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Picture it: it's your first day of your new job at River Fields Mortuary. You're going about your day, happily embalming the dearly departed on your gurney, when you see an ominous woman in white staring back at you from the end of the long, long corridor toward the morgue. Whispering fills your ears, and when you look back at the table, the body is gone. This is just one of many procedurally-generated moments in The Mortuary Assistant, a horror game that places a scalpel in your hand and a demon in your soul as you fight to exorcise it before you become fully possessed.
This might not seem like an obvious scary game but there's a strong vein of cosmic horror running through everything Returnal does. This time looping roguelike is littered with Lovecraftian alien ruins, wrong-shaped monsters, and a terror that comes from trying not to die every 10 minutes. I get that it's a big ask to try this as it is all about trying to fight through waves of monsters and impossible feeling boss fights. But there's a great atmosphere to it all and a disturbing story that gradually unfolds as you piece together the past and your place in it.
It's old but it's free and a classic moment in horror gaming. While you can no longer play it online, it's easy to find a free download you can try. The premise is simple - find eight pages scattered around a spooky forest location without the Slender Man catching you. Every time you find a page he gets closer and harder to avoid. It's a simple idea but the execution is flawless and, even with the potato graphics, it's a terrifying experience. It's also a great game to challenge your friends to play and see how they get.
Picking up on the tropes of Japanese horror and folklore that were made famous in The Ring and Ju-on, the Fatal Frame series has always been unsettling. Characters are frozen in place with fear, their only weapon against soul-stealing ghosts is an ancient camera. This means the only way to fight your enemies is to face them head-on, an increasingly terrifying proposition as the game wears on. The franchise has several great entries, but we choose to single out the second game as the best fit for this list. Crimson Butterfly updates the graphics a bit from the first game, and it's the most inviting in its difficulty, making sure there's an ever-present threat without getting too frustrating. It also has the best story, a personal journey between two sisters dealing with loss and guilt. It's always nice when the intense experience is backed up by a plot that's deeper than 'survive'.
* Alien: Isolation
* Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
* Dead by Daylight
* Doki Doki Literature Club
* IMSCARED: A Pixelated Nightmare
* Layers of Fear
* Resident Evil 2 Remake
* Stories Untold
* The Cat Lady
* The Evil Within 2
* Until Dawn
* Blair Witch
* Five Nights at Freddy's
* Little Nightmares
* Silent Hill 2
* The Forest
* The Last of Us Part II
* The Walking Dead: Season One
* Condemned: Criminal Origins
* Dead Space 2
* Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
* Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
* Siren: Blood Curse
* The Suffering
* Alan Wake
* Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode 2
* Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
* Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
* Manhunt 2
* Penumbra: Black Plague
* Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
* System Shock 2
* The Medium
Mundaun is a weird creepy little game with a The Lighthouse and Midsommar vibe to its strange hand-drawn tale. The black and white first-person scares see you revising your Swiss hometown after the death of your grandfather and uncovering [spooky voice] an ancient family curse. The Swiss, 1920s-ish location and folklore, along with the scratchy penciled art, create an otherworldly vibe that gives the whole thing a foreign movie vibe you usually only see in Japanese horror games. It's a little clunky in places, with a few unclear puzzles and goals, but worth powering through if you want to try a horror game built from a different cultural foundation.
While Resident Evil Village certainly captured the public imagination, Lady Dimitrescu in particular, it's far from the best the series has ever been. There are some strong moments though. Especially in the opening few hours with Castle Dimitrescu offering up some great Gothic monster threats and characters. It's House Beneviento however that cements this game's place in history. It's an incredibly creepy, rewarding escape room beat that ends with one of the best reveals the series has ever seen. It's a high point for the game, the series, and the genre in general. The rest of the game is good but veers strongly into action and shooting, eroding the scares through familiarity and ending on a fairly low-brow shooty bang charge to victory. It's always fun though and varied enough that you feel like you get a bit of everything.
Alan Wake isn't like most horror games. It doesn't trade in excessive gore or jump scares - in fact, it's not that scary on the whole. But its sense of place and character is second to none. That place is Bright Falls, a Twin Peaks-inspired mountain community with a terrible secret. The dulcet tones of the night DJ rambling across the airwaves - mixed with the little vignettes you can catch on TV - make this town feel alive, like a character unto itself. Its story unfolds like a thrilling TV miniseries, right down to the episodic structure that bookends each plot twist and revelation.
Alan Wake further distinguishes itself by, well, being a lot of fun to play. Maybe that sounds a bit mean, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable horror game than Alan Wake from a pure gameplay perspective. Developer, Remedy is as famous for action as storytelling, and that comes to bear here, as simple, fluid controls do away with the stilted awkwardness that's characteristic of this genre. Taking on a group of enemies is challenging for all the right reasons: the encounters are well crafted, and the pistol-plus-flashlight combat combo is fun to use without making you feel invincible.
Carrion might look like a bit of fun because it is, but it's also a great horror game that reverses the roles and lets you play the monster. Through its pixelly recreation of tentacles and teeth, it really captures the essence of a good creature feature as you hoover up screaming scientists, rending limb from limb and leaving nothing but parts in your wake. It's excessively gory in a laugh-out-loud way and in between the bloody carnage, there are some decent puzzles to work out using an ever-expanding range of monster powers.
There is something deeply wrong with Little Nightmare 2, in a good way. The sequel really doubles down on the original creepy children's story world but somehow ups the unpleasantness to impressive levels. The weirdness just creeps under your skin as you explore. From creepy juddering mannequins, to faceless, lost people - faces seemingly worn away by the TV static they'll die to stare at - there's little in this game that won't unnerve you, or leave you feeling uncomfortable thinking about it. It can be frustrating at times - the controls never really live up to the demands and there are a few trial and error encounters to blunder through. But stick with it and you'll experience probably one of the most traumatizing games on this list.
Teen slashers have been around for nearly four decades now, but aside from the abysmal Friday the 13th on NES, games haven't really been brave enough to venture into that territory. Until now. Or rather, Until Dawn (zing), a 2015 survival-horror game about a pack of randy teens going on vacation to an isolated mountain cabin, only to find that some heinous entity is set on killing them off. But it's not all fun and games: the characters will die gruesome deaths if you can't navigate Until Dawn's horror movie logic, and it takes every opportunity to scare the bejaysus out of you.
While many games on this list are here because of their fear-factor alone, Until Dawn earns a spot for more meta reasons, too - it's wilfully, soulfully entrenched in horror tradition, and uses those tropes brilliantly. It's packed with winks to the slasher genre, and you'll still love the ridiculous twists even if you see them coming from a mile away. You'll laugh as much as you scream, if not more, and few horror games capture that sense of grisly fun so well.
From Software's Dark Souls games - of which this is a very obvious descendent - don't play like horror standards. They're action-RPGs, built around stat micromanagement and skillful play. And yet they feel scarier than most games that build themselves around fear - stress, dread, and jumps come as frequently as loot and leveling. Bloodborne is the best of the lot, a sprawling, mysterious tale of eldritch horror set in a twisted nightmare vision of Victorian Europe. Traveling down cobblestone streets amidst dark spires, you'll hear hushed conversations behind firmly-locked doors, wondering who you are, and what "The Hunt" you seem to be on could be. It's gaming's best Lovecraftian horror - you'll be driven to discover its secrets as much as you are to master its vicious combat systems.
This is the series that invented modern survival horror, but that wasn't good enough for director Shinji Mikami. So in Resident Evil 4, he invented the modern third-person shooting, just for fun. Leon Kennedy's adventures in gunplay are rightly famous, the feedback-heavy combat making every situation a shaky joy. But, I hear you cry, how does that make it qualify as a top 10 horror game? Surely it's just an action experience in Resi clothing?
Tell that to anyone coming to the Ganado-infested village for the first time. The sheer stress of being rushed by the parasite-infested local population, headed up by sack-masked, chainsaw-wielding maniac ranks up there with gaming's most frightening moments. It's a feeling that returns constantly - whether it's one of the iconic boss fights, a battle across crumbling rooftops, or in the most expected location, Resident Evil 4's horror is in how it puts you on the backfoot and asks you to fight your way out.
Building on the themes of memory loss, pursuing monsters, and otherworldly magic, Amnesia: Rebirth builds on the previous games in the series to deliver a tense, playable slice of horror fiction. There's almost a literary feel to the game as you explore the darkness as Tasi, a French explorer lost in the desert. Familiar mechanics like failing sanity, eroded by the dark or looking at monsters, returns but this time contained within a much more coherent and enticing story. There are some great puzzles, horrible monsters but it's that narrative that binds it all together. Tasi goes on a journey and there's a strong draw to following her to see where it all goes and what it means. Whether you're a fan of the Amnesia franchise or not there's a real page-turning, 'must-see what happens' feel to the adventure. The monster encounters can be horrific and stressful but it's the space between where the story expands, and twists and turns that really sells it.