Let's talk about horror games. They've been with us for decades. Alone in the Dark gave us a haunted house to escape from in '92. Doom pit players against nightmarish hordes in '93, and things have gotten stranger in the neighbourhood since then. Recently, the likes of Slender and SCP Containment Breach have scared half of the internet into a gibbering fugue state, and there are dozens of horror games being assembled in dungeon labs all over the world this very moment.
We thought it was about time we celebrated the best of horror, from tense survivalist nightmares to ultra-gib hellspawn massacres. Whether you prefer the loud guns and scripted shocks of FEAR to the quiet dread of Amnesia, there are plenty of horror classics here, but we hope you find something new and terrifying in this 90-strong collection, which includes some of the scariest and strangest games ever made.
Click the links below to skip to the parts that pique your interest.
As compiled and written by Tom Sykes, Phil Savage, Richard Cobbett and Tom Senior, who all died during the writing of this article in mysterious circumstances. Pray for their zombie bones.
You want to play new horror games? Put that cash-wad away. No, really, put it away it's crawling with deadly spiders . I have some good news - there are developers out there who like scaring complete strangers more than they like making money. This is a big win for us, the victims, because we can submit ourselves to their will and be reduced to a broken, shivering meat-puddles at no financial cost to ourselves. All we have to do is willingly give up our our time and sanity to the following free games and mods and ride the resulting terrorgasm into sweaty oblivion.
Link: DayZ mod
Expect to pay: Free
Is DayZ a horror game? Absolutely. It's also a military shooter, an MMO, and a survival sim wrapped into one. Are you afraid of the zombies, who will run screaming in your direction with remarkably little provocation, or of your fellow humans, many of whom would shoot you in the back over a can of beans? The answer of course is that you're scared of everything, and everyone, and that fear only intensifies as you acquire better equipment, form alliances and grow more confident in your dealings with the undead – all of which will get you killed if you don't remain eternally vigilant. Death in DayZ robs you of all but the most basic equipment, throwing you back to a random point on the beach and forcing you to make your way all over again. Can there be anything more terrifying than that?
Link: SCP site
Expect to pay: Free
SCP - Containment Breach is based on the fiction of The SCP Foundation , a collection of crowdsourced creatures, notable for their disturbed imagery and varied powers that target a multitude of fears. You play as D-9341, a test subject locked in the foundation during the titular containment breach. It's your job to explore, decipher and escape the facility, but you'll be facing a number of SCPs along the way. The most notable of these is SCP-173, who acts like a more terrifying version of Doctor Who's Weeping Angels. He'll stalk you through the facility, stopping only when you've direct line of sight. If that doesn't sound too scary, understand that the game features a constantly diminishing bar that tells you when you'll next be forced to blink.
Link: Parsec Productions site
Expect to pay: Nothing for The Eight Pages, $10 for The Arrival
The slim, suited menace known as Slenderman started life as a forum meme, and has quickly grown into a horror series. His schtick is simple, but terrifying enough. If you look directly at him, he devours you, but when you look away he can move position instantly in an attempt to trick your gaze. You have to collect eight notes from a dark forest as the demon hunts you. The free downloadable version, The Eight Pages , has inspired a wealth of YouTube Let's Play videos, because it turns out it's almost as fun to watch Slender's potent psychological terror inflicted on others as it is to endure it yourself. Its popularity encouraged Blue Isle studios and Parsec productions to create a prettier version called Slender: The Arrival, which is available for $10 on Steam , and has bonus Oculus Rift support for VR terror.
Expect to pay: Free
Not enough games break the fragile barrier between a game and its audience, and the wonderful Imscared does this rather insidiously (and ingeniously) by lightly mucking about with your PC. It's a lo-fi series of first-person scenes, interspersed with forced game shutdowns and the sudden appearance of unsettling text files in the game's folder. Every time you start the game (for the first few times at least) you're shown something different, taken somewhere new, and even as you play you become acutely aware that you'll be greeted by another surprise – a message or even an image – the next time you exit back to desktop. With most games, escaping the horror is a simple matter of quitting the game – Imscared makes you believe, albeit for just a second, that the horror could follow you, and that's a remarkable achievement.
Link: A Mother's Inferno site
Expect to pay: Free
A short student horror project created in just six weeks, A Mother's Inferno puts you in the role of a mother struggling to reclaim her son onboard a train full of otherworldly demons. That's almost as harrowing as the 08.30 from Bristol to London Paddington. Motherhood is never easy at the best of times, but I'm pretty sure I missed the episode of Call the Midwife where Whoosits from Miranda fought a procession of demons armed only with a single shard of glass. Your demonic opponents in this dark, novel horror game represent the five stages of loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Link: Play Anchorhead
Expect to pay: Free
Horror games owe a significant debt to one Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and not just because he's long dead and his work is out of copyright. Plenty of games have included references to his unique brand of cosmic horror, but Anchorhead is more inspired than most, drawing from several of his novels and stories to tell the tale of the a married couple who have inherited an old mansion in a creepy New England town. The sedate exploration of the game's opening segments eventually give way to tense, turn-limited puzzles as you struggle to stop an ancient, possibly world-ending ritual from being completed. No pressure then.
Link: Steam page
Expect to pay: Free mod for Half-Life 2
No More Room In Hell is a co-op zombie shooter with are shades of Left 4 Dead, but there's more than enough here to distinguish it from Valve's undead romp. It's not just that it supports eight players; the entire philosophy is to create a harder, more brutal zombie apocalypse. Ammo is scarce, logistics matter, and while a sledgehammer is still an effective zombie deterrent, a single bite means you could become infected. Of course, if you do get bitten, it's up to you whether or not you let your teammates know about the impending zombification.
Link: Cry of Fear site
Expect to pay: Free mod for Half-Life 1
Cry of Fear started life as a Half-Life mod, before being spun out into a standalone game earlier this year. Despite the first-person perspective, this psychological survival horror has more in common with Silent Hill, as it's set in a creepily abandoned city and it features a limited, choices-matter inventory system. Waking up after a car accident with only a phone, a switchblade and a hoodie to your name (standard attire for today's urban ruffian on the go), you have to piece together the many odd events surrounding you, while receiving the occasional text message from your worried mum.
Link: ModDB page
Expect to pay: Free mod for Unreal Tournament 3
The Haunted contorts Unreal Tournament 3 into a third-person wave-based multiplayer shooter, featuring all the mutant zombies, exploding heads and roundhouse kicks you could ever want. Horror might be a word which here means 'lots and lots of gore', but if you're after some brown, Gears of Warsy arcade multiplayer – and you don't want to shell out for an Xbox 360 – The Haunted has your chainsaw-wielding survival needs covered. An expanded standalone version, Hell's Reach, was later released as a paid download.
Link: ModDB page
Expect to pay: Free mod for Half-Life 2
Part horror game, part tactical shooter, part zombie thriller. Underhell packs a lot into its prologue and first chapter, switching genres at will and effortlessly introducing new ideas. You play as Jake Hawkfield, a troubled SWAT operative who's struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife. That recovery isn't helped by the fact that his wife is still around, as becomes apparent as you explore his now haunted house. But from Gone Home with a ghost, Underhell takes a tonal shift when Hawkfield returns to his day job. Suddenly you're giving orders, checking sectors, and securing rooms, as you clear terrorists out of a hospital. Naturally, this distraction doesn't last, and Hawkfield continues to slip further from reality.
Link: SFC forums
Expect to pay Free download
The blocky, low-fi visuals are designed to obfuscate the fine detail of your environments and reduce them to a series of creepy ambiguous silhouettes. You're being pursued by a hideous unknown thing as you explore at an agonising pace, dodging deadly ghostly orbs as you pick through each environment. You'll want to download this one for the sound design alone. Hide uses noise to great effect, creating an ominous, persistent menace that's more unsettling than enduring than the lazy jump scares favoured by so many horror games.
Link: Free Indie Games
Expect to pay: Free webgame
Like a number of free horror games, Silhouette doesn't rely on high-tech visuals to generate its scares. It's a two-player killer vs. victim game set in a dark house. Control shifts between the knife-wielding killer and their unarmed victim, allowing for turns of real-time movement that shorten as the killer and the victim draw closer together. The increasingly fraught pacing does a great job of inspiring mounting panic in both players, toying with the same manipulative patterns seen across horror cinema, from the Jaws soundtrack to the murder famous murder scenes of Psycho. An effective horror experiment that's worth a go if you can get a couple of horror fans around your keyboard.
Link: Desura Page
Expect to pay: Free mod for Half Life 2: Episode 2
Corporations should really keep a better eye on their isolated research stations. They hold a top five position in the list of “places where horrible horror biz will happen”. So it proves in Black Snow, a Half-Life 2: Episode 2 mod set in the Amaluuk research station, which you must explore as a member of an investigative team after the bunker ceases all communication. It's exploratory horror in the vein of A Machine For Pigs, but in a varied, near-future setting that creates you may not have seen rendered before in Valve's Source engine.
Expect to pay: Free, playable online
Cyberqueen vomits you out of a sack into a malignant, sentient ship and gives you your first choice: “flail”, “scream” or “breathe”. There are heavy lashings of System Shock in this superbly written work of interactive fiction that has you wandering the halls of the vessel, trying to escape the machinations of its omnipresent guardian. The Twine interface paces the text to good effect, and it's more easily navigated than traditional IF builds like Anchorhead. Cyberqueen is an evocative and sinister piece of work that'll appeal to those who haven't tried interactive fiction before.
Expect to pay: Free download
I See You adopts a similar low-fi visual approach to Imscared for an exploration game set in an abandoned hospital. You can only see a few metres in front of your face, but you must move from room to room, searching for keys to unlock doors to new areas of the hospital. As you unlock doors, the hospital environments start to fragment, moving away from the easily plotted early layouts to new designs that don't make sense. The tutorial messages that guide you through the first few rooms become more sinister. I See You casts the game designer as the monster and you as the victim, tasked with helplessly running the monster's gauntlet as it rearranges reality into increasingly broken shapes.
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.
Link: DoubleBear Productions
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.
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.
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.
Link: Phosphor Games
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.
Link: Klei Entertainment
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.
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.
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.
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.
Link: Eldritch site
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.
Link: Teleglitch site
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.
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.
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.
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.
Link: Penumbra site
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.
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.
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.
Link: Dark Souls
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.
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?
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.
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.
Link: SFB Games
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.
Link: Tequila Works
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.
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.
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.
Link: Bioshock site
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.
Link: STALKER site
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.
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.
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 .
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Adventure games are a great vehicle for some explorative slow-burn horror. They're also often incredibly strange. Take Bad Mojo, in which you play a cockroach exploring a world of over-sized creatures drawn from real exterminator-slain animals. Or Harvester, one of the most demented games ever made. Adventure games also have the time and space to let you build attachments to characters, a point that's exploited to harrowing effect in the likes of The Walking Dead, where likeable characters can be destroyed horribly at any moment, often as a consequence of one of your decisions.
Link: The Fullbright Company
Expect to pay: £15 /$25
One of the highest-rated horror games on this list isn't really a horror game at all - it's a love story. A teenage girl comes home to find her family absent, and pieces together their lives from the everyday objects they've left behind. Still, skulking around an empty house, floorboards creaking and rain lashing at the windows, works so well at building tension that Gone Home is a great horror game almost by accident. It's at once isolated and intimate.
Link: Artight Games
Expect to pay: £30 /$50
The hardest murder to solve is your own in supernatural thriller Murdered: Soul Suspect. Here detective Ronan O'Connor tracks the sadistic killer who offed him in a violent burglary. How rude. The gothic town of Salem has both living and dead worlds to probe as you make like a smartly-dressed poltergeist and possess people, teleport between locations, and walk through solid walls. You're not just messing about, though; it's all to gain information leading to the killer's capture. As a plus, your hero wears a fedora. Actually wait, that's a minus.
Link: Walking Dead site
Expect to pay: £21 / $25
Is anyone still scared of zombies? Sure, they're creepy -- there's something intrinsically unsettling about a vacant sack of human flesh -- but when is the last time you felt visceral, gut-wrenching fear in the presence of the horde? Blood, guts, and realistic subsurface glistening just don't do it any more. Telltale's The Walking Dead, on the other hand, forgoes the anatomy lesson for something altogether more harrowing. The eponymous dead are but extras in a bleak human drama, a handy plot device to prompt the fall of society and watch what happens when people break. Those people, written and acted with aplomb, make for a more immediate, more believable horror story than gore alone can accomplish. The Walking Dead could be real, a plausible portrayal of a world gone to shit, and that is scary indeed.
Link: Moby Games
Expect to pay: £8 / $13, free demo available
Improbably named private investigator Loath Nolder has gone missing, and the only man capable of finding him is one Howard E. Loreid, a fellow graduate of the University of Truly Terrible Character Names. Darkness Within is a Lovecraftian point and click horror, with all the candles, dark corridors and puzzles you'd expect, but its sequel shakes things up by embracing full first-person movement. Istanbul-based developers Zoetrope have disappeared off the radar since the 2009 sequel, so chances of a third Darkness Within seem slim at best.
Link: Barrow Hill site
Expect to pay: £8 / $13
Plenty of Myst-style point and click horrors have been released over the last decade or so, but Barrow Hill is one of the wittier and more rewarding static adventure games you'll come across, boasting a solid story and a pleasantly under-utilised setting: the dark and witchy Cornwall wilderness. The carefully constructed atmosphere does fall apart slightly when the weird South Park-style character models make their ugly appearance, but there's a mostly enjoyable few hours of archaeological pointing and clicking on offer here.
Expect to pay: £22.99 / $29.99
Her name is Erica Reed, and she has a power few possess - to star in an episodic adventure game that actually made it to the end. Also, she's psychic. That's also pretty useful, especially when tracking down a sadistic killer who's watched Saw a few too many times and thought "Hey, why not me?" Very unpleasant scenes await in this four part adventure that occasionally stumbles over its police procedural elements, but knows how to stage and time a grisly cut-scene that manages to keep the pressure on anyway. It's certainly a big shift from the team's previous effort, King's Quest fan-fiction The Silver Lining, but one which did well for them. It's no secret that it's inspired by the Gabriel Knight series (and indeed, creator Jane Jensen provided story consultation). They're now working on that game's actual remake, due sometime next year.
Expect to pay: £4 / $6
For many years, Waxworks was the king of gory death scenes. They're still pretty damn nasty. Waxworks is an old-school adventure with the difficulty dial turned all the way to 'cruel', opening five paths to five hideous worlds via a collection of waxwork displays. You'll find yourself facing off against Jack The Ripper, through fungus infested mines of darkness, and many, many instant deathtraps, constantly greeted with scenes of eye-popping horribleness, throat-slit brutality and oh, so many more delicious things. You do at least get some weapons to play with, including a home made flamethrower, but they don't make things much easier. Again, not a good game to play while or just after eating.
Expect to pay: £7 / $10
Released at the height of FMV adventure game fad, Phantasmagoria revolves around a writer who moves into a mansion formerly owned by a 19th century magician – you can probably see where she went wrong. You could use the word 'controversial' about a lot of full-motion adventure games, but this outlandish horror game featured plenty of violent scenes, earning it a reputation as one of the nastiest FMV titles around. Today, it looks like a particularly shocking episode of Knightmare, though there's doubtless plenty of historical value to its garish mixture of live action footage, puzzles and pre-rendered props.
Expect to pay: £7 / $10
You're not going to be kept glued to the edge of your seat by The 7th Guest's haunted corridors, unless you count craning to try and hear what the primitive, poorly done FMV characters are trying to say, but it's still a game with power when it comes to atmosphere. A fantastic soundtrack combines with some nicely done 3D and occasionally even creepy outbursts from the mad toymaker who owns this most iconic of horror houses. The actual puzzles are often quite silly, involving fare like slicing evil cake into pieces and infamously deducing a message from soup cans, but the wrapping makes them at least temporarily feel like more than they are. It gave people the creeps in 1993, back when CD-ROM was a novelty. It can still do so today if you're willing to meet it halfway.
Expect to pay: £10 / $15
Phantasmagoria is the most infamous horror adventure of the interactive movie age, but that's only because almost nobody played the infinitely gorier, endlessly more disturbing Harvester. You wake up with amnesia in a messed up 50s town, where mothers pop their babies' eyeballs, the paperboy packs a gun, the local teachers deals discipline with a baseball bat at Gein Memorial High School, and nobody bats an eye at the wasp woman down the street. All you know is that unless you join the mysterious Lodge in the middle of town, you're not going to last the week - one that ends in an involuntary blood drive where the nurse uses a scythe. Then things get really weird. It's a tough game to find legitimately, but check out our Saturday Crapshoot on it for more.
Expect to pay: £10 / £9.99
Hard to find, harder to get working (not least because you need a translation patch to get it out of its original Korean), White Day is a horror adventure worth the time. It's set in a school after dark, with the creepiness turned up to full even before the janitor starts culling the cast. You're not alone, more's the pity, with stealth the only way to survive long enough to get to the bosses that really want you dead. Players complained it was too scary, condemning the horrors to the harder difficulty levels. If you can track down a copy, check it out. It's clunky in many ways, but different in so many more.
Expect to pay: £10 / $9.99
Kafka bites back in this adventure we can all be glad is one of a kind. You're a man turned into a cockroach in the world's filthiest apartment, facing scaled up horrors designed to churn your stomach. Spiders. Fly traps. Dead rats in traps. Carved, bloody fish. If you're not already feeling queasy, here's a fun fact: they're real dead animals, acquired by the developers from exterminators and the local market, slapped under hot studio lighting and lovingly carved up for your squeamish pleasure. There's also a plot, but it doesn't matter even a little. Don't play this one just after eating. Make some time afterwards to give your house/room/apartment the clean that you'll have to give it.
Link: The Lost Crown site
Expect to pay: £3 / $5
If you can look past the endearingly amateur voice acting, not to mention main character Nigel Danvers' rather alarming face, The Lost Crown is a very British seaside adventure game that should appeal to fans of Most Haunted, creepy English villages, and characters who are called things like 'Nigel Danvers'. Jonathan Boakes has built up a sizeable collection of ghostly adventures over the years, including the Dark Fall series and – very soon – a Lost Crown sequel entitled The Last Crown. This one is a curiously (mostly) monochrome point and click set in a quaint little town supposedly hiding a long-lost Anglo-Saxon crown. Oh and ghosts. Mustn't forget the ghosts.
Expect to pay: £7 / $10
Sanitarium is a psychological horror adventure, and for once it's one that lives up to the description, obsessed as it is with sanity and madness and the general inner workings of the human mind. It's set in a surreal series of worlds possibly constructed from the delusions of its amnesiac main character, an asylum patient who survives a car crash only to wake up in a bizarre isometric landscape. Sanitarium is a true curio of the late 90s adventure scene, a cult classic that inspired a spiritual successor on Kickstarter (which sadly ended well short of its funding goal).
Expect to pay: £8 / $13
Authors seeking spooky places in which to write their great works must surely know what they're letting themselves in for the moment they set foot inside that crumbling Victorian mansion, notepad in hand. So it goes with one Michael Arthate, who has acquired an old estate in Northumberland with the aim of getting some peaceful writing done. Yeah, this doesn't happen. Instead, freaky stuff starts happening, which Michael soon investigates by moving a disembodied hand around and tapping it on stuff to solve puzzles. That's the kind of thing you can only really get away with in point and click adventure games – people frown and call you names when you do the same thing in your local branch of Debenhams.
Link: Lone Survivor site
Expect to pay: £9 / $13
Jasper Byrne's short Silent Hill demake Soundless Mountain II may have clued you in to the developer's love for all things Team Silent, but Lone Survivor proves it beyond all doubt. Like that classic (if you pretend the last few games didn't exist) horror series, LS boasts a creepy, fog-shrouded town, a heavy psychological element, and the best soundtrack Akira Yamaoka never wrote. Lone Survivor is more than just a love letter to Silent Hill 2, however; it's an accomplished horror in its own right, showing the level of polish and professionalism that comes with labouring over a project for years, rather than knocking something up for a game jam weekend. Every scanline-smothered pixel, bit of wall-gristle, or infected-zombie-thing has been placed with great care, and result is one of the most atmospheric and immersive horror games around. Lone Survivor has a demo if you want to try it out.
Expect to pay: £4 /$6
Alternative titles included I Have No Nose, and I Must Sneeze and I Have No Fingers, and I Must Scratch, but thankfully Harlan Ellison and co. went with the slightly more terrifying title they have now. This hugely original horror adventure, based on the short story of the same name, revolves around a computer that has all but eradicated humanity save for five humans it keeps trapped in a sort of metaphorical prison. Not only are they trapped, they're also being kept alive and tortured for the AI's own amusement. There are several different endings depending on your actions, but if you're a fan of humanity (eh, it's alright I suppose), the ultimate goal of the game is to prove that humans are better than machines, and to reclaim what's left of the Earth from an artificial intelligence that has long since written us off.
Expect to pay £4 / $6 (for a bundle of Alone in the Dark 1, 2 and 3)
In 2005 it became a rubbish film, in 2008 it got a rubbish reboot, but back in 1992 the Alone in the Dark adventure game won critical acclaim. The Guinness Book of Records has it pegged as the first ever 3D survival horror game. It's set in a mansion infested with zombies, rat-people and various other supernatural creatures. Lesser beasties can be kicked and punched to death, but the rest must be killed or bypassed with puzzles. It was a landmark at the time, but to modern eyes, Alone in the Dark has not aged well, and the attempted reboot failed to match up to the likes of Resident Evil. Alone in the Dark still has its fans, but it's best investigated as a historical curio.
Some of the weirdest games ever made have been horror games. They defy genre and introduce systems designed to deliberately generate frustration, rage or, in the case of The Void, a feeling of entropic existential demise. Others, like Alone, embrace new technology like The Oculus Rift to push into new territory. Then there's Deadly Premonition. Nobody really knows what's going on with that.
Link: Milkstone Studios
Expect to pay: £10 / $17
Despite token solo functionality, White Noise Online comes alive (or should that be dead? (no, I was right the first time, it should be alive)) in co-op where up to four budding ghost-hunters team-up Scooby-Doo-style (or should that be Nancy Drew style? (no, I was right the first time, it should be Scooby-Doo-style)) in order to explore eerie locations and unravel a sinister mystery - hopefully before a roaming monster devours them all (the ghost-hunters, not the mysteries). Think a multiplayer spin on Slender: The Arrival, but with over 15 playable characters, each one with their own perks and skills. Check out the replay feature, in which players can check the path their friends followed. “Why did you go over there, dick?” you might ask.
Link: Tales of Tales
Expect to pay: £7 / $12
This short experimental horror plays like a modern day version of Little Red Ridinghood, and it's ripe with moral choice. Like that famous girl from folklore, you can either stick to the path or - if you're naughty - stray from it, watching for the wolves who lie in wait. With grandmother falling ill, your mum sends you and five sisters - all of whom playable characters - on errands for her. While slow-paced and lacking in challenge (the developers don't want you to play the game in a traditional sense, seeing as 'losing' in The Path gives a larger glimpse of the story), it's one of the most memorable horror games on the list, one you'll need an active imagination for. An introspective adventure nonetheless.
Expect to pay: £5 / $8
What on Earth happened to Simogo? How did the developers follow a clutch of kid-friendly iOS curios like Bumpy Road and Beat Sneak Bandit with this disturbing oddity? Alas, we can only assume they've gone insane. Based on the Swedish tradition of 'årsgång' - quite literally, 'year walking', this sometimes 2D, sometimes 3D point-and-click sees players roam a snowy forest solving puzzles and encountering supernatural beings, from the freaky Backahasten (or Brook Horse) to the creepy dead baby you need to give it. During one puzzle you have to remember the notes of a witch's song and replicate it. There's even an in-game encyclopedia to brush up on genuinely interesting juicy scandinavian folklore. Though developed for smartphones, it slides seamlessly onto mouse and keyboard.
Link: Pathologic site
Expect to pay: £6 / $10
Pathologic is ugly and broken. It will sit on your hard-drive like a gangrenous limb, in need of amputation. If this sounds like a criticism, it isn't. Beyond the dirty, putrefied atmosphere, Pathologic is also weird and theatrical, frequently breaking the fourth wall and questioning your role as the player. You choose one of three characters, each with their own mysterious past. Afterwards, masked figures explain the rules of the game: that you have twelve days to cure the town of its disease, and that time will progress regardless of your actions. As it slips by, you'll have to pick your goals wisely, gathering resources and helping characters in the hope of slowing the inexorable decay. Whatever your choice, the town continues to rot, and the game builds towards its horrific conclusion.
Link: Tension Game
Expect to pay: £8 / $12
Ice Pick Lodge cemented their reputation for creating disturbing and nightmarish landscapes with The Void. This first person survival game is set in a grey purgatorial realm ruled by a group of known as the Brothers - warped creatures who seek to control the realm's supply of life-giving colour. You survive by storing colour in your internal organs, but must also spend it to draw glyphs to fight, plant colour trees and create pathways between the Void's bizarre dimensions. All the while the Brothers watch, first assuming that you're one of them, but becoming more suspicious - and more dangerous - as you grow in power. The entropic decay of your stored colour makes the Void a difficult game, but there's nothing else like it. The Brothers in particular are an impressive imaginative feat. One is a groaning wheel of limbs, another floats on top of a bloated sack of flesh. The Void blends body horror with existential ennui in a way that hardly makes it /pleasant/ to play, but it's a must if you enjoy weird game worlds.
Link: Greenwood Games
Expect to pay: Free prototype demo available at the link above
This experimental Oculus Rift game puts you on a couch in a lonely house and asks you to play a horror game on the virtual TV in front of you. As you play, events in the TV game start to bleed into the virtual house around you. Spooky whispering appear behind you, curtains will start twitching, door start creaking and it's soon hard to shake the feeling that there's something in the house with you. It's an unnerving psychological experiment that its developers have attempted to Kickstart. The ten minute prototype shows off the game's potential well enough, but the crude third person adventure you play on your virtual TV there will be replaced with a first person horror game called The Witching Hour, set in a gothic vision of the 1800s. If you have an Oculus Rift headset, you can download the demo for free from the Oculus Rift site
Expect to pay: £18 / $25
It's Twin Peaks: The Game. It's one of the best games of the year. It's one of the worst games of the year. It's a chaotic mix of imagination and genius. It's a frustrating combination of bloody awful design and writing bad enough to turn milk into cheese with its mere presence. Its quirky take on survival horror is refreshing. Its combat is bloody awful. Say what you want about Deadly Premonition though, it's an experience. As, some would argue, is having a root canal performed by Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout. With a fan patch currently fixing up its appalling resolution though, it's one of the more interesting gambles you might make in the near future. Don't expect greatness, even if you absolutely love it. Expect the unexpected though, almost from the very beginning.
Link: Yume Nikki site
Expect to pay: Free
Probably the biggest, and most enduring, cult indie horror around, inspiring fan sequels, anime and even albums. Yume Nikki is as ambiguous as it is terrifying, telling the story – if you can call it that – of a young girl named Madotsuki, and of the strange, disturbing things she sees in her dreams. Nothing more than that is ever explicitly explained, but you'll roll all sorts of theories around in your head as you explore the game's surprisingly huge dreamworld, collecting 'effects' that warp the environment, NPCs or yourself in unexpected ways. Despite their being no way for Matotsuki to die while she's asleep, the fact that she keeps returning to this nightmarish dreamscape makes this more disturbing than most of the games on this list.
Link: Home site
Expect to pay: £2 / $3
There's no place like Home, and that's a theme this sidescrolling indie horror taps into as it turns the familiar on its head. Waking up in an unfamiliar house, you have to piece together what's happened – and what's still happening – as the world appears to be falling apart around you. Well, perhaps that's not quite accurate: despite being in control of its nameless protagonist, the game also puts you in the role of narrator, asking you to shape the narrative at key points in the story by choosing what the main character did or didn't do in certain situations. Like the real thing, Home is what you make of it – only instead of deciding on scatter cushions or where to put that chaise lounge, you're deciding the fate, and grisly backstory, of its curious central character.
Link: Wales Interactive
Expect to pay: £12 / $20
“Imagine a world where death is no longer final, where precious memories are saved to enjoy forever, where your soul is immortal.” Master Reboot conjures up a pretty terrifying vision of The Cloud gone bad, of a digital, man-made heaven that's unsurprisingly not quite as rosy as it initially appears. This newly minted indie game combines science fiction element with first-person exploration and horror, in an all-digital world constructed from the memories of its dead inhabitants. It's easily one of the most imaginative games on this list, and progressive in an unexpected way – the Steam page proudly boasts that Master Reboot “supports the Welsh language”. Sydd yn braf.
Link: Will Love Tear Us Apart
Expect to pay: Free to play online at the above link
There are few more horrifying prospects than that of being made to re-explore the intricacies of an irrevocably broken relationship again and again. Will Love Tear Us Apart harnesses the theme's of Joy Division's hit to create a strange and disturbing experience in which you must treat with a hideous, swollen partner on a hopeless quest for reconciliation. The sparse line art evokes an empty, angst-ridden world as the game evolves from one phase to the next. It's a human communication breakdown abstracted into an interactive form. A fascinating experiment that demonstrates how fertile human relationships can be as inspiration for nightmarish horror scenarios. It's free, to, and you can play it in your browser at the link above.
The future is bright - wait, no it isn't. It's dark and full of horrible monsters. Kickstarter has been kind to horror games, and the huge online success of games like Slender have made big publishers sit up. If you've explored this horror collection, you'll notice how many draw ideas from the same influences. You see the same images recurring - the abandoned hospital, the bloody message written on a whitewashed wall, the wheelchair on its side, wheel still spinning. We need scary new worlds, full of scary new ideas.
Things are looking good on that count, fortunately. Sir, You Are Being Hunted replaces typical horror enemies with wandering tweed-wearing robots. Routine takes survival horror to an abandoned moonbase, and Sunless Sea takes it into a twisted underground ocean. Read on for a sneak peak at the NIGHTMARES OF TOMORROW *wolf howl*.
Link: Routine site
Expect to pay: TBA
The Moon is a fantastic place to set a horror game, as the developers of Routine must know only too well. We've barely scratched the surface of its pockmarked exterior, it has that whole dark side thing going on, and if you run into trouble (for instance zombies or aliens or zombie aliens), there isn't much hope for a dramatic rescue. Routine takes place in an abandoned lunar station; you're there to figure out why and how everyone mysteriously disappeared, which may or may not have something to do with the homicidal robots clattering around the place. If the idea of Amnesia in Space isn't enough to get you frothing at the mouth, then the game's retro-futuristic aesthetic (think 80s sci-fi movies) should do the trick.
Link: SOMA site
Expect to pay: TBA
Frictional Games have already appeared a couple of times on this mega-list, and that's because time and time again they've proven that they know horror – first in the Penumbra games, and then again in Amnesia, an experience some of us will never forget. Soma is their latest first-person scare-'em-up, and after a few days of video teasers involving freaky pre-cognitive computers it was soon revealed to look quite a bit like their previous works...until the Doc Ock-style tentacles make an appearance anyway. Expect creepy experiments, creepier blinking computer-things, and lots and lots of hiding, if Frictional's previous games are any indication.
Link: The Evil Within site
Expect to pay: TBA
Reasons to be interested in this upcoming survival horror can be boiled down to just two words: Shinji Mikami, the bloke responsible for Resident Evil (the good ones), God Hand and Vanquish, the latter of which have criminally never punched and rocket-boosted their way to PC. The Evil Within is his grand return to horror, and pre-release videos reveal that involves moments of hiding from chainsaw-wielding psychopaths (generally a good idea), shooting and burning zombie creatures and laying traps. Seemingly an apocalyptic horror starring giant Lovecraftian beasties, The Evil Within will apparently be Mikami's final project as director – hopefully he'll leave things on a high note.
Link: The Flock site
Expect to pay: TBA
The Flock are twisted things, skeletal humanoids lurking in the deeps of a dead Earth. Now they rise, seeking the solar capsule left by the last humans. Emerging from the shadows in May, teasers for The Flock promise an unusual struggle for survival in an asymmetric multiplayer arena. A handful of players take to the field, and each must battle it out to reach and control the capsule for victory. But there's a twist. Holding the capsule transforms the player into the Carrier, becoming prey but with a bite of its own. Less agile and weaker than the Flock that chase it, the Carrier can turn the torch-like artefact on assailants to vaporise those in motion. Training the beam on stationary attackers will force them to stay put but leave you vulnerable to Flock not accounted for. Dutch indie Vogelsap promises a tense game of cat and mutant mouse.
Link: Project Zomboid
Expect to pay £10 / $15 for early access
For a time it seemed as though the development of Project Zomboid was under the shadow of some sinister curse. The indie development team experienced some severe setbacks culminating in the theft of the game's source code during a house robbery. The isometric open world zombie apocalypse survival sim is back on track, thankfully, and has recently made it onto Steam's Early Access program. You must manage your survivor's mood to stave off the post-apocalyptic blues, keep them well fed, scavenge weapons and build your own strongholds amid the sprawling suburbs. There will eventually be NPCs, and a story to dip into, but the team are keen to first nail down Zomboid's survival systems to make sure that the game is capable of generating emergent, unscripted horror stories that you control.
Link: Survarium site
Expect to pay:
STALKER 2 was never to be, but most of its former developers are keeping the dream alive with Survarium, though a free-to-play arena shooter is hardly the form you'd want a spiritual successor to take. Fortunately, the maps they've shown so far are laden with the dilapidated beauty of STALKER's irradiated wasteland, and Vostok eventually want to turn Survarium into something much bigger and more emergent, with a co-op mode that riffs on DayZ. The prospect of a 40-person server set in a STALKER-esque zone built in a modern engine is worth getting excited about, even if it has to start life as a relatively restricted competitive shooter first. Alpha sign-ups are available if you want to get in early.
Expect to pay: TBA
This extremely pretty, Unity-built survival horror game failed to reach its Kickstarter funding target this year, but development continues. That's fortunate, because Raindrop's golden forests and bleak, deserted concrete wastelands look like a fun place to get lost. You'll spend a lot of time scavenging to craft weapons (though the developers stress that you don't have to kill people if you don't want to), armour and vehicle upgrades as you explore environments that have been in production since 2007, when the two-man team started building Raindrop as a Half-Life 2 total conversion.
Link: Sunless Sea site
Expect to pay: TBA
Sunless Sea is set in a dark, procedurally generated underground ocean. You must pilot your customisable ship around its waters, discovering islands, hiring crew and battling sea monsters. There's plenty of menace in Sunless Sea's murky, mysterious visuals and the strange creatures that populate the world, and the video for the team's successful Kickstarter campaign drops a few hints of the horrors to come when it suggests that you'll “lose your mind, eat your crew” and “quell a mutiny.” It's being built by Failbetter Games, creators of Fallen London, who list FTL, Don't Starve and Sid Meier's Pirates as influences, which means Sunless Sea will hopefully give us a chance to craft some good horror tales of our own.
Link: Darkwood site
Expect to pay: TBA
Darkwood is a top-down survival horror set in, er, a dark wood. After a successful IndieGoGo campaign the three-person team have charged ahead with development of their open world generation technology. You'll have to craft items from found objects in the various abandoned houses that populate the wood, which is set in the deepest, darkest depths of Europe in the twilight of the 20th Century. Early videos of Darkwood show a rich, sinister atmosphere that's already laden with menace. Death is permanent, too, to add even more tension. Darkwood is looking for upvotes on Greenlight .
Expect to pay: TBA
Hellraid is basically a demonic, medieval Left 4 Dead. Instead of mindless zombies, you've got the insidious forces of hell. And rather than a selection of sub-machine guns and shotguns, you've got some pointy sticks. Luckily, there are some tricks to help you and your co-op buddies gain the upper hand, including ranged and magic weapons, an RPG inventory and loot system, and character upgrades. By randomly generating the layout of maps and the locations of enemies, the "Game Master" system will ensure the war between good and evil can wage eternal.