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[Today is Halloween, making it the perfect day to revisit our curated list of the top 25 horror games of all time. This feature originally appeared in Game Informer issue #258, penned by the Game Informer staff, and was published online on November 26, 2014.]
The drive to win and the tension of impending failure is enduring across all genres, but horror games push that formula further, punishing foolish mistakes with gruesome death sequences and fraying players’ nerves with unforgiving scares.
Iron-willed gamers have survived decades of horror games, from dread-inducing adventure games to gory shooters where you confront your fears while aiming down a shotgun barrel. The full catalog of horror games is staggering, but we’ve taken on the gut-wrenching task of refining this massive history to the top 25 in their class.
Similar to how certain things scare some people and don’t faze others, deciding what constitutes a horror game is subjective. These are the top 25 games that we consider brutally frightening, a blast to play, innovators in horror storytelling, or some mixture therein.
25. BloodPlatform PCPublisher GT InteractiveDeveloper Monolith ProductionsRelease 1997
Monolith Productions’ long lineage of superb horror titles (F.E.A.R., Condemned) begins with what might have been dismissively labeled a “Doom clone” in the ‘90s. Unlike id’s demon-blasting FPS phenomenon, Blood doubles down on carefully crafted settings and tongue-in-cheek nods to classic horror films. Caleb is a resurrected gunslinger who uses a pitchfork, hairspray/lighter flamethrower, and even a voodoo doll to take down enemies like zombies and Tommy Gun-wielding cultists. His adventure takes him to a twisted carnival where dismembered hands lunge at his neck while (somehow) screaming “I’ll swallow your soul” (Evil Dead 2), and another level takes place in a massive hotel’s snowy hedge maze, complete with a frozen Jack Nicholson lookalike (The Shining).
24. SplatterhousePlatform ArcadePublisher NamcoDeveloper NamcoRelease 1989
With its geysers of blood and over-the-top-of-the-top violence, Splatterhouse is pretty goofy by today’s standards. At the time of its release, however, Namco’s homage to slasher films was fairly controversial. The TurboGrafx-16 port tamed things down a bit for American audiences (overt references to religious iconography and mild profanity got the axe), but Rick’s rampage through West Mansion was still gory enough to make it unwelcome in many households. Sequels would add further carnage (and put the hockey-masked hero in a pair of jorts) but it’s tough to beat the original – even with a 2x4.
23. Shadows of the DamnedPlatform PlayStation 3 • Xbox 360Publisher Electronic ArtsDeveloper Grasshopper ManufactureRelease 2011
Heavily Inspired by campy horror like Evil Dead, Shadows of the Damned is as funny as it is full of horror tropes. A collaboration between Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami and Suda 51, the game plays like Resident Evil 4, which is always a favorable comparison. This bizarre adventure is full of gore and sexual innuendo. With a well-established demon world, charismatic characters, and an unsettling “What’s real and what isn’t?” tone, Shadows of the Damned sticks with you well after completion.
22. I Have No Mouth and I Must ScreamPlatform PCPublisher CyberdreamsDeveloper The Dreamers GuildRelease 1995
Harlan Ellison’s classic 1967 short story inspired this point-and-click adventure, which remains one of the most disturbing games created. You control the fates of five people, the only scraps of humanity left on Earth after a sadistic A.I. named AM has taken over. Each survivor has to endure their own hellish nightmare based on the whims of the machine. The game deals with heady subjects including suicide, rape, and genocide, pushing the limits of what’s often considered an escapist art form. As it stands, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream was an early beacon of mature storytelling for players who could stomach the content.
21. DayZPlatform PCPublisher Bohemia InteractiveDeveloper Dean HallRelease 2013
From its modest beginnings as an Arma 2 mod to its rise to becoming a monolithic multiplayer experience, one thing has never changed – DayZ carves a unique niche in the survival horror landscape. This unrelenting game throws dark nights, dangerous weather conditions, and surprise zombie assaults at players, but nothing is scarier than unknown encounters with your fellow men and women who are also trying to make do on scraps of food, limited ammunition, and shelter. Sony recently announced a PlayStation 4 port is coming in the near future, so console owners can finally see what the craze is about.
Up next: zombie apocalypses and insanity...
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