Feature

Fright Factor: Rounding Up Today's Best Horror Games

by Elise Favis on Oct 31, 2017 at 04:05 PM

A modified version of this feature originally appeared in issue #294 of Game Informer magazine.

Halloween is here, which means now is the perfect time to brush up on some horror. Luckily, the past decade delivered a surge of quality spooky games on modern consoles. The genre has gone through ups and downs, but it’s also had its share of novelties. We’ve seen a swelling of combat-free first-person horror experiences, psychological terrors that tackle existential themes, and multiplayer horror influenced by slasher films.

Horror manifests itself in video games in several ways, like limiting players with scarce resources, or frightening them with jump scares. With so many titles to choose from, it can be difficult to know which are worth checking out, so we’ve made a list of recent scary games you won’t regret playing. This roundup will aid you in finding the right game for the perfect occasion, whether you’re looking for a good scare, a thrill ride, or an ominous storyline.

Note: This list pertains exclusively to horror games that are compatible with current generation consoles such as newer titles, HD collections, and remasters.

Jump Scares

Jump scares – despite their overuse – can be incredibly effective in making you leap out of your seat. It’s one of the oldest horror tropes around, seen in several popular horror game franchises from Resident Evil to Silent Hill. Here are some recent games that use them effectively. 

Observer
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Taking place in a rundown apartment complex overrun with both monsters and psychological terrors, Observer tasks you with finding your missing son and unraveling a corporate conspiracy. Despite its strong leanings toward science fiction, Observer is nonetheless a horrific experience filled with effective jump scares. You play as a specialized police officer with cybernetic augmentations who enters the minds of others to recreate crime scenes. It’s a clever take on cyberpunk, where you directly explore the horrors of the mind and take on the traumas of others in trippy hallucinations.

Outlast 2
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Set in rural Arizona, Red Barrels’ Outlast 2 puts you in the shoes of a journalist looking for his wife who was kidnapped by a vicious cult. A majority of the game unfolds in the dark, as you look through your night vision camera to see. You roam through one isolated town to the next, finding plenty of supernatural forces that sneak behind you at a moment’s notice or machete-wielding cultists that pop around corners. Outlast 2 offers one terror after the next, making it an intense experience.

Resident Evil 7
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

As one of the most revered and longstanding horror game franchises, Resident Evil’s newest entry was met with big expectations. While continuing many series traditions, it successfully sets itself apart with a first-person perspective, a Southern setting, and the ability to play in VR. Resident Evil 7 excels in its brooding atmosphere, tense boss fights, and skin-crawling jump scares such as a chainsaw-wielding enemy appearing without warning, or hundreds of tiny spiders falling onto your arms.

Slasher Showdowns

One of the most memorable scenes from slasher films are when the enemy is on the hunt for a helpless victim. Your heartbeat quickens and you hold your breath as you watch. Certain games bring this horror to life, by pitting you against other friends in multiplayer matches as you take turns being the hunter and the hunted. Multiplayer horror is scarce, but when done right, it can be a delightfully terrifying experience.

Dead By Daylight
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Behaviour Interactive’s Dead By Daylight is an asymmetrical multiplayer game that has one player as the killer and four others who attempt to stay alive. The victims search around the map for generators to power the exits. If they manage to power them all up, they can escape – unless the killer stops them. The disfigured murderer stalking the victims can set bear traps and even become invisible, making them incredibly powerful. Dead By Daylight is largely a game of quick thinking to outsmart your deadly opponent.

Friday the 13th
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Despite a disastrous launch that left the game nearly unplayable, IllFonic’s Friday the 13th nonetheless had a lot of hype leading to its release and has been immensely popular since. Although it still has a host of issues, from bugs to matchmaking, the concept is a winning one. Set in the iconic Camp Crystal Lake from the films, each match has one player as the hockey mask-wearing serial killer Jason, and seven others struggling for survival as camp counsellors. These matches are frighteningly tense as Jason brutally murders whoever he can, and getaway options for counsellors are randomly generated.

Story-driven Spooks

Horror is a polarizing genre when it comes to storytelling, and finding a well-told narrative can be tough. With studios like Giant Sparrow and Supermassive crafting fascinating worlds and characters, however, they manage to show us that scary stories can still be engaging. If you’re looking for a choice-driven or movie-like experience that keeps you on the edge of your seat, these titles are worth your time. 

Until Dawn
Platform: PlayStation 4

Taking heavy influence from the ‘80s slasher film genre, Until Dawn is about a group of teens who face unimaginable terrors while staying at a cabin in the woods. As the kids get split up and killed off, you get to play as each teen in separate sequences, which gives off an interactive horror movie vibe. Your story unfolds uniquely depending on your choices, and certain decisions have a butterfly effect, creating unexpected consequences down the line. Who lives and dies depends on you, making this a thrilling ride best played with a group of friends.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC

This adventure game from developer The Astronauts has you explore the rural countryside to unravel a mystery about a young boy, Ethan, who unleashed a supernatural monster from another dimension. Playing as a paranormal investigator, you spend time searching different areas for clues and notes that help you piece together the story of what happened to Ethan. Although slow-paced, the narrative is compelling enough to keep you hooked as you uncover the truth.

What Remains of Edith Finch
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

One of the best adventure games of the year thus far, Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch tells a morbid, tragic, and at times heartwarming story about a family plagued by a curse. Playing as Edith, the last remaining Finch, you return home to discover what happened to your ancestors who faced untimely deaths. With its intricate attention to detail, vignette storytelling, and characters who feel alive despite their passing, What Remains of Edith Finch is a haunting tale that will stick with you long after it’s over.

Continue reading on the next page to learn about games with psychological horror and gore...

Psychological Horror

Some of the best scares aren’t the flashy effects or unexpected jump scares, but instead the terrors of the mind. Psychological horror can shock you on a deeper level with clever twists, by tackling existentialism, or by making you believe in something that isn’t actually there.

Amnesia: Dark Descent
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent revived the genre back when it released in 2010 and helped popularize first-person horror experiences. Amnesia tells the story of a young man waking up in a decrepit castle with no memory. Piecing together the past is part of what makes it so compelling, as you roam through the ominous environment with only a lantern to light the way. Unfortunately for you, a monstrous presence is also stalking you closely. Amnesia is relentlessly terrifying when your sanity meter drops too low, and its captivating storyline will continue to pull you back in.

Darkest Dungeon
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC, Vita, iOS, Android

This unforgiving, turn-based roguelike from Red Hook Studios has you dungeon-crawl through claustrophobic hallways to face unimaginable monsters. Similar to Eternal Darkness, Darkest Dungeon has its own take on the sanity meter, where party members receive different afflictions when accumulating stress. As they face horrors, each character responds differently: some may immediately panic, and others may find the resolve to push through and be victorious. Characters can even develop long-term traumas that affect the party beyond the battle. It’s a novel and fascinating mechanic that brings not just a sense of realism, but also a new layer of fear.

Soma
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC

Five years after Frictional Games revived the horror genre with Amnesia, it released the thought- provoking Soma. Set in an underwater facility hundreds of years in the future, Soma doesn’t just make you face grisly terrors, but also has you contemplate intriguing themes such as existentialism, machine sentience, and morality. Featuring stellar voice acting and a gripping psychological tale, this eerie underwater adventure is a fantastic horror experience to play during Halloween.

The Evil Within (1 & 2)
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

With renowned Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami at the reins, The Evil Within has a solid foundation based on its director’s past works. It reimagines the core elements of what made Resident Evil 4 brilliant. By retaining the satisfying third-person gunplay, The Evil Within leaves players with limited resources to amp up anxiety, and hosts a fantastically haunting atmosphere. Even with its heavy influence from Resident Evil 4, The Evil Within still manages to set itself apart with its increased difficulty. The sequel, which released earlier this month, builds on what made the first so impactful, but heavily leans on its borrowed ideas without always twisting them into something new and refreshing. Nonetheless, this series makes you face one fright after the next with few breathers in-between, and effectively messes with your head by using psychological terrors. These are harrowing but entertaining thrill rides you don’t want to miss.

Hide and Seek

Whether you’re the stalker or the victim, a game of cat-and-mouse can be riveting – and deadly if you’re not careful. It’s a concept we see in numerous horror games, where you are keenly and nervously aware that you’re being pursued.

Alien: Isolation
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

This entry in the Alien series, developed by Creative Assembly, takes a different approach. Rather than just shooting and killing enemies, a lot of your time is spent avoiding enemies in a game of hide-and-seek. Playing as Amanda Ripley, who is in search of her mother, you explore a claustrophobic space station while being stalked by an intimidating predator. While the story falls flat, the scares and terrors found on this station make up for it, by creating an immense amount of apprehension.

Perception
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Created by Irrational Games veterans, Perception is a horror game told from the perspective of a blind young woman named Cassie, who explores a haunted home after it invaded her dreams. In search for answers, Cassie roams through the house while a supernatural presence stalks her closely. Perception uses a novel mechanic where you “see” through echolocation as Cassie taps her cane on the ground to view close-by surroundings. However, each time echolocation is used, it garners the attention of enemies, making this game of hide-and-seek a frightening one.

Slender: The Arrival
Platform:  PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS3, 360, Wii U, PC

Rising to fame through the web, the lanky boogeyman known as Slenderman quickly became an online folklore legend. Soon, his presence stretched into pop culture, particularly through video games. Slenderman: The Eight Pages, a short freeware PC game from 2012, was Slenderman’s first video game appearance. Later, developer Blue Isle Studio made a more ambitious title known as Slender: The Arrival. Gameplay is similar to the first entry, where your main objective is to stay alive as long as possible despite having the eerie Slenderman on your tail.

Blood and Gore

Whether you’re slicing enemies apart with a chainsaw or being doused in the blood of your foes, gore can bring an unsettling layer of fear and immersion to horror games. Other times, excessive bloodbaths can lean toward humor when they seem more ludicrous than realistic.

Dead Rising 4
Platform: Xbox One, PC

Capcom’s Dead Rising series has always excelled at balancing humor and horror. The latest entry, Dead Rising 4, is no exception – especially when it comes to gore. Playing as Frank West, you reduce zombies to piles of flesh in creative ways, such as shredding them apart with a motorcycle with chainsaws attached to it, or shooting a fireworks crossbow to make them explode into a colorful mess. Dead Rising 4 is outrageously gory, which makes for an entertaining experience not for the faint of heart.

Doom
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Id’s 2016 Doom reboot saw the rebirth of a beloved shooter franchise, and if you are looking for fantastic gore, this one offers that in abundance. Doom has you face off against unsettling demons who attack relentlessly. To survive these bloody battles, players need to be quick on their feet and tactically thinking on the fly, as they unleash excessively brutal attacks on their hideous enemies.

Let It Die
Platform: PlayStation 4

Let It Die’s visuals may look dated, but its bizarre style and over-the-top gore make up for it. This free-to-play game has you ascending an ever-changing, Babel-like structure called the Tower of Barbs. Each floor is more challenging than the next, and are randomly generated in a roguelike fashion. Let It Die is most memorable for its enticing absurdities, such as regaining health by eating giant frogs. The combat is fun and aggressive, with finishing moves being especially bloody.

On the next page, we take a look at ominous platformers and classic horror games you can play on modern devices...

Classic Frights

Brushing up on the classics can help you appreciate their novelty and how they influence today’s horror games, or it can satisfy a nostalgic itch. Here are some classic titles that are available on modern consoles.

The Last of Us Remastered
Platform: PlayStation 4

Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is one of last generation’s best titles, and for good reason. Set in post-apocalypse America, you play as Joel, who guides a young girl named Ellie through the zombie-infested country full of disease and death. What makes The Last of Us stand out is that instead of focusing on the end of civilization, it delves into relationships and overcoming trauma in the face of disaster. With a slew of different zombie mutations that seek you out differently, such as the aggressive clickers and the oversized bloaters, you rarely feel safe during your journey.

Resident Evil HD Remaster
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC

The first entry set the tone for one of the most renowned survival-horror video game franchises of all time, but playing the original 1996 version doesn’t exactly live up to today’s standards. Luckily, this HD remaster largely fixes those issues. With modernized controls and a new easy mode, this version makes it an accessible entry point to the Resident Evil series. As a piece of survival horror history that helped pave the way to popularizing the genre, Resident Evil is a must for horror game buffs with its ominous mansion setting and effective jump scares.

Creepy Platformers

Horror doesn’t always come in the form of first-person adventure games and survival horror. Recent platformers show that an ominous atmosphere and a minimalist story can make for terrifying experiences as well.

Inside
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

This follow-up to Playdead’s Limbo takes place in a grim-looking, Orwellian world. Inside is a puzzle/platformer, so you must use your wits to overcome its clever obstacles through each desolate environment. It has some of the best atmospherics we’ve experienced in a long time, with a brooding soundtrack and lighting that makes shadows come to life. The story is minimalistic but tackles interesting themes such as control and freedom in a totalitarian society.

Little Nightmares
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares has similar tones to Inside when it comes to minimalism and aesthetics, but its horrors are more up close and personal. You play as a young girl in a yellow rain coat who lives in an oversized world filled with unnerving sights. This puzzle/platformer makes you encounter grotesque horrors such as a large, demonic creature vehemently cooking up a stew, whom you sneak past by hiding behind giant furniture.

Killer Co-op

Unlike slasher showdowns, these games require cooperation between teammates to defeat waves of enemies. Sometimes, grabbing a few friends to help you kill relentless monsters is the best way to spend an evening.

Dying Light
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

This open-world zombie game from Techland combines parkour, combat, and an immersive story as you run across rooftops to escape the undead. While Dying Light is a thrilling single-player experience, it’s even more fun with friends. You can complete both campaign and side missions together, all the while attempting to survive the night. In Dying Light, strength is found in numbers, and some difficult areas can become more approachable or conquerable in a group.

Killing Floor 2
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Killing Floor 2 is all about defeating dozens of zombies alongside your friends. While the game can be played solo, it’s most engaging when you have a group of about six to help you take on the hordes of undead. If you last through a final wave, you then go face-to-face with a boss zombie – a giant beast that takes effort and patience to beat. Zombie waves are nearly relentless, with one wave after the next offering little respite in-between.

Left for Dead (1 & 2)
Platform: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC

If there’s one co-op zombie series to play with friends, it’s Valve’s Left 4 Dead franchise. This cooperative shooter went on to inspire many other zombie-filled co-op games, and it’s riveting gameplay will make you want to revisit the apocalypse over and over again. Just watch out for the witch.

For more, check out our recent Replay episode that looks at the awful but hilarious Ghost Vibration, a horror game from the PlayStation 2 era.