The 35 greatest horror games of all time

The 35 greatest horror games of all time

What scares you? It’s a question you know the answer to innately and immediately, as individualized as your fingerprint. Accordingly, horror games have tried everything in the book in order to scare players: disempowerment, alienation, animatronic jump-scares, eroticism, flagrant shattering of the fourth wall, and so on. The history of horror games could serve as an alternate history of games themselves, one where the medium doesn’t get cleaner and more empowering with each passing year but increasingly disorienting, difficult, and abstract. They’re a home for experimentation, where conventions are upended and taboos are shattered. They’re also fun as hell—a realm where the violence of other games is newly purposeful, and game designers are free to exercise their most out-there tendencies. Even a simple jump-scare, often eye-rolling in movies, gains a strange new power when you’re the one inching forward through the basement.

The A.V. Club’s trip through the history of horror games found endless tensions to unpack: playability versus difficulty, spooky-fun versus truly terrifying, historical importance versus modern appeal. Mostly, though, we agreed on games that come alive with the possibilities of horror, whether it’s splattery gore, psychedelic architectural spaces, or truly gonzo game mechanics. The result is a list of games as varied in the ways they try to terrify players as there are ways to be terrified.


To put it together, we asked a group of A.V. Club staffers and contributors to submit ranked ballots and tallied up the votes. Any game—including remakes and “teasers”—was up for grabs.

35. Five Nights At Freddy’s (2014)

There’s a great tradition in horror cinema of the low-budget, unexpected success immediately generating a raft of sequels, spin-offs, and rip-offs, whether it’s the post-Halloween wave of holiday-themed slasher flicks or the immediately annualized Saw franchise. After the astonishing viral success of Five Nights At Freddy’s, creator Scott Hawthorne cranked out three sequels in less than a year, all essentially reiterating the same titanium-strength formula: Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronics stalking the restaurant halls at night, attempting to murder the night security guard. Eventually the games would develop a broader mythos, but the economical and brutally effective first installment is the best—a shrine to the jump-scare navigated via a spectral, faulty surveillance system. It’s a viewing framework that proved perfectly suited for YouTube, where the tension creeps through the stream and the game’s flash-cut scares turned the platform into a vast, internet-wide movie theater. [Clayton Purdom]

34. Splatterhouse 3 (1993)

Beat-’em-ups aren’t usually cited for their white-knuckle scariness, unless your list of personal phobias includes street brawling and blowing all your laundry money. But Splatterhouse gave that button-mashing genre a fresh coat of blood-red paint, replacing the usual interchangeable goons with grotesque ghouls, to be clobbered, chopped, and chainsawed into pulp. Granting control over a college student transformed into a hulking monster hunter by his magical, conspicuously Vorheesian hockey mask, the series broke new ground for content warnings (“The horrifying theme of this game may be inappropriate for young children… and cowards,” went one disclaimer), while offering level design gross enough to satiate any Fangoria subscriber. Splatterhouse 3, which got name-checked at the congressional hearings on video-game violence, brought a three-dimensional range of motion to the franchise’s primitive Evil Dead combat. But the cleverest innovation was a countdown clock: Take too long clearing a path through the titular mansion and your cowering loved ones are goners. Good luck wringing that kind of suspense out of Double Dragon. [A.A. Dowd]

33. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (2002)

It was strange enough seeing Nintendo’s name, synonymous with brightly nonthreatening all-ages entertainment, on a survival horror game. Stranger still was the direction the company dragged the genre: Eternal Darkness broke with the highly popular Resident Evil model to tell an ambitious, layered, eon-spanning Gothic narrative. Where this GameCube cult classic truly distinguished itself, though, was in its ingenious and literally patented “Sanity Effects”: Spotting a monster takes a quantifiable toll on your mental health, and as that particular bar drops, the game begins seriously altering your perception—with aural and visual hallucinations, with apparent glitches in the level design, with simulated technical hiccups and storytelling fake-outs. Whether Eternal Darkness really qualifies as “psychological horror” is debatable—you still spend most of your time slashing zombies. But anyone who felt even a tinge of panic as the game disconnected their controller or calmly insisted it was wiping their memory card could relate to its repeated mantra of terrified reassurance: “This isn’t really happening.” [A.A. Dowd]

32. Friday The 13th: The Game (2017)

From its cartoonishly violent kills to its lovingly recreated ’80s-summer-camp backdrops to the persistent “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” on the soundtrack, last year’s asymmetrical multiplayer adaptation of the popular slasher series is the closest you can get to actually living through a Friday The 13th movie—assuming, of course, that you do live. The game casts a handful of players as camp counselors evading Jason Voorhees, with another player assuming command of the hulking, supernatural mama’s boy. Counselors can set traps or pick up weapons, but winning usually comes down to hiding until the clock runs out or figuring out how to escape. Meanwhile, Jason has all of the unfair powers that he has in the movies, including teleporting anywhere on the map and silently stalking prey without anyone noticing the huge guy in tattered clothes and a hockey mask stomping through the woods. That there’s a real player, instead of AI, controlling the killer’s movements actually makes them a little scarier. Mostly, though, this buggy, imperfect party game captures the communal fun of a bad-good slasher, allowing fans to make the same dumb decisions they usually yell at people on screen for making. [Sam Barsanti]

31. Doom (1993)

So integral is the original Doom to the evolution of the first-person shooter that people often overlook how effectively it takes a chainsaw to your nerves. The premise is an Aliens gloss, dropping players into the boots and helmet of a lone space marine stranded on a Mars outpost overrun by Hellspawn. Periodic breaks in the hectic, run-and-gun carnage create pockets of anxiety, as you round blind corners or sprint into darkness, waiting to be ambushed by the next horde; sometimes you hear the threat before you see it, an offscreen snort or growl portending your, well, doom. The game’s locked POV became a lynchpin of its controversy—kids were experiencing the violence firsthand through their own eyes, like little Michael Myers in the opening minutes of Halloween. But that first-person vantage also worked like gangbusters as a tool for terror, erasing the safe distance between player and beleaguered avatar. Doom may have largely birthed the modern shooter, but no one should forget the influence its nightmarish tunnel vision had on horror gaming, too—from the immersive shocks of fellow PC milestone Half-Life to the sadistic tricks of perspective pulled by our top choice below. [A.A. Dowd]

30. Clock Tower (1995)

Thirteen years before Amnesia: The Dark Descent made total disempowerment gaming’s horror-mode du jour, Japan’s Human Entertainment made the case for the terror of helplessness with Clock Tower. This point-and-click adventure weaponizes your curiosity against you, turning every innocent click on a shower curtain or piano into a tense test of fate that may very well result in the surprise appearance of the Scissorman, a murderous little fella who gleefully pursues our hero, Jennifer, with cartoonish clippers. The only thing saving her are her wits and scrambling feet—and even those can fail in her most panicked moments. With obtuse puzzles, a mansion that’s a nightmare just to get around, and a main character who makes Resident Evil’s barely mobile heroes look like parkour masters, there’s a great deal of Clock Tower that has aged miserably. But it remains a subversive triumph, its giallo-inspired mystery and threatening atmosphere impossibly wrenching so much dread out of a humble 16-bit console. [Matt Gerardi]

29. Fatal Frame III: The Tormented (2005)

Tecmo’s Fatal Frame series is as long-running as any of its survival horror kin, but has never quite garnered the same attention as a Silent Hill or Resident EvilFatal Frame III: The Tormented is the high point—building on its nearly-as-good predecessor to create an unapologetic, polished work of Japanese folk horror. It marks a final burst of creative ambition before the series was shackled to two consecutive Wii systems. With its trio of lead characters, entwining timelines, and focus on a supernatural force gradually invading a domestic space, it has the scope and eerie force of something like Kōji Shiraishi’s found-footage classic Noroi: The Curse (2005). If taking magical pictures of excruciatingly slow ghosts while solving obtuse puzzles sounds a little “not for everyone,” well, these games are classics because they refused to tone it down……Read more>

Source:- avclub

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