The Scariest Games of All Time
By Leslie Gornstein and Fox Van Allen on
Fatal Frame 2
Fact: The only thing scarier than a ghost story is a Japanese ghost story. And the only thing scarier than a Japanese ghost story is this Japanese ghost story. According to the game's director, some players were so scared of the first game in this series they couldn't bring themselves to finish it. Does that make the sequel, Fatal Frame 2, any less terrifying? No. No it does not.
Doki Doki Literature Club!
At first, Doki Doki Literature Club (Windows, MacOS via Steam) appears to be a dating simulator where you woo girls by writing them poems. But the fourth wall crumbles as you progress, turning Doki Doki into a psychological horror game with mysteriously deleted save files, glitchy visuals and grizzly suicides.
(Credit: Team Salvato)
Layers of Fear
In Layers of Fear, you assume the role of an insane painter who is obsessively trying to create a masterpiece. There are plenty of jump scares to be had in this puzzle-heavy game, but the real horror is in the backstory and the painter’s mad, distorted vision of the world.
Remothered: Tormented Fathers
Oft compared with the classic Clock Tower, Remothered: Tormented Fathers is a stealth horror game with an unsettling, psychological plot to unfurl. There are no handguns or explosive devices to be found here -- you’ll spend the game running and hiding from your relentless pursuers, all in a desperate bid to survive.
(Credit: Stormind Games)
Resident Evil 7
Sure, Resident Evil games are scary -- it’s what the series is all about. But experiencing it all in virtual reality (via the PSVR) takes the horror to the next level. The scare “feels more real and immediate when it occupies your entire field of view,” warns Gamespot’s own Scott Butterworth.
The game that launched a mega-franchise truly has it all: A cult, an adopted child that may or may not be evil, and plenty of demonic shenanigans. Also: This guy. (Photo: Konami)
Which is worse: Sitting on death row or being forced to star in underground snuff films? If you don't feel like finding out, this is not the title for you. (Photo: Rockstar Games)
Five Nights at Freddy's
Such a seemingly friendly title. Such a seemingly harmless animatronic bear. Such a complete and total point-and-click nightmare. You'll never take a night security job after surviving this title, which pits you against robotic animals bent on tearing you apart in the dark. And oh: You also have no way of escaping the building. Have fun! (Photo: Scott Cawthon)
This isn't even the most disturbing frame from a nightmare cleverly disguised as, technically, a game demo. Cryptic messages over a radio; bloody paper bags that move on their own; disembodied human eyeballs; and a house with no means of a escape--director Hideo Kojima knows exactly how to freak players out. Too bad the game that P.T. was teasing never came to pass. (Photo: Konami)
Condemned: Criminal Origins
Why face off against just one serial killer when you can juggle several of them... plus an evil entity that may be driving them all? A title that follows the classic philosophy that more is more, Condemned delivers extra chills, thanks to its reliance on close combat over shooting. (Photo: Warner Bros. Interactive)
There's an argument to be made that the fourth installment in this series is the most disturbing, and we're down with that. But we really have to give props to the game that started it all. The idea is simple--take down a mansion infested with zombies--but a disturbing plot and devious traps elevate the story to that of a classic. (Photo: Capcom)
Siren: Blood Curse
A so-called "re-imagining" of the first installment in the Siren series, this sequel uses a popular Japanese horror trope--the village of no escape--to extremely creepy effect. If you think a Shibito is just a cute breed of Japanese dog or something, you are in for a nasty, nasty surprise. (Photo: Sony Computer Entertainment)
Set in the incredibly terrifying Alien universe, this game, in a way, picks up where the original film leaves off. Much like the film that inspired it, this title is a fine reminder that, in space, no one can hear you scream. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)
There's always that one guy who needs, just needs, to investigate that mouldering abandoned psychiatric hospital deep in the middle of nowhere. In this game, you are that guy. Refusing to be put off by a dying man who begs you to, of course, "get out while you still can," you instead go deep within the walls of Mount Massive Asylum, where you encounter all thing psychotic. (Photo: Red Barrels)
Space monsters are scary. Space monsters that also make space zombies out of your dead space engineer friends? Way out in the isolated wilds of ... space? Now that's just plain horrible. In a good way. No wonder this game has sold more than 2 million copies.
Sometimes the scariest horror titles aren't big sellers. This is one such game, and that's a shame. Along with the usual horror-story nasties, Eternal Darkness delivers an added layer of spooky: the "sanity meter", a green on-screen bar that depletes as the player runs into unnerving ghoulies. If the bar gets too low, the game environment gets increasingly surreal. And disturbing.
Slender: The Eight Pages
Find eight pieces of paper. That's it. What could possibly go wrong? Everything. Riffing on the popular online horror creation Slender Man, this minimalist piece of horror manages to dish out a whole lot of zoinks with very little at its disposal.
The protagonist in this survival horror first-person shooter is a special forces soldier with superhuman powers. The enemy looks--looks--like a little girl. And yet somehow, it all goes to hell. Things get real paranormal real quickly. Thank goodness for a host of guns, including incredibly cool particle-beam pistols. (Photo: Sierra Entertainment)
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
In an alternate reality, a second nuclear disaster has befallen Chernobyl. Mutant creatures roam the area. An RPG structure and multiple possible endings make this game a standout. (Photo: Viva Media)
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Few universes are scarier than the ones envisioned by H.P. Lovecraft. This title brings the author's world to life with visceral realism. It also deserves a nod for its mixed gameplay--unarmed evasion at first, first-person shooting down the line. (Photo: Bethesda Softworks)
System Shock 2
Many (let's face it: too many) horror stories lean on the old cliche of "viral outbreak in an enclosed space." Nonetheless, System Shock 2 does it right... especially when it comes to revealing the source of all the trouble. One word: Ewww. (Photo: Electronic Arts)
Another plague, another zombie-infested world. Or is it? Given that you can get hepatitis and dysentery in this particular zombie apocalypse, maybe not. Also: This game has sold three million copies since its alpha release, so it clearly raises the bar for open-world frights. (Photo: Bohemia Interactive)
Amnesia: Dark Descent
Alongside the usual escape-from-a-monster-filled-castle plot, Amnesia added another level of fear... the kind you get when you can't remember a thing. Even worse: Your ex-boyfriends have, literally, turned into monsters. (Photo: Frictional Games)
Inspired by Italian horror movie maestro Dario Argento, gamers loved the open-ended nature of this survival horror game. More than nine endings are possible--a rarity for a game released in 1995. (Photo: Human Entertainment)