Horror may be gaming’s most effective genre.
While you can put a book down, or tell yourself its just a movie, there is an element of participation involved in games that makes the scary ones that much worse. Even if it is in the virtual sense, you are the one in the game, and the horrors are happening to you.It may have taken a while for developers to truly catch on to the potential of the genre, but ever since there has been a tidal wave of terror that has left many a gamer fumbling their controllers in a cold sweat.
As October rolls around then, and Halloween dawns on us, it is time to celebrate the greatest horror games of all time. I’ve got a list of 31 total, starting here, one for each day of the month. They are loosely ranked, with the main factor being the overall experience.
Although, being absolutely terrifying also doesn’t hurt its standings.
31. Deadly Premonition – Awful graphics, controls, gameplay ideas, acting, and just about every other technical malady you can think of plague this game. But, just like horror movies, not everything has to be perfect for a title to be memorable. There is just something so compelling in the way that “Deadly Premonition” handles itself, as it clumsily (but oddly beautifully) blends horror and black comedy in an open world environment. The game’s story is completely out there, and sucks you in just to see what’s next. It’s almost like the developers intended to make a bad game, but accidentally ended up with something greater than the sum of its parts (much like many a great B-Movie). You’ll either love this game or despise it, but it is impossible to forget, and makes for something every gamer must try even if you hate yourself for doing so.
30. Nocturne – In what will be something of a reoccurring theme on this list, “Nocturne” is brimming with flaws. Sporting one of the worst cameras ever in a video game, and some equally bad controls to match, “Nocturne” is slightly unplayable these days. But if you gut your way through it you will find some of the best horror environments of all time. Carried by the games great story, “Nocturne” comes off like a mix of the “X-Files” and the old Hammer horror films of the 50s. A technical disaster that did so much else right, this is one game that is begging to be revisited.
29. Dino Crisis 2 – The first “Dino Crisis” looked and felt a lot like “Resident Evil” with dinosaurs. It was fun, and had moments of genuine creativity, but the series peaked with “Dino Crisis 2.” The survival concept of the first game went almost completely out of the window, and in its place came pure action bliss, as “Dino Crisis 2” became one of the few, and greatest, arcade style horror games of all time. The variety of weapons, enemies, and levels turns the game into one new fist pumping moment after another throughout the, all too brief, runtime. It may not be scary enough to go higher on my list, but it’s fun enough to still warrant playing through to this day, which is not something you can say for a lot of similar games from that era
28. Siren– The Japanese have a good mind for horror, and “Siren” is definitely a pure Japanese horror game. While the game more than liberally borrows from “Silent Hill” in many aspects (especially the story) the look and feel of the game carry an appropriate level of dread. Bonus points are applied for the great “Sightjack” feature that allows you to take over the view of an enemy in order to best avoid them, which is necessary as they can’t be killed in the strict sense. At the end of the day, “Siren” is undeniably a clone of many superior works, but the things it copies are so rarely copied in video games that it still feels fresh.
27. Alone in the Dark – In general, video games do not share the same luxury of fine wines, and tend to age horribly. Long cited as the first survival horror game in the pure sense, “Alone in the Dark” isn’t necessarily unplayable, but its dated gameplay and graphics take much of the original impact away. More than just a textbook video game entry however, there is still a lot of great design decisions to be found in “Alone in the Dark’s” carefully constructed house of scares. Much like an old black and white horror flick, what this game has lost in fright, it makes up for with an odd charm and timeless sense of style. It’s impossible to call yourself a horror fan and not give the original “Alone in the Dark” a go.
26. Rule of Rose – If famed horror director Dario Argento made a horror game, it may look like ‘Rule of Rose.” One of gaming’s few entrants in the psychological horror genre, “Rule of Rose” is a disturbing romp through an abandoned orphanage that features an almost incomprehensible plot that actually makes the entire experience better for the dreamy effect it creates. I’ve rarely played a game that felt so unnerving, and makes you feel as unwelcome. Unfortunately this is another case of bad design ruining the overall game, as “Rule of Rose” puts its full effort into story and style and leaves players to suffer through a general gameplay hell that will make all but the most patient give up in disgust. It still remains too unique to be anything less than noteworthy, though.
25. Slender: The Eight Pages – I almost feel bad putting such a new and simple title above something like “Alone in the Dark.” However, “Slender” truly is horror design at its most pure. Featuring one enemy, and no combat system, the only thing you can really do in “Slender” is walk and collect the eight pages that are scattered about. But every turn could make you face to face with the Slender Man himself, which could spell your doom, and ensures you will be jumping constantly while playing. Uncompromisingly terrifying, this is minimalist game design at its very best, and with any luck will start a new trend of horror games not trying to rely entirely on action gameplay as a backbone.
24. Parasite Eve – Not quite a horror title, and not quite an RPG, “Parasite Eve” remains one of Square’s most noteworthy Playstation releases. A tale of genetic modification, and other, more ancient evils, “Parasite Eve” uses an original combat system (half real time, half turn based), a welcome modern day setting, and a truly compelling and unique story to create something that the likes of which has rarely been seen before or since. The horror elements of the game are not the dominating feature, but feel well placed and create the right mood at the right times, making it a pretty easy entrant decision. A true cult classic in every way.
23. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem – One of the most beloved horror video games of all time, this game would no doubt be higher on many people’s lists. The story spans several time periods and revolves around the tome of eternal darkness. As you follow the book’s deadly legacy you will run into a very unique fright systems that causes real world scares like your system suddenly “turning off” or your memory card appearing to be wiped, along with in-game effects like sudden character decapitation. “Eternal Darkness” is a unique game in so many ways, but is unfortunately burdened by some cheap design decisions, and a once fun, but aged combat system. Negatives aside, this is essential horror gaming and one of the more creative titles the genre has ever known.
22. Clock Tower 3 – “Clock Tower 3” has a lot going against it, the greatest of which is some truly repetitive gameplay design. However, its ace in the hole is its roster of stalking killers that chase you in a similar manner to many of the great slasher villains of film (think ‘Friday the 13th’). These chases rank among the most harrowing moments in video games, as you feel like you truly can’t escape what is about to happen to you. The constant presence of these inescapable evils, combined with other random atrocities, turn “Clock Tower 3” into a nightmare generator that few games equal in terms of “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god” frights. If you can find this gem, play it.
21. Castlevania – Respect. I have nothing but respect for the “Castlevania” series. Outside of its unbelievable difficulty, there isn’t much really “scary” about the game, but the gothic horror theme that is filled with classic monster designs make “Castlevania” one of gaming’s earliest, and greatest, entrants into the horror genre. The hunt for Dracula is a road that is paved paved with so many homages to works of horror, that you are just as likely to smile while playing as you are to scream. Later games in the series did it better (“Castlevania IV” may have been the best), but they all owe the original in the series for everything they have, much like so many other games on this list do.
20. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – In case the slight embarrassment that is “Resident Evil 6” made you forget it, this is THE horror series in video games. This is not the series last entrant on this list, but it may be the most surprising. However, I prefer the old “Resident Evil” games that emphasized survival and scares above action, and “Resident Evil 3” is full of both. A collection of some of the best aspects of the first two titles, along with great new features like ammo creation and an essential 180 degree turn feature, “RE: 3” is a hell of a send off for the series Playstation days. Of course, the real star of the game is the Nemesis. At least for your first time through the game, you are never prepared for when he will appear, and you are rarely equipped to fight him when he does. He violates all of the rules of the series usual villains, and makes the game feel like one giant boss fight in a very good way. You missed out if you didn’t play this one upon release, but you should still do so today if you can.
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