What are the best horror games on PC? Horror games tend to turn traditional action concepts on their heads and force you to run and hide from your enemies. Scary games leave you feeling vulnerable rather than empowered, and more than most, they are the gaming experiences that haunt you long after you play.
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Remember, as Roosevelt once said, "we have nothing to fear but that bit in FEAR where you're going up a ladder and Alma suddenly pops out and you are all like argh!" Anyway, here are the best horror games:
The best horror games keep you up at night. By that metric, The Evil Within 2 screams itself to the top. You will certainly struggle to get to sleep after you have seen a pile of severed bodies skitter across the floor and assemble themselves into the form of a pale, fleshy mass of limbs with several faces - all of them laughing - and a buzzsaw in place of a right arm.
The Evil Within 2 is packed with skin-crawling set-pieces like this, each one as inventive as the last. But Tango Gameworks’ impeccable sequel is much more than a list of the best moments in horror games. Slaying bosses and exploring spooky mansions are separated by open-world sections where you never know what is waiting for you: some much-needed shotgun shells or a devious spectre that will continue to haunt you for the remainder of your playthrough.
Underneath the whip-smart enemy and level design, The Evil Within 2 stays true to its survival horror roots, always pitting you against one more crazed enemy than you have bullets for.
Alien: Isolation is a horror game about being stuck on a space station with a (spoiler) big scary alien, which, thanks to some devious AI and level design, is more terrifying than it ever has any right to be. Developed by Creative Assembly, Alien: Isolation is a first-person hiding simulator in which you are stalked by a monster that cannot be beaten, shot, or bashed into submission.
The best horror games make you feel utterly powerless, and in Alien: Isolation it is your wits, your knack for crawling under desks and into lockers, and a variety of distractions that will save you from the hulking, Gigerian horror. A deadly creature who can appear at any moment, unscripted, and without warning: what more could you ask for from a horror game antagonist?
2017’s bold first-person reimagining of Resident Evil is unquestionably a contender for the ‘best Resident Evil game’ crown. Taking inspiration from the popularity of claustrophobic, uncomfortable western horror games like Amnesia and Outlast, Resident Evil 7 locks you in a filthy house and asks you to outsmart and survive the crazed Baker family.
Replacing legions of zombies with just three relentless antagonists is perhaps Capcom’s smartest decision in over a decade of their flagship horror series, the proof being in the nightmares you still have weeks after playing.
But not everything is new and different in Resi 7. It is actually a throwback to the series’ earliest days. The house is a huge puzzle, demanding you to seek out keys in order to unlock new zones. The bosses have the same smart design that we saw back in the Spencer Mansion. Capcom clearly realised that the action approach taken with Resi 5 and 6 needed reigning in, and Resident Evil 7’s return to classic survival horror is certainly a decision that’s paid off - it is one of the best horror games of all time, not just of the past few years.
Better still, there is more Resident 7 yet to come in the form of DLC.
Like your horror games unflinchingly violent and heart-grippingly tense? Monolith’s Condemned: Criminal Origins is an accomplished and effortless first-person frightener worth seeking out despite its decade-old graphics.
Here is a homeless-person-fighting simulator in which you play the role of nocturnal crime scene investigator and human punching bag Ethan Thomas. Most remarkable for its lack of guns, Condemned: Criminal Origins is proper flashlight horror, with terrifying, unwashed men leaping out at you from around corners and out of shadows. Coming out of a brawl alive means carefully timing your punches and patiently blocking your opponent’s attacks, and in encounters with multiple enemies your best option is often to run away.
Horror games could do with a little more Condemned: Criminal Origins in their bloodstream.
Sound does not get enough credit in horror games, and if you ever need a reminder of how powerful a simple scratching noise or a distant knock can be, seek out indie horror game Darkwood. This is a top-down horror roguelike about a mysterious bloke cooking mushrooms in a house right in the middle of a plague-infested forest.
When it is light outside you are free to roam the festering woods, fighting off rabid dogs, collecting resources, and trying to figure out who you are and how you ended up here. By night, however, your only option is to get back to your house and wait for the horrors of the night to pass you by. You can load up your generator with fuel to ward off enemies, barricade the windows to hide yourself, and set traps as a last line of defense - but they are coming for you, no matter how well you have prepared.
Darkwood’s ability to seep into your pores and haunt you without showing you as much as a limb is uncanny. Rustling sounds, inhuman shrieks, and creaky doors had us smashing the Esc key and walking away from the desktop time and time again. Don’t let the top-down perspective fool you, this is one of the best horror games out there.
If prices scare you, developers Acid Wizard have intentionally released Darkwood for free on Pirate Bay.
System Shock 2 kicked a particular flavour of first-person survival horror games into gear. It boasts an open-ended structure, with an endless maze of decks and quarters that promote exploration and discovery. It is a lot like being stuck in a haunted John Lewis.
The faster-than-light Von Braun is a persistent world that appears to exist and unfold even while your back is turned - building a heightened sense of place aboard the scarcely populated starship.
But it is corrupted artificial intelligence SHODAN who cements System Shock 2’s position as one of the greatest horror games to have ever graced our fair platform. Right up there with HAL 9000 in the soothingly voiced yet subtly evil computer stakes, she torments and tricks you endlessly, transforming an already terrifying survival RPG into an isolationist horror classic.
Nightmares aren’t much like horror games; they don’t tend to have rules that make sense. But Amnesia: The Dark Descent is genuinely nightmarish. This is a horror game in which monsters can get at you no matter what, in which sneaking and hiding from these creatures is your only means of self-defence, and in which simply looking at the monsters can drive you insane.
You almost literally curl up into a ball and shut your eyes when Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s monsters are in the room, using audio cues to guess when they have left. Few horror games are as unnerving as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which sticks by the golden rule of horror: fear of the unknown is the most powerful fear of all.
There is a sequel, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, which is just as psychologically arresting. But we wouldn’t recommend mainlining them one after the other - just like Amnesia’s main character, you need to manage your sanity.
Employing the ‘found footage’ style of contemporary horror cinema, Outlast is a first-person exploration game set inside an abandoned psychiatric hospital. Like all abandoned psychiatric hospitals in horror games, this one is populated by a cast of deranged patients and cruel staff, whom you must avoid in order to survive with all of your guts still inside your body. These tropes might be well and truly covered in cinema, but horror games can make the most out of these clichés, and Outlast is the proof.
In order to find your way around Outlast’s dark corridors you must cautiously peer through your camcorder’s green-tinged infrared mode. This gives Outlast a distinctly eerie visual identity, while leaving you feeling vulnerable to baddies creeping up behind you. Your camera’s batteries only last a few minutes, so it is a small mercy that the hospital you are exploring is full of batteries that fit the exact make and model of your camera. Phew.
Like the horror game adaptation of Event Horizon that never was, Dead Space is the story of a fun cabal of ne’er-do-well cultists who bring a deep space mining ship to its flickering, malfunctioning knees.
You are a mechanic armed with a laser cutter capable of strategically dismembering the legions of already malformed alien creatures who now infest the ship, but despite your powerful weaponry, you are never close to being at ease.
Like all the best horror games, Deep Space’s brand of horror is disturbing and often lashes out at your psyche, subtly mixing violence and paranoia to create an atmospheric and unrelentingly bleak miasma of despair. All aboard a classic haunted house spaceship with dark corridors and slightly too many corners for spooky things to hide behind.
While it took some time to become halfway playable on PC, Resident Evil 4 marks the peak of the seminal zombie survival horror game series - you know, before it went first-person. Capcom’s classic falls into the juicy sweet spot between the earlier games’ slower paced, lo-fi zombie shooting and the fully 3D, hyperactive action sequences we have had since.
The best horror games thrive off tension, so it is just as well that you play Leon Kennedy, a man labouring under an affliction that means he can only turn around very, very slowly. Leon must shoot the heads off apparently zombified enemies, dodge chainsaw-wielding madmen, and hammer buttons in surprisingly frequent QTE sequences. But it is the oppressive, eerie atmosphere of the nameless rural village you trudge through that cements the fourth entry as one of the best Resident Evil games, and indeed one of the best horror games of all time.
Resident Evil 4 is designer Shinji Mikami at both his best and his strangest.
Doom 3 is almost as old to us now as the original Doom was when Doom 3 came out, but as is the case for all of the best horror games, all that matters is how scary it is, and Doom 3 is still scary as balls.
As traditional a shooter as they come, the focus here is on a rapidly escalating armoury of weapons with which to slaughter an army of hell demons, upside-down baby-face spiders, and weird alien-bears. The id Tech 4 engine was a marvel of its era, bringing an unfathomable level of detail to what had previously been an array of flat brown sprites.
More than a decade on, the precise timing of Doom 3’s jump-scares and pop-up monsters still feels borderline cruel - and its selection of nightmarish enemies perfect horror games fodder.
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