Fear is an odd thing. We’re hard-wired to avoid it at all costs, but there is very little in life that gives us the same rush of adrenaline as absolute terror. Games that utilise fear for this very reason are a very careful balancing act – and the horror factor only works if you care about the narrative.
The scariest games frighten us through a combination of atmosphere, narrative and plain shock factor.
Here are 8 frightening games that will regularly have you reaching for a new pair of pants:
1. We Happy Few
Set in an alternate, post-World War II timeline, We Happy Few sees you take on the role of the ‘Downer’, a character who decides to stop using a hallucinogenic drug called ‘joy’ that the entire population of a collapsing English city are all high on.
In the story, which takes place in 1964, the residents of Wellington Wells are taking Joy to forget about a terrible, unspeakable horror they committed in the past, however, unbeknown to the users, the drug makes them easy to control and lacking morality. As such, they are capable of performing quite terrible acts of brutality.
Want to get a Ringu-style, long haired, creepy supernatural girl vibe going this weekend? Well, then look no further than the F.E.A.R series, which smashes together J-horror and FPS in a surprisingly scary way.
Alma, the psychic ghost girl antagonist, directly and indirectly drags you down a frightening rabbit hole that sees a lot of men die in some really gruesome ways. It is a shooter that keeps you on the edge of your seats and doesn’t rely on jump-scares.
3. Condemned: Criminal Origins
The entire game revolves around your journey through a complex plot to uncover the horrors put forth by a serial killer.
As a crime scene investigator called Ethan Thomas, Condemned saw players searching for a serial killer in a grim city on the brink of madness, battling enemies with whatever weapons they could find. And in most cases, the tension and fear generated in Condemned stemmed from the fact that the game rarely allowed guns to be its main focus: players were forced to use random objects off the ground to take down their disturbed foes.
4. Silent Hill
Silent Hill tried to get inside your head – within the first half-hour, you’ve already been led down an eerie alleyway and ambushed by mutant baby things, who presume to murder you alive no matter how hard you try to escape.
Only then are you set loose in the abandoned nightmare that is Silent Hill. The game is, without question, downright weird – the hallucinations, the dialogue, the characters… equally disturbing. It damn well stretched the nerves. Hideo Kojima is the undoubted one true king of video games because of this franchise.
5. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Capcom helped define survival horror with the first Resident Evil in 1996. Inventory management and ammo conservation added a layer of tension that only made your cautious approach all the more troublesome.
The latest game in this series will have your skin crawling right from the get-go. Although obviously developed in Japan, it’s fascinating that Resident Evil 7 should take as its setting the American rural south, feeding into the horror mythology of the sociopathic redneck that cinema explored in the 1970s, through the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and others.
And talking about Resident Evil, we’re pretty excited for the new RE movie that is all set to release on 3rd February.
6. Dead Space 2
The sequel to acclaimed Dead Space surpassed the level of horror induced by the original. The game starts off with your character being put in a straight-jacket and all you can do is run away from the creatures inside the seemingly ‘dead’ space-station.
The set design and lighting effects really make Dead Space 2 what it is (terrifying), not to mention the fact that it has been lovingly influenced by some of the best and most memorable sci-fi/horror movies ever, such as Alien and The Thing. Seriously: the first few hours of this game are some of the scariest you’ll ever play.
7. Alan Wake
Psychological survival horror with a distinct Western flavour, Alan Wake sees you take up the role of a Stephen King-esque novelist suffering from writer’s block.
Let’s just say that he got rid of his writer’s block and I got rid of my bowels… a lot. Alan must combat shadowy figures using light from his hand torch – which of course has limited battery – unravel the mystery of his wife’s disappearance and finally take on the ominous ‘Dark Presence’.
8. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a gauntlet of tension, panic and anxiety. It manages to refrain from cheap and unexpected jump scares, instead building real tension through the use of sound and atmosphere and then capitalizing on that with terrifying efficiency.
This game is the pinnacle of pure survival horror joy. The fact that you can’t fight back in this makes it an even better experience.
I know that we never got a full game and Konami had to cancel this project, but the playable demo for P.T. was the best survival horror experience we’ve ever had. From the tension in the mood of the game to the brilliant sound design, everything worked perfectly and it makes us very sad that we’ll never get a full game.
Do you have a game that we missed? Let us know in the comment section.