It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas – it’s October the month of Halloween. There is really no better time to scare yourself silly with video games – and we’re not talking about the rising price of them.
Horror games are my favourite kind. Seriously, should Magnus Magnusson ever rise from the dead and invite me onto Mastermind, horror games would almost certainly be my specialist subject. And, since there’s 31 days of this month in which to spook yourself, I thought it would be fitting to provide 31 incredibly chilling horror games for you to delve into – one for each day of this most frightful of months.
There are, of course, a number of games that are dead – pun absolutely intended – certs. Resident Evil (1996), Resident Evil 2 (1998), Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (1999), Resident Evil – Code: Veronica (2000), Resident Evil 4 (2005) – which is perhaps the greatest video game ever made – and, at least for the first few agonisingly claustrophobic hours, Resident Evil 7 (2017). It’s a curveball, but I’m going to add Resident Evil Zero (2002), an underappreciated frightfest and a glimmer of hope during an era where Capcom seemed obsessed with getting people to care about light guns. The remakes of Resident Evil 2 (2019) and Resident Evil 3 (2020) also make the cut.
That’s already nine games so far, and it’s unlikely any other franchise will dominate this list in such an aggressive manner. There is of course Konami’s Silent Hill (1999), Silent Hill 2 (2001) – another contender for the greatest game ever – and Silent Hill 3 (2003). I would like, however, to offer a reappraisal of Silent Hill 4: The Room, which took the series’ DNA, significantly retooled it, and refreshed the entire franchise in the process.
If you’ve never played it before, you spend 50 per cent of the game in one room, peeking through a crumbling hole in the wall. It’s some creepy genius, though not as much as PT, the critically acclaimed “playable teaser” for the now cancelled Silent Hills. which was supposed to be directed by Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima and filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.
We’re now up to 14. Let’s throw in Red Barrels’ Outlast (2013) and its sequel, Outlast II (2017). They’re a bit rough around the edges and peddling a dated asylum trope, but undoubtedly effective. Dead Space (2008) and Dead Space 2 (2011) also deserve to be in this list for keeping the survival horror genre alive through some lean years and amplifying the terror that is the vortex of deep space.
But really, when it comes to intergalactic fear, there’s one game that towers above them all: 2014’s Alien: Isolation, a game that conjured up such creeping dread that up to 90 per cent of people who ever played it are allegedly still hiding in an air vent or under a desk. While we’re exploring space, another oldie but a goodie is System Shock 2 (1999), aka what designer Ken Levine did before Bioshock (2007), which totally goes in this list too.
That’s 21 games so far. Sticking with the retro vibe, let’s add Condemned: Criminal Origins (2005), a nasty, disturbing offering from SEGA that would break the internet if it was released today. And, of course, Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010), because if you can get through what we’ll simply describe as “the water part” without screaming until your windows shatter, you’re braver than this writer.
Other throwback horror games that deserve a spot on this list include Forbidden Siren 2 (2006) and Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (2003), two bizarre titles from the golden days of the PS2, a machine that had more than its fair share of horror game highlights. I’d also like to give some props to Darkwood (2014) too. It’s not considered a retro game, but it certainly feels like one. It’s a top down survival horror that’s extremely unsettling, much like Doki Doki Literature Club! (2017), a visual novel that has to be played in the dark. Under a blanket and away from others.
We’re down to our last four games. At number 28 is Slender: The Eight Pages (2012), which has seen better days, but few experiences in gaming are as frightening as when you first encounter the game’s titular antagonist. Let’s also add in Hidetaka Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Bloodborne and a game that’s unparalleled in its dankness: Dark Souls (2011). Finally, let’s round things out with that wretched eel from Mario 64 (1996), which is, in truth, a moment scarier than anything any horror game can offer. Warning: don’t look into its horrible, soulless eyes. And with that, creep yourself out folks.