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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

Devotion

10. Devotion (2019)

Building from their prior creep-out, Detention, Taiwan-based developer Red Candle Games’s foray into first-person horror with Devotion is even more awash in cultural specificity. Set mainly in a wondrously detailed Taipei apartment, the game traces the evolution of that small space over time. Its furniture, photos, and decorative trinkets change places through the years, from the birth of a child to the growing rift of a marriage. Though it deploys Taiwanese folklore to restrained yet truly frightening effect, you don’t have to be familiar with the culture to be unnerved at how precisely Red Candle calibrates an eerie dreamspace. The developers morph the everyday detail of something like Gone Home into an absorbing nightmare of spatial trickery, with themes of subjugation and ambition that feel as universal as its various frights. That the game will perhaps forever be associated with the censorship that saw it removed from sale due to pressure from the Chinese government is unfortunate, because it’s a vital work of East Asian horror in its own right. Scaife


The Binding of Isaac

9. The Binding of Isaac (2011)

Two titles are more responsible than any other for turning these last few years of gaming into the era of roguelikes. If Derek Yu’s Spelunky is the indisputable prodigy, the preppy Ivy League candidate parents love to show off to neighbors, then Edmund McMillen’s The Binding of Isaac is the problem child, the surly metalhead most likely to snub the guests and stay in the garage smoking pot and listening to Slayer. It’s a game sprinkled with visual references to terminal illness, substance abuse, abortion, religious fanaticism, and matricide—one where digging into sunflower-colored turds can net you some cool treasure and passing gas is a viable mode of offense. Yet the core mechanics operating behind this repulsive and fascinating façade are no less impeccably engineered than Spelunky’s. Chatziioannou


SOMA

8. SOMA (2015)

Perhaps no other game on this list is as flawed as SOMA: A redundant first act, a collection of laughably inept enemies, and an array of technical issues congeal into a rather unfavorable first impression. Still, as everyman Simon Jarrett descends into the depths of a seemingly empty underwater research base, forced unease is gradually replaced by silent awe at the haunting beauty of this new environment and the journey expands inwardly to reflect his own growing self-awareness. The whole process stands as a metaphor for something that becomes clear soon enough. But just like our oblivious protagonist, we’re too busy disregarding the piling evidence, even while too fascinated to abandon a quest that will inevitably lead us to the truth that already resonates in the scale, the emptiness, the sheer unfathomable fortitude of an alien world utterly indifferent to our existence. There’s no god waiting at the end of Simon’s dark night of the soul, only a simple, unbearable realization on the nature of being. That, and the darkest, most shocking twist in recent memory on any medium. Be patient with its faults and grateful for its cruelty: SOMA will cleanse you. Chatziioannou


Bloodborne

7. Bloodborne (2015)

Though always a shining example of artistry, level design, and tiny, beautiful, emergent moments of story waiting to be found out in the world, FromSoftware’s Souls series remains better known to most for its unforgiving difficulty than its accomplishments in world building. Bloodborne is an earnest, powerful attempt to change that. The essence of the series remains, with its deliberate (albeit slightly faster) approach to combat, brilliantly labyrinthine stages, and crowd-sourced help or hindrance composing the core of the experience. This time, however, the ruined, diseased world of Yharnam, the increasing psychotic delirium of its people, and the incredible fever-dream terrors around its every corner cannot be ignored. This is Lovecraft by way of old-school Cronenbergian body horror, a place that will consistently, effectively distress and disturb with just as equal measure as it will consistently and effectively kill you. Yharnam is a place where you can witness every friend and enemy desperately praying to God, and the game takes a vicious glee in pointing out that this deity is on the wrong side. The term “survival horror” will never be more accurate for another game than it is for Bloodborne. Justin Clark


The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

6. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is about confronting our own powerlessness. You come to know people and places with an intimacy that few video games can claim, and you especially come to know your continued failure to save them. The moon obliterates the town of Termina again and again, and the people gaze upward to accept their fate as Link looks on, caught in the cycle of his own defeat. You can intervene and provide brief moments of respite by beating side quests, but the people never step out of line on their march to inevitable death. The small victories are just that: small in the face of what’s to come. You must eventually play the ocarina to restart the time loop, and you must eventually watch those victories evaporate as you move incrementally forward, powerless to save them all. Though you finally come to the solution and break the time loop to save the world and its people, you accomplish this only after so many failures, only after seeing death through the eyes of so many. Scaife

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