Serial killers have always been a subject of morbid intrigue. Of course we don’t agree with what they have done; in fact, what they do tends to leave people disgusted and horrified. And yet as humans, so many of us are fascinated by them. How can another human kill others with such a drive? How do so many get away with it? Why do serial killers get so fixated on specific details that lead to their killings? How does it all start? We can find serial killers as subject matter in many television programmes and films, but they also appear in video games.
With Halloween nearly upon us, checking out the best serial killers in video games is certainly a great way to celebrate. Serial killers make for great villains across a few genres of games but especially feature in mystery and horror games. These characters have the traits of real serial killers - they kill a lot of people, usually, all of whom have some commonality, and they often leave a trail intentionally to tie the murders all back to the same person rather than the murders seeming like random killings. There are quite a few serial killers in the gaming world either as plot devices in a story or an opponent to face, and this is our list of the Top 10 Serial Killers in Gaming to help you get started.
10. Garrett Mason/The Black Dahlia Killer from L.A. Noire
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: Rockstar Games
- Developer: Team Bondi
- Release Dates: May 17th, 2011
L.A. Noire is a neo-noir detective game that lets you step into the shoes of a 1947 private investigator named Cole Phelps. It is done in a classic film noir style, and the crimes in the game are based on both those Hollywood films and real crimes from the time period. This gives the setting of L.A. Noire and really unique and specific aesthetic, setting up the story perfectly for a serial killer story. As Cole, you can freely explore the city of Los Angeles, investigating crime scenes, interrogating witnesses and suspects, and following up on leads as you try to solve the cases. How successful you are at these actions determines how much of the case you will be able to solve.
The serial killer in L.A. Noire is Garrett Mason, known infamously as the Black Dahlia Killer. Garrett first murders just one woman, and then six months later begins to murder a string of them during Cole’s investigation. Working as a bartender, Mason is able to find women who abuse alcohol, have some kind of relationship trouble, and are emotionally distressed. These women are his victims, and he eventually murders five of them through beating and strangulation. He always varied small details of the murders, but couldn’t help leaving clues to tie them all together - and back to him, the Black Dahlia Killer. It’s hard to pass up a film noir-style serial killer’s first appearance in the video game world.
9. Jacket from Hotline Miami
- System: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, OS X, Linux, Android
- Publisher: Devolver Digital
- Developer: Dennaton Games
- Release Dates: Oct. 23rd, 2012 (PC)
Going in a totally different gameplay direction from everything else on our list, Hotline Miami is a top-down shooter video game. You take the role of an unnamed protagonist, nicknamed “Jacket” by the game’s cult fans, who has been receiving strange messages on his answering machine directing him to kill members of the Russian mafia. Before each stage of the game, you are asked to select a unique animal mask to wear that will provide a special benefit in the coming massacre. You start almost all missions unarmed and must use a combination of stealth and brute force to kill everyone inside of a building using whatever violent method you can get your hands on.
Jacket is only one of two serial killers on our list that you get the chance to play as. He’s an unnamed and silent protagonist, but that doesn’t keep him from being interesting. There’s something extra creepy about a serial killer that mercilessly kills hiding behind an animal mask, and even though you’re playing as him, it’s still quite surreal. Add in the intense pumping soundtrack as you completely kill room after room of people in brutal and violent ways and you’ll find yourself lost inside of Jacket’s head. Miami Hotline may not be the most popular game but it has a cult following for a reason - Jacket is one of the most unique serial killers in gaming and playing as him is a one of a kind experience.
8. Walter Sullivan from Silent Hill 4: The Room
- System: PlayStation 2, Xbox, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo
- Release Dates: Jun. 17th, 2004 (JP), Sep. 7th 2004 (NA)
Silent Hill 4: The Room is a survival horror game in the famous Silent Hill series. It takes you to a town called South Ashfield, where you play as Henry Townshend. Henry is trapped inside of an apartment complex and you must try to escape, all while facing the dark supernatural world known as the Otherworld that the Silent Hill series is famous for. As you try to escape from the apartment, you travel through “holes” that form in it and face terrifying beasts and fears while you try to solve the mystery of what is happening - and who is behind this terror.
It turns out the culprit is an undead man named Walter Sullivan. Sullivan is the victim of a cult called the Order that brainwashed him as a child. Now, he believes that he needs to sacrifice innocent lives in order to complete the rituals he feels compelled to do. And you guessed it - Henry is set to be his next victim. The Otherworld that you face in Silent Hill 4 is constructed from the fears in Sullivan’s mind, so his character is affecting everything that you see and do. And if an undead serial killer in a horror survival game can’t get you worked up, well. Nothing can!
7. Scissorman from Clock Tower (Clock Tower 2)
- System: PlayStation
- Publisher: ASCII Entertainment, Human Entertainment (JP)
- Developer: Human Entertainment
- Release Dates: Dec. 13th 1996 (JP), Oct. 1st, 1997 (NA)
Clock Tower is actually the second game in the Clock Tower series, though it was the first title to be localised into English. It’s a point-and-click survival game where you control either Jennifer, the main character from the first game, or her adoptive mother Helen. Nearly everything takes place in Oslo, Norway, in a university research building until the final chapters of the game. The seemingly immortal killer known only as Scissorman is still at large, and the two women are both researching a way to finally stop him. Despite being an older game, Clock Tower’s characters and plot change heavily depending on the choices that the player makes, and there are multiple endings to discover based on these choices.
Scissorman is quite a terrifying figure as a serial killer that wields a huge set of scissors. He is the reoccurring antagonist in the Clock Tower series, and in Clock Tower is the sole enemy. The only time he is not pursuing the player is during intermission periods in the game; otherwise, he is a constant terrifying threat. Scissorman has killed children in the past and seems to be immortal as he comes back again and again and again with no sign of slowing down and no possibility of defeat. And let’s face it, in an older game that doesn’t have the sharpest graphics, Scissorman looks absolutely terrifying with his massive scissors and otherwise lacked realistic rendering. He’s not a serial killer that you can forget quickly.
6. James Earl Cash from Manhunt
- System: PlayStation 2, Xbox, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: Rockstar Games
- Developer: Rockstar North
- Release Dates: Nov. 19th, 2003
Manhunt is a psychological horror game based on stealth gameplay. You play as James Earl Cash, who is a prisoner on death row. While he originally was meant to be killed by lethal injection, Cash wakes up to learn he was only sedated. Cash learns from a mysterious voice called the Director that to earn his freedom, he must kill members of dangerous gangs across the city all while being filmed by CCTV. Each level gets increasingly more difficult and dangerous, and more and more is learned about the Director and his true motives. Without spoiling too much, we will just leave it that the Director is really not a good guy - you’ll have to play to find out more.
Unlike most of the other games on our list, in Manhunt you actually play as the serial killer instead of trying to escape from him. To progress in the game, you must execute enemy gang members to clear levels, called “scenes,” usually through stealth action. This leads to brutal and violent executions, and the more brutal they are, the higher you will score at the end of the scene. You can choose if you want a hasty, violent, or gruesome execution for your victims - you just have to manage to approach them from behind without being detected before you can get there. There’s plenty of items to use to aid in your executions as well. The level of violence in Manhunt led to it being banned in several counties, but if you want to play from the serial killer perspective this is your best chance!
5. The East Coast Killer from Still Life
- System: Xbox, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: The Adventure Company
- Developer: Microids
- Release Dates: Apr. 15th, 2005
In Still Life, you play as two characters 70 years apart that are investigating very similar crimes. In the modern time, you play as Victoria McPherson, an FBI agent investigating a string of similar murders at a massage parlour and S&M club in Chicago. Meanwhile, her grandfather Gustav McPherson is investigating the murders of street prostitutes in Prague in the 1920s. Both sets of crime seem to point to the same culprit, and it’s up to you piece together the clues in both time periods to find him. A lot of the game’s story is based on art and the concept of “still life” for which the game is named.
The serial killer in Still Life comes to be known as the East Coast Killer, and his murder streak persists across 70 years and two countries (or at least the original influenced a copycat 70 years later). He targets women in the sex trade specifically and is known for his cloak, top hat, and silver mask. Throughout Still Life you never see behind his mask, leaving the identity of the serial killer very mysterious. In fact, his identity is never revealed in the game, leading to some players’ disappointment in the ending. But if you don’t mind a mystery that doesn’t have a real conclusion until the sequel, where you play as one of the East Coast Killer’s eventual victims, then you can respect this serial killer story that encompasses generations.
4. The Raincoat Killer from Deadly Premonition
- System: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
- Publisher: List
- Developer: Access Games
- Release Dates: Feb. 23rd, 2010
Deadly Premonition is a survival horror game where you take the role of detective Francis York Morgan as he investigates a murder in rural America. The victim is an 18-year old girl, and her death is similar to other recent murders across the country. Of course, that means she’s probably the victim of a serial killer, and it’s up to you to crack the case (not to mention survive it!). Gameplay takes place in the real world where York must investigate the town while taking care of himself, like eating and sleeping, and also in the Other World, where he faces fights against supernatural enemies. The Other World is triggered by story events, and the whole town is also sent into the Other World from midnight to 6 am every day.
All the clues that York uncovers help to lead him closer and closer to the serial killer - the Raincoat Killer. He faces the Raincoat Killer several times in the game, having to chase him, hide from him, or fight him depending on the sequence in the story. According to the local folklore in the town, the Raincoat Killer kills only when it rains, and he wears a long trench coat that gives him his name. As you progress through the story, you learn that the Raincoat killer believes that if he consumes special “red seeds” that are related to the town’s connection to the Other World and kills four people, he can become immortal. The Raincoat Killer is an appropriately creepy serial killer antagonist for this horror game.
3. Leland Vanhorn/Serial Killer X from Condemned 2: Bloodshot
- System: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: Sega, Warner Bros. Games
- Developer: Monolith Productions
- Release Dates: Mar. 11th, 2008
Condemned 2: Bloodshot is a psychological horror game played in the first-person. The game is mostly focused on melee combat, but also has forensic investigation gameplay, too. You reprise the role of Ethan Thomas, an investigator from the first Condemned game, though he has since left the FBI after the events of the previous game. The mass psychosis leading to violence in the homeless population of Metro City have only gotten worse, and Serial Killer X remains at large. Now, Ethan is homeless himself and suffers from alcoholism and paranormal hallucinations. Despite this, he is recruited back into the FBI to continue his investigation of Serial Killer X, and hopefully, stop him for good this time.
Serial Killer X, which is a moniker for the man Leland Vanhorn, is a unique kind of serial killer. Like most serial killers, Vanhorn has a “type” when choosing his victims and way of killing them. His type is that he pursues other serial killers, and kills them in the way they have killed their victims in turn! He is also pursuing a cult in the city called the Oro, who have developed a sonic implant that lets them control other people. He wants to also harness that power. Vanhorn is raining down violence all over Metro City, dissecting people and killing them in horrible and “creative” ways, often writing messages in their blood and displaying them in a gruesome fashion. By the time the game finishes, including his murders in the first Condemned title, Serial Killer X will have murdered at least 6 other serial killers along with countless cult members.
2. The Origami Killer from Heavy Rain
- System: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Developer: Quantic Dream
- Release Dates: Feb. 23rd, 2010
Heavy Rain is an interactive drama video game putting you into the shoes of four characters, all of whom are involved with the same serial killer. Known as the Origami Killer, he murders his victims by drowning them in rainwater - hence the name of the game. As you progress through this tense and difficult game, it feels more like watching an interactive movie than playing a normal video game. It’s all story-like based plot and quick decisions that heavily influence the outcome, and whether you are able to ever capture the Origami Killer and bring an end to his terrifying crime streak.
The Origami Killer is a particularly cold serial killer because his victims are young boys. When he kidnaps Shaun, the boy in Heavy Rain, the Origami Killer forces his dad through a series of horrible tasks to try to retrieve his son. By the time he has taken Shaun, the Origami Killer has already kidnapped and murdered at least 8 other young boys by drowning them in rainwater. That’s definitely a messed up human psyche to be able to kill children in such an awful way and take joy from torturing their suffering parents. Heavy Rain puts you right into the action, too, leaving you to play the part of the victim and the detective as you try to outsmart the terrifying Origami Killer before it’s too late.
1. Eddie Gluskin/The Groom from Outlast: Whistleblower
- System: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, Nintendo Switch
- Publisher: Red Barrels
- Developer: Red Barrels
- Release Dates: Sep. 4th, 2013 (PC)
Outlast: Whistleblower is the expansion pack to the survival horror game Outlast. In Whistleblower, you control a character named Waylon Park from a first-person perspective. Park is a software engineer at Mount Massive Asylum who was working on a programme that allowed comatose patients to experience lucid dreams. But when he saw the effect it had on the patients, he was the one to contact journalist Miles Upshur to come and expose the corporation in the main game. Whistleblower allows players to see things through his perspective in the asylum alongside the main storyline. It has the same kind of gameplay, with Park trying to run from escaped patients at the asylum - and mostly just trying to survive.
One of these patients is Eddie Gluskin, a serial killer known as the Groom. Gluskin is driven by “love” to try to find the perfect wife. However, Mount Massive Asylum doesn’t have any female patients, so he had to take matters into his own hands. Thus Gluskin mutilates the genitalia of his victims while trying to create the perfect bride for himself, leading you to find patchwork humans with body parts in all the wrong places on your adventure through the asylum. When Park eventually races Gluskin in the gymnasium of the asylum after seeing a horrifying about of his work in changing other patients, the terror level is already at a climax. And trust us when we say your encounter with the Groom isn’t one you’ll quickly be able to forget, making him one of the most terrifying serial killers in a video game.
So what will it be? Being pursued by a serial killer and trying to stay one step ahead of his dangerous game? Or trying to crack the case and stop other people from falling victim? Do you like serial killers that leave a messy trail of carnage behind, or do you prefer a clean story full of intrigue? Whatever kind of serial killer has your captivation this Halloween, we hope that at least one game on our list will help get you into the spirit. Halloween isn’t just about ghosts and ghouls, it’s also about fear and mystery. These serial killers can help you find your Halloween spirit in a unique way this year!
Did we miss your favourite video game serial killer? Would you have changed the order of our rankings? Are you looking forward to playing any of these games now? Have you played any of them before? Let us know in the comments below!