From slasher films to spooky novels, there’s no shortage of horror media out there, but games may be the most chilling medium of all due to the level of immersion and interactivity they impart. If you’ve ever sat in a dark room with headphones and played something like Silent Hill or Resident Evil, you know that unique feeling of terror we’re talking about. And god forbid you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Horror games aren’t exactly for the weak of heart.
But as Halloween approaches, there’s no more fitting genre for the season, and luckily, there are a wealth of horror games out there well worth your time. The genre had humble beginnings in the late ’80s, with a wave of fantastic games coming out in the three subsequent decades. And thanks to the rise of indie games, there are more scary games out now than ever before.
In 2020 we’ve seen some excellent horror games released, such as Capcom’s follow-up to its Resident Evil 2 remake, Resident Evil 3. But even more are yet to come; we’re still looking forward to horror games like The Dark Pictures: Little Hope and Amnesia: Rebirth to keep genre fans busy this fall.
Whether you plan to work your way through your horror backlog on your own or invite friends over to experience the jump scares with you, we’ve got you covered this Halloween season and beyond. We’ve gathered a list of the most terrifying and memorable games every horror enthusiast should experience this Halloween season. Genre classics like Silent Hill 2, Resident Evil Remake, and Dead Space are represented here, but you’ll also find more surprising and modern choices interspersed throughout. Regardless of their notoriety, the horror games we highlight below (listed in no particular order) are all ones that left us with lasting memories.
Which horror games will you be playing this fall? Shout out your favorites in the comments below.
After creating a phenomenon with Amnesia: The Dark Descent and following it up with the existential horror of Soma, Frictional Games is going back to the series that put them on the map with Amnesia: Rebirth. Taking place in 1937, Rebirth’s aesthetic finds itself somewhere between the Victorian-era castles of The Dark Descent and the hyper-futuristic underwater facility of Soma. Of course, with this being a Frictional game, nothing’s as it seems, and even in the release date trailer, there are signs we’re in for an even wilder and scarier ride than we might think. Amnesia: Rebirth is set to release October 20, which is a great time to get some good, new scares in on Halloween. — Suriel Vazquez
It’s an Early Access title at the moment and thus feels a bit incomplete, but don’t sleep on World of Horror, a lightly animated text adventure that’s all spooky vibes, all the time. Inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and horror manga artist Junji Ito, the roguelite game sends you out into a strange town beset by twisted people and supernatural horrors. World of Horror feels like you’re playing through one of Ito’s strange short stories, where you might search through a school for a murderous, scissors-wielding substitute teacher with a carved-up face, or investigate the apartment of a researcher who was extremely interested in eels–but, like, in an evil way.
Each of your investigations takes you through various locales, where you’ll meet allies, find weapons, and engage in text-based combat with creatures, all in an effort to discover what eldritch horror is trying to be born into the world so you can put a stop to it. World of Horror is constantly creepy, often funny, consistently challenging, and always compellingly weird, and especially if you like Ito’s works and fresh spins of Lovecraft tropes, you shouldn’t miss it. — Phil Hornshaw
This year’s Resident Evil 3 remake shows a different side of the infamous outbreak we first saw in Resident Evil 2. After surviving the Spencer Mansion incident, Jill Valentine must now escape zombie-ridden Raccoon City while being pursued by the bloodthirsty Nemesis. RE3 requires resource-management, puzzle-solving, and a cool hand to take out the zombies and other monsters that threaten your life. It’s definitely a more brief experience than the Resident Evil 2 remake, but Resident Evil 3 is still worth playing for fans of Resident Evil, horror, and zombies. And once you’re finished your first playthrough, you can partake in victory laps with unlocks like more powerful guns, infinite ammo, and more. — Mat Paget
Until Dawn developers Supermassive haven’t quite found a hit on that game’s scale since 2015, but they’ve slowly been getting their groove back. The first part of The Dark Pictures Anthology, Man of Medan, had a lot of what made Until Dawn shine, so we’re hopeful Little Hope improves on the formula and has some great scares of its own. It’s also primed to be a good Halloween game, releasing on October 30 and likely being short enough to get through in a single sitting with a group of friends — Suriel Vazquez
Polish developer Bloober Team is releasing its next psychological horror outing, The Medium, in December–and while you won’t have it for Halloween, you’ve got a great stand-in with Layers of Fear, the team’s first horror game. The first-person title has you exploring a haunted house as a painter as he tries to complete his masterpiece, wandering shifting halls in search of macabre ingredients to make the perfect colors. What’s great about Layers of Fear is the way that it manipulates space and perspective to freak you out, with the house shifting around you when you turn a corner, spin around to check behind you, or open a door.
As horror games go, Layers of Fear requires little from you outside the occasional bit of light puzzle-solving or searching for notes and clues. You won’t have to run from or fight any monsters, so you won’t have to contend with any difficulty spikes or skill issues. That said, the scares are still highly effective thanks to Layers of Fear’s expertly crafted atmosphere. This is a great game to turn off the lights and get lost in. — Phil Hornshaw
The remake of a horror classic, Resident Evil 2 released last year and was one of our top picks for Game of the Year. The remake doesn’t change the story of the original, for the most part: You still get the choice to play as either Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield as they make their way through zombie-infested Raccoon City. The storylines and settings for each character are similar, but there are unique side characters and other differences that make playing each character’s path worth it. Plus, it’s not that long–only about 3-5 hours for each campaign.
Resident Evil 2 is a brilliant remake that improves and expands upon the original. The creepy atmosphere left me constantly on edge, holding my breath as I turned every corner, but it balances that fear with a huge sense of satisfaction at solving challenging puzzles and taking down enemies without exhausting all my ammo. While I didn’t find Resident Evil 2 quite as frightening as Resident Evil 7, it’s still one of the best horror games out there, and I was enthralled by its story until the very end. — Jenae Sitzes
Until Dawn has become a classic among story-driven games. The survival-horror adventure follows a group of friends on a winter getaway to a snowy mountain lodge, where, one year prior, two of their friends disappeared and were never found. It’s the stereotypical setup for a slasher film, complete with flirty teens and a masked stalker on the loose, but the story takes some unexpected and unforgettable turns along the way. Most notably, Until Dawn is driven by player choice, and the consequences of your choices are deeply felt throughout the entire game. On your first playthrough, there are no redos if your action gets someone killed–only in subsequent playthroughs can you go back to specific chapters to make a different decision.
Because the story branches off in so many directions and has multiple endings, there’s a ton of replayability to Until Dawn. While technically a single-player game, Until Dawn is equally fun to play with a group of people. While a bit long for a single session–it’ll take you eight or nine hours to complete–you could easily break Until Dawn into two or three sessions and play through it with friends, with each person choosing a character to control and passing the controller back and forth. Having played it both alone and with friends, I can attest that it’s fun to experience over and over, and there are still characters I haven’t figured out how to keep alive (I refuse to look it up). It’s not on the same level as something like Outcast or P.T. in terms of scariness, but there are some truly terrifying moments in Until Dawn I’ll never forget. — Jenae Sitzes
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Red Dead Redemption quickly became one of my favorite games of all time when it was released back in 2010. This was thanks in most part to the wonderful setting, quirky yet lovable characters, and increasingly engaging story. I was ready to take any excuse to spend more time in that world, and you can bet your butt I was excited for a zombie-themed expansion. Undead Nightmare is supposed to be a bit more silly and nonsensical than scary, but I don’t think a single game has unnerved me as much as it. Seeing the familiar Wild West turned into a desolate, fog-filled wasteland of zombies was shocking.
It was as close as I’ve felt to actually experiencing a zombie apocalypse breakout in my hometown. Even my family had been turned, and though John Marston was reacting in a humorous way, I couldn’t help but be totally stressed out by the entire situation. And these zombies aren’t the slow and lumbering type you find in the halls of Resident Evil 2’s police station: they sprint right at you, make the absolute worst noises, and need to be shot in the head. All of this, and that very sad Sasquatch mission, made me feel incredibly uneasy in a world I had fallen so much in love with.
Red Dead Redemption and Undead Nightmare are both playable on Xbox One, thanks to Microsoft’s backward-compatible program. There’s even a 4K patch for the game on Xbox One X, which looks fantastic. — Mat Paget
Amnesia: The Dark Descent, its expansion, Justine, and the sequel, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, comprise what is still one of the best horror franchises of all time. You can grab all three of them in the Amnesia Collection, available on the PlayStation and Xbox stores. Amnesia is undoubtedly the series that ignited my love of the horror game genre, and like many, I first experienced the game through Let’s Plays by a then-little-known YouTuber called PewDiePie. It’s terrifying enough to watch someone else to play, but getting behind the screen yourself is another experience altogether.
Released in 2010, Amnesia: The Dark Descent follows a man named Daniel, who wakes up in a dark castle with no memory of who he is, aside from his name. In exploring the castle, Daniel must fight to maintain his sanity while putting together pieces of his past and avoiding the dreadful monsters that lurk in the shadows. The first-person survival horror game was followed by a 2013 sequel, A Machine for Pigs, that begins with a wealthy industrialist waking up in his London mansion with (once again) no memory of the past few months, only the feeling that something is terribly wrong. If Amnesia has somehow flown under the radar for you over the past decade, then wait for a dark night, grab some headphones, and dive in. — Jenae Sitzes
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Metro Exodus isn’t strictly a horror game. There aren’t many jump scares, there are no re-animated corpses, and you spend a lot of time on a train chatting with your comrades. What Metro Exodus does have is dark, cramped corridors oozing with a foreboding atmosphere. Sure, Exodus also has a lot of open areas, but some of the most terrifying moments are when you’re trapped in the metro, scrounging for supplies, while avoiding irradiated beasts. — Jake Dekker
With Little Nightmares 2 confirmed to release on February 11, 2021, there’s no better time to play the original. Little Nightmares is a Tim Burton-esque puzzle-platformer first released in 2017 that follows a small, hungry child in a yellow raincoat known only as Six. The child is trapped in a horrifying, mostly underwater island location called the Maw, which is home to numerous strange and deplorable creatures. From a long-armed blind janitor to a chilling, shadowy Lady, Six must avoid capture while navigating her way out of the Maw.
Little Nightmares is far scarier than you might expect–I was on edge during my entire playthrough. Like Playdead’s Limbo or Inside, Little Nightmares has no dialogue, letting the creepy environments and tense atmosphere drive all of the suspense. It culminates in an ending that, while a bit open-ended, is definitely satisfying. The game has also received three DLC chapters, and you can get the whole experience in Little Nightmares: Complete Edition. — Jenae Sitzes
A lot has been said about Silent Hill 2, so I’ll spare you any overt critical analysis I have on this beloved survival-horror sequel and instead share with you why this game still rocks. The premise alone should be enough to captivate you. As the widowed James Sutherland, you travel to the foggy town of Silent Hill in search of your dead wife, who has somehow managed to send you a letter. As a middle-schooler (yes, I played this game in 8th grade), Silent Hill 2’s story was like nothing else I had encountered. There were no action heroes, explosions, or convoluted government conspiracies. Just a crippling sense of dread, an eerie atmosphere, and intriguing characters that kept my hands glued to my PS2 controller.
Silent Hill 2 expertly handles its myriad horrors, pulling you in with disturbing creatures, clever puzzles, and haunting sound design. I can’t help but be in awe of how well it stands up whenever I revisit the game every few years. Its Historical Society area remains one of its crowning achievements and one of horror gaming’s most expertly designed environments, brilliantly handling tense foreboding with unexpected pathways and puzzles. There are some slow moments interspersed between its most terrifying ones, but they’re never enough to detract from the chilling horror and thought-provoking storytelling on display.
If you haven’t played Silent Hill 2, you’re in for quite a spooky adventure. It’s one of the genre greats for a reason, and it only continues to stand the test of time. You can buy it as part of the Silent Hill HD Collection for PS3 and Xbox 360; fortunately, it can also be played on Xbox One due to backward-compatibility. — Matt Espineli
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Red Barrels’ Outlast has always stood out to me for how the game presents its world. Mount Massive Asylum is blanketed in absolute darkness, so the only way to see where you’re going most of the time is by using the night vision function on protagonist Miles Upshur’s video camera.
Because I’m terrified of the dark, I use the camera all the time, and this transforms everything I see into a murky green where faraway environmental details aren’t clear and enemies’ eyes shine with a ghoulish glow. Also, this mechanic forces me to explore–batteries need to be found to keep the night vision function on the camera working–and Outlast’s chilling soundtrack makes those unscripted moments of searching very tense.
Looking for batteries isn’t even the scariest part of Outlast, though. It’s the inhuman Variants that create most of the game’s scares. Desperately running through an insane asylum while cannibalistic twins, a scissor-wielding mad scientist, and a seemingly unkillable monster chase after Upshur is terrifying. The worst of these Variants, Eddie Gluskin, appears in Outlast’s Whistleblower expansion. Gluskin, aka The Groom, is a deranged serial killer who mutilates his male victims’ genitalia in order to create the “perfect wife.” Watching what he does–in first-person I might add–to the DLC’s protagonist, Waylon Park, haunted me for days, and is still nauseating to even think about. –
If you buy Outlast, you might as well pick up the Outlast Trinity bundle, which includes Outlast, its Whistleblower DLC, and Outlast 2 (which is also very good). – Jordan Ramee
Three years after Resident Evil 4 squeezed new scares from one of gaming’s best horror series, Visceral Games might have perfected the third-person survival horror formula with Dead Space. Players control engineer Isaac Clarke as he and a rescue team land on a city-sized spaceship to find out why it’s not responding to communications. They quickly discover the reason is that the ship has been overrun by monsters that used to be its crew, which are nearly impossible to kill unless players use various sci-fi mining tools to hack off the creatures’ limbs.
Dead Space is a perfect confluence of modern sensibility and old-school survival horror, pairing fantastic graphics and gameplay, specifically its limb-cutting mechanics, with slightly uncooperative controls and the desperate hunt for items to keep Isaac healthy. The game uses everything at its disposal to scare you. Its industrial setting pairs with sound design that makes you constantly feel like you’re not alone, and every surface is covered in air vents perfect for delivering popcorn-tossing moments as lethal mutated creatures come squirming out, straight at your face. Visceral tops it off with a spooky story that combines Alien, Children of the Corn, and Evil Dead.
Developed for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, you can also play Dead Space on Xbox One via backward-compatibility. — Phil Hornshaw
Devil Daggers may not be a traditional horror game by any means, but that makes it no less scary every time I play it. It throws you into a dark arena and tasks you with eliminating waves of flying skulls, disgusting, multi-legged beasts, and other demonic monstrosities.
There is no winning in Devil Daggers; death is inevitable, whether that comes after 10 seconds or 100 (if you’re good). It’s minimal in terms of visuals and sound; there’s no music to accompany the onslaught of enemies. Instead, enemies produce terrifying but distinct noises. This serves to assist you by letting you know where enemies are, but it also creates an inescapable sense of dread as these horrifying monsters box you in. I find it hard not to jump out of my seat when I turn and see that I’m face to face with a flying horned monster.
It’s unusual that a game designed around high score runs evokes fear, and the threat of failure is undoubtedly part of what makes Devil Daggers so tense. But it’s the combination of this tension with the haunting imagery and sounds that create a legitimately terrifying experience. — Chris Pereira
I’ll admit to being the perfect mark for Slender: The Eight Pages when it was released for free in 2012. The tiny, minimalist Unity experiment by developer Mark Hadley capitalized on peak Slender Man interest, expounding on the Internet-born folklore creature that was already doing a phenomenal job of absolutely creeping me out. Hadley’s little game was a tightly made little nightmare: you’re exploring a small, darkened park from a first-person perspective, and you’re being hunted by a supernatural creature that you can’t even look at without dying. Players try to gather eight pages from around a park, which detail some other poor victim’s descent into madness, while the thing keeps appearing in front of you, ever closer. It was a perfect storm of jump scares, ambient dread, and a spooky creation of the zeitgeist at the height of its power.
Slender: The Arrival expanded the game with multiple levels, a full story and prettier graphics to fully realize Hadley’s original concept. It didn’t change the core principle of being hunted, with nothing to help you except fleeing in desperate terror, and hoping that looking away from what stalks you might be enough to save you a few moments more. — Phil Hornshaw
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To play Resident Evil 7 is to willingly put yourself in an inhospitable environment. The decrepit mansion where the game begins is filthy, with peeling, yellowed wallpaper, broken drywall, and garbage littering the scarred wooden floor. Wind blows through the cracks in drafts, emitting a low, constant howl. The kitchen, scattered with moldy food and unidentifiable skeletal remains, is unspeakable. You can almost smell the rot.
This is not a place you want to be–and that’s before you meet the family that lives there. There’s the dad, who stalks after you even after you’ve killed him numerous times. Mom doesn’t bat an eye when he severs junior’s hand at the dinner table. Somehow even worse is grandma, a catatonic woman in a wheelchair who can appear and vanish any time and anywhere when you’re not looking.
The horror game improves on the best aspects of the series, while throwing out everything that had grown stale in recent installments. Playing Resident Evil 7 is a thrilling, crazy, scary-as-hell experience. And if you think it’s terrifying on a TV screen, you gotta try it in VR. — Chris Reed
The Xbox 360 had a generally strong launch lineup, despite lacking a killer app like Halo. There was a Majora’s Mask-lite in Kameo: Elements of Power; sports games like Amped 3 and Madden, and for those who passed on the heavily flawed, but creative Perfect Dark Zero, Call of Duty 2 was there to satisfy action fans when WWII shooters were in their prime. With other titles with mass appeal like Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland or Gun, who had time for a psychological horror game?
That juxtaposition between Condemned: Criminal Origins and the rest of the launch lineup was perfectly clear in the music of the title screen. Half Se7en, half Shutter Island, you play as detective Ethan Thomas, who has to track down a serial killer to prove his innocence after his partner is murdered. Along the way, you’re attacked by rattled-up drug addicts and hallucinations of demons who strategically flee, hide behind corners, and fight back in the game’s surprisingly effective first-person melee combat.
What made Condemned such a memorable horror experience was the feeling of being alone in the grittiest, most desolate parts of town, with intimate combat against people who hated you. You could hear them seething around corners, flanking you in the darkness, and that was all before the game throws demonic hallucinations at you. Sprinkle in a memorable final boss, a couple of solid jump-scares, one of the best uses of Xbox achievements in requiring you to forgo using guns, and a level set in a mall with walking mannequins that culminated in one of my favorite video game moments, and you’ve got a horror classic. Not bad for a launch-title. — Nick Sherman
2014’s Alien: Isolation was a bit of tough sell as a horror game. After spending many years as disposable cannon fodder in other Alien games, most notably in Aliens VS Predator and Aliens: Colonial Marines, the Xenomorph was elevated to boss status in Creative Assembly’s survival horror FPS. Serving as a sequel to the original film, it moved away from the shooting galleries and action-horror from previous games, and honed its focus on dread, anxiety, and fearing the lone alien creature that stalks the halls of Sevastopol Station.
As a deep admirer of the original Alien, more so than the sequel Aliens, I longed for the day where we could get a game more influenced by the first film–with its quiet moments of dread and low-fi sci-fi aesthetic in full swing. What I appreciated most about Alien: Isolation was that it not only respected the original film, but it also fully understood what it made it so scary. As you’re desperately scavenging for supplies throughout the corridors, those brief moments of calm would almost inevitably lead to situations where you’ll come face to face with the Alien, who is all-powerful and cunning in its approach to slay any human that comes across its path.
For more of my thoughts on Alien Isolation, check out my retrospective feature discussing why the game is still an unmatched horror experience. — Alessandro Fillari
Don’t judge a visual novel by its cover. Doki Doki Literature Club looks like a simple anime-inspired visual novel packed with tropes; you have a love triangle (or quadrilateral?), the tsundere, the shy one, and the childhood friend as a potential love interest all thrown into a high school club. While the free-to-play game is front-loaded with your typical story progression, it’s expected that you make it past a certain point where things really pick up.
Take note of the content warning presented upfront, as Doki Doki Literature Club uses sensitive subjects and graphic visuals throughout its narrative. It’ll subvert expectations in clever and terrifying ways that can be either subtle and in-your-face. Since this is a PC game, it has the unique ability to be meta; breaking the fourth wall is used to great effect and a few secrets get tucked away within the game’s text files. There are a few moments that allow the player to impact progression, such as dialogue options or choosing which of the club members to interact with at certain moments. But that’s all in service of building you up for when the game reveals its true nature. Even the wonderfully catchy soundtrack gets twisted to create an unsettling atmosphere.
It’s hard to communicate exactly why Doki Doki Literature Club is one of the most horrifying games because it relies heavily on specific story beats and meta-narrative events, and we wouldn’t want to spoil the things that make it so special. You’ll just have to experience it for yourself. — Michael Higham
When Resident Evil first hit the Playstation back in 1996, it revolutionized video game horror and created a new sub-genre in the process–survival horror. Its GameCube remake in 2002–and subsequent remaster for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC–utilized improved graphics and lighting to greatly enhance the haunting atmosphere of the first game.
You have the option to play as one of two STARS members (elite police officers), who have come to a mansion investigating a number of strange murders. Unbeknownst to them, this mansion is home to a number of illegal experiments operated by the Umbrella Corporation, leading to zombified humans and creatures attacking the STARS.
The entire game takes place from fixed camera angles, and you never know what’s on the other side of the door, or around each corner, meaning you’re just moments away from walking into a scare. You’re given limited ammo and even a limited number of opportunities to save your progress, and this formula works perfectly in tandem with the foreboding atmosphere.
In one particular moment, I hadn’t saved in hours and was running through a room I’d revisited multiple times in the past with 0 health left–when suddenly zombie dogs decided to jump through the windows scaring the crap out of me. A room I thought was safe had betrayed me at the worst time. This moment alone is easily one of the most impactful scares I’ve ever had playing a game and cements Resident Evil as a mastercraft in horror video games. It’s available as part of the Resident Evil Origins Collection, which also gets you Resident Evil 0. — Dave Klein
Eternal Darkness took the concept of survival horror–already well-established by games like Resident Evil, Clock Tower, and Silent Hill–and added a brand new element designed exclusively to screw with the player: the sanity meter.
Alexandra Roivas returns to her family’s estate after discovering her grandfather has been murdered. The police have found nothing, so she decides to look for herself, and finds a secret room with a book… the “Tome of Eternal Darkness.” The game then takes place in multiple timelines and locations, with players choosing who they want to follow as characters battle with, or are corrupted by, ancient artifacts and the Eternal Darkness.
This allows the game to utilize a vast array of settings for its horrors, as well as having every character affected by a sanity meter, which slowly drains if players are spotted by enemies. Sanity effects range from statue heads following you, to weird noises and strange camera angles. In one particular instance, I went to save my game, only to find the game telling me it was deleting my save. I jumped off of my couch, ran over to my GameCube to turn off the game, only to realize the game was screwing with me, and my save wasn’t being deleted. You win that round, Eternal Darkness… you win that round. — Dave Klein
In the years since the release of the first game, the Five Nights At Freddy’s series has gone from popular YouTube Let’s Play game to massive phenomenon. As gaming’s Friday The 13th, the horror series manages to get another sequel, even when people are just experiencing the previous game. While the franchise has spiraled out in a big way, the original game still manages to turn a mundane job into nerve-wracking nightmare scenario. As the late-night security guard for Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, your job is to make sure no one breaks into the place, and to ensure that the walking animatronic puppets don’t murder anyone–namely you. That second part is important.
With no means of self-defense, your only hope is to survive until early morning by blocking doors and obstructing the paths of the roaming animatronics puppets, who desperately seek any humans after hours. My expectations for the game were low, mostly due to how played-out it seemed in the months after its release. However, once I got to play it for myself, I was surprised at how quickly it ramped up in intensity, despite its ridiculous premise.
Even though it manages to revel in jump-scares, almost comically so, the tension and moments leading up to those genuinely chilling encounters make for some rather memorable frights. Just when you think you’re safe and only minutes away from sunrise, Freddy Fazbear waltzes into your safe room and gets the jump on you. I’ll never forget the moment that this game, which I grossly underestimated, got the best of me.– Alessandro Fillari
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Editor’s note: This article is the updated version of a story first published on October 30, 2018.