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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

Yume Nikki

15. Yume Nikki (2004)

Madotsuki never leaves her apartment anymore, which means there’s little to do in Yume Nikki but sleep. And the horror of the game lies in how sleep really does feel like an escape sometimes; her dreams are so much more open, so much more colorful. The worlds loop endlessly, a lot of abstract backgrounds against ambiguously symbolic shapes. In a medium that so frequently gives itself over to dream sequences, Yume Nikki is one of the few games that may truly be considered dreamlike for its oblique locales that seem to lead everywhere and nowhere at once, to little apparent logic. Madotsuki wanders near-aimlessly, the imagery growing quietly more disturbing as it patiently lingers: the candles, the hands, the eyeballs, the body in the road, the face you might see when you turn out the light. Never truly explained, Yume Nikki captures what it means to feel lost, as well as the reticence of finding yourself again. Scaife


Oxenfree

14. Oxenfree (2016)

The teens of Oxenfree all have histories, and so does the spooky island where they’re trapped. And whatever that history is, it’s ripping holes in the fabric of reality, causing events to repeat and people to act unlike themselves. Through its rich characterization and poignant exploration of loss, Oxenfree already elevates what sounds like an all-too-familiar premise, but the innovative dialogue system is what truly sets it apart. While walking around, protagonist Alex chooses her dialogue responses (or lack thereof), even interrupting people outright for some of the most natural, free-flowing conversations the medium has yet seen. Through this system, Oxenfree foregrounds its focus on character interaction in ways that many other games leave to an afterthought, drawing you further into their relationships as well as their desperation. Scaife


Condemned: Criminal Origins

13. Condemned: Criminal Origins (2005)

Though the multitude of run-down buildings in Condemned: Criminal Origins give the game its namesake, they’re not what makes the experience so disturbing. They certainly don’t help, with their low light and dark corners that always seem to conceal some awful secret. Rather, the most disturbing thing here is what you do to everyone inside, to these homeless people driven inexplicably insane by some outside force. Bestowed with the dubious authority of an F.B.I. badge and the desire to clear your name of false murder charges, you flail around with whatever is on hand: pipes, wood, broken signs, the butt of a pistol. One thing is as good as another for caving in someone’s skull while you hunt for some elusive serial killer. There’s no glamor in it, no graceful combos to turn this nasty business into an abstracted dance. There’s only you, scuffling around in the dark against the deep-seated phobias and insecurities of the human soul, feeling the tendrils of moral decay and deluding yourself into believing you can pull them out with your bare hands. Scaife


Inside

12. Inside (2016)

Anyone who begrudged Limbo for its noose-tight scripting and affinity for the macabre will find little recompense here, as Inside offers few opportunities to go off its beaten two-dimensional path, and most of those terminate with the child you control dying in increasingly grisly ways. When looking back on a game like this one, it’s difficult to resist the impulse to break it down to its most shocking scenes—a hotel sign here, a spider there. Many will flock to the web shortly after the credits roll to discuss these moments, anxious for someone to tell them what they all means. But while those set pieces certainly leave an impression (like the final one, which is as close to a statement of intent as Playdead will likely ever allow themselves), focusing on them alone does the rest of the game a serious disservice. Like Limbo, Inside is one of the few video games that reaches the level of allegory. What that means exactly is up to you, and one must play it first to find out. Steven Wright


Left 4 Dead 2

11. Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)

What sets Left 4 Dead 2 apart from similar first-person shooters is its core ethos of co-operative gameplay: If you don’t work with your three partners, you’re toast. You and three other survivors of an apocalyptic pandemic must fight against the hordes of the undead that now reside where America’s middle class once thrived. The game’s manic zombies (shades of 28 Days Later) will quickly overwhelm your team, though you’ll frequently encounter creatively grotesque “special” zombies that present unique threats like trapping and dragging individual players away from the group, or blinding players unlucky enough to be vomited on. Left 4 Dead 2 immerses you intently into its world by way of thrilling gameplay, character dialogue, and environmental storytelling, punctuated with rich detail and world building (will the plight of Chicago Ted ever be resolved?). Custom campaigns and add-ons made the game endlessly replayable, enforcing its status as a modern classic. Aston

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