As Halloween draws near, here are the final 10 greatest horror games of all time, any of which would be more than worthy for a Halloween night marathon.
10. Alien vs Predator 2 – A couple funny things about this game being on this list. One, its actually more of a sci-fi shooter than a full on horror game. Two, there are three main stories to play through and two of them (that have you playing as the alien and the predator) are entertaining, but far from scary. What gets it on the list is the 5-8 hour colonial marine campaign. If the best aspect of horror games is how they make you feel like you’re not ready for what’s next, then this may be the best example of it.
Around every corner waits a new threat, and the tension of awaiting it is only outmatched by the fright itself. It may be a sci-fi game but it’s also one of the best examples of the “haunted house” effect I can think of. You would think that the heavy arsenal at your disposal would help, but it only leads you into a false sense of security. The “Alien vs Predator” movies may have been abominations, but if you never played this game, I can’t begin to adequately describe the terror you are denying yourself.
9. Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth – An almost impossibly underrated title, where as most horror games take elements of the works of H.P. Lovecraft for their scares, this is a direct adaptation of several of those titles. What I love about the game is how much it feels like a love letter to the genre, as so many elements present in the game are horror conventions that are effectively implemented so that they sure to give any fright fan an impossible to shake ear to ear grin. Well, until it’s replaced with a look of cold fear that is. As much as “Call of Cthulu” is a fun experience, it is an even greater trip through pure terror. The monsters design is superb, the ammo is appropriately sparse, the sound is a highlight reel of bumps in the night, and the game features some of the best set piece moments you’ll see in the genre.
Particular mention here must go to the escape scene in the town of Innsmouth, where your early investigations lead you to conclude that everyone in the town is incredibly indifferent, and even hostile. That instinct would turn out to be dead on as the entire populace starts chasing you with the intention to kill. It’s a flawless escape sequence that puts you into the game like few other titles can even hope to do, and is a perfect example of the brilliance of this title.
8. Dead Space – Picking up “Dead Space” originally for a quick play through, I didn’t understand the hype. After all, at the time it was being heralded as the savior of the survival horror genre and one of the most terrifying games ever made to boot. My mistake was only playing the game for a short burst though.
“Dead Space” is a game that begs you, even dares you, to immerse yourself in it. Turn off the lights, shut down the phone, crank up the volume, and see how far you can make it before the sheer terror overwhelms you. The brilliance of “Dead Space” is in the collection of all the little things it does well, like removing a lot of the traditional HUD elements on the screen and subtly putting them on your characters back, or how almost all of your weapons are mining tools re-purposed for your current slaughter needs. There’s also the bolder elements like the horrific creature design, and the emptiness of the space station setting making you feel like you are truly fighting your way out of hell and into the unknown. I was gravely mistaken for thinking “Dead Space” was anything less than one of the greatest horror games of all time, and I now recognize it as perhaps the prime example of effective atmosphere in gaming.
7. Left 4 Dead 2 – The greatest zombie game ever made? Well…not quite but it is certainly the most entertaining. Valve struck horror gold when they devised the idea of allowing 4 players to fight their way through the zombie apocalypse in the original “Left 4 Dead.” With the sequel, they perfected the experience by incorporating more enemies, more characters, better levels, and more modes.
The entire game works because of its intense level design which is open enough to make you feel like you’re not boxed in, but still linear enough to make the choke point moments work. Even better is the community aspect, as “Left 4 Dead” perfectly allows you to live out those conversations you have with your friends about what you all would do in a zombie apocalypse. That’s not to say the game is entirely about fun, as the scares are plentiful and often come in the form of the sheer overwhelming numbers you face, and the special zombies that complicate your survival intentions with their unique abilities (especially the Witches, which are essentially the nuclear weapons of the zombie horde). “Left 4 Dead 2” is a simple idea executed to absolute perfection.
6. System Shock 2 – Remember earlier when I mentioned that “Dead Space” is perhaps the prime example of atmosphere in gaming? Well, that’s because there are a couple of other contenders on this list, with “System Shock 2” being chief among them. The theme of the game is isolation, as you are sent to investigate the sudden stoppage of the world’s most advanced ship. One it becomes clear that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong on board, your only companion is a surviving analyst who guides you to her location, and your only goal is to survive and hope that by reaching her you can regain a sense of perspective about what is going on around you. In your path is a host of mechanical and organic enemies as well as a very real sense of hopelessness that threatens your progress more than any in-game element.
“System Shock” is the spiritual pre-cursor to “Bioshock” and many of its elements were highly influential on the “Deus Ex” series. While that gives you an idea of how revolutionary it was at the time, I’m happy to say I can do no real justice to the game’s atmosphere. You are truly alone in this world. While it’s a world filled with incredible amounts of backstory and political intrigue if you go looking for it, that doesn’t make it feel any less unwelcoming. Capped off by one of the greatest plot twists in video game history, “System Shock 2” is one of the few great entrants of the horror genre in the games are art debate.
5. Fallout 3 – I could write a million different words, about a million of the different incredible things in “Fallout 3.” However, for the purposes of this list, I’ll stick to the horror aspects.
You start “Fallout 3” as a true stranger in a strange land, and any hopes of survival are dependent on your wits and a lot of luck. Scrounge what you can, and steal what you must, as this is a world filled with murders, cannibals, and ghouls (and those are just the humans). As you are not limited in where you may go in “Fallout 3,” you can easily find yourself facing a host of heavily armed super mutants, or even worse a group of deathclaws armed with nothing more than a helmet and baton. Death is around every corner, and unspeakable atrocities are everywhere else. Even late in the game, when you are theoretically equipped for anything, your life can end in a horrible instant.
The only reason you wouldn’t find “Fallout 3” to be one of the scariest games ever made, is if you’re cheating. As intriguing, and deep as the entire world is, it is twice as horrifying.
4. Amnesia: The Dark Descent – While the first “official” horror title may have been called “Alone in the Dark,” no game really captured that feeling until 2010’s “Amnesia,” from the same developers of the “Penumbra” series. Even the scariest games tend to give you a lifesaver of sorts in the form of a powerful weapon, or safe room. There are no such luxuries in “Amnesia,” which is perhaps the most concentrated level of fear ever forced upon a player in a video game.
Your only means of survival is stealth, as you are forced to outmaneuver and outwit the atrocities that fill your dungeon surroundings. This is made even more difficult by the fact that darkness makes your character plunge deeper into insanity, and light is your scarcest resource. Also, you may find it difficult to outwit anything, when this game spends its entire existence removing said wits from your body. The game also uses the same brilliant physics based puzzles as “Penumbra,” which means that the gameplay always feels fresh. As a testament to “Amnesia’s” skills, even though you encounter a variety of enemies, objectives, and tasks, the only thing that feels like it shouldn’t belong in this game is you. This is driven home by your main characters amnesia, which goes from tired cliché to unnerving plot device.
You may only play “Amnesia” once, but it’s not due to a lack of quality. The things you experience in this game will never leave you, and if this list was entirely based off of how scary a game was, you’d be looking at number one without contest.
3. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly – From here, you can consider these three titles interchangeable, with the rankings reflecting slight degrees of difference.
“Fatal Frame II,” much in the same vein of films like “The Ring” and “Ju-On” is an unadulterated trip down the dark road of Japanese horror. In a sense, then, it helps for you to be scared by such things as creepy Japanese children to get the full effect. In a greater sense, it is hard to imagine the person who wouldn’t be scared by the things in this game, even if the onslaught of horror movies from the far east would have theoretically diminished the effect of some of those scares.
The entire experience in “Fatal Frame 2” is based around the use of your camera. It’s your only weapon, as capturing these ghost’s images is the only way to defeat them. It’s like a possessed “Pokemon Snap” and remains one of the most brilliant innovations in the genre. The only way to progress is to, quite literally, face your fears and look them right in the eyes. It can’ be understated the effectiveness of having your only weapon be the thing that makes you feel the most vulnerable.
“Fatal Frame 2” has the style and sound quality needed for a good horror game (the sound is actually the leading contributor to the scares), but you may also be surprised to find some good voice acting, a gripping story, and some truly ingenious ghost designs. In fact, the entire game revolves around catching you off guard, and in that regard is an unquestionable success.
2. Resident Evil: Remake – In the world of horror films, it seems like a remake either leads to one of the worst movies you will ever see (“Friday the 13th“) or an unquestioned masterpiece (“The Thing“…err..the 80’s one). There seems to be little middle ground on the issue, and “Resident Evil: Remake” (known as REmake) is definitely an example of the latter.
Capcom realized that the first game in the “Resident Evil” series was still by far the most terrifying, and also understood that its gameplay and graphics aged like a banana. It cannot be understated then how effectively they managed to make the experience playable once more, and completely modified the game without losing any of the original title’s appeal. More than just a new paint job, this remake completely re-imagines the game’s style and updates the graphics appropriately to fit it. It’s still, in fact, one of the most beautiful games of all time. Similarly, they maintained much of the original control scheme, but made enough minor tweaks so that you never feel frustrated with the title, and it still feels like a “Resident Evil” game, as it should.
Of course, none of this would matter if the original “Resident Evil” wasn’t as good as it is. The original is still the definitive title in the survival horror genre, for the simple reason that every horror game that would follow it (even if they made improvements) owes some element of its style to that title. It’s a testament then that almost none of them could top it, even with the innovations along the way.
In terms of how this title managed to please both hardcore fans of the original, people who never played the original, and people who never played a “Resident Evil” game period on the same level, this may be Capcom’s biggest success. As much as this is an entry for the original title, it’s more of a tribute to the remake which renders that original almost irrelevant with its quality. In the video game horror hall of fame, this title should be the first entrant.
1. Silent Hill 2 – When Konami released the first “Silent Hill” on the original Playstation, it was viewed as an incredibly terrifying game, with more pure frights than almost any other title available at the time. Yet, it still couldn’t shake that dreaded “Resident Evil” clone tag, even if it was entirely undeserved.
With the sequel, Konami came out with a vengeance to make sure that no one would draw that comparison again, and that when you spoke of the great horror games with a group of friends, this would be the first one out of someone’s mouth. It’s the story of James Sutherland, who receives a letter from his dead wife that draws him to the town of “Silent Hill”, with the hopes of finding answers. Instead he finds the same fog-ridden town of the first title, only the horrors have shifted to reflect his own deranged psyche.
I don’t even like playing “Silent Hill 2” in the same way that I don’t particularly enjoy watching “Last House on the Left” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” regularly. It’s a game that just feels wrong and gets under your skin in a very real way. More or less, “Silent Hill 2” is a journey through a fragile psyche, and the world is appropriately threatening to break under your feet at all times. From the moment you step into “Silent Hill 2”, it’s clear that you will experience no victories or traditional gaming successes. The only accomplishment to find in this game is having lived through it. This is best shown through the game’s iconic pyramid head character. Your first encounter with this creature is disturbing on levels ranging from violent to sexual, and as memorable as it is you also wish you could instantly forget it.
It’s not often that something so ugly can be so beautiful, but such is the case with “Silent Hill 2”. There are scripted moments in this game that will scare everyone identically, but there are also unique experiences that everyone who plays it will have. I doubt there will ever be a survival horror game as complete as “Silent Hill 2”, and among some tough competition, in the end that is why it sits atop.
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