We all love a good scare, right? Horror games are some of gaming’s greatest past times. Usually booming in October, horror games from the past and present are played all around the world. The problem is, there just aren’t a lot of them made, and the best ones are far and few between. Usually, this is a great time to dig up old classics rather than trudge through recent crap. While the PS1/PS2 era was the golden age of horror games, the HD era, or the seventh generation of consoles, struggled and was probably the most anemic when it came to horror games, especially the good ones. There’s a reason why some of the rarest and most coveted physical games are horror. It’s the genre that’s been the least explored and not done well enough most of the time. If you can look past clunky controls and awkward gameplay most retro horror games do provide good scares, atmosphere, creepy monsters, and good visuals. I’ve compiled a list of the best and the worst.
American McGee is well known for his dark interpretation of the Alice in Wonderland series. The first game, American McGee’s Alice, was clunky mechanically but was a visual treat. The same goes for the sequel. It’s a gorgeous game with a lot of dark themes dealing with mental illness. The enemies are fantastically designed and the levels themselves are living art. Despite the incredibly repetitive gameplay, this one is a blast to play through.
A lot of people didn’t like Homecoming due to its more action-oriented combat, but I actually quite liked it. I feel it was the last good Silent Hill game in the series and it still retains the creepy atmosphere and insane creature design. The haunting music is still present as well. While it’s not as tense as the original trilogy, Homecoming does have better combat despite it being the wrong focus here. This was the first game in the series that was part of the jump to the next generation. The next game in the series, Downpour, would be considered the worst in the series, and I personally hated it. These would be the last games in the series to date.
Metro 2033 and Last Light, these were some of the best horror games to grace the seventh generation of consoles. While they played and looked best on PC, the console versions still looked great and did a good job giving us scares. The post-apocalyptic horror series had an intriguing story and tense atmosphere along with crazy creature designs. The final game in the trilogy, Exodus, would be on the next-generation systems and receive mixed reviews.
While not inherently designed to give you nightmares, Shadows has a lot of horror elements in its design such as creepy enemies and an overall atmosphere of dread. It’s more of a comedy horror title, but it has tons of style that help make swallowing the shallow substance a bit easier. It’s also not very good-looking, on a technical basis, but the art is awesome. Most of Suda 51’s games were one-shots and never saw sequels. SotD never saw high enough sales even if he wanted to do a sequel. To date, it hasn’t seen a remaster, remake, or port.
Condemned: Criminal Origins really showed us what next-generation visuals could look like. The E3 2006 demo blew me away and it was one of the reasons I got an Xbox 360. This was one of the few games that looked the part and really pushed the industry into a new era of HD visuals. It’s a game that can be replayed many times and you will always have a fun experience. It’s too bad the series is dead because Monolith nailed the atmosphere here. The game is intense with crazy melee combat and incredibly dark and haunting levels. Crazy bums coming out of nowhere breathing and panting and trying to attack you in dark hallways is something else. The sequel, Bloodshot, was great but focused more on combat and less on the atmosphere, so it’s not quite as scary. It was also the nail in the coffin as due to the poor sales of the sequel Sega shuttered the series for good. To date, the series hasn’t seen a remaster, remake, or port of any kind.
Dante’s Inferno is one of the best hack and slash games ever made, but EA was bound to make sure you didn’t know that. It didn’t get much attention or was considered just another God of War rip-off. While the game was short, it had incredibly responsive and fun combat, an interesting protagonist, and insanely gory and adult-themed levels. It’s just too bad the story wasn’t fleshed out enough. What’s here is a fun 4-5 hour game that you won’t find anywhere else. Sadly, the game’s low sales sealed its fate to have no sequel, caused Visceral to shutter, and hasn’t seen a port, remaster, or remake to date.
Specifically speaking about the first two games, BioShock had a crazy dark atmosphere and some creepy enemies and horror that kind of just oozed everywhere. There was no jump scares or downright frightening scenes, but you always had a sense of dread and fear and that’s really hard to pull off in games. The game was more about psychological horror and isolation and it sure pulled it off mostly the best in the first game. Surprisingly, the entire trilogy was released during this generation and would receive barely passable ports later on as the BioShock Collection.
Dead Space Series
While Dead Space 3 was mostly about the action and less about horror, the first two games were damn scary. I would consider them one of the scariest games I have ever played. Jump scares aside, there was a constant foreboding presence of something lurking around every corner and the Necromorphs are some of the greatest video game enemies of all time. This was peak horror during the HD era. Another trilogy that saw its ending in the same generation cycle. The series would stall here and the first game would receive a remake two generation cycles later.
Deadly Premonition is the perfect game of it’s so bad it’s good. The gameplay is dated and feels like a PS1 game, the graphics are terrible, and the voice acting is awful, but the writing and overall atmosphere the game presents are well done and memorable. It really feels like a PS2 game that was quickly ported over to next-gen consoles without any improvements in mind. It can be scary in the sense that its trippy Japanese horror weirdness will freak you out more than scare you. This is one of the few games you should stomach the terrible design for the weirdness. It’s worth it. It would get a sequel in the next generation, but not look like it and would be poorly received
Oh man, this one brings me back. The first game was very scary with crazy The Ring girl vibes that were all the rage in the early 2000s. The gunplay was genuinely solid and you needed a NASA PC to run it back in the day, but forget about understanding the story. The second game had some really scary elements, but was more action-oriented and had less of a mid-2000s PC shooter Half-Life 2 style vibe to it. The third game, well, just isn’t scary at all. Another trilogy that was released all in the same console cycle. While the first game was a port and was released during the PS2/Xbox era, the entire trilogy would never see a remake or remaster.
Resident Evil Series
The Resident Evil series really took off after the previous generation. This generation would see the most action-focused games yet. Resident Evil 5, 6, and Operation Raccoon City were the main releases. There was also an HD port of the 3DS exclusive Revelations as well as Revelations 2 as a sequel. Some would consider this the weakest run the series had only to go back to its roots in the next generation cycle starting with Resident Evil VII. The games also weren’t very scary around this time. They were just too action-focused and didn’t have the nuanced scares and puzzles as before. Revelations would be the only sub-series to feel scary or have any tension at all. Operation Raccoon City would be lauded as the worst game in the series.
The Last of Us would be considered one of the best horror games ever made. It was wildly praised and made waves throughout the gaming industry receiving awards and praise from all angles. The tense stealth scenes with the Clickers were awesome. These monsters are some of the creepiest and eerie creatures ever made for a horror game. This wasn’t just another zombie game. It would receive a sequel in the following generation as well as some of the most controversial decisions ever for a game. It would also receive a full remake and remaster.
Released at the tale end of the HD era of gaming, Outlast never saw a port to consoles until the next generation. It was damn scary. This small indie game made waves and became one of the top streaming games of all time. The tense atmosphere and overall great design, in general, made Outlast terrifying. The sequel would be released several years later on PC and consoles as well as a port of the first game released about a year later.
Amnesia was probably the top-streamed video game of the year in 2010. Game streaming was new and scare reactions reached the charts on YouTube. There hadn’t been many really scary games during this generation. It was all action-focused and multiplayer-focused to generate sales. That’s why this indie game was released on PC only at the time. It had interesting puzzles and enemies you couldn’t fight. It wouldn’t receive a port until many years later and two-generation cycles later. The sequels A Machine for Pigs and Rebirth would be poorly received, and I personally didn’t like them that much either.
The STALKER series wouldn’t sell well at first but would gain a huge cult following. The entire trilogy was released around the mid-life of the HD era and was exclusive to PC. It’s rough around the edges, but a huge following of modders would improve the game and it wouldn’t be until two generations later when a true sequel would be released. The game never saw a port to consoles and for a reason. The engine is already poorly optimized on PC and wouldn’t do well on consoles. It would be a huge undertaking to port the entire trilogy and it would be hard to market.
Alien Isolation wasn’t technically developed for HD consoles, but mostly for PC and next-generation systems. It came out right as the next generation was coming in and the HD versions were quickly forgotten. Isolation is considered the best game in the Alien series and one of the best horror games of the last couple of decades. It captures the 80s aesthetic of the movies and tells a great story while being terrifying. I still haven’t completed it to this day because of how scary it actually is.
The original horror trilogy, Penumbra, was developed by Frictional Games who would later go on to make the Amnesia series. This was released for PC only and never received a console port. It was a less talked about indie series that was loved among horror fans, but indie PC games didn’t receive the same spotlight that they do now. Console gamers didn’t care unless they were ported. Penumbra is a slow-paced, puzzle-focused horror series all about adventure and discovery. It’s creepy, full of psychological horror, and is a must-play for any horror fan.
While this is stretching it a bit, The Evil Within was mostly meant for next-generation consoles and PC. It played and looked nice on PS3 and Xbox 360, but those weren’t the intended systems. This was Shinji Mikami’s next opus and was definitely creepy and had some good elements, but was too action focused and unbalanced and the story made no sense. Some say that’s the charm of survival horror games. There’s a bit of jank that’s needed. I personally just thought this game was okay despite the amazing monster designs. A sequel would later come out, but not sell as well.
This is one of my favorite horror games of all time. It has a great story, memorable characters, and a great combat system that plays off of light and darkness. I’ve replayed this game many times and it wasn’t an instant hit for Microsoft. The sales were slow and it wasn’t appreciated until much later. It received a PC port and a recent remaster. It’s a must-play for any horror fan.
Siren: Blood Curse
It was a surprise to see a niche and obscure horror title return to PS3. Siren didn’t sell or review well but is considered a cult classic and part of the classic survival horror era. Blood Curse was a digital-only episodic release that had some great scares and an overall fun adventure. Sadly, only Japan received a physical release.
Oh man, where do I start? My favorite horror series was butchered with this release. I rented this from GameFly and had to follow a guide through most of the game. It was a confusing convoluted mess and felt like a chore to play. It wasn’t scary, wasn’t fun, and was the worst game in the whole series.
While the movies were quite enjoyable despite their flaws, the games were just awful. They weren’t as gruesome as the movies and played it too safe. Pretty much every bad conventional video game flaw was present here. Awful voice acting, terrible graphics, bad puzzles, and poor level design.
Easily considered one of the worst games of the HD era there was no redeeming value in this game. There was nothing you could overlook. There wasn’t any “it’s so bad it’s kind of charming” to this game either. It was just a disaster and an unplayable mess. It wasn’t scary, it felt like it was trying to be several games at once, it looked bad, it played even worse, and wasn’t any fun despite all the hype leading up to release.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
This game needs no introduction. It’s been covered by every “worst of” and “most controversial” video game on YouTube out there. Its history has been extensively documented. From broken AI to awful visuals, and just a completely unfinished and broken game. It’s also considered one of the worst games ever made. It’s a stark contrast to Alien Isolation.
I had the displeasure of actually finishing this game when it came out. I was hoping it was going to be a great reboot of a classic horror series. I followed the developer’s diaries all the way through the release and played it without reading any reviews. The game is pretty bad. It’s one of the worst games of the HD era. It was just an awful chore and a mess of a game. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t scary. It was just plain bad.
Probably one of the worst games ever made. This was a small indie game that was supposed to be full of suspense and horror, but instead, it’s a chore of a game with awful controls and graphics. The game was also poorly optimized and suffered terrible framerate issues. The story made no sense, and overall, it was just a stupid and lazy game.
I was so excited about this game, and every time I think about or have to write about it break’s my heart. I absolutely love Clive Barker’s work and had it since I was a young teen. I fawned after the figures from Todd McFarlane and loved the characters in his movies. Undying was also a cult classic. The game was just trying to do too much at once. It had cramped level design, awful performance, dated visuals, and just felt like a chore. The only thing it had going for it was the art design. It’s one of the worst games I’ve ever played and one of the saddest scars of the HD era.