Sommerleigh Pollonais – Senior Writer
Have you ever been to an IMAX theater? If you haven’t my deepest condolences on your loss. But for those of you who have, you’ll probably be familiar with their always awesome opening and their tagline; WATCH A MOVIE, OR BE PART OF ONE. The same motto can be applied when you’re talking about horror video games.
Now I don’t scare easily. Jump scares? Psssht! Bring ‘em on! I’ve seen so many horror movies, I can usually see them coming from a mile away. But there’s a HUGE difference in watching horror and being part of it, and I learned that the hard and fun way when I first started playing scary video games.
So take off the lights, put on your headset and pick up your controller as we press play on my TOP 8 HORROR VIDEO GAMES/TOP 8 VIDEO GAMES FOR HORROR MOVIE LOVERS (because there’s no way I could stick to five on this one):
#8 Alan Wake (play if you like psychological horror movies and Stephen King)
This is the second horror-based video game I’ve ever played (it was all the way back in 2010) but it remains one of my all-time favourites. It tells the story of Alan Wake, a novelist who goes to the ironically-named small town of Bright Falls with his wife and rents a cabin there as he tries to breakthrough his writer’s block.
Things and people feel wrong from the get-go, so it’s not long before Alan has to find his missing wife, while also unfurling the mysteries of the town as what seems like the darkness itself is out to get him.
One of the best aspects of horror games is that most of them put you in the shoes of a very ordinary person; you’re not a badass soldier or a magical wizard. Here you’re just an author and your most powerful weapon is a flashlight to keep the darkness at bay.
Alan Wake is also distinctive in this genre as it’s not packed with gore, but relies heavily on atmosphere and a well-crafted psychological mystery to keep the chills in your spine as you unravel the story and reveal one of the best endings I’ve ever seen, not just in a video game, but in a horror story period.
#7 Until Dawn (play if you like slasher horror movies like Friday the 13th and Scream)
Slasher horror flicks feel like they’ve been around since the inception of the horror genre and, good bad or indifferent, they might make for good movies but they’ve never really been good in video games. Until, Until Dawn (see what I did there!)
It is a 2015 horror game about a group of teens who vacay in an isolated cabin (what is it with teens and cabins?!) only to realise some heinous entity is killing them off one by one.
I was blown away by this one guys! Not only is there a solid mystery afoot as to who the killer is, but the tropes are executed brilliantly, showing true love for the horror genre. And the gameplay is smart and effective as it features a butterfly effect system where your choices impact the outcome of the story. This makes multiple plays not only possible but refreshingly enjoyable.
You’ll laugh, you’ll scream and if you’ve never played a horror-themed game before, you’ll become an instant fan of them as you try to last, until dawn. BUM! BUM BUUUMMM!
#6 Dead Space 1&2 (play if you like sci-fi horror movies like Aliens and Event Horizon)
Now I’m cheating a little bit here as I’ve never played Dead Space 1/2. However, I did watch my friend play these from beginning to end as he was too terrified to go it alone. After watching I can say I honestly don’t blame him.
It is set in the 23rd century when humanity has burned through all Earth’s resources (reuse reduce recycle folks) and have giant mining spaceships harvesting materials from other planets. They come across an alien artifact that’s emitting energy that seems like a good thing for them…until it’s not.
Space on its own is already terrifying for its feeling of isolation, emptiness and mysteriousness, but when you take out the empty and throw in Lovecraftian alien creatures that sometimes lie about looking dead until you get close enough, you quickly get the kind of pants-wetting horror you can’t find by just sitting and watching a movie alone.
It literally took us weeks of him playing and me watching to complete these games as every gamer can tell you that sweaty palms and constantly dropping your controller on the floor out of fright isn’t a good idea.
#5 Resident Evil: Biohazard (play if you like gory horror movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Saw)
The Resident Evil series has been a staple of horror games going all the way back to the first PlayStation. But while I enjoyed them, I never found them that scary. It’s more action horror in the vein of most of the zombie movies out there, than the kind of horror that really crawls under my skin.
All that changed with Resident Evil 7.
What could’ve been a disaster as Capcom decided to go in a whole different direction trying to revive the then dying franchise, quickly revealed itself to be the shot of adrenaline they needed.
RE7 tells the story of Ethan Winters, who, after seemingly receiving a message from his presumed dead wife, Mia, is drawn to a derelict plantation house in the middle of nowhere Louisiana. He quickly discovers, in the most horrible ways imaginable, the secrets of the Baker family. A group that makes the clan from Texas Chainsaw seem like the Brady Bunch, and he has to use every ounce of his survival instincts to make it out alive.
Switching the action from third person to first person makes the horror at hand feel uncomfortably close, and makes you the player become fully immersed into this gruesome, disgusting and terrifying world.
Smart, challenging and oozing with atmosphere, this one grabbed me by my lady cojones and never let go, and that’s just the way I like it.
Okay, that came out wrong but you know what I mean!
#4 Outlast (play if you like found footage horror movies like Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch)
This is another game that puts you in the first person view, testing your nerve and possibly the health of your heart as you try not to scream out loud, waking up the entire house in the process.
Outlast tells the story of journalist Miles Upshur, who decides to investigate a psychiatric hospital (because that’s ALWAYS a great idea) that turns out to be overrun with homicidal patients.
Like I’ve said before, most horror games puts you in the shoes of an ordinary bloke and Outlast takes that and amps it’s up to eleven (that’s a Spinal Tap ref for those in the know). You have to run to survive most of the time here folks (hence the name of the game) and if that’s not enough the game makes you use a video camera with night vision mode in the dark. The grainy, green glow creates an even more in-depth sense of reality as shapes go whizzing by in the distance, which, if you’re anything like me, tests your ability to not blink for minutes on end as you once again ask yourself, Why TF AM I DOING THIS?!!
#3 Silent Hill 2 (play if you like haunted/evil towns movies like The Void and The Wicker Man)
This game has the honour of being the first horror game I ever played. The mark it left on me is permanent and so is the one my controller left on my wall when I jumped so hard, I threw the poor thing across the room. 100 per cent a true story folks. And for those who’ve played it, it was the part where you have to look in the lockers and the cat jumps out at you. Motherf#$%%^^ cats man!
Protagonist James Sunderland travels to Silent Hill, answering a letter that seems to come from his wife, but instead he’s haunted by his own demons, in a very literal and very visceral way.
Not only does this game have a great story worth crawling through this hellscape to unravel, but its design has been copied in newer games for good reason.
From the over-the-shoulder views that the game sometimes forces on you when you’re in the dark, making you feel like something is right there behind you, to the sound design where the only warning you have that something bad is gonna happen is the static from an old walkie-talkie you found, Silent Hill is and will always be one of the greatest horror/based games ever made.
#2 P.T. (play if you like haunted house movies like House on Haunted Hill, The Shining)
They say everything happens for a reason. So maybe it’s a good thing P.T. never became a full-fledged game and just remained a teaser, because if this is the level of fear we were gonna get from Hideo Kojima (the mind behind Silent Hills) and Guillermo del Toro (the man who beautifully blends the wicked and the divine) then I’m good with it!
Proof that your imagination is more terrifying than anything else, P.T. places you in an infinitely looping hallway of a house where something really really REALLY bad has occurred. You might go around a dozen times and nothing happens, but then there’s number thirteen, where you see something or hear something and honestly, for a game where you rarely ever face peril, you’ll find yourself unable to play it with the lights off, or the sound up, just to make it through. A masterpiece of gaming horror.
And this was just a teaser folks. A TEASER!!!!
Honourable Mention: Batman Arkham Knight
No, it’s not a horror game. Yes, it has one of THE SCARIEST CRAP YOUR PANTS MOMENTS EVER BROUGHT TO LIFE in game history!
I won’t spoil it for anyone, or rather I’m not gonna warn those who haven’t played it, because why should I be the only person who suffered a near heart-attack when a certain man-sized flying rat pops out of nowhere! Seriously it is one of the best jump scares I’ve ever come across and that INCLUDES horror movies.
#1 The Last of Us (play if you like post-apocalyptic movies like Dawn of the Dead and The Road)
Most people will call this an action-adventure game. For me, it’s a straight up survival horror and there ain’t nothing wrong with that!
In a post-pandemic world, Joel and Ellie are brought together by circumstances and must rely on each other to survive a brutal cross country trek of the US, with the last hope of a cure in their hands.
That plot synopsis doesn’t begin to unpack the complex, beautifully harsh world that is the Last of Us. It simply must be played to be enjoyed. But one of the amazing things about this game is how much it immerses you the player in the true terror of what it would be like to live in this world.
The horror in this game is palpable as I found myself (on my first go-around) standing still for minutes on end, as I tried to find a way to navigate and survive the infected, who came in the form of Clickers, Runners and Shamblers.
There are moments of near pitch blackness where you find yourself leaning to the left and right, as if you yourself were in the house/building, listening for that clicking sound to warn you. I would find myself breathing a sigh of relief when it was over, basking in the moments of quiet and nature like if my life was actually on the line, totally forgetting I was safe and sound on my own couch.
But the terror in this game doesn’t just come from the monsters that go click in the night. Oh no, no, no my friends! People can be just as evil, or arguably because they have a choice, worse than the infected you come across. While Joel might be the one to deal with most of the brutality in this world, Ellie is equally forced to handle it and when you’re put into the shoes of a teenage girl who has to go up against a cannibalistic pedophile (jeeez!) and not only survive, but find a way to deal with the emotional fallout, I honestly can’t think of anything more terrifying than that. Flying cockroaches?? Maybe.
It doesn’t get any better than this folks. Well, at least until The Last of Us Pt 2 drops! Yup! here’s to happily going down that rabbit hole once again.
So if you’re like me and horror movies don’t scare you like they used to, then why not take a whack at horror-based video games. Because it’s one thing to sit there and watch some poor camp counselor get chased down and gutted by a masked behemoth. It’s a whole other thing to BE them!
Until then, in the immortal words of Bill Paxton in Aliens, “GAME OVER MAN! GAME OVER!”
For my Top 5 Netflix Horror Series you can click here.
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apoclaypse comes.
Double Tap Baby!