I am a huge fan of horror movies, but there’s something very different about settling in for a visceral horror gaming experience. The advent of VR has only served to further the potential of the genre so, with all the hype around the medium in recent times, I’ve put together a list of what I think the best fright-fests in gaming are since 2010. Why did I pick 2010? Because it’s a nice round number and a lot of you won’t need telling about games that came before then. This is by no means a comprehensive A-Z of the genre so feel free to add your favourites in the comments, but it should act as a good guide to get you started. Also before anyone shouts at me, I’m not counting The Last of Us because it’s more of an adventure game, for me at least, than a true horror.
Lone Survivor (2012)
Coming somewhat out of the blue, this 2D retro survival horror originally released for the PC and OS X only, before eventually branching out to PlayStation platforms and the Wii U. Following an unnamed protagonist, who appears to have avoided a plague that has turned many of the inhabitants of his world into shambling mutant-like creatures, the player must attempt to navigate this new and difficult situation they find themselves in. Throughout the game, many references are made to the main character’s mental state, and how he might be dealing with this new set of extreme circumstances, and is this unnerving feeling of not knowing what is real and what isn’t that makes this one an instant classic.
Bioshock 2 (2010)
Squeezing in by a mere month and 9 days is the sequel to the all time classic, Bioshock. Even though it probably didn’t have quite the same effect as the first, and there is an argument to say that it’s not a true horror game, in the list of follow-ups this is fairly high up there. Set a decade after the events of the first, the player takes on the role of an early Big Daddy prototype known as Subject Delta. As well as the usual eclectic mix of creepy Little Sisters, and outright terrifying splicers, the second game featured a multiplayer set as a prequel to both games, entitled the Fall of Rapture. All round this one ticks every box laid out in the original with updated mechanics and graphics. I actually played through it again a few months ago and it really hasn’t depreciated with age.
First released for the PC around five or so years back, before coming to consoles at later dates, this is the entry on the list that feels most like a horror movie you have to live through. Taking on the role of an investigative journalist charged with, well, investigating an insane asylum overrun by maniacal patients, it’s the game’s use of stealth and found-footage viewpoints that really drive this one home. The lack of a visible health bar, an inability to engage in combat and the constant search for batteries for your night vision camera combine to make this a fairly unforgettable horror experience of the highest order.
Dead Space 2 (2011)
In the great abundance of video game characters that you really have to feel sorry for, Isaac Clarke has to be right at the very summit. The Dead Space series has managed to solidify itself as one of the seminal releases for the previous generation of consoles, and it may very well be the case that the second game is the magnum opus. Taking place on The Sprawl, a civilian space station constructed on one of the remnants of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, our protagonist once again has to do battle with the Necromorphs, aliens who reanimate the corpses of humans into a variety of ever more terrifying enemies. In terms of games which make you feel uncomfortable and tense throughout the whole thing, none do it better than Dead Space.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard VR (2017)
I couldn’t do this list without including what I believe to be the best virtual reality horror game on the market. You only have to look on YouTube to see people’s hysterical reactions, whilst wearing the headset, to understand some of the unique powers this game possesses. It was the first to use Capcom’s relatively new in-house RE Engine, and at last count had sold over 5 million copies. There are problems with the game, most notably the ending, and the VR format won’t be for everyone (RE7 is available as a normal game), but if you are a headset fanatic then this absolutely is the seminal horror experience for the platform.
Dying Light (2015)
My choice for all the zombie botherers amongst you (as Left for Dead is too old for this chronicle), this first person survival title was received brilliantly by the community as a whole, garnering a 9/10 rating on Steam. Developed by Techland, it was the game’s dynamic day/night cycle that really cranked up the scare factor contained therein, with the enemies in the quarantined city of Harran becoming considerably harder to deal with. The parkour mechanics, combat and crafting systems are all extremely well executed and the subsequent expansion, The Following, only added to how complete Dying Light felt on first play-through. If infected humans that want to rip you to bits are your thing, then this will be too.
Little Nightmares (2017)
One of the quirkier entries on the list, Little Nightmares is a puzzle-platformer that allows you to take on the role of Six, a little girl trapped in a place known as The Maw. As with many indie games, this release did have its flaws, in the form of its short length and dated checkpoint system, but there were a number of other factors that really set this apart as something that was really brilliant in its own right. Chiefly the games graphic art style complimented its narrative beautifully, something which was only added to by the atmospheric music. This ones a little off the beaten track, but well worth a look for a slightly less intense horror title.
Alien: Isolation (2014)
Oh goodness me. If I had a pound for every time the Alien movies had made me cry as a little kid, I’d literally have £7.00 at this very moment. The closest thing I can get to that nowadays is a run through the unforgiving corridors of Isolation. It’s how well that this game captures the feelings that I had watching the movies as a kid that really got me into it. Sure, the game is too long and some of the missions are really repetitive, but when one of those big, shiny, black bastards jumps out of the vent while I cower in a locker and pray it doesn’t find me, it delivers a feeling I rarely get in gaming.
Alan Wake (2010)
Although the Xbox 360, unlike its much maligned successor, had a ton of great exclusives, but in my opinion Alan Wake is right up there with the very best. Developed by Remedy Entertainment, the game was one of the first to format itself as it did, featuring six distinct episodes more akin to what we were used to seeing on television, rather than playing on console. The game follows the titular character as he searches for his wife, who has gone missing during a trip to rural Washington, purportedly kidnapped. As the story unfolds, you will find that what has actually happened is far weirder than anything you may have expected. A brilliantly executed salvo at a very saturated genre.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
The Evil Within 2