Horror video games and movies are a year-round fare. But, there is something pertinent about the spooky time of year. So, in honor of Halloween 2021 we’re rounding up our favorite scary, terrifying, and creepy video games to play right now.
The horror genre is vast and complex. From big-budget studio releases to odd and interesting indie releases, there are all types of horror games. Puzzles, shooters, platformers, adventure games. Any style can be reworked – with the right story, setting, tone, and artstyle – into a horror video game. This list includes a diverse selection of small indies and giant franchises with a variety of video game styles. It’s by no means exhaustive, scroll through the horror genre on Steam and you’ll be stuck for hours. But, we wanted to curate a small selection of horror games we’ve played and enjoyed. And, that can serve as an introduction to the genre. Scaredycats, beware. Here are the twelve best horror video games.
Resident Evil Franchise
We’re cheating a little here by not selecting one individual game. But, the accomplishments of the entire Resident Evil franchise, even if they’re not all great, deserve recognition. It is perhaps the one series of video games that has continued to make horror games commercially viable to a mainstream audience. And, many of them, are extremely fun to play. There’s an argument to be made that, especially with the early games, poor game design may have added to the scary element. It’s truly terrifying to try to survive in a murder house when you can’t turn your character around. But, mechanics aside, the series has done a great job of establishing drama and tension through compelling storytelling. If you’re looking for a good place to start with this survival horror/shooter franchise, we’d suggest the Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 7, or Resident Evil Village.
Most of developer From Software’s games have a tinge of horror to them. In addition to being difficult games, there are frequent moments of true dread and horror when exploring the beautifully detailed settings or fighting grotesque bosses. But, Bloodborne is particularly perfect for Halloween. The gothic setting of this action RPG feels like Tim Burton turned up to 11. With inspiration from classic horror literature like Bram Stoker and H. P. Lovecraft, Bloodborne seriously nails the horror genre and uses it to great effect. Plus, best of all, take away the setting and tone, and you’re still left with an exciting, engaging, challenging video game.
Five Nights at Freddy’s
While Five Nights at Freddy’s as a series comprises several games, I think it’s fair to say that we can take the franchise as a whole for the sake of this list. Five Nights at Freddy’s is a survival horror game with relatively simple mechanics. The player must survive a night in a Chuck E. Cheese-like pizza house while haunted animatronics attempt to kill you. Your actions are limited to operating a door and light in the security room and checking the security cameras to track the animatronics’ movements. It’s not complex, but it’s effective. If you want to dive down the rabbit hole of this video game with a serious cult following (and don’t mind quite a lot of jump scares) this is the game for you.
Little Nightmares is a creepy indie puzzle-platformer that is equal parts fun and deranged. The visuals are whimsical but grotesque. In fact, it’s not unlike movies like Coraline, which suggest they might be kid-friendly but ultimately deliver something truly scary. It’s short, succinct, and spooky. Plus, the second game in the series, Little Nightmares 2 was released earlier this year.
If you’re looking for an atmospheric, tense, sci-fi horror game, Dead Space is the game for you. It’s by now means perfect, and many indie games have managed to craft smaller, perhaps spookier games. But, Dead Space, developed by EA, is an expansive survival game with stunning graphics, great sound design, and a fully fleshed-out world. You play an outer space engineer tasked with figuring out what exactly went wrong on a mining ship. Battle aliens, solve puzzles, and survive the game. The original game spawned a few sequels and a remake of the 2008 release is due out soon.
Silent Hill Franchise
It’s hard to talk about horror games without mentioning the titan of the genre that is Silent Hill. In addition to the series of games there are books, comic books, and a movie series. The original game and its sequel are heralded for helping to establish the genre. Many of the gameplay elements haven’t exactly held up by modern standards. But, if you want to revisit classic horror video games for the Halloween season, I suggest starting with Silent Hill.
It’s hard to find a better modern indie horror game than INSIDE. While it’s not edge-of-your-seat terror, the creepy atmosphere and tense moments of INSIDE hook you in for a wonderfully told scary story. INSIDE is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer. It’s by no means very difficult. In fact, criticism has been leveled against it that the game plays itself. But, I’d argue that the gameplay is just engaging enough to make you care about the story unfolding on screen. It’s a quiet, simple game that accomplishes a lot with very little.
The Forest is more survival than it is horror, but the extremely creepy setting, atmosphere, and tone make this game perfect for the list. In The Forest, you play as a father who survived a crashed plane and is searching for his son in some remote forest. You have to survive, explore, and discover what weird and possibly supernatural things are going on in the woods. It’s hyper-realistic, beautifully designed, and genuinely terrifying. It’s a little buggy but it’s absolutely worth the experience. If you’re a fan of horror survival, this is the game for you.
Now we get into the weird territory. Pathologic is one of the most unique, weirdest games I’ve ever come across. It’s not exactly a horror game but the eeriness definitely earns it a spot on this list. This Russian RPG and horror survival game is set in a strange town with…something going on. Your job is to figure out what that is and survive your time there. It’s an obscure game that has flown under the radar but its singular vision and genuinely fascinating storytelling make it a worthwhile play. I’d also recommend checking out this review for further explanation on how odd and interesting Pathologic is.
The Convenience Store
I felt it was only fair to include a Japanese horror game on this list. As far as J-horror games go, The Convenience Store is small. Set in a creepy Convenience Store, you play as a college girl working the night shift and attempting to make it out alive. The game is cheap and brief but offers a great atmospheric story that is genuinely scary. Plus, with alternate endings, you can continue to replay it to get a better sense of the game’s possibilities.
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Alright, we’re ending with a little bit of a joke here. Luigi’s Mansion is not a scary game. It’s a fun, silly adventure puzzle game where you play as Mario’s cowardly brother Luigi attempting to Ghostbuster his way through a haunted hotel. It’s extremely fun and perfect to play for Halloween. I doubt it’ll deliver any of the chills or thrills of the aforementioned game but it’s charming and ideal for the spooky season.