Why do we regularly put ourselves in situations designed to evoke fear? Horror movies constantly prove to be massive hits despite limited budgets, while some of gaming's most beloved franchises are sold on their ability to scare the pants off players. Obviously, nobody actually wants to be chased down by a machete-wielding maniac or trapped in a zombie apocalypse, but fear induces a chemical reaction with components similar to joy and even excitement. This adrenaline rush becomes associated with a positive experience, so we continue to seek it out.
The worst horror games include the occasional jump scare and call it a day. The story serves little purpose besides sticking the player in a potentially terrifying environment; however, if executed well, a simplistic plot could still act as the basis for a masterpiece. It should be noted that not every horror game is scary and not every scary game qualifies as horror, but the ones with a gripping story tend to leave a lasting impression!
10. Deadly Premonition
- Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: List
- Developer: Access Games
- Release Dates: February 23, 2010
In 2010, Deadly Premonition was bestowed "Best Worst Game" by GamesRadar, and this dubious award might genuinely be the most accurate way to describe Access Games' unusual survival horror title. Even if their stories were ignored, every other entry on this list would still qualify as a functional and solid game, but Deadly Premonition is something of a mess. A fun mess, but one none the less.
Set in the fictional rural town of Greenvale, Special Agent Francis York Morgan is tasked with investigating a strange ritualistic murder of an 18-year-old girl that harbors similarities to other nationwide cases. With a peculiar alienness pervading the citizens and town, Greenvale is pretty much gaming's version of Twin Peaks. Even if the glitches ruin quite a bit of the tension, Deadly Premonition oozes atmosphere from every pore of its being.
A murder-mystery that travels to some truly dark places, this survival horror game features some of the genre's most memorable characters. For those interested in picking this one up, the director's cut is the only option.
9. Alan Wake
- Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360
- Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios, Remedy Entertainment
- Developer: Remedy Entertainment
- Release Dates: May 14, 2010
Inspired by Stephen King and other similar novelists, Alan Wake is a thoroughly gripping suspense-thriller with enjoyable gameplay to boot. Developed by Max Payne's Remedy Entertainment, this 2010 Xbox 360 exclusive was clearly meant to serve as the first chapter to a larger narrative; unfortunately, a sequel was scrapped. Thankfully, the content that was released is close to flawless.
In order to break her husband's writer's block, Alice arranges a surprise trip to a remote cabin in Bright Falls to provide an opportunity for Alan to work in peace. After a short fight, Alice is kidnapped by a terrifying creature known as the "Taken", forcing Alan to investigate the enigma known as Bright Falls. Also, events from his last novel seem to be happening one after another, which further adds to the possibility that this is all taking place within Alan's mind.
Split into various episodes and an expansion, Alan Wake's story is structured more like a TV series than a typical game. Filled with twists and cliffhangers, the audience and Alan must gradually decipher what is really transpiring within this fictionalized town.
8. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
- Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox
- Publisher: Tecmo
- Developer: Tecmo
- Release Dates: November 27, 2003
Can a game be too terrifying? If the original Fatal Frame is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding yes! As a result, many players opted against finishing the campaign due to a lack of courage. In an attempt to avoid a repeat, Tecmo's sequel places a heavier emphasis on the story, although the horror elements remain integral to the overall experience. The third game in the series would continue down this road and only failed to land a spot on this list because its predecessor was slightly better.
Completely unrelated to the first game's plot, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly centers around twin Japanese sisters, Mio and Mayu, who wander into the desolate settlement of Minakami. Described as the Lost Village, Minakami's inhabitants disappeared after failing to sacrifice twin shrine maidens for a sacred ritual. Luckily, a new set of twins have walked into town, providing the perfect opportunity for the town folks' vengeful spirits to right their wrongs.
Bone-chilling and boasting multiple endings, Mio and Mayu are dragged through hell! Armed with only a special camera, gamers have to stare down the ghosts to be able to survive an encounter. Running away is not a viable strategy.
7. Silent Hill 2
- Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
- Release Dates: September 24, 2001
A toss-up between any of the first four entries in the series, Silent Hill 2 won out due to offering the most balanced blend of plot-driven creepiness, engaging exploration, and acceptable combat. Published in 2001, Konami's sequel is nothing short of a classic and holds a special place in the hearts of countless gamers. It pushed the psychological horror genre forward and set a standard that its successors could never quite replicate.
Mourning the loss of his wife, James Sunderland is called to the city of Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his supposedly dead spouse. Coated with a thick fog and littered with monsters inspired by James' psyche, Silent Hill 2 delves deep into the protagonist's mental state and challenges the player to explore his shattered memories and delusions. Besides interweaving a complex narrative centering around otherworldly entities, Silent Hill 2 is a stimulating character study of a person overcome by grief.
The gameplay is not necessarily brilliant, but the stiff controls merely add to the overall tension. With six unique endings, Konami hit perfection with Silent Hill 2, but avoid the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 ports like the plague.
- Platforms: PlayStation 4
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Developer: FromSoftware
- Release Dates: March 24, 2015
FromSoftware is primarily known for its responsive combat and intricate world-building, but it is possible to play through all of the Souls titles without even picking up a sniff of anything resembling a narrative. This is a total shame, as these games reward players willing to read through item descriptions with some of the most detailed and engrossing lore in the industry.
While the Dark Souls trilogy and Demon's Souls are far from slackers in the story department, there is no point searching any further than Bloodborne. Drowning in gothic imagery and unsettling enemy designs capable of standing toe-to-toe with Junji Ito and H.P. Lovecraft's greatest projects, Hidetaka Miyazaki's action RPG might not be conventionally scary, but the aggressive A.I. turns every encounter into a jittery battle of nerves.
So, how about the story? Set in the plague-infested Yharnam, Hunters are tasked with collecting blood from monsters to end this nightmare. As the narrative progresses, tidbits of information about Yharnam's history seep through the cracks, providing context to the current predicament. Apparently, the plague ties back to cosmic entities known as the Great Ones, which were worshiped by the country's civilians and led to something similar to a civil war.
5. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
- Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: Frictional Games
- Developer: Frictional Games
- Release Dates: September 8, 2010
Presenting a compelling narrative depends more on the manner plot points are drip feed to the audience rather than the story itself. The most entertaining saga means nothing if told in a haphazardly and poorly paced manner. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a masterclass of mystery and restrictions.
An FPS survival horror game set during the 19th century, Daniel wakes up in a spooky castle without any memories and a note saying to descend down to the Inner Sanctum and murder the baron. Also, he is being hunted by an unstoppable shadow, so it might be advisable to hurry up. Over the course of the eight-hour campaign, Daniel is revealed to have become obsessed with a magical orb found at an archaeological site and the shadow is determined to retrieve it. The self-imposed amnesia was done to clear Daniel's consciousness of the selfish deeds committed in pursuit of self-preservation.
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS X
- Publisher: Frictional Games
- Developer: Frictional Games
- Release Dates: September 22, 2015
By the same studio behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Soma is Frictional Games' magnum opus. Unlike the developer's previous work, this 2015 release sacrifices certain genre tropes to accommodate the gripping central narrative. Both the Amnesia and Penumbra titles suffer from immersion breaking mechanics like inventory management, but Soma is far less dependent on such devices.
In 2015, a car crash leaves Simon Jarrett with irreparable brain damage. As a last-ditch effort, he agrees to allow a graduate student to conduct an experimental brain scan, but Simon reawakens in an unfamiliar underwater research facility in the year 2104. If that was not already bad enough, a gigantic comet obliterated 99% of the Earth's surface, leaving this facility as the last remaining settlement. Alone and desperate to figure out why none of the researchers seem to be around, Simon sets out to unravel PATHOS-II's secrets.
The threat comes in the form of robots possessing human characteristics and Soma explores thought-provoking themes dealing with the definition of consciousness. We are not going to spoil it here but the ending stays with you!
- Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Mac OS X, iOS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Developer: 2K Boston, 2K Australia
- Release Dates: August 21, 2007
Sharing a similar setting and tone, it is no coincidence Soma ranked just below 2K Games' masterpiece. Considering Silent Hill and Fatal Frame already featured on this article, prior to 2007, games with great stories were hardly nonexistent; nevertheless, BioShock was revolutionary. Garnering near-universal praise from critics and gamers, BioShock signaled a turning point in the medium's history. Suddenly, games had the potential to be viewed as art rather than mere entertainment.
Taking place in the 1960s, Jack is the only survivor of a plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean, and the protagonist stumbles his way into the submerged city of Rapture. Created by Andrew Ryan as a government-free utopia for society's rich and famous, the city was a haven for scientific discovery and DNA experimentation. In due time, class distinctions started to form and Ryan's utopia devolved into a dystopian hellscape. Patrolled by lethal monstrosities known as Bid Daddies and the goosebumps-inducing Little Sisters, Rapture's legacy is soaked in tragedy.
2. Until Dawn
- Platforms: PlayStation 4
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Developer: Supermassive Games
- Release Dates: August 25, 2015
Originality is always appreciated, but a familiar tale should not be automatically dismissed. Until Dawn chiefly adheres to horror conventions, but Supermassive Games' execution is so professional and engaging, it is near impossible to not be engrossed by the narrative.
At times, Until Dawn feels like a tribute to classic slasher films, but this type of experience has seldom been done well by games. Principally set in a cabin in the woods, players need to escape from The Stranger, an enigmatic entity who appears to be out for blood. Rather than opting to be a survival horror or third person shooter, Until Dawn's gameplay revolves around player choice. While some titles merely pretend to have branching paths, actions truly have consequences in Until Dawn. Multiple playthroughs are required to experience the full story.
Until Dawn is just as terrifying as any slasher movie and the acting is convincing enough to immerse the player into the setting.
1. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
- Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: Capcom
- Release Dates: January 24, 2017
Following the action-heavy fifth and sixth entries, fans feared Capcom had entirely forgone the franchise's horror roots. Shifting to a first-person perspective, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard proved to be a welcome return to form for the influential series. Overall, Capcom's property regularly deliveries enjoyably cheesy stories, but 2017's entry took things to a whole nother level!
Drawn to a plantation by a message from Mia, his presumed dead wife, Ethan Winters inadvertently ends up entangled with a family of superpowered psychopaths who imprisoned his spouse in their basement. Aided by a woman named Zoe, Ethan must escape the Baker household while attempting to cure Mia of a virus that turns the host into a violent monster.
Resident Evil 7's storyline is presented via mostly interactive scenes and the tension never dies down. For those who really want a scare, Capcom's modern classic is available in virtual reality. We recommend preparing a change of pants.
Once someone gets a taste for horror, there is no going back! At this point, gaming can comfortably match Hollywood in terms of storytelling and presentation, and nothing compares to playing through your own terrifying adventure!
Which horror game has your favorite story? Please let us know in the comment section below.