The 100 best horror games on PC
Good survival horror games are all about vulnerability. You’re a single lonely blip in a world that wants you dead. Resources are scarce, you’re down to your last few bullets. You’re limping and desperate for a health pack. What do you do? Run, hide, recover, check Twitter, quicksave.
Formerly classics like The Resident Evil games presented a template for survival horror, with their fixed cameras and a third person perspective. Recent survival horror games have attempted to mix things up a bit. First-person, exploration-driven games like the Amnesia series put you in the skull of the unfortunate player character and swaddle you in uncomfortable, oppressive environments. Other games like Teleglitch and Eldritch have used randomisation to create a permanent sense of the unexpected, and looked to the perma-death mechanics of roguelikes to raise the stakes of every action and make you feel even more squishy.
Expect to pay: £20 /$25
As society crumbles, you’ve got the best/worst seat in the house. The top-down RPG Dead State isn’t about your skill with a weapon but your handiness with a clipboard, based as it is on organising allies, scouting for supplies, and holding down a base. It’s a thinking man’s survival horror, wrapped in a membrane of leadership politics - remember, all your followers are looking to you. In this bleak zombie apocalypse there are several several systems to wrap your delicious brain around: shelter-building, morale management, inventory sorting, and turn-based tactical combat are just a few. Oh, and there’s a reactive story that changes depending on who you chat to. Seeing as Dead State is still in early access, you can play a part in shaping it all.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted
Link:Big Robot site
Expect to pay: £15 / $20 for early access
When robots inevitably rise up to conquer the Earth, we can only hope that our overlords will adopt the habits and fashions of tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking gentlemen of the countryside. These well-mannered but deadly murderers will be the bane of your existence in Sir, You Are Being Hunted, an open world survival horror set in procedurally generated visions of the British outdoors, complete with bleak, randomised towns, skeletal electricity pylons and lakes full of mechanical hydra. You’ll mostly be cowering in bushes, trying to avoid the laser-powered gaze of your robot pursuers, looting houses for the supplies to stay alive and make it off the island. Sir is currently available through Steam Early Access.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted is now out. Read our review here.
7 Days to Die
Link:The Fun Pimps
Expect to pay: £19 /$25
This open-world zombie horror is impossibly ambitious, so if you purchase it through Steam’s early access program do expect the occasional bug.. Look past them, though, and you’ll find a game brimming with depth, whether it’s hunting infected wildlife, customising characters, driving vehicles, gathering raw materials, crafting tools, weapons and traps, constructing shelters and bases, or joining up with other survivors for co-op. The headline act, however, is a voxel world you can actually pick apart. The excellently-named Fun Pimps seem to be positioning 7 Days to Die as the Minecraft of zombie games. Again, it’s impossibly ambitious, but they seem well on their way.
Link:The Forest site
Expect to pay: TBA
The Forest is at once a staggeringly gorgeous survival sim and a staggeringly creepy horror game, featuring crafting, exploration, a day/night cycle, and of course moments where you batter violent semi-naked mutants to death in a wooded area. You're a plane crash survivor Losting it up on a mysterious island; during the day you'll gather and scavenge resources, build yourself a home, attempt to grow food, and very probably try to work out what's going on (if there's time). Night, however, brings the aforementioned mutants, humanoid creatures who lurk in the shadows of the game's beautifully rendered forest, and who don't appear to be too fond of its new guest.
The Forest is now in alpha, read our review here.
Expect to pay: £11 /$15
Form tribes and fight for survival in this fast-paced struggle territorial land-grab. Gaining ground is a must in order to secure better vantage points and defensive fortifications, especially with murderous bands of equally bloodthirsty humans players on the hunt, but it’s not just people you have to watch for in this rugged world. Amongst lonely roads and high-rise ruins are a race of teleporting creatures called Nethers, and they’re not very nice. As Phosphor Games themselves put it, it’s pray or prey, offering the same kind of social experimentation as DayZ but giving enemy NPCs greater presence (because let’s be honest, the DayZ zombies might as well not be there). Craft food, weapons and supplies, and travel alone at your peril.
Expect to pay: £10 /$17
Don’t Starve is as much title as instruction, casting players into the biting wilderness with nothing more than a bequiffed hairstyle and the vintage clothes on their back. Research, craft, farm and fight, and you might just last the night - maybe even with a full beard to show for it. Well, until you get inevitably chomped by a Tallbird and have to start the ordeal from scratch. Indeed, there’s no hand-holding in this permadeath survival.
Resident Evil 1, 2 and 3
Link:Resident Evil site
Expect to pay: Around £13 / $21
It might be hard to recall, after the fifth and sixth games quite thoroughly trampled all over our fond memories, but Resident Evil used to be one of the best horror series around. Taking Alone in the Dark's fixed perspective horror and adding zombies and Jill sandwiches and Barry's magnificent beard, Resi 1 was a terrifying revelation when it burst doglike through the world's windows back in 1996. Capcom's fully formed classic wrote the rulebook for survival horror for the next decade or so, with its limited resources, pushing-stuff-around puzzles, and tension-building awkward controls. That bit with the giant snake was also pretty neat.
For the second game, the series moved to survival horror set in a city. The sequel channels George A. Romero and John Carpenter to present a thrilling urban horror featuring the best cast of characters the series has seen before and since. Floppy-haired rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy, and crossbow-wielding biker Claire Redfield, team up to discover why zombies are munching on the flesh of Raccoon City's citizens, and to escape in the most explosive way possible if they get the chance. Complementing Resi 1's two-character structure were two new 'B' scenarios, meaning there were now four slightly different scenarios to play through. By the third game, Nemesis, the formula was starting to wear a little thin, but the addition of a giant zombie ogre that hunted you through the game was novel.
The series received a major reboot with the fourth instalment. So major in fact that we’ve added it as a separate entry in the Action section.
Silent Hill 2
Expect to pay: A lot
I think we can all agree that Silent Hill 2 is the best in the series, and although Konami have never made much of an effort with the PC versions, if you factor in mods and texture/resolution tweaks this is probably the best way to play it these days – even if prices for the (extremely rare) retail copies can be pretty extortionate. It was the first game to really push the idea of horror narratives as subjective, fluid and untrustworthy things, with a story that invites interpretation and a semi-sentient city that warps and shifts itself to fit the damaged psyches of its inhabitants. The confusing cult nonsense of the first and third games was pushed to the backburner for the more personal story of a psychologically damaged widower battling his way through a foggy purgatory populated by zombie-things, dog-things, and whatever the hell Pyramid Head was.
Silent Hill 4: The Room
Link:Silent Hill 4 site
Expect to pay: Around £10 / $15
The Room is a flawed game. It started life as a project with no affiliation to the Silent Hill series, which is why it’s deserving of a separate entry here. That was before Konami decided to meld it to their existing mythology – an action that had mixed success. The least interesting parts of the game are the Silent Hill sections, where you wander a series of creepy locations battering creatures in the head with a lead pipe. There are some new ideas to these areas – notably ghost enemies that can't be killed, and must instead be skewered in place with rare mystical swords – but the bitty, only loosely connected locations failed to engage in the same way that previous entries had. Where The Room shined was in its...room, a claustrophobic and paranoia-fuelled first-person hub that channeled Hitchcock's Rear Window (adding ghosts and creepy holes and the like too). Over time, it becomes clear that the central character of the story isn't the flat's current inhabitant (you) at all, but rather the room itself, a sentient and angry and haunted domicile that rejects your presence more and more as the game goes on.
Expect to pay: £10 / $15
Lovecraft is in right now. But then, when isn’t Dread Cthulhu the Old One, Lord of all He Surveys and Bringer of Eternal Night in? Still, you’d be forgiven for wondering just how scary a low-tech Minecraftian romp through the nether world could be. And indeed, as you sprint through the randomised rooms of Eldritch’s first worlds, fear just isn’t on the cards. Mild discomfort, perhaps, or bemusement as you sidestep another slow-moving foe. But hit up New Game Plus and things take a turn for the tense. Eldritch’s stellar monster design means that turning your back on a corpse is rarely an attractive choice, and running into shoggoths only for a wanderer reanimate and gnaw at your calves will have you stifling screams. It’s not a psychological battering, but jump-scares, swearing and running very fast in a different direction are all part of the package. Hail, Cthulhu.
Expect to pay: £9, $13
Anyone considering setting up a research base to explore the scientific benefits of necrotic tissue reanimation should play Teleglitch, a cautionary tale for mad scientists everywhere. This top-down roguelike shooter casts you as the lone survivor in a military research base overrun by deadly reanimated creatures. You start almost nothing in the way of weapons, but there is a slick crafting system that lets you turn general living detritus into improvised blunderbusses and bombs. It’s tough, though. Guns and ammo are scarce, and the creatures swarm with increasing purpose, growing in size and hunger as you move from floor to floor. Its visual style looks simplistic in still shots, but is atmospheric in motion, thanks to the way it draws your sight-line in realtime. It’s all to easy to miss a critter if you’re not too careful.
System Shock 2
Expect to pay: £7 / $10
Before BioShock was BioShock, it was System Shock: an altogether freakier combination of RPG and FPS, and one that in its second (and best) iteration told the story of a rogue AI on a haunted spaceship – that rogue AI being the incomparably uppercase SHODAN. The murderous artificial consciousness paved the way for GlaDOS of course, but its the combination of meaningful character advancement, rewarding exploration, horrifying enemies and (at the time) the novel use of audio diaries that make System Shock 2 such a memorable horror game. It was essentially Deus Ex on a spaceship – if you've ever played Deus Ex, or been on a spaceship, you can imagine how delectable that sounds.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Link:Dark Descent site
Expect to pay: £13 / $20
The Dark Descent casts you as Daniel, an amnesiac who wakes up in a mostly deserted castle that must be explored in search of escape. Frictional draw on all of their experience creating atmospheric, exploratory horror in the Penumbra series to fill Amnesia’s fortress with an oppressive and lingering sense of foreboding. Expect distant echoing noises, strange rumbles behind the walls, and to start seeing half-formed dark figures in the ambiguous candlelight. There’s a monster, too, stalking you through the corridors. The perennial rule of horror creatures - that they’re less scary once you’ve seen and understood them - certainly applies here, but Dark Descent is still a must-play staple of the horror genre.
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Link:Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs site
Expect to pay: £13 / $20
The follow up to Frictional's gothic horror was developed by Dear Esther creators The Chinese Room. As such, it's a different beast to The Dark Descent - presenting a new standalone tale, while staying true to the series' core themes of madness and obsession. In it, you play as Oswald Mandus, a fraught and sickly industrialist, tormented by ghostly voices and visions of a hellish machine. Unlike the original, this sequel's scares come from a building unease, as you avoid enemies and uncover the decay and corruption of your home. A Machine For Pigs explores a wider array of emotions, beyond pure fright, in its quest to tell a more rounded story. While that means much of the original Amnesia's systems have been stripped, the atmospheric intensity is just as strong and claustrophobic.
Penumbra Overture, Black Plague and Requiem
Expect to pay: £7 / $10, free demo available at the link above
Frictional Games didn't emerge fully formed into this world via some sort of dimensional portal, despite what the terrific Amnesia might lead you to believe. Before that horror masterpiece, the team cut their teeth on the Penumbra series, a trilogy of adventure-horror-puzzle games. Here Frictional pioneered their physical, grab-everything approach to their chosen blend of genres, and it worked so well that the series' slightly frustrating stealth elements don't begin to grate until a few hours in. By the third entry, Requiem, the series had evolved into a Portal-style puzzler, eschewing enemies entirely for environmental hazards and physics puzzles, while nominally retaining the horror theme. Despite a few issues, the Penumbra games are still well worth exploring, if you're curious of Amnesia's origins.
State of Decay
Link:Undead Labs site
Expect to pay: £15 / $20
Zombies aren't known for being fresh, but in games the stench of stagnation follows them a bit too closely. State of Decay aims to fix this by putting the focus back on survival, not slaughter. Your job is to explore its open-world, gathering resources, rescuing survivors and fortifying your safehouse. As time passes the zombie threat intensifies, and objectives arise based on your past actions. It's a bit shonky, but overcome the engine's eccentricities and you'll be treated to a tense, ambitious and dynamic horror, as the undead close in and your preparedness is tested.
Link:Computer Artworks page
Expect to pay: Around £5 / $8
John Carpenter's beardy, chilly classic earned itself a tie-in game some 13 years after its release, and it's one that's surprisingly faithful to the film. You don't play as Kurt 'Snake Plisskin' Russell, unfortunately, but this snowy survival horror does inherit the movie's focus on paranoia, hypothermia, flamethrowers and working as a team. Oh yes – the team mechanics. Contrary to Redfield's Law, The Thing gives you company for much of its adventure, via teammates who can freak out or even commit suicide if you don't take proper care of their Fear and Trust meters. In addition to that, you have to keep an eye on your own body heat, which doesn't take too kindly to the rather extreme weather of Antarctica. There are also monsters, and quite a bit of shooting – this is a survival horror, after all.
Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason
Expect to pay: Around £6 / $9
In most games, the presence of ice boils down to temporarily slippery movement or the necessity for a flamethrower to uncover frozen collectibles – few games manage to recreate the suffocating coldness that comes with being stuck somewhere Not Very Warm. Cryostasis is one of those games. You might remember it as BioShock on Ice, its main character Alexander Nesterov battling the transformed, murderous crew of a frozen ship after some mysteriously tragic event has taken place. It's also a survival horror, where both survival and horror relate more to the environmental hazards than the undead monster crew (although admittedly they aren't the most welcoming bunch either). Living is a matter of managing your rapidly depleting body heat, scavenging heat sources such as stoves and sucking them dry like some sort of temperature vampire. Cryostasis is more than a bit clunky and badly optimised, but it's also one of the more novel and ambitious games on this list.
Link:Red Barrels Games
Expect to pay: £15 / $20
Like all good horror, Outlast opens with someone doing something spectacularly stupid. Journalist Miles Upshur, chasing leads from an unknown informant, breaks into Mount Massive Asylum alone, at night, and with a woeful knowledge of horror clichés. From TVs spewing static as you slink through its stages to the pesky threat of impromptu lobotomy, Outlast is altogether traditional. But it doesn’t feel stale; developer Red Barrels boasts serious pedigree, and the need to be unrelenting -- to shunt the player from scare to monstrous scare lest they adapt to the threat -- has not escaped them. Ideas run short in the final act, falling back on fetch-quests in which three of each item needed to progress have been strangely misplaced (poltergeists, probably), but for the most part Outlast is a heart-stopping sprint which showcases the best of horror staples.
Expect to pay: £20 / $30
There’s an unshakeable melancholy to the grim medieval fantasy realm of Dark Souls, which only intensifies as you become lost in its depths. Dark Souls’ difficulty is its most talked about trait, but the feelings of loneliness and persecution that accompany the constant, grueling combat are a powerful reason to investigate if you enjoy horror. You won’t find scripted jump scares here. Dark Souls; subtle, relentless menace flows from its punishing systems. You’re a fleshless undead spirit on a pilgrimage through the land of Lordran, collecting souls from the foes that populate the castle ramparts, sewers and deep, gloomy forests. You can reap more souls if you restore yourself to human status, but that opens up your game to powerful invading players. At high levels, Dark Souls’ unique multiplayer features unlock an extra layer of expert play. The PC port is poor, but most of its visual shortcomings have been solved by the modding community. Start with the DS Fix [http://darksouls.nexusmods.com/mods/19//?
] and pick and choose from the Dark Souls Nexus to get the game into shape.
Thief: Deadly Shadows
Expect to pay: £7 / $10
You might be the danger in Thief – most of the time – but you're forever one short creeping step away from being stabbed in the face by one of The City's many dumb-aced goons. With its endless shadows, its cold industrialisation, and its secret factions flinging arrows in the dark, Thief has been flirting with horror since day one – but Deadly Shadows cements the relationship with one terrifying mission towards the end of the game. Shalebridge Cradle is an ex-orphanage turned insane asylum, and you don't need to be Derek Acorah to surmise that's now home to the tormented spirits of the undead. The Cradle is an unusual Thief mission in that it puts Garrett on the backfoot, hiding from powerful hunters in an environment that, even more than usual, doesn't want him there. Like the best horror films, there's a lot of buildup too, before Shalebridge reveals itself to one orphanage-turned-insane asylum you don't want to investigate at night. Who knew, right?