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The Top 25 Horror Games Of All Time

by Andrew Reiner on Oct 31, 2015 at 02:00 PM

[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. Blood

Platform: PC
Publisher: GT Interactive
Developer: Monolith Productions
Release: 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. Splatterhouse

Platform: Arcade
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Namco
Release: 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 Damned

Platform: PlayStation 3 • Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Release: 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 Scream

Platform: PC
Publisher: Cyberdreams
Developer: The Dreamers Guild
Release: 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. DayZ

Platform: PC
Publisher: Bohemia Interactive
Developer: Dean Hall
Release: 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.

20. Slender

Platform: PC • Mac
Publisher: Parsec Productions
Developer: Parsec Productions
Release: 2012

This free-to-download game came out of nowhere to scare the crap out of gamers in 2012. Slender forgoes ornamentation and deep narrative in favor of a slimmed-down frightfest that challenges gamers to collect eight pages of paper strewn around a forest in the middle of the night while evading the omnipresent horror of the Slender Man. Armed with only a flashlight with horrible battery life, this task isn’t easy. When the static appears across your screen, that’s a good indicator your life expectancy just took a nosedive.

19. Dead Rising

Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release: 2006

You like zombies? Have a whole mall full of ‘em! That’s what Capcom shouted at horror fans with Dead Rising, its campy take on the undead. Unlike the company’s own too-cool-for-school Resident Evil series, which maintains a deadly serious façade even during battles with plants and silly giant robots, Keiji Inafune’s take on zombies is gleefully self-aware. Photojournalist Frank West seems to be having as great a time as the player, cracking wise while snapping photos (and necks). In addition to being a blast, Dead Rising was a technical marvel for its day, showing off the power of the Xbox 360 by rendering hundreds of undead in detailed mall environments.

18. Sanitarium

Platform: PC
Publisher: ASC Games
Developer: DreamForge Intertainment
Release: 1998

Don’t you hate it when you wake up in a strange place with no idea what happened? This scenario is doubly bad for Max, who finds himself confined in a mental institution with no idea of who he is or why he’s there. In this isometric adventure game you explore his unsettling dreamscapes populated with disfigured children, carnival horrors, and tormented ghosts to piece together the sequence of events that led to his commitment.

17. Alan Wake

Platform: Xbox 360 • PC
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Release: 2010

Following in the storytelling tradition of Stephen King, Alan Wake offers a mix of frightening visuals, psychological tricks, and unusual personalities, all of which add up to one of the most eerie and captivating games on Xbox 360. The story follows the titular novelist as he investigates a small town in search of his missing wife. Like a thoughtfully paced thriller TV series, the game is split up into distinct episodes that each end with cliffhangers. Beyond taut storytelling, Alan Wake’s exploration of light and shadow is both visually arresting and terrifying, since light is often a limited resource. Even without constant jump scares, Alan Wake’s pervading sense of an unknowable evil is deeply memorable.

16. F.E.A.R.

Platform: PlayStation 3 • Xbox 360 • PC
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Developer: Monolith Productions
Release: 2005

Given the awe-inspiring arsenals players wield in first-person shooters, the genre doesn’t seem ripe for a horror experience. Monolith Productions proved that presupposition wrong with this creepy 2005 release. Heavily inspired by Japanese horror films like The Ring, F.E.A.R. features the most terrifying child to haunt video games, Alma. This apparition, born out of dastardly military experiments, can bend soldiers to her will and cause the protagonist Point Man to experience hallucinations, making her a formidable foe even for a Delta Force squad armed to the teeth with advanced weaponry and superhuman reflexes.

15. The Suffering

Platform: PlayStation 2 • Xbox • PC
Publisher: Midway

Developer: Surreal Software
Release: 2004

The Suffering is the rare horror game that combines psychological twists with gore-packed action. The night that a man named Torque is scheduled to be executead for the death of his family, an earthquake hits the isolated prison and unleashes a horde of gruesome demons, each of which personifies a different form of execution. Torque battles his way off the island while staring face to face with the horrors of institutionalization, channeling his own inner demons to transform into an equally horrifying monster.

14. Clock Tower

Platform: PlayStation
Publisher: ASCII Entertainment

Developer: Human Entertainment
Release: 1997

The SNES version of Clock Tower never reached American shores, but ASCII introduced U.S. gamers to the terrifying Scissorman on PlayStation. The point-and-click survival horror game places you in terrifying situations with him in pursuit. The sound of his scissors viciously slicing the air alerted you that he is closing in, adding to the intensity. However, the real terror comes from having only your wits to survive. Running away and finding hiding places are your only defenses against him. Clock Tower has multiple endings and perspectives to experience, but it truly stands out for how helpless it makes you feel.

13. The Walking Dead

Platform: PlayStation 3 • Xbox 360 • PC • Vita • iOS
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games

Release: 2012

Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead has always been unapologetically brutal and violent. Telltale Games took things to a new level when it made an adventure game set in the universe, showing gamers firsthand the true nightmares of a zombie apocalypse. Not knowing when a zombie attack would happen is one thing, but having the life of a charismatic child named Clementine in your hands is absolutely terrifying. You never know when someone in your fragile alliance will crack, who you can trust, or what dangers are ahead. Most importantly, the game lets you make choices, forcing you to face the consequences. With plenty of distressing situations, Telltale proves that horror can come in many different forms.

12. System Shock 2

Platform: PC • Mac
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Irrational Games / Looking Glass Studios
Release: 1999

The cold interior of a spaceship has become a tomb for many a player in System Shock 2, the precursor to Irrational Games’ BioShock. The immersive first-person shooter is hailed for combining elements of action and role-playing games, but it’s equally notable for its rich, atmospheric environment that ramps up tension and terror thanks to a rogue A.I. System Shock 2 paved the way for shooters being associated with much more than just blasting away with both barrels.

11. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

Platform: GameCube
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Silicon Knights
Release: 2002

The most mature-themed game Nintendo has ever published, Eternal Darkness takes players on a haunting journey through history to confront an ancient supernatural power. The Lovecraftian plot is filled with mystery, but was ultimately overshadowed by its infamous sanity meter. This devious design toyed with players’ minds in bold new ways. We recommend experiencing these fourth-wall breaking scares firsthand to truly appreciate this game’s legacy.

10. Condemned: Criminal Origins

Platform: Xbox 360 • PC
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Monolith Productions
Release: 2005

Upon its Release: in 2005, few games that had come before offered the immersive sense of disquiet and anxiety as the investigations of agent Ethan Thomas. Whether moving through dilapidated apartments and confronting its enraged and insane inhabitants, or entering an abandoned shopping complex to be stalked by mannequins, Condemned keeps players on their toes. Brutal first-person combat feels raw and dangerous, and players never know what to expect, right up to the surprising and abrupt conclusion.

9. Manhunt

Platform: PlayStation 2 • Xbox • PC
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Release: 2003

Horror games often revolve around the supernatural – the apparitions and grotesque monsters of legend. Rockstar North’s Manhunt is perhaps the most disturbing game on this list because the monster isn’t a zombie or some other fictional creature – it’s you. As convicted death-row killer James Earl Cash, the player must commit dozens of grisly murders in a real-life snuff film, spurred on by the voice of a mysterious man known as “The Director.” Though most of your victims are themselves sociopathic killers, Manhunt’s violence turns the mirror back on the player and video games’ fascination with violence. Perhaps true horror lurks in the hearts of men.

8. Left 4 Dead

Platform: Xbox 360 • PC
Publisher: Valve
Developer: Turtle Rock Studios / Certain Affinity/Valve
Release: 2007

Everybody loves a great zombie survival story, and Turtle Rock figured out how to distill the experience into a cooperative, episodic structure with enormous potential for emergent gameplay moments and replay. You and three friends are survivors of a plague of mutation and aggression, drawn together in the name of living just a few days longer. With guns in hand, each episode finds the survivors fighting back to back as they seek safety. An innovative A.I. system ensures that each playthrough results in new scares, as zombies attack from different locations. Whether it’s the tension of trying to pass by a witch without startling her into a terrifying rage, or screaming for help as a smoker drags you away from the group, Left 4 Dead keeps the whole group on the edge of their seats.

7. The Last of Us

Platform: PlayStation 4 • PlayStation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release: 2013

The Last of Us is primarily remembered for its emotional, complex storytelling – and rightly so. The relationship between protagonists Joel and Ellie is one of the best in the history of the art form. However, at its core, The Last of Us is a survival horror game – although one set in a more grimly realistic world than most. Enhanced by immersive sound design, we’ll never forget the chilling sensation of hiding in a dark, dank basement, our pulse racing as we hear the skin-crawling sounds of the mutated “clickers” shuffling toward us. The Last of Us isn’t only one of the past generation’s most affecting games; it is also one of the most horrifying.

6. Resident Evil 4

Platform: PlayStation 3 • Xbox 360 • Wii • PlayStation 2 • GameCube • PC • iOS
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release: 2005

The stiff tank controls of the original Resident Evil are still criticized to this day, but by contrast the over-the-shoulder gunplay of Resident Evil 4 redefined what a third-person shooter could be when it debuted on the GameCube. Series creator Shinji Mikami finally allowed players to dial in headshots on shambling ghouls with a huge, fully upgradeable arsenal. Leon S. Kennedy’s solo mission into an infected Spanish cult village changes up the formula, trading out jump scares for trigger-squeezing action. Backtracking and puzzle solving takes a backseat to harrowing battles against towering giants and chainsaw-wielding maniacs. Resident Evil 4’s influence infects game design to this day, but at its core it still gets pulses pounding.

5. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly

Platform: PlayStation 2 •Xbox
Publisher: Tecmo

Developer: Tecmo

Release: 2003

The Fatal Frame games are not for the faint of heart. In fact, after creating the first game, the developers feared that they had scared people so much they never played it to completion. For the second iteration, Tecmo focused more on the narrative, so people would be so engrossed they’d want to finish. They succeeded. In Crimson Butterfly, twin sisters are drawn to a village, soon becoming trapped inside with tortured souls. How the twins play into the larger plot is frightening, but Crimson Butterfly’s biggest achievement is how it forces you to look fear in the face.  With a camera as your weapon, you must stare at the spirits to ensure you hit the shutter at the right moment, constantly throwing yourself into danger.

4. Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Platform: PC
Publisher: Frictional Games
Developer: Frictional Games
Release: 2010

The indie scene became a bastion for horror during the lull of scary triple-A titles last generation. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is one of the main games to thank (or blame) for the resurgence in creepy, atmospheric games. Players awake in a castle in the 1800s, their memory wiped due to the titular malady. Amnesia begins a slow, steady burn toward the first frightening monster reveal – a tortured beast that cannot be killed directly. The focus on flight over fight only amplifies the omnipresent sense of dread. Not being able to battle the abominations stalking you might be infuriating in other games, but Frictional handles it with unsettling elegance.

3. Dead Space

Platform: PlayStation3 • Xbox 360 • PC
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Release: 2008

Movies like Alien and Event Horizon established just how scary outer space can be, and Dead Space followed suit with an interactive variation on the theme. Isaac Clarke is no space marine or superhero. Instead, he has to make do with his skills as a ship engineer with a simple cutting laser when the starship he boards turns out to be infested with reanimated horrors called necromorphs. Immaculate pacing and a sense that you’re never truly safe help Dead Space establish an atmosphere of dread. Make a mistake, and Isaac’s often gruesome death scenes are enough to fuel nightmares. Lonely, dark corridors and scary sound design carry players the rest of the way through this trip into terror, and make Dead Space the definitive outer space-horror experience.

2. Silent Hill 2

Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Release: 2001

Silent Hill set a new bar for horror when the first entry released in 1999, but the game that remains the most memorable and terrifying for the Game Informer staff is the second iteration. James Sunderland is lured to Silent Hill when he receives a letter from his deceased wife. The tension is suffocating as you explore the eerily silent, fog-filled town, which is so whisper quiet you can hear your own footsteps. Never knowing what’s around each corner is part of the suspense. Pyramid Head, the series’ iconic adversary, makes his series debut in Silent Hill 2, and he’s only a slice of how twisted things turn. However, the most compelling element of the game is how it explores Sunderland’s psyche, leading to one hell of a memorable finale.

1. Resident Evil

Platform: PlayStation
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release: 1996

Other horror games came before it, but the traumatic events of the original Resident Evil put the genre on the map for years to come. The brave S.T.A.R.S. team survivors are forced to scrounge for resources like ammo and health while battling or evading lethal monstrosities like zombies and weaponized, reptilian assassins. The 2004 GameCube edition refines the PlayStation original’s terrifying premise while enhancing the visuals and adding terrifying surprises like resurrected zombies that come back as fast and hard as something out of 28 Days Later. Unforgettable scares like bloodthirsty canines smashing through windows spawned a legion of masochistic fans and dozens of copycat developers. The franchise’s quality has fluctuated over the years, but its legacy lingers like a deep scar.