The 100 best horror games on PC
ACTION - PART ONE
Ever since Doom and Quake unleashed armies of hellbeasts and mutants against us, decades of shooters have followed suit. We’ve spent years shooting horrible aliens, failed biotech experiments, monsters mutated by man-made viruses, occult monstrosities, the undead and the odd ghost. Name a horror antagonist, chances are someone’s made a game that lets you shoot it with a rocket launcher.
Just because you have a big gun, that doesn’t mean you can’t be scared. - Games like Dead Space channel the scarcity and atmospherics of a survival horror game, and then gives you enormous chopping devices with which to exact cathartic, bloody revenge. In between glorious point-blank shotgun shots, FEAR takes advantage of the limitations of the first-person perspective to deliver a few scares with its creepy psychic villain, Alma. Some of the games in the list below are great action games with horror elements, others, like Condemned, are interesting horror games with combat systems attached. Either way, expect gore, guts and satisfying explosions aplenty.
Dark Souls 2
Link:Dark Souls 2 site
Expect to pay: TBA
What concessions to accessibility will the sequel make? That’s the question in the minds of Dark Souls fans the world over as they await DS2’s March release. Early reports suggest that this is a faithful follow up, casting you as a lonely, vulnerable warrior in a world of deadly monsters. The control scheme remains unchanged and the world will be twice the size as the first game. The initial experience for new players should be a little easier to understand - no bad thing, actually. Anecdotally, it’s common for Dark Souls players to suggest that their second playthrough was much more enjoyable than the first, when poor early levelling decisions can set you back. There will be plenty of new creatures to kill, of course, including the gleaming Mirror Knight, a 50 foot tall metal monstrosity with a lightning-charged sword. Hopefully we’ll get a more competent port than the first game, which couldn’t even run at full resolution until modders had patched it.
Dark Souls 2 is now out. Read our review here.
Haunt the House: Terrortown
Expect to pay: £4 /$5
Not all horror games need grit. Take Haunt the House, a mischievous little action-puzzler in which you play as a cuddly little Casper and possess everyday objects in order to scare unwanted visitors away from various establishments. There are five locations in all, ranging from cruise ships to hospitals to, yes, houses, and each has dozens of unique objects to possess. Be a spooky grandfather clock, a spooky theatre seat or a spoooooky bass guitar. The visuals are cute and colourful and all of the townsfolk have a bug-eyed charm, reacting in different ways to your Noel Edmonds-style ghostly Gotchas. Nicely upbeat original score, too.
Expect to pay: £10 /$15
At a glance, this gorgeously cinematic platformer appears to take place inside a fully 3D world. Tequila Works’ zombie survival is actually 2.5D, though, giving its sidescrolling extra dimension through clever use of perspective. Helicopters strafe in and out of the screen during mad city scrambles, ruined suburban houses smoulder in the foreground, and bloodied zombie hands claw at broken car windshields in the backgrounds of busy interstates. There’s some awesome ‘80s iconography too, with vintage band posters and playable LCD handheld games. Best are the horde moments, when your character Randall Wayne must vault over cars and dive down ditches in order to outrun a pack of undead.
Expect to pay: £7 / $10
FEAR is a better shooter than a horror game, but is worthy of note for referencing asian cinema with its creepy villain, Alma, a little girl who can rip people apart with her thoughts. FEAR also exploited the first person perspective to create jump-scares, using ladders and narrow corridors to funnel the player’s view through a rollercoaster of linear frights. You catch glimpses of Alma in the corner of a room as lightbulbs shatter, you’ll suddenly see her feet at the top of a ladder as you descend, and there’s a gratuitous corridor of blood, because The Shining deserves a nod every now and then. First person horror techniques have been honed into a more concentrated horror experience by games like Outlast, but FEAR does let you pin clone soldiers to walls with a stake gun, and kick them in the face in slow motion as they scream “FUUUUUUU” in a low pitched slow-mo expression of terror. The psychological horror themes persisted in FEAR’s sequels - FEAR 2: Project Origin and FEAR 3.
Link:id Software page
Expect to pay: £6 / $9
The original Dooms weren't exactly terrifying, although they're far more tense and atmospheric than the simple first-person shooters they're often regarded as in hindsight. It wasn't such a huge leap for id to strafe into the realm of horror with Doom 3, then, even if the most nightmarish aspect of their belated sequel was the main character's inability to hold a gun and a torch at the same time. Doom 3 boasted a large, interconnected world, and audiologs and emails out the wazoo – it was essentially Dead Space before there was Dead Space, but with a bigger focus on shooting, obviously. The expansion, Resurrection of Evil, added a Half-Life 2-style 'Grabber' gun to its already impressive assortment of weaponry, though it couldn't hold a candle to the series' more traditional BFG.
The Darkness II
Link:The Darkness 2 site
Expect to pay: £20 / $30
You play as Jackie Estacado, don of the Franchetti crime family and wielder of the titular snake-tendrilled manifestation. In that sense, this sequel is something of a reverse horror, in which it's you that's playing as the heart chomping nightmare. But another of the game's plot threads turns the table on the supervillain setup. You play as Jackie Estacado, psychiatric ward patient, whose hallucinations of being a possessed Mafia crime boss are dragging him further from reality. From the start, it's fairly obvious which of these scenarios is "real", but it's fun to watch the game flip back and forth, playing with Jackie's perception of himself.
Expect to pay: £4 / £5.99
Blood is all about horror. You just happen to be the biggest monster around, looking to inflict it for once. You're Caleb, former lieutenant of the dark god Tchernobog, backstabbed and left for dead in a shallow grave for reasons your master feels no particular need to share. Revenge lies at the end of a bloody trail through Lovecraft country, a twisted carnival of severed heads and even worse, mimes, and parodies of everything from The Shining to Dawn Of The Dead. Once done, check out the fan expansion Death Wish. Unfortunately the lack of a source code release (despite attempts to get one) means that the engine hasn't seen the same technological polishing as other games of its vintage, though the original still looks okay if you don't mind the repeated textures.
Aliens vs. Predator
Expect to pay: £3 / $5
You're alone. Unless you count hundreds of xenomorphs and a few almost unstoppable killing machines. You probably should. They're randomly placed and brutal beyond belief, and this first trip into the heart of the Aliens vs. Predator universe still remains arguably the most terrifying despite its limited graphics. You don't have to play as the squishy human, one Facehugger away from losing a wireless mouse out of the nearest window, but it helps. Certainly, it's infinitely tenser than bloody Aliens: Colonial Marines. If your heart can't take it, you can also throw your stomach for a loop as a constantly moving alien, or wade into battle with a little confidence thanks to a Predator's arsenal. The sequel offers similar scares with more polygons, the more recent game... just sucks. This one will show you just how scary outdated graphics can be though, especially in the dark.
Expect to pay: £10 / $15
Dead Space’s lanky alien monsters are noteworthy not just for their ability to fit into tiny closets and jump out at passing protagonists, but for the satisfying fragility of their narrow, bony limbs. Dead Space’s high concept, back in the first game, was that you’re a simple engineer tending to a broken ship, rather than a meaty space marine with miniguns coming out of his chest. Better still, the cutting and cleaving tools your engineer is so practiced with ended up being more satisfying than the traditional machine guns and shotguns of ye olde space shooters. Worryingly, foes react differently when you snip off certain limbs - a headshot may only make them madder. Oh, there’s a batty plot about an alien obelisk that sends people insane, a space cult, and other nonsense. Don’t worry about that too much, the room-to-room stalking is super-tense in spite of the flimsy story.
Expect to pay: £14 / $20
Ask Irrational, and they'll tell you that Bioshock is a series about mystery. For the first game, though, that mystery was wrapped in the trappings of FPS horror. Rapture may once have been a beautiful temple dedicated to objectivism and art deco architecture, but by the time you arrive it's a watery grave. The dimmed lighting and dereliction are a constant reminder of how far the utopia has fallen. Then there's the splicers. They're not monsters in any traditional sense, but they're also no longer people. And yet, in their creepiest, most effective moments, the warped remnants of their humanity come through.
Link:4A Games site
Expect to pay: £10 / $15
The metro tunnels of post-apocalyptic Moscow are about as cheery as you might expect: a network of ramshackle outposts, makeshift villages and – oh yes, hives of mutant pigs, dogs and even the occasional gorilla-thing. It's also home to a violent tribe of Neo-Nazis, because, well, why not. Metro 2033 is Stalker contorted into the shape of a linear survival horror, and as with the best games in the genre resource management is paramount. In this case it's bullets, which also act as the game's currency – something that makes perfect sense in author Dmitry Glukhovsky's cold, tough, subterranean world. However, it's the above-ground sections that make you feel most out of your element, as you have to rely on a dwindling supply of gas mask filters to stop the poisonous air from filling your lungs. Most horrors have an out in that there's always the possibility (however slim) of leaving the haunted mansion, or finding a way out of Silent Hill; Metro 2033's grim world is one you can't escape from, and that's pretty depressing when you think about it.
STALKER: Call of Pripyat
Expect to pay: $13 / $20
Poor Pripyat just can't catch a break. In real life it's been abandoned since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In STALKER, it also suffers the indignity of corrupted anomalies and invisible monsters. The entire series has focused on a harsh and desperate struggle for survival. You may be seeking valuable anomalies and treasure, but first you'll need to secure the basics: food, bandages, and weapons. Occasionally you'll enjoy the companionship of fellow travellers around a campfire, but for the most part your exploration of the open world will feel oppressive and lonely. Call of Pripyat is the best and most technically competent game in the series, but the original Shadow of Chernobyl is also worth a look.
Clive Barker's Undying
Expect to pay: £6 / $9
Ol' Hellraiser Clive hasn't had the best track record when it comes to getting involved with games, but Undying is the undisputed highlight, an atmospheric first-person shooter that mixes magic with monsters against the backdrop of 1920s Ireland. (It also stars the most dysfunctional screen family since those weirdos at 0001 Cemetery Lane.) In typical Barker fashion, Undying shoves in everything horror-related but the demon kitchen sink: parallel universes, ancient rituals, skeletons and magic spells, but it manages the rare feat of being bloody scary too.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines
Expect to pay: £15 / $20
Vampire: The Masquerade is a great case for why game developers shouldn't be afraid to move away from Tolkienesque fantasy for their RPG's setting. Bloodlines is ugly and seriously broken, but its cool urban vampire theme and sharp writing makes it an essential play for role-playing enthusiasts. Set in a modern day LA, your job is to explore the city's underworld, talking to other denizens of the night, while battling mortals and other vampires with a selection of powers and weapons. For the most part Vampire is more empowering than horrifying, but the way it plays and cleverly subverts genre tropes makes it an essential addition to the list, albeit one that sits uncomfortably in the 'Action' category. Bloodlines' difficulty to define is part of what makes it so good. Even so, for the best experience, you'll want to download the latest fan-made patch from here.