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The 25 Best Horror Games of All Time

Our list is, in part, an attempt to reflect the broad spectrum of frights in the world of gaming.

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The 25 Best Horror Games of All Time
Photo: Playdead

F.E.A.R.

20. F.E.A.R. (2005)

Horror video games often generate tension by disempowering players, making weapons and ammo sparse. Not so with F.E.A.R., a nasty subversion of the first-person shooter that pits members of the elite First Encounter Assault Reconnaissance team—the kind of gung-ho militaristic dipshits who’d be unquestionably victorious in a Call of Duty campaign—against an army of telepathically controlled clone super-soldiers. Wreaking havoc across a city, the game’s enemies don’t act like standard video game baddies, boasting some of the best artificial intelligence in the medium: These paranormal soldiers carefully work together to stalk, hunt, and terrorize you, turning bland offices and industrial work sites into slaughtering grounds. But F.E.A.R.’s star is the omnipresent, army-controlling Alma, a distillation of the J-horror ghost-girl trope. The game’s little red-dressed, long-haired Big Bad is more dangerous than a thousand super-soldiers—flinging furniture, filling rooms with blood, forcing images of corpses into your mind. Nothing can stop Alma, and she keeps players on edge all the way through to the game’s apocalyptic ending. Aston


Little Nightmares

19. Little Nightmares (2017)

Few games so uncomfortably capture that feeling of disempowerment that comes with being small like Little Nighmares, a game where the player takes on the role of a tiny young girl named Six, trapped in the bowels of an enormous vessel patrolled by huge beasts that want nothing more than to feast on children. There’s no fighting back. Six must take advantage of her minuteness to sneak past and evade her overbearing captors, each one suggesting a child’s nightmarish impression of a real-world adult and rendered in styles that recall everything from Edward Gorey to Tim Burton to Czech stop-motion animation. A blind janitor, face obscured by peeled-off skin, stretches his creepy long arms across multiple screens as he feels around for escaped children. A disgustingly obese chef, nothing but quivering body fat, lumbers after his prey. The tension of escaping these monstrosities is palpable across Little Nightmares, and its imagery remains potent long after the ferocious climax. Aston


Amnesia: the Dark Descent

18. Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010)

In late August 1839, young Daniel awakens in a castle, with no memory of his past or how he got there. All he knows is his name, that he comes from London, and that something is hunting him. The only clue to his unlucky fate is a handwritten note, telling him he must descend into the castle’s inner sanctum to murder a man he’s never met, while being pursued by monsters that may or may not exist. While the bulk of modern horror games rely on startling us with cheap jump scares and loud noises, Amnesia: The Dark Descent doesn’t even allow players to see its bestiary; any time a creature is on screen, our point of view distorts, the monsters too disturbing to be perceived. Utilizing an impressive soundscape, the game further stokes our paranoia, with the creeping sounds of something always just out of view. Amnesia is a game that takes full advantage of the medium to not only tell a story, but to make one feel a man’s loss of sanity. Aston


Until Dawn

17. Until Dawn (2015)

I was devastated when, near the end of Until Dawn, I lost Sam. The refreshingly level-headed young woman provided a much-needed moral and emotional counterweight to the constant bickering and scheming by the rest of the gang blockaded in the game’s besieged mountain lodge. Yet, going back for another crack at saving her was never an option. For all of the trite, unsophisticated mechanics—a simplistic QTE here, a binary branching path there—forced by Supermassive upon their teen slasher in an obvious effort to keep fingers as busy as eyes and ears, their one crucial decision is both brave and brilliantly effective: refusing the player’s prerogative to a second attempt. Ever so often, it’s the cheapness of the reload that lowers the stakes and kills off immersion, especially in more narrative-driven games. Until Dawn works as effectively as a Scream marathon not because of its jump scares; these just punctuate the constantly rising tension produced by the awareness that a momentary lapse of concentration, a single mispress (your lapse, your mispress) can unceremoniously, and irreversibly, terminate a character you’ve grown fond of. It also serves as a reality check to horror fans blaming the body count on the mind-boggling stupidity of implausible characters. The blood on your thumbs means you’ll never be as haughty shouting advice to panicky teenagers at the screen again. Alexander Chatziioannou


Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

16. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1991)

In line with its predecessors, Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, this 1991 SNES classic imposes a horrific rulebook on an audience that’s accustomed to fairer winning conditions: All of the game’s highly challenging levels have to be completed at least twice for the player to even have an opportunity to face the last demon and taste the relief of victory. Until that fateful moment when the final evil has been beaten, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts dementedly toys with our stress levels by parading out macabre and tormenting obstacles, from ghouls that leave their unearthed coffins amid dramatic tectonic shifts to a vicious sea that rises to and falls from ridiculous heights as you stand on a pathetically small raft. Through sights like our hero, Arthur, losing his armor and abruptly having to run around in his underwear—a campy reference to the common nightmare where one’s sudden loss of clothes leads to embarrassment and shame—this intimidating work continually gives you the sensation of spiraling toward doom. Pressgrove

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