The best horror games

So you're looking to spook yourself with the best horror games you can play on PC. Whether you're into jump scares, interactive fiction, thematically interesting stories or just large men running after you with a chainsaw, we've included a wide variety of games that'll hopefully freak you the hell out. Enjoy.

Like our lists of best strategy games or best FPS games, we tried to focus on a variety of horror experiences that still hold up well today, though we've expanded the remit slightly to include a few retro curios as well. 

Resident Evil 7

What starts as a bold, scary reboot certainly gets closer to the more recent action-oriented entries in its later chapters, but exploring the Baker family's grimy plantation in Resident Evil 7 is a grisly treat. The detail of this setting is amazing, and in the first half of the game, there's such a sense of the unknown that you're cautiously poking around every corner and treating bullets like they're gold. Resi 7's videotapes, which have you play out-of-context asides shedding more light on the Baker family and the story, offer the game's best and most experimental moments. 

Resi 7 is close to the original intent of Resi, but we kept the HD version of the original on this list too because they're both fantastic in their own way.

Inside

An unrelentingly bleak platformer that puts you through a gauntlet of hellish imagery: creepy mermaids, security robots, people hunting you down, nasty weather and more that we won't spoil here. Its vision of a cruel dystopian world that's out to kill you at all times is extraordinary, even if the moment-to-moment platforming is pretty familiar and can be frustrating. You're mainly playing it to experience the setting, really.

See also Little Nightmares, a similar type of horror platformer that isn't as scary but is arguably just as inventive. 

Stories Untold

In this anthology game, you operate a computer within the game: first playing an old horror text adventure game set in a spooky house, and later performing similar interactions in other locations, including a lab and a station in freezing conditions. How these episodes link together is the game's overarching mystery, but it's the way the surrounding environment changes with the story beats that'll shit you up here. Stories Untold is co-developed by Alien: Isolation UI mastermind Jon McKellan, and a lot of that DNA is present here. Plus, it'll only take you a few hours to beat, and it's a very reasonable $10 on Steam.

Outlast 2

As a trial-and-error stealth game, Outlast 2 might not be for everyone, but thematically it's among the more interesting games on this list. Playing as a journalist searching for a missing woman in Arizona, your wife is then kidnapped early on by a deranged cult, the origins of which are told through snippets of letters during the game. You navigate dark environments using the night vision mode of your camera, and it's just scary as heck, with a whole village wanting you dead and some of the most gruelling imagery ever put into a game. 

System Shock 2

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.

IMSCARED

Don't be put off by IMSCARED's rather tedious "A Pixelated Nightmare" tagline—it is easily one of the most unsettling games available today. But it's also a tough one to pitch, because much of its terror lies in the surprises that shouldn't be ruined by a meagre 150 word-long recommendation. Know that it borrows from 90's horror games via its aesthetic and fourth wall-breaking, file-bothering makeup; and that it consistently strives to surprise and keep players guessing. Understand that it'll play with your emotions, and drop you into a confused and confusing world while incessantly goading you till its final breath. Don't expect jump scares, but do expect to be scared enough to jump from your chair. The 2012 GameJolt version of IMSCARED is free, while the full, extended version is cheap as chips over on Steam. If you think we're at all grandstanding here, please be our guest and give it a try. We'll be hiding behind the couch. 

Thumper

A rhythm action nightmare in which you play a silver beetle speeding down a track into the mouth of a huge demented boss head. Death comes quickly. Miss a couple of turns and you're dashed into a million glittering pieces against the courses metal banks. Miss a beat in the gaze of the ring-shaped guard robots and they'll hurtle towards you, lasers blazing. All the while the ambient soundtrack pulses uneasily and the the rhythms become faster, and more erratic. The effect is one of tense, compressed dread. Probably best to play it in short bursts only. 

Silent Hill 2

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.

Sylvio

Whereas the likes of Silent Hill and Fatal Frame rely on radios to alert players to otherworldly adversaries, Sylvio uses sound, EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) and audio manipulation as its central ideas. Not only that, the game builds its entire gorgeously creepy world around this principle theme as players strive to uncover its backstories, bizarre plot twists, and insights into its unsettling unknown—all of which is backed up by some stellar voice acting. Generic first-person horror this ain't, and while it does occasionally force tedious combat set pieces upon players, it thrives in its quirky, idiosyncratic moments that are filled with atmosphere and character and dread. Sylvio is a thinking game and is unique within the horror genre. 

Anchorhead

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. It's free, and you can play it in your browser.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

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 horror game.

Dark Souls

You won't find scripted jump scares here. Dark Souls is a lonely, gruelling struggle through a world on the verge of being extinguished. Lordran is a sad and horrifying place to be. You catch glimpses of the gods' old glory, but mostly you're confronting the aftermath of their terrible mistakes, whether it's the nightmare of the Bed of Chaos or the gross parasite eggs of Demon Ruins. The PC port is poor, but most of its visual shortcomings have been solved by the modding community. Start with the DS Fix and pick and choose from the Dark Souls Nexus to get the game into shape.

Dead Space

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 rewarding than the traditional machine guns and shotguns of your typical FPS. 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. Dead Space classic piece of linear horror design that still holds up.