Content Warning: I say “fuck” a lot in this post due to my sheer excitement. You’ve been warned.
There is nothing like sitting down and playing creepy-as-fuck video games for the spooktacular festival known as Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween. As an introvert, dressing up in costumes and going to parties and things just doesn’t sound like fun to me. The comforts of staying home, curled up with cats, a giant bucket of treats that I shall regret eating in gluttonous fashion the very next day, and a stack of games that still give me the occasional jump scare… or two or ten… is definitely the way to par-tay (do people still even say this? Or am I being too 90s?).
To kick off the spoopy pre-pumpkin slaughtering holiday, I wanted to share some of my favourite horror (and horror-esque) video games with y’all. These ten titles are either awesomely creepy with their narratives and gameplay dynamics, pack an incredibly disturbing (and gory) punch, or just had some of the best jump scares that I have experienced over the last year or so.
Now, I know that most of us are (probably) adults, so it should be obvious that this list is very much subjective to my own tastes, preferences, and enjoyment whatnots. So, if you disagree with the list, that’s very nice for you. You know, to have different tastes and likes and stuff is cool. Glad that we can all be different and respectful about said differences. High five, bro! ✋🏾 ✋🏾
Anyhoo, moving right along. Let’s get this list shindig going. I tried to include a variety of genres (e.g.: visual novel, first-person shooter, platformer, etc.) so as to appeal to a diverse group of gamers. I will admit that I much prefer first-person and survival horror genres above all else because they tend to be the most impactful on my cowardly nerves. However, over the last year I have come to appreciate the dynamics of different styles of gameplay within the horror and thriller categories, so that definitely adds to the gleeful nature that spurned this list into creation.
I have included relevant links to whatever consoles that these titles are currently available on. That way if you do find something that catches your fancy, you can also check it out on your preferred platform(s), if available. It’s organised from least creepy to most fabulously frightening.
Dead Space (October 2008)
Dead Space is an action, third-person, science-fiction survival horror game that takes place aboard the spacecraft USG Ishimura. You, the player, are Isaac Clarke, who is nothing more than a humble engineer. Even though you are the farthest thing from being a soldier and a fighter, you end up becoming the absolute last hope for the remaining living individuals aboard the spacecraft as they fight against an incredibly enigmatic alien entity. It was developed by EA Redwood Shores and published by EA (Electronic Arts).
What makes Dead Space so amazing is the use of physics, particularly in a space-centred atmosphere, the gradual difficulty level that keeps the game challenging and engaging without becoming frustratingly unplayable, the decent length, and (of course) the disgustingly creepy monsters that Isaac has to fight off to get shite done (as well as the glorious ways that they die when you shoot them).
The reason this is on my horror list is because it’s a genuinely entertaining game that has creatures who sneak up on you (literally) without giving away any indication that they are there and it can make for some super fun jump scares, especially if you’re playing with people who get frightened easily (like me). I also love that the game takes a relatively common trope in the sci-fi genre (regardless of medium) and puts a couple of unique spins on it, which I can’t share to avoid spoilers. The puzzles aren’t too difficult to solve either and completing them can require a spot of creativity that really adds to overall playing pleasure. My favourite parts are the ones that involve zero-gravity because it’s just super cool to float around gargantuan expanses within the ship. The player also gets to go out into space, which contributes to the claustrophobia of the atmosphere that sort of surrounds the character from beginning to end.
Mad Father (December 2012)
Mad Father is an indie JRPG (Japanese role-playing game), survival horror adventure title that revolves around a girl named Aya. On the eve of the anniversary of her mother’s death, Aya reminisces about the past, feeling sad, lonely, and nostalgic. Desperate to relive the happy moments rather than swim in grief, she asks her pops if they can celebrate in a special and cheery way. Agreeing to his daughter’s request, he puts the young girl to bed with hopes and happiness. Then in the middle of the night, Aya is awoken by the sounds of her father screaming. As she gets out of bed to check out what’s going on, she finds her home utterly ransacked and littered with corpses and other disturbing delights. It was developed by Sen and published by Miscreant’s Room.
Mad Father is on the list because it’s a classic bag of unexpected splendour with an excellent spine-tingling storyline, complex characters, good music and sound effects, and phenomenal replay value.
The game itself is a relatively short game (about two to four hours) that does atmosphere really fucking well. I was attracted to it initially because I adore JRPGs and horror. While I was expecting it to be spooky, I wasn’t really prepared for the level of chilling surprises that the game offers the players, especially given how cutesy the design are, more so in pixel form. The story is marvellously dark and can leave one feeling contemplative about life, death, and just the nature of humans in general.
So, if you like video games, especially JRPGs, that are unexpectedly gruesome with good storytelling, and that also isn’t a huge time-sink, then you’ll want to play this classic for sure! It’s available on Steam (PC) and Nintendo Switch (soonish).
Call of Cthulhu (October 2018)
Call of Cthulhu is a survival horror, Lovecraftian role-playing game that takes place in 1924 and follows a private investigator named Pierce. He’s approached by an old dude who believes that there was some shady shit behind the brutal death of his daughter and her entire family. Pierce takes on the case and treks to an isolated island known as Darkwater Island to unravel the truth behind the Hawkins Family’s demise. Soon after arriving, he’s dragged into a terrifying realm of conspiracies, cultists, and other unspeakable horrors. It was developed by Cyanide and published by Focus Home Interactive.
What makes Call of Cthulhu so superb is the thin line of sanity and psychosis and trying to decipher which one drives Pierce into solving this case. The games does insidious, psychological tension quite brilliantly with amazing graphics and world-building (looks so stunning on PC), eerie musical accompaniment, and wonderful Lovecraftian ambiance. Plus, the gameplay is mostly exploration but keeps things interesting as well via picking up clues, making choices that shall impact the story, jumping through realms, and a few other titbits. The game brings a different level of scariness to the medium that is methodical and subtle so that when a jump-scare moment happens, it lands with impact.
Things that may be slightly off-putting include a somewhat short length (about eight to ten hours) and that most of the game does involve talking to people and sneaking around in places where one shouldn’t be sneaking. You won’t find a ton of action or fast-paced fighting gigs as it goes for a more cerebral and shuddersome environment, which I adore dearly, but it’s still good to mention in case if you don’t.
Tokyo Dark (September 2017)
Tokyo Dark is a point-and-click, psychological thriller visual novel that follows a detective named Ayami Itō, who is searching for her partner, Detective Kazuki Tanaka. She heads off to a dark alley in Shinjuku to investigate what seems like a straightforward missing person’s case, however it quickly spirals into something dark and sinister, taking Detective Itō to the very depths of insanity. It was developed by Cherrymochi and published by Square Enix (Unties in Japan).
The beauty of Tokyo Dark is in how character-driven it is. They really make this game a solid experience. A cop who has a fucked-up past that hangs over her career like a black cloud. A woman who was terribly abused and it corrupts her ability to ascertain the difference between abuse and nurture. Couple that with the brilliant exposition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and how it can make the distinctions between sanity and insanity virtually indistinguishable and an extraordinarily engrossing mystery, then you’ve got yourself a perfect little treat for Halloween gaming.
I did a full in-depth review of this game, so if you’d like more specific info on the gameplay mechanics and overall enjoyment from start to finish, please feel free to check it out here. It is spoiler-free, so no worries for having the fun ruined. Tokyo Dark can be found on Steam (PC).
Until Dawn (August 2015)
Until Dawn is an interactive drama, folklore survival horror game that’s an exclusive to the PlayStation 4. It’s about eight friends who take a trip to a remote, snowy, mountain retreat but then quickly find themselves trapped…and hunted by something sinister and horrifying. As they try to run for their lives, one abhorrent thing happens after another, showing them that escape is impossible.
Until Dawn is the perfect game for fans of slasher flicks and for fans of games like Undertale, where your choices are literally do or die. I love playing this on Halloween especially because it is so beautifully fucked-up, unforgivably violent, and explores a unique mythos—Wendigo—that has rarely been explored in gaming (or even in cinema, for that matter).
The environment of a night-time, isolated, snow-slathered mountain does wonders for the frights, especially where claustrophobia, nyctophobia, and hemophobia are concerned. Then there are these counselling sessions in the game that give context to the main storyline which contribute to some excellently disturbing psychological imagery. Lastly, the characters all have classic slasher personas, making it easy to hate them, love and root for them, or feel infinitely conflicted about them (and ultimately, their final fates). Because the game centres so heavily on individual choices, with the consequences of those choices being almost immediate and jaw-droppingly extreme, the rapport between the character and the player can feel intimate, so when/if they die, it can be gut-wrenching.
So, yes, fans of classic slasher horror films, please do check out Until Dawn. It really is an amazing game with loads of replay value that will make your Halloween brilliantly spooktacular.
Little Nightmares (April 2017)
Little Nightmares (of course I was going to put this on the list) is a puzzle-platformer, horror adventure game about a little girl that is dressed up in a yellow raincoat. We quickly learn that she’s trapped in a place referred to as the Maw, which is a mysterious ship that is involved in some very dark and disturbing shenanigans. Realising the grim fate of children aboard the vessel, the little girl escapes her cage and tries to find a way to escape the ship as well. The game was developed by Tarsier Studios and Engine Software (Nintendo Switch) and published by Bandai Namco.
Little Nightmares is one of the most atmospheric platforming games that I have ever played, making it irresistibly immersive. The Maw is such a dark and dreary place, a place filled with nightmares that are unspeakable and unimaginable. The blues, greens, and greys of the various silhouettes that shift into vastly contrasting shades of yellows, oranges, and reds (depending on the specific scene) create a jarring experience that further contribute to a skin-crawling unease. The player will find themselves at the edge of their seats with both anticipation and tension.
If that’s not enough to get you intrigued, then the boss monsters sure as hell should be. They are fucking terrifying and induce horror in exciting ways. For example, one of them has excessively long arms, so when the little girl is running for him, his reach towards her is the very definition of life and death. The fight that involved him had an insanely petrifying musical score to it that matched his movements perfectly to boot. My anxiety was through the roof during this fight as I felt one with the little girl and just felt disgusted by the thoughts of falling into his sleazy grasp.
For more reasons to check out Little Nightmares, visit my Top 5 Reasons post where I chat about why this game is so swoon-worthy. It’s also fairly accessible and can be found on the following platforms: PlayStation 4 || Xbox One || Nintendo Switch || Steam (PC) || GOG (PC)
Resident Evil 7 (January 2017)
Resident Evil 7 is a first-person, survival horror game that blew my fucking mind when it first came out. It’s set in modern day rural America and takes place shortly after the events of its predecessor game, Resident Evil 6. A dude goes into the middle of Fuck No America in search of his missing girlfriend. What he discovers during his journey will be enough to give him nightmares until the end of time. It was developed and published by Capcom.
I’m a whore for the Resident Evil franchise, so naturally one of the games would have to be on this list, and why pick anything other than one of the best releases for the series since the original Resident Evil?
This game gets everything right. The graphics, atmosphere, and ambiance along with the very grotesque and stomach-churning settings and characters. Each character that you encounter as the player will leave you breathless with mortification and shock. The high-stakes anxiety and paranoia at getting caught or running into specific biohazard creatures crafts the perfect aura of dread from start to finish. The boss fights are epic and so stunningly deranged that when they do pop up, the jitters of terror-induced restlessness take over. Then there’s the mystery of what’s causing all this shite and as it unravels, things become magnificently psychological.
If there are any flaws to this game, it is that the puzzles aren’t as great as the original games. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t good at all, just not as What The Fuck as the first couple titles, and there also aren’t as many, at least not in the classical form that one would expect form the franchise.
Overall, Resident Evil 7 is absolutely terrific. Aside from obvious fright-fest scares, the game will also get under your skin if you have OCD, mysophobia, claustrophobia, noctiphobia/nyctophobia, and arachnophobia (or fear of bugs in general). It’s available on: PlayStation 4 || Xbox One || Steam (PC)
The Cat Lady (December 2012)
The Cat Lady is an indie graphic adventure, psychological horror PC only game about a depressed and lonely 40-year-old lady named Susan. With no friends, family, or other loved ones, she becomes suicidal as she feels totally hopeless for a worthy future. But then five strangers come along and change everything for her. It was developed by Harvester Games and published by Screen 7.
The Cat Lady is one of the few games that really fucked me up, psychologically. It really takes that bit very seriously, especially during gameplay, and it creates a wild ride of creepy-crawly “Oh shit” moments. I have never played a game that made me question my own eyesight and other senses the way that The Cat Lady does and, while it scared the wits outta me, that is exactly why I think it’s a must play for Halloween.
The art style uses a lot of black and white with colour pop (usually where blood is concerned). Specific rooms will have a single colour scheme with varying shades to create a very sepia-esque aesthetic. When you combine it with some eerie motherfucking settings and scenery, shifty backgrounds and surroundings, outstandingly atmospheric sound effects and musical score—the final product is one that is most-definitely not for the weak-hearted (so… me, LOL).
The best way to describe the story and the encounters that Susan has is haunting. There are strong themes of mental illness and the visual depiction/allegories for Susan’s mental conditions are impeccably done. There aren’t jump scares in this, but there are moments where you will feel the hairs on the back of your neck rise right on up and your spine will get this very cold chill from certain encounters/puzzles. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the most underrated games I have ever played and the one that is the most perfect fit for anyone who finds pleasure in a prime cerebral horror gaming experience.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (September 2010)
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a first-person adventure, survival horror game about a dude named Daniel (you) who wakes up in a deserted castle and is utterly unable to remember anything about his past. Taking the reins of this amnesia-stricken dude, one proceeds to explore this kooky castle in order to discover who he is, how he got here, and why he lost his memories. It was developed and published by Frictional Games.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is the epitome of survival horror, as you have no way of defending yourself at all with the sole manner of surviving being tied to your ability to run and hide as quickly as possible. Because of the way the gameplay works, Amnesia becomes such a wild fucking experience of a game. Between this very challenging trait and the sheer level of atmospheric proportions, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is one of the finest survival horror games I’ve ever played.
The game is supremely fucking immersive with its sound effects in particular, especially if it’s played on a surround sound system. It’s like you’re being wrapped up in the whistling winds and creaky doors and stairs, along with other disturbing titbits. The first half of the game is a sort of slow build-up to stuff that you encounter later that will send you running for fucking life (literally) and it’s remarkably done. There comes a point where you start pondering if this bloke is just mad as fuck and imagining the whole ordeal, but then the lines between reality and fantasy get blurred further as we uncover the truth about who we are and what happened to us.
It’s my number two game on this list due to how much of a genuine survival horror gaming experience it provides, along with its relatively short length, and also because of how much an imprint it left on my cowardly nerves. This is still a game that I cannot play while I’m alone in the house, a big fat fucking NOPE.
Alien Isolation (October 2014)
Alien Isolation is my favourite fucking horror game of all-time. It’s one of the best survival horror games ever made and I will die on this hill, fucking fight me.
Alien Isolation is a stealth action-adventure, first-person, science-fiction survival horror game from the Alien franchise. It’s a canonical story that takes place fifteen years after the events of the first film and follows Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, as she embarks on a mission to discover the truth about her mother’s disappearance; a mission that very quickly turns into a desperate fight for her life as she encounters volatile alien creatures that hunt without mercy. It was developed by Creative Assembly and published by Sega.
I’m not even sure where to begin with this game… It’s so fucking good. Like, damn good.
Alien Isolation is hands-down the best film-to-video game adaptation ever done with a perfect implementation of atmosphere from the films to craft an astoundingly claustrophobic experience that you can feel down to the very core of your bones. The constant threat of being caught or killed or worse is mind-blowingly intimidating and so very petrifying. It never leaves your mind. The wits that are used by the enemy (i.e.: the xenomorphs that I love and bleed for, the same way I love and bleed for Darayavahoush) as they stalk you from beginning to end, even out in the vastness of space, formulates this compounding level of fear that mutates each time you get dangerously close to being ensnared by them.
The musical score is superb. Most of the puzzles are precise, more so when there’s a time limit or a treacherous chase attached to them. The application of genuine physics help formulate the backbone of the station that Amanda is stuck on and contribute heavily to the cinematic scope of the interactive settings and surroundings. The xenomorphs are so gloriously vicious and ruthless. The first time they kill you is something you’ll never forget because you’ll never want it to happen again. When it does eventually happen again, it’s still just as fucking frightening as the first. What’s even better about them is that they learn your hiding methods and sometimes will act accordingly. So, if you keep hiding in the same spot, eventually that spot will become a death trap for you.
Gameplay is really brilliant as you start supremely underpowered and totally unprepared to handle this sort of threat. Scavenging for resources and tech becomes your only solution for making it out alive and plenty of that entails using your intellects to sneak by or around the alien threat. A lot of that brain-using comes in handy when you start encountering the xenomorphs more regularly. Remember how I mentioned they learn from your hiding shenanigans? Well, this also applies to how you play the game in general (I noticed this on my second and third play throughs). It learns how you think or act in-game and will behave appropriately. This helps to keep the gameplay (and the hunt) from getting stale and predictable while amping up the fear the deeper that you delve into it.
Honestly, I could go on and on and on about Alien Isolation. As I mentioned, it is my favourite horror game ever released. Not only that, but it’s also one of my top five favourite video games in existence. It is such an unbelievable work of brilliance and I would totally give my left arm for a sequel. Seriously, I would. If you don’t play anything else on this long ass list, then at the very least play Alien Isolation. Do yourself a favour and experience the pinnacle for the survival horror genre. You will not regret it.