It’s almost time for everyone’s favorite spooky holiday, Halloween! For some, it’s all about costume parties, candy, and pumpkins, but it’s also the time of year when horror fans get treated to the best in scary movies, haunted houses, and games. While horror novels can feel too detached, and horror movies are more about witnessing the terror, a horror game puts everyone directly into the experience. Playing a horror game is an experience like no other because it forces us to directly deal with those fears. Dealing with ghosts? That’s your problem to solve. Running away from a demon? Well ya better get moving, because the only person that can escape that demon is you.
The great thing about horror games though is that they give us a very personal experience as well. By forcing us to go through the entirety of the horror on our own, we become far more attached to everything that is happening to the characters we’re playing as. Maybe that’s because the game is forcing us to become those characters through personal choice, or the tale is just so gripping that we can’t look away. Horror is able to enter territory that other genres can’t and it’s led to some of the most influential video games ever.
Silent Hill 2 – PlayStation 2
Silent Hill 2 is a contender for the best horror game ever made. When the original Silent Hill was released on PlayStation, it was in many ways an unexpected success. The series was supposed to be Konami’s answer to the Hollywood movie style of Capcom’s Resident Evil, but what it ended up becoming was a truly terrifying psychological horror series, with Silent Hill 2 standing above the rest as the pinnacle of the series.
Silent Hill 2 has all the benefits of a good sequel in terms of gameplay and design, but the story starring James Sunderland is where it really fills the player with terror. Called to the town of Silent Hill by a letter from his supposedly dead wife, James is forced to reconcile with past traumas he would rather forget. Along the way, he meets others dealing with their own demons as well as literal monsters of his worst psychological fears. The most terrifying of them being Pyramid Head, a monster he created to punish him for his previous sin. What makes Silent Hill 2 so important though is the impact it had on the survival horror genre. Horror games had rarely tackled such mature subjects before and the way Silent Hill 2 handles its characters, plot, and setting makes it a classic that should be played by any fan of the genre. It is the benchmark that so many games are still attempting to meet to this very day.
Resident Evil – PlayStation
The first Resident Evil game is really not that scary. With hokie (hilarious) voice acting, a B-movie plot, and often frustrating gameplay, someone playing it today might not understand how the series would go on to become such a worldwide phenomenon. For starters the game really was horrifying back on the PlayStation, but the gameplay was also very fresh and new for console horror games. The camera angles, tank controls, and limited inventory created an experience that immediately grabbed players.
By the end of the game, the player becomes so overpowered Resident Evil switches from horror to an action title, but that gave it a Hollywood thriller feel. Capcom’s goal with Resident Evil was to create a game that felt like a movie and it largely succeeded. The series would go on to make far scarier games in the future, and then ridiculously cheesy ones — only to re-correct back to horror — but none of those future games would exist without that first game. Age may have not treated the original Resident Evil the best, but its influences are all over the series and horror game market today.
Alone in the Dark – PC
Everything that Resident Evil made popular when it released in 1996? All of that was inspired by Alone in the Dark back in 1992. The pre-determined camera angles, mansion, and emphasis on not trying to fight through every scenario was done by Alone in the Dark first. It basically defined the entirety of the Survival Horror genre that Resident Evil would go on to perfect.
What made Alone in the Dark so influential at the time was how it approached gameplay. The main character, Edward Carnby or Emily Hartwood, is a private investigator that can handle themself in a fight. The problem is their enemies are typically supernatural and far more powerful than them. With limited supplies, it isn’t smart to tackle every combat scenario head-on. Most combat can be avoided altogether by using logic, solving puzzles, and thinking quickly. This can be frustrating sometimes with some scenarios being easier to solve in repeat playthroughs, but that’s to be expected of games from the early 90s. The important thing here is that Alone in the Dark became the inspiration for one of the most popular genres in games today and it should be praised for it.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – PlayStation
Is Castlevania scary? Absolutely not. Is it also one of the best examples of taking horror and gothic themes in a side-scrolling platformer and making a series that would go on to define an entire genre? Yes. Castlevania is a really simple game. You are Simon Belmont, you have a whip, and travel to the end of every level to defeat classic horror bosses like Frankenstein’s monster, Medusa, the Grim Reaper, and then, finally, Dracula. The series is more challenging than scary, but the themes around it all fit perfectly into the horror genre.
Where the series would go on to influence games as a whole was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Keeping with the themes of the original games, it was still a story about defeating Dracula at the end but what made this one special was the non-linear and explorative aspects of the game. The player would collect new powers throughout their playthrough that allowed previously unexplored areas to open up. This encouraged backtracking because the player could go back and find new secrets. This style of gameplay would go on to be so popular that a new genre was born out of anything that copied it. Metroidvanias. A combination of Metroid and Castlevania, the two series that popularized the concept, are one of the most popular game genres today.
Dead Space – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Want to feel fear? Dead Space will fill you with it. Starring silent protagonist, Isaac Clarke, the player is tasked with helping Clarke discover what happened to his girlfriend Nicole on the USG Ishimura when it suddenly went silent. Unfortunately for Clarke, a Necromorph (zombie) infestation has taken over the ship and he has to put a stop to it. All of this takes place in the silent confines of space and Dead Space makes use of that detail in really unique, interesting, and horrifying ways.
There might not be a more terrifying game on this entire list than Dead Space. The way it manages to hit every nerve of a player and put them into an uncomfortable state is very impressive. Yet, it’s also a really fun action game as well. The concept of cutting off the limbs of the Necromorphs to conserve ammo was unique at the time. Back in 2008, most enemies in games had just a handful of hitboxes. Having a game where each individual body part can be isolated and attacked was very cool for the time. Throw in some cool modules, like kinesis stasis, and you have a vulnerable but also powerful protagonist. The player will feel like they can hold their own in Dead Space, but they’re going to be terrified the entire way. Another must-play for any fan of horror.