It’s no secret that video games’ unique horror genre of survival-horror is a dying breed, but many games take elements of the genre and inject it into their gameplay, even if it’s more of a first-person shooter. Or RPG. Or an FPS-RPG in the case of the universally acclaimed masterpiece BioShock. A spirtual successor to the highly successfully (and spooky) System Shock games on the PC, BioShock provides one of the spookiest atmospheres in gaming history, as well as one of the most terrifying settings ever cooked up: Rapture. The psychotic denizens of this underwater society are psychotic, blood-crazed lunatics. They can be found talking sweetly to a magnum they have nestled in a bassinet like it’s their baby or running right at you with hooks. The psychological terror factor is where BioShock truly shines, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t jump out of my chair when I was innocently looting a desk…only to turn around and find a blood-drenched murderer staring me right in the face.
09. Dead Space
Sci-fi horror. In the film industry, blending the horror and science-fiction genres has led to truly spectacular results. From the classic Alien to John Carpenter’s ice-cold The Thing, spooky stuff and aliens go together like peanut butter and jelly and sex. It’s a wonderful combination for sure. The video game industry usually sticks to high-adrenaline action games when it comes to sci-fi themed space adventures, with a notable exception being the aforementioned System Shock. However, Electronic Arts and Visceral Games managed to produce what is quite possibly the Alien of video games–Dead Space. Dead Space took the innovations to the genre that Resident Evil 4 brought to the table and then added its own twists on everything. It introduced the world to absolutely horrifying beasts that can only be killed by removing each of their limbs one by one, as opposed to a simple headshot. Not only that, but Dead Space sticks to the conventions that makes survival-horror games work. There was one instance when I had only a sliver of health left and I had to run through three rooms crawling with Necromorphs in order to make it to safety, and the sound of them clawing at protagonist Isaac Clark’s neck and making horrible shrieking sounds haunts me to this day.
Let’s just hope that the upcoming Dead Space 3 ditches the action approach that the disappointing sequel brought to the table.
08. Deadly Premonition
Deadly Premonition is a different kind of scary than the other games on this list. While the other games use shock scares or creepy atmospheres, Deadly Premonition is just plain disturbing. Everything about this game is scary. The low budget that the game was made on lends itself to the insanity, resulting in one of the most surreal and out-right weirdest experience in video game history. Hell, the game is scarier when the upbeat Japanese tunes are playing as opposed to the foreboding, dark score that accompanies the darker sections of the title. Deadly Premonition got a bad rap back when it was released, but don’t let its low review scores keep you away; Deadly Premonition will stay with you long after you’ve beaten it.
The inclusion of the Fatal Frame series should come as no surprise to any horror enthusiasts out there. This series of games are freaking spooky. Banking on the success of like-minded horror properties such as The Ring and The Grudge, Fatal Frame uses creepy Japanese people for its most effective scares. Not only that, but the game makes the player feel virtually powerless. Luigi in Luigi’s Mansion was more properly equipped to battle spirits with his vaccuum; in Fatal Frame, all you get is a camera. With ghosts ready to pop out and make you jump out your seat around every corner, a haunting musical score, and one of the creepiest atmospheres ever, Fatal Frame is a must-play if you’re looking for a good scare. Unfortunately, Nintendo has yet to localize the latest entry in the series on the Wii. I don’t know what’s scarier, creepy Japanese girl ghosts or Nintendo of America’s refusal to localize good games.
Point and click adventure games are freaky to begin with. As a child, I was actually scared to play the point-and-click Candyland game that my aunt and uncle had installed on their computer. It was just…weird. There’s something about the stillness of the environment that when something moves, it’s startling. This is exactly what the wonderfully spooky and affordable Decay series embodies. Available on Xbox Live Arcade’s Indie section, this series of games are best played alone, with the lights off, and the volume turned up as loud as possible. Each subtle sound and image will feel you with dread. You won’t want to check the next hallway or room because of the possibility that a little ugly doll will be standing there staring up at you, with a horrifying smile and a screwdriver in its hand. Ugh, I hate dolls.
One of the modern icons of horror in the video game industry is the F.E.A.R. franchise. It’s yet another example of utilizing a creepy little girl for scares, and it’s just so damn effective here. F.E.A.R. begins and feels like any typical first-person shooter at first, but when the star of the show, Alma, shows up, things get real, real fast! At first her appearances are short and more confusing that scary, but as they grow in intensity and severity, Alma becomes one creepy chick. The sequels do little to capitalize on the scary aspect of the original, but damn it, they’re great games, too, and it’s a very fun little series to play…especially the original, which will scare your socks off.
04. Condemned: Criminal Origins
One of the most highly anticipated games of the Xbox 360 launch personally had me salivating from the mouth, and it’s one of the reasons why I chose to pick up an Xbox 360 before a PS3. Condemned: Criminal Origins is a first-person survival-horror game with the primary weapons being objects like bats and crowbars. It’s absolutely brutal. The graphics are gorgeous, with an absurd amount of detail, and the scares are even better. Featuring a fantastic crime story, Condemned follows the grim adventures of one Ethan Thomas as he hunts a serial killer that is killing other serial killers and stalking him in the process. It blends realism and supernatural themes to perfection. The sequel had its share of scares, but it ditched the creepy atmosphere for a more action-oriented vibe. Here’s hoping a future sequel can right the wrongs of the past and put this franchise that is absolutely dripping with potential back in line.
Oh, and ‘dem mannequins. Man, ‘dem mannequins.
03. Silent Hill
This one was a no-brainer. Back when Resident Evil was breaking trends and really pushing the genre forward, there were plenty of copycat games. None of them were as successful as Silent Hill, though, which has gone from a simple Resident Evil clone to really being a very respectable horror franchise of its own. In fact, it’s one of the greatest horror franchises in the history of video games. It uses creepy audio cues as well as a limiting field of vision to scare players. Couple that with disturbing characters, horrific scenes, mind-bending puzzles, and terrifying creatures like Pyramid Head, and the Silent Hill franchise truly stands out as one of the scariest series of games ever made.
I’ve found something scary about each game in the series, whether it was the original game on the PlayStation or the polarizing Silent Hill 4: The Room. They’re all worth your time and they’re all scary in their own special way. The series is still going strong, with yet another sequel looming on the horizon as well as an HD collection of the second and third games. Silent Hill rocks.
02. Resident Evil
The granddaddy of them all. Yes, Alone in the Dark technically started the whole survival-horror genre (well, actually, Sweet Home on the NES did, but let’s not get into that), but Resident Evil coined the term, and really made the genre relevant. The original trilogy of PlayStation games are three of the scariest games you will ever play. The first game features gorgeous pre-rendered backgrounds that also look really, really creepy, plus plenty of musical jumps and shock scares to the point that you might as well play the game standing up. The sequel took it all to the next level, and the third game added a hulking monstrosity that stalked you throughout the city, bursting through walls like a demonic version of the Kool-Aid Man, with a rocket launcher for an arm and a hunger for S.T.A.R.S.
It’s true that in recent installments, Resident Evil has strayed from the survival-horror path. While Zero, Code: Veronica, and Resident Evil 4 are all three very much survival-horror installments, Resident Evil 5 is a straight-up action game. While it’s a blast to play, it’s sad that the series has turned its back on the genre that made it so great to begin with. Hopefully Capcom brings the series back to its horror roots with the next game in the franchise.
01. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Without a doubt, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, a classic GameCube-exclusive, is the scariest game I have ever played. The reason it’s so damn scary is that it completely ****s with your mind. It breaks the fourth wall barrier in a way that a little more than unsettling, it’s creepy. By tricking players into thinking their save data was corrupted to having false endings and many other frightening imagery, Eternal Darkness is the epitome of what a horror game should be. It’s one of the most original horror games ever made, and it’s a shame we still haven’t seen a worthy successor to what is easily one of the most memorable and horrifying games ever made. Eternal Darkness tops this list for good reason. This game will haunt your dreams.
There you have it, folks!
This top ten list describes the Top 10 Scariest Games in the history of this industry (so far)…at least, in my humble (aka “undoubtedly correct”) opinion. What are your horror favorites? Sound off in the comments section below!