The 100 best horror games on PC

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ACTION - PART TWO

Among the Sleep

Link:Krillbite site
Expect to pay: TBA

Horror games – well, horrors in general – trade on vulnerability, which explains why Sylvester Stallone has never squared up against Jason Voorhees, as entertaining as that might sound on paper. The star of Among the Sleep must be the most vulnerable yet: a two-year-old child plagued by paranormal disturbances and by shadowy, dreamlike imagery. The game literally provides a new angle on first-person horror, as you crawl, walk and hide your way around a world that is already looming and alien and unfriendly to your eyes, even when it isn't trying to swallow you up. Among the Sleep added Oculus Rift implementation during its Kickstarter campaign, and along with the likes of EVE Valkyrie it seems like a perfect title to showcase the immersive VR tech.

Among the Sleep is now out. Read our review here.

Limbo

Link:Steam, Limbo site
Expect to pay: £7 / $10

For all its atmosphere and moody tension, Limbo's real claim to fame is its inclusion of the scariest spider in gaming. The giant, spindly beast's presence is made worse by just how fragile your young protagonist is. There's a startling brutality to its monochrome world, and through that the game gives you a real sense of mortality. All of which lends weight to the depiction of a lonely, lost boy and the danger that he's in. As a platformer Limbo feels ethereal and floaty, and as a puzzler it's full of trial-and-error. But it's through the many horrific outcomes that it depicts that you're made aware of just what you've overcome.

The Binding of Isaac

Link:Steam, free demo
Expect to pay: £4 / $6

The true horror of The Binding of Isaac doesn't grip you while you're playing; you're too busy shooting tears at bats and evading disgusting slug-things to contemplate just how dark Ed McMillen's game really is. Toddler Isaac's attempts to escape his fundamentalist nutjob mother take him to a twisted procedurally generated world home to horrors beyond imagining (though McMillen has thankfully imagined them anyway, leaving our brains free to tackle the tricky business of remaining alive). Most roguelike-ish games have an element of horror – losing everything upon death is a thought that tends to moisten the palms – but Isaac goes one step further, cramming blood and guts and biblical horror into every squirming crevice.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Link:Steam
Expect to pay: £6 / $10

Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos should be a ripe playground for gaming scares. It rarely works out like that; the fiction often put to use in ways that fail to convey the sheer magnitude of its ancient and maddening horror. Despite the bugs and the clunkiness, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a first-person survival horror that both stays true to its source, and provides a multitude of ideas through its many and varied levels. You'll go from escaping an assassination, to being hunted by cultists, to fighting off Shoggoths and Deep Ones. It's left such an impression on our production editor Tony that the game regularly makes an appearance in our annual Top 100. And he's a man who yawned his way through Amnesia.

Condemned: Criminal Origins

Link:MobyGames
Expect to pay: £10 / $15

Condemned has become known for its meaty, violent first-person combat and for scattering some detective elements into its corridors of familiar jump scares. You play FBI agent Ethan Thomas on the hunt of a serial killer called The Match Maker, who hides behind hordes of deranged junkies, squatters and delinquents, all ready to grab a lead pipe and cave your head in before you can say “oh god not the lead pipe”. There are crime scenes you’ll have to scan from time to time similar to those later adopted by the Batman Arkham games. Condemned is a good starting point if you’re after some memorable combat from a horror game.

Alan Wake

Link:Alan Wake site
Expect to pay: £20 / $30

As insomniac author and thinly veiled Stephen King homage, Alan Wake, you’re plunged into a battle with occult forces when your wife vanishes on holiday in picturesque thinly-veiled Twin Peaks homage, Bright Falls. Confused by the increasingly blurred division between the waking world and his vicious dreaming one, Alan stumbles through dark forests looking for answers, scouring attacking shades with his flashlight, and using his revolver to finish them off. Remedy ditched Max Payne to build Wake, and spent years constructing a new engine to support it. The lighting tech - so crucial in contests with those photosensitive bad guys - is still impressive today, and there’s a fun current of meta humour running throughout. As you explore, Alan discovers pages narrating his actions and hinting at the horrors to come.

Manhunt

Link:Manhunt site
Expect to pay: £6 / $10

Manhunt moves the snuff movie to the CCTV age. You play as James Earl Cash, a death row convict who is smuggled into an abandoned city district and told to kill its roaming gangs in the most spectacularly violent ways. What follows is a tense and bloody game of hide and seek, as you divide and decapitate thugs, all while avoiding direct combat. It's a grimy and horrific procession of uncomfortable brutality, less concerned with pure scares than with constant sickening tension. Tying it all together is the voice of the antagonistic Director, who savours your carnage with a sadistic relish.

Left 4 Dead 2

Link:Steam
Expect to pay: £15 / $25

Left 4 Dead’s AI Director was a fascinating experiment in dynamic horror pacing that has yet to be bettered. It’s a co-op game for up to four players (eight in the competitive vs. mode), in which you battle through the zombie apocalypse across 90-minute levels. Zombie hordes pour out of dynamically selected spawn points, supported by a variety of troublesome minibosses like the Smoker - notable for the sickly green fug that surrounds him - who can snare an isolated survivor with a long-range tongue lash, and drag them away from the safety of the pack. Before the monsters become familiar and the hordes feel less like fodder, Left 4 Dead is genuinely horrifying. The creepy sing-song of the skittish Witch is one of the most memorable sound cues in gaming, second perhaps to the ominous orchestral pang that accompanies that arrival of the tyrannic, bludgeoning Tank. The best part? Each player’s health, status, shots recently fired and friends recently rescued values are constantly being crunched by the AI Director, which then regulates the size and fervour of future horde rushes to maintain a mounting sense of tension. That reaches a crescendo with the final dramatic hold-up at the end of each campaign. A great horror game, and a sensational co-op experience. We’ve chosen Left 4 Dead 2 here because all of the first game’s campaign missions have been ported into the sequel, which means there’s little reason to go back.

Killing Floor

Link:Killing Floor
Expect to pay: £15 / $25

Killing Floor is six player co-operative survival against waves of rushing mutants. File it away in the same mental space you’d reserve for Left 4 Dead, but note that this is made by Red Orchestra developers, Tripwire, who are experts at making virtual guns fun to fire. The terrific weapons - bought from shop vendors between waves - lend a cathartic element to each successive intensifying monster rush. In increasing numbers, cloaking, black spidery beasts can attack from the walls, stitched together behemoths fire rockets from afar and there’s an extremely tough monster waiting for you at the end of it all. The monsters are hideous, the fights are loud, and the ability to weld doors shut to funnel hordes into killzones adds a strategic element that you’ll have to negotiate quickly between rounds.

Resident Evil 4, 5 and 6

Link:Resident Evil 4, 5, 6
Expect to pay: £14 / $25

Resident Evil 4 - a fantastic game let down by a poor PC port. Nevertheless, it marked a huge turnaround for the series. Gone were the fixed camera angles, 2D backgrounds and slow scares. The camera now peered over the shoulder of floppy-haired protagonist, Leon, as he queued up headshots with a laser-sighted pistol. Enemies still shambled, but would flank beyond the carefully tuned field-of-view limits, and refuse to fall without a carefully placed leg shot. As the plot escalated, foes became more persistent and enemy skulls would start splitting apart at close range to reveal hideous, lashing tentacles. RE’s famous survival horror trappings were gone, but the scares remained. Resident Evil had successfully mutated into an expertly paced action game. Resident Evil 5 was a better port, but a relatively lacklustre in spite of the addition of co-op. The sixth game has its moments, but is best bought at a budget price as a light-hearted co-op kickabout. Those keen to revisit the glory of the first three Resis, keep an eye on in-development The Evil Within, created by Resident Evil guru Shinji Mikami.

Painkiller

Link:Painkiller site
Expect to pay: £9 / $15, Free demo available

Is it horror, or is it comedy? Painkiller is a joyous old fashioned shooter about explosively grinding hordes into globs of fleshy cat food. You are Daniel Garner, a man consigned to purgatory after dying in a car crash. To achieve redemption, you must kill Lucifer’s generals, and every single one of their many, many demonic friends with a series of dual-purpose weapons. There’s the stakegun/grenade launcher, the “Electrodriver” which shoots shurikens and lightning bolts, and the rocket launcher/chaingun that kills basically everything. Three years after the first game, Painkiller Overdose was released, casting you as a half-demon half-angel entity called Belial, and giving you even more stupid guns with which to commit spectacular acts of genocide on Satan’s determined but doomed armies. They’ve aged a bit since their mid-2000s release, but you can trace its influences back to the likes of Quake and Blood. Not as scary as most, but simple frenetic fun at a budget price.

Realms Of The Haunting

Link:GOG
Expect to pay: $5.99

While time hasn't been kind to its technology, Realms of the Haunting still offers a horror fantasy epic like no other. Step into the clutches of an ancient French sorcerer's home between worlds for an interdimensional tale of trapped spirits, deals with the devil, mazes and many, many monsters. One of its best features is that while early on it goes for the solitary horror vibe, it's smart enough to know when to pull back - the addition of a partner, mysterious psychic Rebecca Trevisard, offering a sounding board to discuss the house's mysteries as they unfold and help pick through the rich background detail. Older UK fans can also look forward to the treat of Pickle from Knightmare as a sadistic demon wearing gloves of burned human flesh. "Humans do still bleed, don't they? Splendid."