Worst To Best: Horror in Video Games

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So horror games are a thing, something that we usually talk about at great lengths come October when the end of the month turns spooky and we celebrate the darkness known as Halloween... Or go door to door against common sense and ask strangers for candy. As gamers, this is the time when we hope that the developers and publishers give us something new and scary to play either on our consoles, expensive PC rigs, or as has become common these days: VR headsets.

Personally I think the new wave of Virtual Reality that is being brought into our homes nowadays is pretty cheap. It's easy to make someone frightened when you have full control over their audio and visual senses like VR does. To hide something shocking right next to a player without anything else happening is cheap and lazy. Real horror comes from good storytelling, engaging characters and working with visual and sounds together to create moments that may or may not become real. So don't expect VR games, and that includes Resident Evil VII, to be anywhere on my list this time around.

One thing you won't find on this list is stupid ideas like "Counter-Strike is a horror experience" which some other sites I won't mention did recently in a list they made because they were bored and needed something to drive clicks to the site. So sit back, grab your most secure blanket, cuddle your teddy bear, and beware of that shadow in the corner as I present a Top 13 Horror Video Games list.


13. Five Nights at Freddy's Series

I'm sure there would be a riot if I didn't at least give this game a mention. While Five Nights at Freddy's is one of the best horror experiences out there in the first person realm, it's also a great example of a small development studio with a great idea becoming very successful... Thanks to big YouTube personalities like PewDiePie and Markiplier giving them a go and having some of the best fright based videos out on the internet today.

Five Nights at Freddy's is everything that you would want out of a horror video game, it's atmospheric, has a bunch of great characters in the animatronics, cool graphics, amazing surround sound, and a story that has evolved to get even more frightening as the games went along. Sure, at the same time Five Nights at Freddy's is nothing more than a jumpscare simulator, but it's become so much more over time. The game's success cannot be denied since it's now on everything from PC, to VR, to figures, Funko Pops, and soon to be a movie or series of movies from horror movie development studio Blumhouse (which has done some of the best horror films in the last decade); Five Nights at Freddy's is an awesome game but a bit too late in my personal life to make a real scary connection to.

12. Alien Isolation

Alien games have to be scary by default. The classic Sci-Fi saga deserves to be given the scary treatment; and if there was any part of the series that requires that treatment more than others it's the return to the location where it all started. With the plot revolving around a found recording of series protagonist Ellen Ripley (aka the original Queen of kick-ass) from the Nostromo, the ship from the original movie, we have Ellen's daughter on a salvage ship looking for the recording to have some sort of closure with her dead mother. Of course, none of this goes to plan thanks to an Alien on board the salvage ship, leaving Amanda Ripley having to not only survive against one of the greatest predators in the universe, but also malfunctioning androids and some back-stabbing businessmen.

The reason this is a great game is that it captures the atmosphere from the original Alien movie and makes it work in an interactive medium like a video game. Alien AI is one of the most advanced in gaming, learning more about how you play while you try to avoid it, making you wonder who is hunting who at which times. Some have complained that the AI is almost too good, appearing at moments that just do not make sense at all, but that's just showing how good AI can be given the right chance to shine. The only issue that is with Alien Isolation is that it still relies on jump scare moments too often to get the scares going, but at the same time there is something to be said about small things like having a handheld motion detector as your only clue as to where the Alien is and when it might come to eat your face; something that has been done well since Alien Trilogy in 1996.

11. Left 4 Dead / Left for Dead 2

Ok, this is a list about horror and Left 4 Dead is a bit of an action game series than something that is about horror. However, this is one of the of the rare exceptions to the rule. Nothing is more scary than being stuck in the middle of a zombie apocalypse now is it? Left 4 Dead does exactly that, drops you right in the middle of a zombie apocalypse with a couple of other people and the only objective is not to end up some zombie's next meal. You might have some sure-fire weapons to make sure you don't end up joining the hoards of the undead, but when you're facing down a couple of Tanks (Think if DC's Bane became a zombie) with about 50 zombies behind them and you'll find those weapons are practically worthless. The reason Left 4 Dead makes the list is that the game revolves around old school dread and survival. It's not scary all the time, but there are moments when you genuinely worry about your life, which is one of the points of true fear.

10. Friday the 13th: The Game

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In this new era of what I'm calling "Chase'em Ups" (Games where you play as some character chasing down another or a group of characters), I know that Dead by Daylight is the current champion, but something has to be said about Friday the 13th. If it wasn't for legal issues stemming from a movie studio and the writer of the series over the ownership rights, then it would mean that Friday the 13th: The Game would be getting updates and possibly be the game in the chase'em up genre. The game in its current state is bare-bones, using a few of the movie Jasons and a couple of original models, along with a dozen or so of the campers from the movies, and about 5 different locations based on iconic locations too. There were plans on more new models of Jason, campers, and locations from other movies as well as "what if" ideas and themes with a possibility to crossover with other horror movie icons like Freddy Kruger, Michael Myers, Pinhead, and even Ash Williams. But again, legal issues screwed things up and Dead by Daylight swooped in and scooped up enough big names to get themselves known enough to corner the market.

Outside of the legal history, Friday the 13th was a lot better than Dead by Daylight simply because the killer was better, to begin with. Jason and his mystical abilities are the perfect fit for this type of game, being able to do things like move around the map unseen, breakthrough doors, and generally, be unstoppable. Not to mention that the screen would do things like flicker and have VHS style "snow" effects when Jason was near, complete with the iconic theme music and sound effects that the character was known for back in the day. Friday the 13th was set up to be one of the better games in this emerging genre, which is why I'm giving it a pot over the much more popular and played Dead by Daylight.

09. Until Dawn

Until Dawn was a very interesting title. It's a very straight forward title where you are playing a bunch of cutscenes with the occasional quick-time event sequence which allows characters to live or die. But that's what made Until Dawn a good game. The story was well written, you cared about the characters and their fate, and since you were in control; you would work harder to make sure they stay alive even though there is a killer out there and some weird supernatural thing chasing everyone down. Not to mention the characters themselves who seem to find any way to stumble, fall or mess up so you're made to save them over and over again. The best thing is the opposite of what you're trying to do in Until Dawn, and that's the blood and gore that comes around via the very well through out by a sick mind death scenes. These moments make sure you come back and play the game over again many times just to see everything at least once.

08. Parasite Eve

Parasite Eve is a weird experiment of a video game. It takes the story which is a mix of horror and sci-fi and wraps it up with an RPG shell. No other company at the time ever thought about doing a game like this with the RPG mechanics. Parasite Eve shouldn't have worked from a video game standpoint, but it did. The story of Eve and her connection to events happening in New York (People and animals suddenly transforming into gross looking monsters) really pulls you in overtime and leaves enough mystery at all times that it makes you want to play that next section. Combat wise, the RPG elements of the ATB (Active Time Battle) system more well known for in the Final Fantasy franchise really makes you think and make everything you do count, leading to a new type of tension not felt in other games. Parasite Eve is a game series that deserves to be expanded upon even though it has long been expanded.

07. Prey

You see that thing over there? Or the mug on your desk? Are you really sure that it's real and not some alien goo that is ready to jump right out and kill you? That paranoia is the fear that playing Prey created. Having an enemy that could be anything around you at any time, waiting to jump out and kill you; it's something that not many other video games have been able to replicate. Sure you do get some interesting weapons to combat the alien goo with, and eventually some cool alien powers by injecting them into your eye; but at the end of the day you need to make sure you are on your toes at all times and rust nothing. Prey is a good shooter, but the idea behind why you need to be paranoid is probably one of the best out of the modern horror genre.

06. F.E.A.R. Series

When you think military first-person shooters, you rarely think there could be horror elements thrown into it. Sure we do have Zombie Mode for Call of Duty, but that's just a hoard mode with a theme. But first-person shooters and horror seem like they should be a good mix since you're directly looking at the horror when it happens instead of the surroundings. FEAR came into the picture with something different, a true supernatural horror story in the first-person shooter gameplay, with a creepy little girl who would show up seemingly at random and throw all sorts of weird shit at you from changing the way the room looked, suddenly jumping at you from behind, or moving things around just to mess with your day. FEAR also did really well as it moved forward, with the story getting more horror-based and even more messed up as they progressed, leading to a trilogy of games that still hold up to this day.

05. Dino Crisis

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Here we go, I'm going to praise Dino Crisis once again. It's almost every list that I find a way to bring this game up. Dino Crisis deserves to be on this list simply because of how different it was at the time. Taking the Resident Evil engine and applying it to a sci-fi story about dinosaurs being brought back to life and enhabiting an island, killing anyone who sets foot on land, Dino Crisis really made sure that you were wandering around with your head on a swivel just in case a raptor was coming for you or worse, that mother fucking T-Rex. Sure it sounds like Jurassic Park with more night scenes that it really needed, but the gameplay and scene direction are so good that it still gives scares to this day. However, it would be higher if it got the remake treatment that Resident Evil is currently enjoying.

04. Dead Space Series

In space, no one can hear you scream. This is a classic line for the Alien franchise, something that rated low on this list. So instead I used it for something that was really scary: Dead Space. The journey of Issac through a few space stations filled with all sorts of fucked up mutations is a game that is going to keep you on your toes at all times. These creatures can come out of nowhere and are pretty hard to kill. In order to destroy these things, you would need to dismember them to the point where they can't move and then kill the head. Anything else would result in them either regrowing the limbs or having them jump at you at the moment you think they are dead and remove your head from your body. It's these creatures plus the loneliness of space that are used to create a sensation of isolation and fear that you are never going to see the end of this dead space... in space. The atmosphere is the main draw of the fear in Dead Space, and not many other games can manage to capture that atmosphere as good as Dead Space did.

03. The Evil Within / The Evil Within 2

Creepy atmosphere, creatures that would make HR Geiger blush, sound design that inspires fear, and a story that makes no real sense but at the same time keeps you wanting to see what's next... or at least till you get so scared that you're hiding behind the couch. The Evil Within is what happens when Shinji Mikami has the handcuffs taken off. The mind behind the original Resident Evil really let loose when he was working on The Evil Within. I swear this is a game that I'm still taking my time playing through because I get so spooked by what I see on screen, and still I don't, that I have to keep the lights on in the house when I'm done. I can't really explain the mind fuckery that is The Evil Within, it's that surreal. I suggest that you go out and pick them up since they are both cheap at this stage.

02. Resident Evil Remakes

Yep, you knew this was coming. When talking about horror games you really have to give it up to the OG of survival horror. Without Resident Evil you wouldn't really have much of a list. The scary Spencer mansion in the middle of the Arkley Mountains is one of those locations that everyone knows. You know the moment the opening movie is done and that first loading door closes, you are in for a really long time avoiding zombies, Cerberus dogs, hunters, giant snakes, giant spiders, and more. Now while Resident Evil started this trend and grew the horror genre into popularity, it wasn't till the first remake on the Gamecube that Resident Evil moved from being scary and cheesy to just being plain scary. The remake spawned a new series in the games where things were toned up with more gore, more horror, more scares, and more things that are going to chase you down and truly making sure that you are going to check under the bed at night just in case.

01. Silent Hill: 1 through 4

Ah Konami, why did you have to go and fuck everything up? You had a huge franchise in Silent Hill, with a brand new edition featuring Guillermo del Toro, Norman Reedus, and Hideo Kojima ready to come out and make you millions and what do you do? Cancel all game contracts and turn your attention to pachinko machines. Now, all we are left with are memories of the games you used to publish, getting harder and harder to find because you're never going to put out remasters, remakes, or collections. You took one of the scariest games in history and ruined them. Silent Hill is a series all about psychological horror, meaning that it doesn't rely on the old jump scare mentality that came with other games. Silent Hill made you look into your soul and think about if what you are doing is the right thing, is that thing you are killing really a monster or just a person needing help, is that something in the darkness waiting to hurt you or hug you? You really needed to think about the story as time goes on because your actions dictate the way things are going to play out. Do you escape Silent Hill and return to a normal life? Or are you forever swallowed in its fog-filled world? Silent Hill makes sure you never can be sure of anything, and that is the best type of horror to experience in video games.

About The Author

Karl Smart
Senior Editor / Reviewer

The main "Australian arm" of The Outerhaven. Karl primarily spends time playing and reviewing video games while taking time to occasionally review the latest movie or piece of gaming technology.