It’s almost Halloween, so naturally now is the perfect time to talk about horror games. I’ve never really been a huge fan of horror movies, but I do enjoy the occasional horror video game. With horror movies, I’ve always had a hard time getting invested, because no matter how creepy or scary a movie tries to be, the fact that it isn’t real always stops me from really getting the desired feeling. While games are obviously no more real than movies, in a game you are controlling the character, so instead of yelling at the actress to turn around, you are in full control. While this often means it is much more challenging to create a worthwhile horror experience in a game, when done well horror games can be much more engaging than horror movies. The following are my 10 favorite horror games. Remember, I welcome dissenting opinions, so if you’ve got other games in mind, go ahead and share them!
10. Deadly Premonition (Access Games, 2010)
Deadly Premonition, developed by Access Games, is without a doubt an objectively bad game. The visuals look like a PS2 game, the controls are awkward, the combat is tedious and boring, the UI (in particular the map) feels like it was designed by people who’ve never actually played a video game, the game has about 3 animations for each character that just cycle during cutscenes, and the soundtrack consists of like 5 songs that just play over and over throughout the course of the 20 hour game. Now, with all these issues, why, you might ask, would I place this game on a list of my favorite horror games? Well, the answer is simple, the story and characters are more than worth putting up with the game’s laundry list of problems, and if the game part had been better, this would have been an instant classic in the horror genre. The game is a murder mystery, and you play as eccentric FBI Agent Francis York Morgan. Agent Morgan (call him York, that’s what everyone calls him) is constantly talking to his imaginary friend Zach, and throughout the game you learn more about York, Zach, and the odd inhabitants of the mysterious Twin Peaks inspired town of Greenvale. The game is actually receiving a Director’s Cut version to be released on PS3 next year that looks to fix some of the issues with the gameplay and visuals, so if you’ve never played this one, I urge you to give the Director’s Cut a shot when it comes out.
9. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (Headfirst Productions, 2005)
Based loosely on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu is a first person shooter released last gen for the Xbox and PC. The game takes place in 1922 and is, like Deadly Premonition, also set in a creepy small town. Your character is sent to the town of Innsmouth to investigate a recent string of disappearances, but you quickly learn that there is much more going on than simple kidnappings. The story is interesting and keeps you guessing as the game progresses, but the real star of game is its commitment to immersion. The game never breaks first person and has no HUD of any kind, so all gameplay relevant information is relayed to the player contextually. If you’re low on health, you’ll hear your heart beating rapidly and the only way you know if you’re out of ammo is when you hear the dreaded click of your weapon when you attempt to fire. In my mind, horror is best when you are fully immersed in the experience, and the developers of Call of Cthulhu really understood that.
8. Dead Space (Visceral Games, 2008)
Combining science fiction, survival horror, and third person shooting; Dead Space took gaming by storm when it was released in 2008. Dead Space is a game that is easy to like, with a great atmosphere, intense combat, interesting lore, and a compelling story. Like Call of Cthulhu, Dead Space puts a large emphasis on immersion, and it really pays off. More so than the two previous games, Dead Space goes for pure scares in addition to the creepy atmosphere. While pure scares can be much harder to pull off than general creepiness, Dead Space does have some pretty good jump scares, even if it uses the jump scare tactic a little too often.
7. Alan Wake (Remedy, 2010)
Taking place in the fictional Pacific Northwest town of Bright Falls, Alan Wake was the first game from Remedy since Max Payne 2 back in 2003. As you may have guessed, Bright Falls is a small town with hidden creepiness just below the surface. Horror writer Alan Wake finds himself on vacation in Bright Falls with his wife Alice, and they quickly learn of the hidden darkness present in the town. Basically, any work of fiction written in the town comes true, so when Alan begins to find pages of a manuscript he doesn’t remember writing, the story starts to unfold in reality. Remedy really shows their aptitude for character work here and you’ll be fully invested by the end of the game. While the gameplay is certainly serviceable, the story is the real reason to play this game, and it is clear a lot of time and care was taken with the writing and presentation.
6. Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)
Silent Hill was the original “creepy small town” horror game, and Silent Hill 2 is without a doubt the apex of the series. As is standard with the series, the game uses the town of Silent Hill as a means to explore the psyche and past of the main character. Like many horror games, the act of playing the game is by no means the high point of the experience, but as was often the case in the early days of the survival horror genre, the shortcoming of the gameplay are often pointed to as a positive experience in regards to the feeling of tension. While I don’t personally subscribe to the belief that horror games need to have bad controls in order to be scary, the gameplay fits this game perfectly because it lies somewhere in between the slow, tank-like controls of early Resident Evil games and more fluidly controlling games like Dead Space, meaning the game maintains the feeling of tension without being unbearably frustrating like PS1 Resident Evil games could be.