The Decade’s Scariest Horror Games That Kept Us Screaming
Ten years of horror gaming in one list.
Another decade is winding down, which means it’s time to take that nostalgic look back at the past ten years. We could think about all of the good, warm things that happened to us. However, we don’t want to bore ourselves to death. Instead, let’s set our focus on the things that kept us on edge. For these past ten years, the gaming industry has churned out truly horrifying titles that destroyed our nerves but left us wanting more.
The following is a yearly look at the titles that entertained our need to be scared. They’re not just the best horror games, but the ones that left many of us uncomfortable and cowering in a corner. They’re the reasons we sleep with the lights on and why we don’t investigate strange noises.
When a struggling writer is ticked into a vacation in a Northwestern town in the woods, he unwittingly becomes the main character in his own horror story. Part Stephen King novel and part Sam Raimi movie, Alan Wake pits players against an unstoppable darkness that’s possessing the citizens of Bright Falls. With light as his best defense, Wake battles the bedeviling demons of his own creation as he searches for his wife and a way out of his own nightmare.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Trapped within the walls of Brennenburg Castle, an amnesiac young man, Daniel, must uncover the truth behind who he is and why he awoke alone in the Prussian estate. Sounds simple enough, right? It probably would be if Daniel weren’t afraid of the dark, being pursued by relentless monstrosities, and fighting off his own fragile insanity. Amnesia forces players to run for their lives, a concept that was pretty prevalent over the decade.
In the depths of the Metro system, beneath the apocalyptic ruins of Moscow, Artyom sets out to find help against the deadly beasts attacking his home. Unfortunately, those very terrors and more lurk within the darkness of the Metro. Metro 2033 was the first in a series of games based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novel and was the most rooted in horror. From the shadows of a deceased world to the treasure trove of monstrosities, Metro 2033 was relentless with what it threw at players.
Dead Space 2
Following Isaac Clarke’s first encounter with the Necromorph, the silent engineer once again finds himself fighting hordes of the mutated corpses. This time, he’s found his voice but is trapped aboard an infested space station. Poor guy can’t catch a break. Not much has changed since the USG Ishimura. Players still face a horde of monsters, dismembering them frantically to survive. As with its predecessor, Dead Space 2 relies heavily on atmosphere and incredible sound design to keep players shaking in their gaming chairs.
SCP - Containment Breach
In 2008, we received our first glimpse at the fictional SCP (Secure, Contain, and Protect) Foundation, an organization responsible for documenting the unnatural entities that inhabit our world. On paper, it’s a fascinating and creative read. As a video game, it’s quite jarring. The deranged SCP-035, the terrifying SCP-106, and the deadly SCP-939 are among the fiends to have escaped from the underground facility. What do those numbers mean, you ask? You’ll have to brave SCP and find out!
Slender: The Eight Pages
Bred from a Something Awful post in 2009, Slender Man became a sensation in the creepypasta community. So much so that the lore has spawned a (terrible) movie and a series of video games. The Eight Pages was the first of those games, sending players into an isolated forest in search of eight notes. This slow-burn horror title doesn’t throw Slender Man in your face from the beginning, instead allowing you to spend a good portion of the game anticipating his arrival. When he does show his lanky frame, it’s enough to make you throw your controller.
“But wait!” you cry. “ZombiU released in 2015!” On the contrary, ZombiU first released in 2012 as, get this, a Wii U launch title. A financial flop for Ubisoft, ZombiU was quickly forgotten until the PS4/Xbox One port, Zombi. Ubisoft’s zombie romp thrust players into the heart of London during an undead outbreak. Heavy-hitting melee combat balanced out the non-stop zombie frights as players struggled to survive. Die in this slow-paced zombie-infested world, and it’s back to the beginning with you! Frustrating? Yes. But knowing that there is a punishment for death makes the game that much more tense.
Cry of Fear
Among the mess of subpar indie titles on Steam, you’ll find a scattering of must-play horror gems. Cry of Fear is among the best of them, and its existence is all thanks to Valve. Kind of. In 2008, a Swedish indie studio, Team Psykskallar, started development on a mod of the original Half-Life. The product wound up being a horror game capable of standing up with the best of them. A by-the-books horror title, Cry of Fear throws jumpscare after jumpscare your way. If you’re into that kind of thing, it’s pretty delightful.
Trapped in the halls of Mount Massive Asylum, investigative journalist Miles Upshur is having a doozy of a day. Equipped with his camcorder, Upshur responds to a mysterious note directing him to the asylum. Unfortunately, when he arrives, it has already fallen to the demented and deranged inmates once imprisoned inside. As he tries to uncover the secrets of the asylum, Upshur must evade his murderous pursuers and supernatural forces. Outlast sticks players in a dingy and dark building with nothing but night vision and a pair of running shoes. It’s up to you to bring a clean pair of underwear.
Fatal Frame V: Maiden of Black Water
While not everyone had the pleasure of being scared by Fatal Frame’s fifth entry, if you played the originals, you knew what you were in for. The Camera Obscura is back, as are the array of specters sure to keep your heart racing. Maiden of Black Water may not have performed as well as its predecessors - largely due to really poor marketing and the console it released on - but those that did tackle it through the Gamepad were delighted by its frequent scares and moody atmosphere.
Five Nights at Freddy's
Who here loved Chuck E. Cheese as a kid? Imagine, if you will, if Chuck, Munch, Jr., and Helen Henny came to life at night and went on murderous rampages. That’s Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, and in Five Nights at Freddy’s, you’re a new security guard unaware of what goes on when the lights go off. Five Nights is a jumpscare simulator through and through, but a smart one. The goal is to survive every night, watching security cameras and your power supply. Make a wrong move, and one of the lively characters may just try to shove you, painfully, into a mechanical suit. It’s a gruesome thought, which amplifies the terror of spending a night in the empty pizzeria.
On the hunt for any sign of her mother, Ellen Ripley, Amanda follows the trail of the Nostromo to the Sevastopol Station. Here, she’s reunited with Ellen, who’s safe and sound after her encounter with the slick-black Xenomorph. Just kidding! Amanda is thrust into a similar nightmare as her mother’s, just on a grander and much more frightening scale. The lumbering alien scurries through air vents and stalks the station’s hallways, seeking additional prey to use as Facehugger fodder. Even the slightest noise can attract the Xenomorph, forcing players to play it safe, even when they think they’re at a safe distance. Ridley Scott’s extraterrestrial terror is in true form in Alien: Isolation, a rarity for the two-mouthed terror’s video game presence.
The Evil Within
Shinji Mikami, director of the Resident Evil series (1996-2005), took a short break from horror after Resident Evil 4. In 2014, he returned in incredible form with The Evil Within, a game designed to drive players mad. Nothing is what it seems in this twisted world, as Krimson City detective Sebastian Castellanos quickly finds out. Trapped between reality and a world of horrors, Castellanos faces off against nightmares of all shapes and sizes. The game’s biggest scares come from its deadly bosses, a persistent blood witch and a brutal butcher.
A plane crash. A missing son. A vast forest spread out on an empty peninsula. But is it empty? What was that sound? That howl in the distance, where is it coming from? Welcome to The Forest, a survival game designed to make you feel so isolated, alone, and terrified. You’re a babe in the woods, vulnerable and afraid as cannibals circle you at all times of the day. Come nightfall, though, the mutated horrors emerge from their caves, looking to add you to their collection of bones. If The Forest doesn’t leave you taking breaks to compose yourself, then no game has a chance against your nerves of steel.
During the day, Dying Light is a fairly typical zombie first-person shooter. The addition of parkour makes city exploration more interesting but doesn’t change the zombie action too much. That doesn’t come until nightfall, when the shambling undead become mere obstacles in your escape from the world’s true horrors. No matter how equipped you may feel, when the sun sets and the Volatiles emerge, you’ll find running to be your best friend. Ultraviolet light is your only defense against the Volatile and their bifurcated jaw, making every chase a literal race for your life.
Trapped within the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean, Simon Jarrett awakens from an 89-year coma aboard a submerged research center. How he got there and what happened between 2015, when he suffered a near-fatal car accident, to the time he woke up is for him to uncover. Unfortunately, he’s not alone on PATHOS-II, and the monsters that pursue him can put an abrupt end to his journey. While the fiends of PATHOS-II are a terror, it’s the station’s atmosphere that’s going to have you taking frequent breaks to regroup.
Layers of Fear
On the surface, Layers of Fear may seem to be little more than a look at an artist’s spiral into insanity. It’s far more twisted and surprisingly deeper than that, however, but you’ll have to get past the subtle scares and atmospheric horror to explore these themes. As an unnamed artist attempts to finish his pinnacle piece, players follow him through the process. Unfortunately, it’s one filled with disturbing imagery sure to leave players unsettled from start to finish.
Dead by Daylight
Play as a murderer in this 4v1 deathmatch, and you’ll be sure to have a killer time (get it?). Step into the shoes of a survivor and you’ll have an entirely different experience. It will be one of tension and running and hiding. You’ll cower in lockers, hoping to evade the malevolent force tracking you. Your heart will race as you rush to repair generators. Players may not suffer through jumpscare after jumpscare, but Dead by Daylight handles fear in a different fashion, ensuring survivors are never at ease.
Resident Evil 7
After alienating many of its fans with Resident Evil 6, Capcom returned to form with Resident Evil 7. Well, mostly, at least. Heavily rooted in the horror genre, Resident Evil 7 sends players to the bayou, where something far more terrifying than the G-Virus awaits. Series newcomer Ethan Winters arrives at the secluded Baker residence to find his wife, Mia, who had been presumed dead. The Baker family isn’t your average backwoods, murderous brood, however, and the sporous Molded inhabiting their home is a good indication of the horrors awaiting Ethan. Resident Evil 7 was a switch from third- to first-person, which was a drastic change that not everyone took a liking to.
Miles Upshur isn’t the only investigative journalist to get caught up in the world’s oddities. Blake Langermann finds himself stranded in the Supai region of Arizona while hot on the trail of a pregnant woman’s murder. What he never could have expected was for his investigation and aerial mishap to land him in the clutches of a dangerous cult. Unlike the original, Outlast 2 doesn’t rely on the claustrophobia of an asylum to put players on edge. Blake traverses an array of environments, pursued by the deranged residents of Coconino County as he uncovers a mystery of biblical proportions.
Poor little Six. Ungodly horrors stalk her throughout the Maw, a vessel catering to the whims of the rich. Little Nightmares is a gloomy adventure for survival as Six evades those looking to make a meal of her tiny frame. Players are powerless, capable of only running from their pursuers and solving the puzzles that stand in their way. Being so small in a world of hulking beasts is scary enough but the real horror of Little Nightmares is the character design. A mix of Tim Burton and Tim Schafer, each enemy is a nightmarish creation clearly bread from the deepest reaches of a demented mind.
The Evil Within 2
Three years after his first encounter with STEM, Sebastian Castellanos returns to battle his demons once more. This time, he’s in pursuit of his daughter, originally presumed to have been killed in a house fire. The Evil Within 2 expands upon the original in many ways, adding in an element of open-world exploration and building upon the concept of STEM. Something is always on Sebastian’s tail, looking to tear him apart. In many ways, the sequel to Shinji Mikami’s return to survival horror is scarier, especially when the very vocal Anima floats here way onto your path.
Do our homes absorb a lifetime of memories? It’s a concept that Visage explores in depth. Players maneuver through a centuries-old home, tormented by the restless souls trapped within. A history of killings has turned the building into a breeding ground for paranormal activity, and it’s up to you, playing as the inquisitive Dwayne Anderson, to uncover the truth behind the murders. Visage is both subtle and in your face, making it impossible to relax as ghosts infest every dimly lit corner, waiting for their time to strike. And they will strike.
Remothered: Tormented Fathers
You don’t win 15 awards by being mediocre. Remothered is a beautiful game, which only enhances the game’s ability to terrify you. Slow pacing and incredible sound design are among Remothered’s best features, and while the title may seem a little off putting, it’s a puzzle that’s tied into the game’s concepts. You’ll have to play it to understand, but you won’t be disappointed. As you’re slinking through a massive mansion, evading a nude elderly man wielding a sickle, you’ll understand why it had to be played.
Resident Evil 2
Capcom took the original Resident Evil 2 and pumped it full of horror. If you thought Mr. X was scary in 1998, imagine being persistently hunted by him throughout the Raccoon Police Department. The Resident Evil 2 remake is an incredible reimagining of the classic sequel, complete with an updated map, improved visuals, and sound design that’s sure to keep you panic-stricken. Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield are back in near-perfect form in one of Capcom’s scariest games to date.
It’s no coincidence that Daymare: 1998 released the same year as Resident Evil 2 and takes place in the same year. Originally, before Capcom stepped in and shut it down, the game was called Resident Evil 2: Reborn and was slated to be a fan-made remake of the 1998 Resident Evil sequel. Despite the project being canned, Invader Studios pressed on and made the most out of a bad situation. Daymare oozes Resident Evil but it’s also very much so a unique horror experience set across multiple narratives.
Chernobylite (Early Access)
What would happen if Fallout, Half-Life, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. had a baby? It would probably be Chernobylite, an indie-developed game that takes you into the heart of the Chernobyl incident. In the wake of the disaster, players scour a 3D recreation of the Exclusion Zone in search of supplies and a very special missing person. Expect ample frights as you try to find your footing in Chernobyl and succumb to the mysteries contained within. You’ll meet others like you, but be careful who you trust. If your choices and what goes bump in the irradiated zone doesn’t kill you, the survivors likely will.