While many trumpeted the death of survival horror in the late aughts, like so many genres, it's come roaring back. Triple-A entries like Resident Evil or Dead Space form a rock solid core for this revitalized genre, but the real joy is found in the weird ones. Indie horror reigns supreme, and whether you want to weld yourself into a submarine at the bottom of an ocean of blood or stress yourself out in the graveyard shift of a funeral home, we've got you covered in this list.
The best survival horror games
Resident Evil 4 Remake
PC Gamer's got your back Our experienced team dedicates many hours to every review, to really get to the heart of what matters most to you. Find out more about how we evaluate games and hardware.
Release date: 2023 | Developer: Capcom | Steam
Okay look, Resident Evil 4's never been the scariest entry in its series, but it is essential. Between it's attaché case inventory management and frantic crowd control, it's an extremely tense experience while also offering some truly standout horror set pieces in its middle and later portions. The remake's take on the Garrador enemy especially is inspired. Act 2's castle remains one of the most atmospheric locations in gaming, its sumptuous, decaying 17th century interiors given new life on the RE Engine. Other entries on this list may be spookier, but there's a reason the genre hasn't been able to get over Resident Evil 4 in 18 years.
Read more: Resident Evil 4's knife parry is the best thing to happen to the series in 18 years
Dead Space Remake
Release date: 2023 | Developer: Motive | Steam
2023 games: Upcoming releases
Best PC games: All-time favorites
Free PC games: Freebie fest
Best FPSes: Finest gunplay
Best MMOs: Massive worlds
Best RPGs: Grand adventures
Dead Space was once the bold herald of survival horror's future, the 2008 original showing that actionized, over-the-shoulder combat doesn't preclude old-school dread. Despite proclamations of its demise, survival horror was alive and well in the Xbox 360 generation. Now in 2023 we get a perfect, as-you-remember-it remake, though protagonist Isaac Clarke is newly talkative, ginger, and arguably yassified.
Modern rendering and conveniences are bolstered here with new story content and a New Game Plus mode featuring an alternate ending. For the first time in 10 years, the future of Dead Space looks bright. Er, is it still bright if it's horrible on purpose?
Read more: Dead Space's definitive remake paves the way for more great things from the once-dormant series.
Release date: 2022 | Developer: Ebb Software | Steam
Scorn's like a gross Myst, Myst with guns and body horror. This first person adventure sees you crawling through the guts of a fallen civilization, one where everyone else went to the rapture a long time ago, leaving you to puzzle at their remains. Are you an unlucky member of its citizenry left behind when everyone else peaced out? More likely you're the grist for their biological mills, somehow spared that awful fate and now waking up into a different, possibly more awful fate.
The combat is challenging and has the same cadence as an old, tank-controlled PS1 survival horror game. While there may be a case that Scorn would have been stronger focusing purely on exploration and puzzle solving, The combat does have a certain delicious tension and demands the same movement mastery as juking Crimson Heads in the Resident Evil Remake. Ebb quickly patched the game's initial rough checkpoint system after launch, making Scorn a hands-down horror slam dunk.
Read more: Scorn is a guided tour of a forsaken civilization from its grim brown bowels to the heights of its lilac capital city
The best multiplayer horror games
Left 4 Dead 2
Release date: 2009 | Developer: Valve | Steam
A horde of great four-player co-op shooters followed in the wake of Left 4 Dead, much like the hordes of zombies follow its protagonists. Some of those co-op shooters are great, and you'll find them over on our list of best FPS games, but Left 4 Dead 2 remains one of those games that's still worth keeping installed for whenever you and up to three friends feel like working together to push across a slice of zombie-infested America.
The rhythm of Left 4 Dead means it always tells a story. Both quiet moments and swarming attacks are punctuated by special enemies with attacks that force you to work together, and Left 4 Dead 2's survivors—Coach, Rochelle, Nick, and Ellis, as well as the returning characters from the original game—chat and banter with each other like a functioning unit in a way that encourages you to do the same.
Of course, you may well be playing with mods that replace those survivors with Hatsune Miku, Deadpool, Master Chief, and Juliet Starling from Lollipop Chainsaw, all fighting across Silent Hill or Helm's Deep. That's just another reason Left 4 Dead 2 keeps bringing us back 4 more.
Read more: Great moments in PC gaming: 'Don't startle the witch'
Release date: 2014 (early access) | Developer: Kinetic Games | Steam
TV shows like Ghost Hunters helped popularize a kind of pseudoscientific paranormal investigation, and Phasmophobia lets you and up to three friends become those kind of well-equipped spook-studiers. Each of you can only carry a handful of tools, which is why you need those friends to lighten the load. Technical tools from EMF readers to humble flashlights and cameras alongside supernatural tools like crucifixes might all be necessary.
Need your horror games to look their best? Here are the best gaming PCs right now.
With those tools, you explore a haunted location, trying to find clues about what kind of ghost you're dealing with. Meanwhile, said ghost will start messing with you via poltergeist tricks while listening in on your panicked conversations thanks to Windows voice recognition so it knows when to ramp up the scares.
It's not all nightmares, though. Thanks to its early access state there's definitely some slapstick jankiness to it, and once you get familiar with its locations and tricks it can become a casual good time with friends. Or maybe we're being lulled into a false sense of security, and that's just what the ghosts want us to think.
Read more: Phasmophobia is the best ghost game ever made
Killing Floor 2
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Tripwire Interactive | Steam
Killing Floor offers a similar sort of high-zombie count, frantic survival as Left 4 Dead but with more of an emphasis on stationary wave survival than proceeding through linear levels. It also, quite crucially, has the advantage of being a live, well-supported game. Left 4 Dead will live on by sheer quality and reputation, but Tripwire is on that grind keeping Killing Floor players awash in new maps and cosmetics. A perfect "catch up with your friend from high school for a few hours on a weeknight" game if there ever was one.
Read more: Killing Floor 2 is a polished, fun co-op horde shooter with a healthy server browser
The best indie horror games
Faith: The Unholy Trilogy
Release date: 2022 | Developer: Airdorf Games | Steam
Basically think "The Exorcist, but on the Commodore 64." Faith primarily renders in bright pixels on dark black backgrounds, with absolutely phenomenal rotoscoped cutscenes. It's like if the eerie, primeval games of non-IBM PC compatible games of the 1980s were given the Shovel Knight treatment: 8-bit computing "as you remember it." Airdorf is able to mine a lot of surprising horror and depth out of this art style, and the Faith trilogy is a substantial supernatural horror experience.
Release date: 2022 | Developer: David Szymanski| Steam
Iron Lung is an absolute must-play, a pound-for-pound shocker of a game. Six bucks and 90 minutes for something unforgettable. You play as the single crew member of a makeshift submarine lowered into an ocean of blood on an alien moon. The doors and windows are welded shut against the pressure, and you have to use X and Y coordinates and a blurry chart of the sea floor to navigate its pitch-dark chasms. Your goal is to take pictures of the unnerving things at the bottom of this faraway sea, but something else stirs in the deep. I first started Iron Lung at 1:45 AM with everyone else in the house asleep, and its imaginative premise, impeccable atmosphere, and knockout audio design had me so stressed I went running back to Super Mario Land 2 for comfort.
Read more: YouTuber Markiplier is adapting Iron Lung into a movie
Release date: 2016 | Developer: Night School Studio | Steam, GOG, Epic, itch.io
Oxenfree stars a group of teens who wind up trapped on an island full of strange and mysterious happenings. Over time the island becomes more and more unnerving, and though the inexplicable radio phenomena can be unsettling, the real joy of Oxenfree is the banter between your friends (and grudging acquaintances), which mimics the fast-paced, witty dialogue of a good teen horror flick. And just like one of those, Oxenfree has plenty of clever tricks to hold your attention and keep you second-guessing all the way to the end of its ghostly yarn.
Read more: From 50 Cent: Bulletproof to Oxenfree, indie developer Sean Krankel has wild stories
The best psychological horror games
Release date: 2022 | Developer: Rose Engine | Steam
Signalis came out of nowhere to be one of the standout games of 2022, an incredibly rich survival horror experience that demands your attention and contemplation. Signalis' closest mechanical cousin is classic Resident Evil. It's fixed camera horror at its best, demanding that you manage your limited inventory space and resources carefully as you crisscross back and forth through a highly dangerous, god-forsaken pit of a research facility.
Narratively, Signalis is sublime, casting you as a Blade Runner-style replicated human searching for their fully human commanding officer and secret lover. The tension between protagonist Elster's desires, needs, and essential nature as a constructed, enslaved being leave a haunting impression, and we all know that no fragile psychology survives first contact with Lovecraftian horrors. It all takes place in a crunchy analogue future straight out of the 1970s under the auspices of, wouldn't you know it, an evil despotic government playing with forces it doesn't comprehend.
Read more: Signalis is a new genre classic, one of the best psychological sci-fi chillers in years.
Release date: 2015 | Developer: Frictional Games | Steam
Frictional's underwater sci fi horror masterpiece blows its previous work on Amnesia out of the water for me. You've got the same hide-and-seek horror with an oppressive atmosphere, but the kicker is its high-concept sci-fi plot. Its twisty yarn calls to mind the works of Philip K. Dick or Harlan Ellison: a rumination on how much the human spirit can bend before it is irretrievably broken, our own capacity for violating everything good and decent about ourselves. Don't read anything else about it before you load in (except maybe our review), and thank me later.
Read more: A masterpiece of audio and visual design, SOMA is atmospheric, cerebral, and occasionally frustrating
Release date: 2019 | Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge | Steam, GOG
Pathologic 2 is nasty. 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 2 is weird and theatrical, frequently breaking the fourth wall and questioning your role as the player.
You have 12 days to save a town afflicted by disease, paranoia, mob justice, and paranormal happenings. That ticking clock isn't just for show—events unfold in real time and you have to make difficult decisions about what you want to do and who you want to save. It's exhausting, yes. It's grueling, yes. But it's also unique and unforgettable.
Read more: Pathologic 2 is getting a difficulty slider but the developers don't want you to use it
The Mortuary Assistant
Release date: 2022 | Developer: DarkStone Digital | Steam
Part supernatural/psychological horror yarn, part workplace simulator. The Mortuary Assistant gets at that surreal sense of dread you get when working a closing or graveyard shift, but with all of your horrors actually realized. Like Papers Please's gotcha bureaucratic battles, you have to check corpses for signs of possession. Embalm the normal cadavers, while the baddies get sent straight to hell (by way of the crematorium).
Read More: Embalming corpses in The Mortuary Assistant is oddly satisfying
The best RPG horror games
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
Release date: 2004 | Developer: Troika Games | Steam, GOG
Still the unchallenged prince of vampire games, Bloodlines was confident enough to give you free rein to use your vampiric abilities. You can pluck NPCs off the street to feed on, clamber over the environments as freely as you can in an immersive sim, throw burrowing beetles into your enemies' bodies, and overheat their blood until they explode. It lets vampires be cool, not just through their powers but also by making them witty, sexy, or mysterious, which makes it plain why people want to become one of them.
That's how it gets you, of course. Going right back to the original 1990s tabletop RPG, Vampire: The Masquerade has always said it's a game of personal horror. It's only after you give in to the mystique, start to think about how great it is to be a part of the bloodsucking elite, that it turns around, opens up, and shows you the cost and the consequence of that.
While infamously buggy at launch, today the problems with Bloodlines are easily fixed.
Read more: Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines has aged like fine wine
System Shock 2
Release date: 1999 | Developer: Irrational Games | Steam, GOG
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 it's the combination of meaningful character advancement, rewarding exploration, horrifying enemies and the (at the time) 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.
Read more: System Shock 2: How an underfunded and inexperienced team birthed a PC classic
Release date: 2022 (early access) | Developer: Lovely Hellplace | Steam
Much like Resident Evil 4 or VtM:B, we're straining so far from heartland horror as to almost break away, but just like with those two games, Dread Delusion's atmosphere and subject matter leaves it essential to any horror fan. In this game you're on the hunt for a dangerous criminal in a militantly atheist society bent on killing the last gods, all while human civilization clings to the asteroids winging around "Neuron Stars." The setting calls to mind classic, weird D&D lines like Spelljammer, Planescape, or Dark Sun, and it has the sensibility of classic American sci-fi. One side quest manages to nail the most chilling, flashlight-under-chin, spooky ghost yarn with the absolute minimum of development resources, while another offers the most truly vexing moral choice I've ever felt in a game over the synthetic human meat substitute farmed by a race of cannibalistic, yet sentient zombies. Dread Delusion whips.
Read More: This dreamlike indie RPG is a dense, perfectly refined bite of Elder Scrolls
The best stealth horror games
Release date: 2014 | Developer: Creative Assembly | Steam, GOG, Epic
The best Alien game ever, by a long way, Alien Isolation stars the smartest, scariest enemy in any game. The xenomorph's killer instinct is matched only by its curiosity. It learns more about the space station Sevastopol's nooks and crannies as it hunts you over the course of 12 hours, ripping doors off closets and peering under tables in search of its prey. Which is you.
The motion tracker can help you avoid the xenomorph's grasp, but the alien can hear the sound, and even see the gentle green light of its screen, making every glance at the device a risk. That's pretty scary, but when you're forced into the vents and can hear the creature in there with you, that's when Alien Isolation becomes one of the scariest games ever made.
Read more: The making of horror masterpiece Alien: Isolation: 'It was a giddy, exhausting, intense time'
Release date: 2022 (early access) | Developer: Dillon Rogers| Steam
A thief-inspired stealth-em-up from New Blood developer Dillon Rogers, Gloomwood leans into that series' horror elements for this survival horror-infused steampunk adventure. You get the return of Thief's excellent audio design, and a revamp/reinterpretation of its distinctive visuals, as well as a novel solution to the "Quicksave problem" so many immersive sims face: no quicksaves, only checkpoints. Gloomwood also, blessedly, features another instance of the best inventory screen in gaming, a grid-based attaché case where size and weight of items matters (see also: Resident Evil 4, Neverwinter Nights). The only caveat is that there's still a lot more Gloomwood left to be made, and immersive sim might be a bit of a rougher fit for this sort of game than your standard shooter.
Read More: Gloomwood is too good to play unfinished
Release date: 2017 | Developer: Red Barrels | Steam, GOG, Epic
As a trial-and-error stealth game Outlast 2 might not be for everyone, but thematically it's among the most interesting games on this list. A journalist searching for a missing woman in Arizona, your wife is 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 grueling imagery ever put into a game.
Read more: Outlast 2 has one of most intense endings of any horror game
Thief: Deadly Shadows
Release date: 2004 | Developer: Ion Storm| GOG
All three Thief games have horror elements deployed in different ways, but they're all easy recommendations to a horror fan. Deadly Shadows wins out for this list by virtue of one standout level: the Shalebridge Cradle. This former orphanage turned asylum accomplishes an oppressive atmosphere bolstered by bone-chilling background lore, with the mistreated patients of unethical doctors calling out for justice from beyond the grave. Come for the stealth action, stay for the spooks.
Read More: Great moments in PC gaming: The Shalebridge Cradle in Thief: Deadly Shadows
The best free horror games
The Last Stand 2
Release date: 2008 | Developer: Con Artist | Kongregate
The Last Stand was a straightforward Flash game about standing behind barricades as the undead approached from screen left and learning when to switch to the chainsaw as they neared. Survive until dawn, and it ended. The Last Stand 2 added something to do in daylight hours: searching for survivors who will join you at the barricade, as well as more weapons and traps. (Watching a bear trap snag the legs of one of those fast zombies so you can lazily headshot them is a good time.) Any spare hours can be spent repairing the barricade.
But the real reason to search is to find supplies so you can travel to the next town. In 40 days the entire country's going to be quarantined and if you don't make it out by then, you never will. It's as simple, low-budget, and effective as the best movies about the living dead.
Read more: The Internet Archive's new Flash library is a nostalgic goldmine
Release date: 1998 | Developer: Michael Gentry | The People's Republic of Interactive Fiction
Horror games owe a significant debt to Lovecraft, and not just because he's long dead and his work is out of copyright. Plenty of games have included little references to his brand of cosmic horror, but text adventure Anchorhead is more deeply inspired by Lovecraft than most, drawing from several of his novels and stories to tell the tale of 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 gives way to tense, turn-limited puzzles as you struggle to stop an ancient, possibly world-ending ritual from being completed. No pressure then.
The original, free version of Anchorhead can still be played online, but there's also an expanded and revised version with illustrations for sale on Steam and itch.io that was released 20 years after the original.
Read more: 1998 text adventure classic Anchorhead is an uncanny addition to 2018's lineup