The best horror games have been among the most polarising games of all time. While some run away from their very mention, others thrive in the idea of a video game that can scare your wits (and your room’s lights) off. Undoubtedly, horror games have consistently been among the most thrilling video game sub-genres of all time – and over time, have gotten infinitely better. The case in point for them lies in the fact that today, horror games no longer try to throw a bunch of jump scares at you that you can comfortably hacksaw your way out of.
In modern gaming parlance, horror games enjoy a near-cult status. From all-time legendary titles such as the Silent Hill series, to enduring ones such as the Resident Evil portfolio, the best horror games have given us plenty to think about. Look at reports across the internet and through threads on Reddit, and avid gamers state that the lure behind horror games lies in the name of the genre itself – ‘horror’.
The latter, interestingly, is a primal experience, something that we as humans would do anything to avoid. It’s not just about fiction or the supernatural – horrors may also include moments of extreme adversities, psychological torment, and so on. Many gamers across the internet state that a reason behind the attraction of horror games lies in the fact that they allow humans to experience a state of mind that would otherwise never be invoked – at least ideally. This lets gamers enjoy a state of fear while having the fall-back option of knowing that all of what’s happening in the game is, at the very least, virtual.
With this in mind, here’s looking at our selection of the best horror games to play – be it on PCs, or on Microsoft and Sony’s Xbox and PlayStation consoles. These games offer incredible storylines, a haunting background, moments of extreme fear, and so on, alongside everything that you’d expect from a AAA game. With brilliant graphics and great visuals in tow, here are the best horror games of our present lot.
List of best horror games
- Resident Evil: Village
- Alien: Isolation
- Layers of Fear
- Metro: Exodus
- Martha is Dead
- The Medium
- Amnesia: The Dark Descent
- Five Nights at Freddy’s
- Dead by Daylight
Special mention: All-time horror classics
Before diving deep into the list of the best horror games that you can play today, here’s paying homage to some of the titles that have defined this genre over the years. When it comes to this, nothing perhaps invokes as many chills as the legendary Silent Hill 2. One of the earliest, genre-defining games that brought psycho-horror into the field of gaming, Silent Hill 2 was a test of not just the game’s protagonist, James Sunderland, but of you as well. It delved into a world where your subconscious crumbles, leaving you face to face with thoughts that you didn’t even know you had.
The next name in the all-time classics list is – you guessed it – the original Resident Evil. In hindsight, the game may not seem all that scary in today’s ray tracing universe. However, Resident Evil single-handedly gave birth to a crop of games that have since been classified as ‘survival horror’. Think of Walking Dead, and you know the kind of adrenaline rush that the all-time greatest survival horror game induced back in the ‘90s.
Among all of these names, one title that somewhat flew under the radar, at least in comparison to Silent Hill and Resident Evil, is Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. The gameplay here literally challenged the gamer to maintain their sanity, testing their mental reaction times, the responses to implausible actions, and even broke the fourth wall. For instance, if any action of yours within this game made your sanity metre drop below the minimum level, and if you were trying to save the game before this happened, the game would suddenly throw an error message and pretend to delete all your saved game files – only to later show a normal screen. Absolute genius.
Other genre-defining titles include the likes of Dead Space for space-based horror-thrillers, Until Dawn for – yet again – a classic survival format, The Last of Us for understanding the importance of perseverance and integrity of character in face of adversities, and Alan Wake for establishing a seemingly normal world where horror thrives.
Two other games that deserve special mention are Hideo Kojima’s P.T. and Bloober Team’s Layers of Fear. The former, unfortunately, never made it as a full game due to real-world corporate tussles. However, Kojima’s scary world was built on just a corridor, as well as elements such as the ghost of a pregnant woman. The non-game was billed as one of the most defining game teasers to have ever been released, but unfortunately, it would never come to be. Yet, it managed to inspire numerous other games for the future.
Layers of Fear is exactly that – a horror game where you do not really have a lot of weapons to battle your adversaries. This one pushed the boundaries of mental derangement, disguised under a psychedelic premise of an artist who just cannot finish enough of his masterpiece portraits. Underneath all of this, lies a message – when a person loses everything including their own minds, exactly what is left behind in their own heads?
Resident Evil: Village
Undoubtedly one of the best horror games to play right now, Resident Evil: Village is a follow-up to the popular Biohazard. Yet, here you are in a village, seemingly derelict and filled with a dense fog. Within this atmosphere dwells horrors well beyond your imagination. The game has its own collection of deep, dark secrets – which keep coming up like gifts that keep on giving to the gamers. It also packs in a fair amount of action, which therefore blends the margins between thriller and horror for this one. That said, most would argue that Village is indeed driven by nothing apart from incredible storytelling, thus marking a departure from the typical Resident Evil action-driven trend so far.
-Combats not the greatest
The reason why we rank Alien: Isolation so high up in this list is purely by virtue of how innovative and yet classical the game has been in establishing itself in the horror footprint. The storyline itself is a classic one, derived from some of the most well-established science fiction storylines – an advanced spaceship that left earth decades ago is now drifting solo, and something has terribly gone wrong. Once you reach there, you realise that the enemy itself – the alien – cannot really be killed. You also realise that your primary enemy is just the solitary alien. Think that makes matters easy? You only have to play to see it – thanks to a million obstacles at hand. You’re required to think on your feet, be reactive, and sharpen your stealth skills to take on this mortal enemy.
-Excellent stealth tactics
-Storyline is predictive
-Lacks strong character development
A modern-day classic based yet again in outer space, one of the best bits about Returnal are its visuals. Horror storytelling kept aside for a moment, Returnal is a marquee PlayStation title that showcases the almighty but elusive PS5 in its full glory. But it’s not just about the visuals, after all. Protagonist Selene Vassos ends up on an alien planet and realises that something about the way time travels here is extremely weird. Soon, you realise why you appear to be going round and round in loops – and figure out the direction with which you must approach the game. But, the beauty of Returnal lies in the fact that the alien world isn’t the only thing that adds to the fear – it is also your subconscious, with ample, effective gun battles thrown in for good measure.
-No clear game save feature
-Can get tedious to play
Layers of Fear
It perhaps says something that Layers of Fear made it to the list of all-time greats above, and in this list of the best horror games you can play now as well. It is treated by many horror game aficionados as the spiritual successor to the Silent Hill franchise that never was. You don the paintbrushes of an artist, who is seemingly obsessed with completing his magnum opus. But, beneath the artwork lies the crumbling psyche of a human being who has just about lost entire control of his own mind. Layers of Fear does not even attempt to establish a combat feature within the game – instead, it’s all about exploring the worlds around you, the bending of space-time, and figuring out how to navigate the puzzles that are in effect manifestations of your own mind.
-Storytelling done to perfection
-Brilliant visuals for the game
-Can get clunky after a point
-Some puzzles are a stretch
Phasmophobia is a slightly different take on a horror game, but an extremely classic one if you consider horror movies. Built in a format familiar to mainstream TV audiences through Ghostbusters, your task is to be a literal ghostbuster. You are, of course, thrown into the thick of things in an environment that looks only like it is cold and unwelcoming. Phasmophobia deals with your fear of, well, fear – which is a wise thing to do, in hindsight. But, when you are playing the game, you also realise how aspects such as holding your folks together in a crunch period, while keeping yourself alive too, are a massive feat. From supernatural to the quintessential jump scare, Phasmophobia attempts to run the full gamut with its horror storyline.
-Lacks a well-defined narrative
-Can get too predictive eventually
The Metro franchise has had its fans over the years, and a large reason behind it is the atmosphere in which the game is based in. With Metro: Exodus, you are no longer always under the terrain. Yet, the nuclear war-ravaged world that you surface in and the adversaries that you face along the entire challenge of the game’s story creates one of the most thrilling horror game atmospheres that we could have hoped to enjoy. You get all the essentials that you’d expect from the Metro series, and this being a new-gen title means that graphics are all the more real. The dystopian land is carefully crafted and is as expansive and open as it is strewn with obstacles and claustrophobic.
-Retains the morbid Metro atmosphere
-Thrilling as an experience
-Lacks a final showdown
Martha is Dead
Martha is Dead is not your everyday game, and thankfully, doesn’t involve either Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent. It is a title that is interestingly based around World War II, and in an unsettling trope, the developers have used news readings from the War being played out in the background to great cinematic horror success. But, the premise is even worse – or brilliant, whichever way you look at it. Giulia, a resident of an Italian village, suddenly discovers that her twin sister, Martha, is dead after having drowned in a pool. But instead of disclosing what happened, Guilia pretends that she is, in fact, Martha. What follows is an incredibly dark take on human psychology and circumstances that are to be navigated around this whodunit woven with a horror fabric.
-A deeply developed storyline
-Some details can be too grotesque
In Outlast, you do not particularly have a weapon. You are also in a mental asylum, bathed in darkness. If that does not raise the hair on the back of your neck, you are a braveheart already. One of the most enduring horror games ever built, Outlast literally needs you to outlast and outwit your enemy. To do this and survive, you need to be smart in the way you use your in-game resources. What also stands out is the incredible sound design of the game, which makes it even scarier than what it probably would have been otherwise. There are also wonderful extra elements thoughtfully designed that deliver a message, too – for instance, collectible diaries strewn across the compound that reveal tales of torment doled out on mentally ailing humans by scientists.
-Incredible sound design
-Some missions are abruptly disappointing
This rather new horror game is also rather different from a lot of its contemporaries. It also is a bit of a split between Control – the epic Remedy thriller – and Netflix’s flagship punk-supernatural thriller classic, Stranger Things. The game stands out by shaking things up into two worlds – one, a dingy, dark one where you are using your abilities to understand the evil powers beneath the world you can see. On the other hand is literally Hell – where your protagonist is parallelly travelling through. It is a bit of a surreal experience but still succeeds in building a claustrophobic environment within which you must solve a host of puzzles to get out of a situation.
-Innovative split-screen storytelling
-A bit towards the thriller end than horror
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Imagine this: you wake up without any memory or bearings about yourself, and find yourself in the midst of a gigantic but creepily empty castle. You quickly discover a note, which tells you about things having horrifyingly gone wrong here – and urges you to kill a certain Alexander. This context in itself should tell you enough about how incredibly terrifying Amnesia: The Dark Descent is. You delve into a dark, cold world that keeps giving you flashbacks about the life you once had, and the horrors that you presently live with that are linked back to your deeds in the life you don’t remember having lived in. It is this that makes Amnesia: The Dark Descent a must-play horror game for everyone even more than a decade since its release – even without fancy graphics in tow.
-Incredible visual atmosphere
-Extremely compelling storyline
-Puzzles aren’t too challenging
-Sound design can quickly become funny
Five Nights at Freddy’s
Just the sheer idea behind Five Nights at Freddy’s, if experienced as a child, can make sure that you are traumatised by the sight of those walking, human versions of cartoon characters at malls and carnivals incredibly traumatising. You are tasked with spending five nights at a low-rate amusement cum restaurant centre, with giant animatronic cartoon figures that need to be watched overnight. Power supplies are dear for you, which means that you spend half the time in darkness – and strategise in terms of keeping a watch on the cameras or finding ways to hide before you die an abrupt death. On the face of it, things aren’t quite as scary as many other games. But once you start playing this one, you realise how even apparent non-events can be killer intersections in a horror title.
-Ominous premise of the story
-Requires deft strategies
-Gets predictable after a point
-May feel shallow to some
Dead by Daylight
Perhaps one of the most unique horror games in terms of pure gameplay brilliance, Dead by Daylight is a title that brings multiplayer and single-player experiences into one umbrella. On the survival end, you can form clans of four, and strategise to survive. You need to coordinate with your teammates to figure out how to adapt stealth to your strength and save yourself from the slasher-killer. To this end, the person playing is a single player with a first-person camera view. It is a rather Jack-the-Ripper style antagonist experience, but the slasher villain makes the game ominous. While the villain has more power, things aren’t quite that straightforward, since the game’s multiple well-designed spaces leave plenty of ominous chances for the villain being exposed.
-Multiplayer experience isn’t uniform for all