will inevitably be filled with new opportunities and the need to confront previously unconsidered horrors.
Dead Space is basically the best Event Horizon game we’ll ever get. I certainly mean that as a compliment.