Horror games nowadays have a variety of different mechanics at their disposal. Especially with advancements in technology bringing about VR and similar projects, gamers can now experience a more intimate terror.
But the genre did not start out this way. The tropes of horror games developed over the course of many years, after several iconic games. We are going to talk about the best of these horror games - older games that brought the genre to the way it is today. Of course, we bring these games up not just to educate our readers. The games on our list, although not always the best in terms of graphics, are still just as exciting to play as any new release!
10. Slender: The Eight Pages
- System/Platform: PC
- Publisher: Parsec Productions
- Developer: Parsec Productions
- Release Dates: June 26th, 2012
The first game in its series, Slender: The Eight Pages loses you in a dark, mysterious forest, hunting down eight pages of a notebook with images of the monstrous Slender Man. As players collect more pages, they must continue to avoid Slender Man’s horrific embrace.
Slender: The Eight Pages is not as old as some of the games on our list, but it still deserves its place! Bringing players into the lore of Slender Man, the rather simple mechanics and graphics might not be the most impressive among gaming. However, its simplicity actually lends to the charm of the game, as anyone can try to beat the game. Slender: The Eight Pages became wildly popular upon release, generating several other sequels in the franchise. The game has even spawned many different modded versions, often with the same mechanics but different monsters to hunt you down. Even people who don’t know much about horror games can appreciate the raw terror that comes from outrunning Slender Man in a dark forest!
9. Penumbra: Overture
- System/Platform: PC
- Publisher: Frictional Games
- Developer: Frictional Games, Paradox Interactive, Strategy First, Got Game Entertainment
- Release Dates: Mar. 30th, 2007
Another newer game, Penumbra: Overture is the first chapter in a trilogy of a survival-horror adventure. The game follows a middle-aged physicist named Philip, who follows a series of clues to an abandoned mine in Greenland. In a mix of survival and psychological horror, Penumbra: Overture is a game that truly puts fear in a new light for players.
Penumbra: Overture has plenty of unique mechanics to make it stand out from other horror games. The combat and puzzles are both realistic, despite the unusual setting. It also has a unique AI system surrounding light and noise in game, allowing for more realistic stealth options. This first chapter in the Penumbra series lures players into the mystery, making you want to find out what is going to happen next. However, the storyline itself can be rather convoluted and confusing. It is for this reason that Penumbra: Overture is lower on our list. Although its horrific atmosphere and unique mechanics draw players in, the clumsy backstory can sometimes distract from the true fear-inducing aspects of the game.
8. Alone in the Dark
- System/Platform: PC
- Publisher: Infogrames
- Developer: Infogrames
- Release Dates: 1992
Alone in the Dark is a survival-horror game, following private investigator Edward Carnby as he investigates a haunted mansion. The original story is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s writing, with plenty of undead creatures for Edward to face off against. In this first installation in the series, Edward is hired to investigate a piano in a Louisiana mansion, abandoned after the owner committed suicide. Alone in the Dark is truly an old-school horror game, even lending its original game engine to some of its sequels.
This game is one of the oldest on our list, but it is also one of the most influential. Though the graphics are dated nowadays, it was actually the first survival-horror game to use 3D graphics! Alone in the Dark was also one of the first games to use polygonal characters over pre-rendered backgrounds. Since its initial game, Alone in the Dark has released a few sequels, with a 2008 reboot version brought about for the Xbox. It is in the way that the atmosphere and creatures bring about a horrific environment that made this game so worthwhile. Among horror games, Alone in the Dark is one of the earliest releases to still have an influence on current video games today.
7. Haunting Ground
- System/Platform: PS2
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom
- Release Dates: Apr. 21st, 2005
Haunting Ground follows the story of Fiona Belli, a young lady who awakens in a mysterious castle after getting in a car accident. Fiona and a White Shepherd dog named Hewie must find a way out of the castle as they uncover more mysteries about those dwelling within. With a new enemy to be found in every room of the castle, it will not easy for the two to find their way home again…
The tale of Fiona and her friend Hewie is a classic horror experience – an unknown setting to escape from with a variety of devious monsters standing in the way. Though some criticized the game for the sexual objectification of Fiona, it is precisely that line between feeling desired and in danger that makes the game so tense! Haunting Ground is also unique in the sense that the player feels a draw to their character of Fiona, but they never replace her, instead spending the whole game in third-person. With each enemy vanquished, you find yourself cheering for Fiona and Hewie, even as you fear for what is to come next.
- System/Platform: PC, Android, iOS
- Publisher: DreamForge Intertainment, DotEmu
- Developer: ASC Games, XS Games, DotEmu
- Release Dates: Apr. 30th, 1998
Sanitarium is a psychological horror game with a unique point-and-click mechanic to traverse through the various unusual locations. Players act as Max, an amnesiac who finds himself fully bandaged in an asylum, searching for answers as to who he is and why he is there. As he learns more about himself, Max travels to many weird locations that seem to be imaginary but blend in with reality more and more at each step.
This game is one that revolutionized horror games in an unexpected way. With its point-and-click system, Sanitarium was able to be ported to mobile phones for accessibility. Max travels through his memories and strange imaginations to recover what he has lost, which is not necessarily a new story. Yet, the way in which the story is carried out is what gives Sanitarium its unforgettable nature.
5. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
- System/Platform: PS4, PC
- Publisher: Frictional Games
- Developer: Frictional Games
- Release Dates: Sep. 8th, 2010
It is through the eyes of a man named Daniel that we see the horrors of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. As Daniel explores a foreboding castle, he must avoid the monstrosities within in order to keep his sanity. Only seeing the light will keep the mental strain of insanity away – but the light is not always easy to find in the darkest reaches of this place…
In a classic survival-horror format, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a game filled with unusual monsters. It also boasts a unique story, with plenty of twists along the way to keep players guessing. Amnesia was made by the same company that released Penumbra: Overture and takes many of the same elements into its own game, most notably the combat mechanics. However, Amnesia surpassed Penumbra with its improvements in technical aspects, graphics and audio. Sound is arguably the most important part of a horror game, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent nails this aspect fully, lending real terror to the game.
4. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
- System/Platform: PC, GameCube
- Publisher: Silicon Knights
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Dates: June 24th, 2002
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem plays through the eyes of multiple different characters in their own settings, the main character being a young woman who is investigating her grandfather’s murder. In between the main storyline, players go through intermissions where they control other characters, helping to unravel the story for the protagonist.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem followed in the wake of survival-horror franchises like Resident Evil. However, it found a few mechanics all its own to make the game an individual experience. One such mechanic is the “Sanity Effects” bar, which deteriorates when players have been seen by an enemy. The lower the bar gets, the more the setting changes, bringing in strange hallucinations to reflect the realistic feel that the character is going insane. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is simply a psychological horror game at its finest, and remains one of the best examples of the genre to this day.
3. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
- System/Platform: PS2, PS3, Xbox
- Publisher: Tecmo, Koei Tecmo
- Developer: Tecmo, Ubisoft, Microsoft Studios, Sony Interactive Entertainment
- Release Dates: Nov. 27th, 2003
Considered one of the scariest video games ever made, Fatal Frame II follows twins Mayu and Mio as they try to escape from a haunted village. Set in the abandoned Minakami Village, Mio and Mayu become victims of the urban legend that haunts the place and must uncover the truth behind the mysterious “Crimson Sacrifice Ritual” if they hope to ever leave this dreary place…
Fatal Frame II built upon the success of its predecessor, but brought in a story and mechanics unique to itself. Mio and Mayu’s struggle to get out of Minakami Village is intertwined with the story of the village’s former residents, including forgotten twins Yae and Sae. Sae is the main antagonist of the game, a spirit that was intended to be sacrificed in the ritual but was unable to. The twining together of the present and past makes this storyline unique, as players uncover mysteries even as they run through a village filled with angry spirits. Fatal Frame II certainly has a more compelling story than the first game – yet its emphasis is still on terrifying players. Arming players with only a camera to defeat the spirits is another interesting twist on the game. Every step forward in Fatal Frame II is sure to have more terrors waiting for you!
2. Resident Evil 2
- System/Platform: N64, GameCube, Dreamcast, PS, PC
- Publisher: Capcom, Tiger Electronics, Factor 5
- Developer: Capcom, Tiger Electronics, Virgin Interactive
- Release Dates: Jan. 21st, 1998
Resident Evil 2 follows the desperate story of Leon S Kennedy and Claire Redfield as they try to escape the zombie-infested Raccoon City. Two months after the events of the first Resident Evil game, most of the citizens have been infected by Umbrella’s T-virus. To make it out of this dangerous city alive, Leon and Claire must use everything at their disposal!
Resident Evil 2 was a continuation of the work put into its previous game, with a story that built upon the events of its previous installation. It also boasted improved graphics and mechanics. This game brought about added detail and realism, with more to interact with for the player. Characters moved and changed with the damage they took. And with these additions, the world of Resident Evil felt much more terrifying! Players were able to put themselves in the character’s shoes and feel their desperation as they sought to escape. Resident Evil 2 easily deserves its place on our list, having established horror game mechanics for decades to come.
1. Silent Hill 2
- System/Platform: PS2, PS3, Xbox, XB360, PC
- Publisher: Konami, Team Silent, Creature Labs
- Developer: Konami
- Release Dates: Sep. 24th, 2001
Following the tragic tale of protagonist James Sunderland, Silent Hill 2 deals with horror in a different light. Set in the small town of Silent Hill, James travels to the dilapidated ghost town after he receives a letter from his dead wife, telling him to find her there. Accompanied by a woman named Maria, James tries to uncover the truth around his wife’s untimely death.
Silent Hill 2 is widely regarded as one of the best horror games of all time, having influenced the genre immensely. The game masterfully uses metaphor to analyze the main character’s psyche, bringing in a variety of strange abominations to do so. Not only does Silent Hill 2 bring in the terror that players desire from a good horror game, it also adds a deeper meaning to the story along the way. With improvements in graphics giving Silent Hill 2 a menacingly beautiful look, it is easy to see why this horror game continues to be talked about even today!
What brings these games together is their ability to transcend past their release date, bringing new ideas and mechanics into the horror genre of video games. In their own way, each of these games on our list has had a vital impact on the future of horror in gaming!
What is your favorite old-school horror game? Why do you like it? We’ve said our piece – now it’s time to hear from you!