I’ve always had a conflictive relationship with horror.
On one hand, I love exploring the genre in all of its forms. I grew up reading Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King, and have had many nights of sleep after watching Pet Sematary and the Goosebumps TV show. I’ve always been fascinated by it. The problem is that I’m easily scared. Whether it’s a dark, empty room waiting for me to step inside, a creature chasing me down labyrinthine corridors, or the mere sense that I’m being watched, horror games, by definition, can demand a lot from the player.
Even so, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of a well-crafted horror game, whether it’s geared toward survival, jump scares, or creeping terror. What’s more, the genre is coming into yet another burst of promising titles: Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space are getting remakes next year, while Scorn, The Callisto Protocol, Saturnalia, The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me, Alan Wake 2, Signalis, and Slitterhead are only a few of the dozens of games we’ll be seeing this year and the next. With all of these projects on the near horizon, along with Halloween itself, now is as good a time as any to take a wider look at one of video games’ most intense genres.
This list largely focuses on 13 horror games that you can play now (plus one more that most of you probably can’t) to get you in the right mood for Halloween. So turn off the lights, grab your headphones, lock the door, and make sure you have enough batteries for that flashlight. (And if you need a break at any point, head over to our Polygon’s Halloween Countdown: 31 Days of Horror for the internet’s best spooky movie recommendations.)
Before PSX-like graphics and P.T. clones began to swarm the horror genre, it was all about the chase. Amnesia, Outlast, and Soma are great examples of this simple, yet terrifying prospect. Alien: Isolation, however, is the best of them all.
It doesn’t matter how acquainted you are with the Alien universe — exploring the Sevastopol space station is a haunting experience. Endless hallways and corridors make it easy for you to get lost; vents are often a death trap rather than pathways to safety; you only have a few weapons and gadgets at your disposal, and none of them erase danger permanently.
Before playing Alien: Isolation, I didn’t consider the Xenomorph design to be all that scary. (Bumping into it dancing to BTS in Fortnite probably doesn’t help.) But like the (good) films of the franchise understand, it’s about the crescendo of suspense, and the terror of awaiting something you can’t see, while the vents rattle above your head, and your motion sensor beats faster and faster. Inside Sevastopol, the chase is constant.
Alien: Isolation is available on Mac, Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Lost in Vivo
Horror games often benefit from a simple premise. In the case of Lost in Vivo, your service dog is suddenly engulfed by a broken sewer drain during a walk in the rain. Venturing into the depths below to rescue them is a no-brainer. Unfortunately for you, there are all sorts of grotesque individuals waiting for you down there.
Inspired by the likes of Silent Hill, Lost in Vivo is a decidedly old-school approach to horror, focused on claustrophobia. Most interestingly, while it shares a love for puzzles, inventory management, and backtracking with those classics, it doesn’t use jump scares to frighten the player. Instead, it’s the environments themselves, and the foes therein, that create a sense of dread, and stick with you long after you’ve exited the game.
(Fun fact: If you’re looking for a break from the terror, boot up the game at midnight in your local time zone.)
Lost in Vivo is available on Windows PC.
If you’re looking for an eerie experience that takes less than an hour to see through, Paratopic is the answer. Despite its modest length, however, it’s an unsettling trek through uncanny locales.
Obsessed with VHS tapes, abrupt camera cuts, and cryptic dialogue choices, Paratopic puts you behind the eyes of three characters: a hitman, a smuggler, and a birdwatcher. They all encounter strange individuals, and even stranger sightings, while exploring otherwise mundane locations, from a diner to a gas station. The game shines in the way it subverts that familiarity to feel dreamlike and repulsive.
Paratopic is available on Mac, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch.
Resident Evil 2 Remake
The Resident Evil series has slowly but steadily reclaimed its place in conversations about survival-horror games. While Resident Evil Village definitely leans more toward the action side of things (House Beneviento notwithstanding, of course), Resident Evil 7: Biohazard brought the franchise into its first-person era with an outlandish family in an intoxicating setting . But it’s Resident Evil 2 Remake, despite not being wholly original, that felt like the series’ true return to prominence.
Exploring a modern vision of the Racoon Police Station over the shoulders of Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield makes for a terrifying trip — one filled with nostalgia, but unafraid to take risks. Aside from the presence of the persistent Mr. X, exploring the station often feels isolating, especially during the first hours when your resources are scarce. Getting ambushed by the undead in narrow hallways, seeing a Licker crawling on the walls, or just entering a pitch-dark room with just a flashlight and a few bullets in your magazine, are stark reminders of what made the series great to begin with.
Resident Evil 2 Remake is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. A cloud version for Nintendo Switch is set to release at some point in 2022.
Silent Hill 4: The Room
Silent Hill 4: The Room, Team Silent’s send-off to their time with the Silent Hill games, is possibly the most divisive of the bunch, standing as the black sheep that took several risks and, honestly, didn’t quite land all of them. Yet its willingness to shirk tradition, while presenting one of the most clever premises in the genre, remains praiseworthy to this day.
If The Twin Victim (the iconic enemy that features two baby heads on a massive body) isn’t enough to scare you, returning to Room 302 to save your game, which gradually becomes a living entity that you need to protect yourself from, surely will be. Getting locked in your own apartment from the inside is haunting enough on its own. But when mundane objects become hostile, and your home slowly becomes a living nightmare, the whole experience becomes a vicious, endless cycle of ever-increasing terror.
(If you’re surprised about the omission of Silent Hill 2 in this list, that’s because the game is in abandonware status, meaning that you can’t purchase it anywhere for the time being. That being said, if you happen to find a copy of the PC version, the Silent Hill 2: Enhanced Edition project is a must.)
Silent Hill 4: The Room is available on Windows PC via GOG.
GTFO, an underrated co-op horror game that was released in late 2021, may have flown under your radar. The fact that matchmaking can take a while and often leads to mixed results might push you away. But whether you visit the game’s official Discord server in search of players or recruit a couple of friends to tag along with you, it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss.
Standing aside from the likes of Left 4 Dead or Killing Floor, GTFO is a punishing, brutal experience in which you’re likely to die because of a tiny mistake. Using a flashlight might alert a powerful enemy that was otherwise unaware of your presence, and wasting ammo on an early encounter can leave you on your back foot for the rest of the session. It’s the scarcity of resources and the necessity of sound tactics that feed into the replayability and camaraderie — even if the odds may not always be on your side.
GTFO is available on Windows PC.
Condemned: Criminal Origins
Condemned: Criminal Origins is often considered F.E.A.R.’s less popular cousin, not just because it released only a few months after the latter, but because they were both made by Monolith Productions. But the two couldn’t be more different. While F.E.A.R. has a stronger focus on weapons, even featuring bullet time at some points, Condemned is known for its melee combat — and after all of these years, no other game has quite matched its weight, rhythm, and impact.
Tasked with following the trail of a serial killer, you explore decaying apartments and rancid sewers with the occasional investigation sequence around a crime scene. In the moments in between, however, you’ll be using pipes, shovels, and anything you can get your hands on to defend yourself. The A.I. isn’t as strong as in F.E.A.R., but it still keeps you on your toes, often looking for ways to flank you among the wreckage of your surroundings.
While the prospect of an FBI agent fighting homeless people has aged quite terribly, the experience progressively leans into the supernatural as the story unfolds. You should still play F.E.A.R. if you haven’t, but its younger sibling definitely deserves a spotlight.
Condemned: Criminal Origins is available on Windows PC, as well as both Xbox One and Xbox Series X via backwards compatibility. If you’re playing on PC, we recommended you install the DirectInputFpxFix — here’s a guide explaining the steps on the Steam forums.
Cry of Fear
While there is tons of merit in the PSX-style aesthetic that permeates many games in the horror genre, there is something particularly haunting about the Source engine. Cry of Fear, a free horror game that started as a mod and was officially released back in 2013, explores how scary the sum of the right elements can be, even in an engine that is almost two decades old.
Presenting a campaign that can be played either alone or with up to four players, Cry of Fear has some of the most imaginative enemy designs and encounters to date. The story plays out in a fairly linear manner, leading the protagonist through the usual suspects in terms of locations: A forest, an asylum, apartment complexes, etc. But there are five different endings, depending on the choices you make with the characters you meet along the way. A solid foundation for mod support has kept the game going all of this time, which, combined with its unnerving atmosphere, makes it well worth your time in 2022.
Cry of Fear is available for free on Windows PC.
The Evil Within 2
What The Evil Within 2 lacks in terms of terror, it makes up for with an inventive take on condensed yet enticing mini open worlds. Moreover, developer Tango Gameworks (the studio that released Ghostwire: Tokyo earlier this year) concocted a singular art style that sets the sequel apart from its predecessor.
Even if you (like me) haven’t played the first game, The Evil Within 2 does a solid job of introducing you to the basics without becoming a slog, and quickly throws you into a maddening journey through a fictional city where someone has been on a murder spree. The main antagonist is an artist that captures the moment of your death with a camera and leaves it on display for others to see. The open-world setting invites you to explore different locations, each offering its own challenges, encounters, or hidden pathways. And the story, while fueled by the simple premise of searching for the protagonist’s daughter, is surprisingly compelling. But it’s in its boss encounters, and some particularly impressive sequences that lean into its survival-horror nature, that The Evil Within 2 leaves its mark.
The Evil Within 2 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC.
The hand-pencilled craft of Mundaun is enough to peak anybody’s interest at first glance. Stay for a while in this black-and-white Alpine valley, and you’ll find an experience that deploys myths and an otherworldly landscape to haunting effect.
The game tasks you with managing an inventory and solving puzzles as you investigate your grandfather’s death. What’s more, the characters you meet speak Romansh, which is Switzerland’s fourth national language. Not only does this accentuate the flavor of the game’s setting, but also the strong influence that local folklore had on the project. It’s hard to talk about Mundaun without spoiling its charm, but as with others like the Indonesia-based DreadOut series, it’s a living example of how regional stories unknown by global audiences can become sources of horror.
Mundaun is available on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Cooperative horror games are commonplace today, but back in the PS2 era, Obscure stood out. Featuring a group of high schoolers that were subject to permadeath if you weren’t helpful, a clever use of darkness as a mechanic, and an opening that kicked off with ‘Still Waiting’ from Sum 41, it’s the perfect encapsulation of the 2000s B-horror genre.
The story takes place in Leafmore High School from dusk till dawn. Some students have gone missing recently, including one of your friends, and you set out to investigate. Light is your go-to defense mechanism against the creatures of the school; as in Alan Wake, you need to weaken them with your flashlight before doing actual damage. While the sun is still out, you can destroy windows to let the sunlight in. At night, things get tougher, and you have to scrounge for more opportunities to combat the creatures.
Mixing old-school mechanics with some fairly tough puzzles, along with a save system that requires you to find discs around the game, Obscure remains noteworthy to this day. But it’s the seamless co-op aspect, which allowed the second player to drop in and out at any time, that has always stuck with me. In a time when most horror games could only be experienced with others by passing the controller, being able to try and make it through the night with a friend raised the stakes without sacrificing the tension.
Obscure is available on Windows PC.
If you enjoyed P.T., you’ll probably appreciate the puzzle-solving and exploratory horror of 2020’s haunted-house thriller Visage. While the experience kicks off with a simple premise — you’re tasked with walking around rooms and hallways that slowly shift over time — it doesn’t take long for the story to take shape. Aside from different locations, there are different horror game tropes throughout. Sometimes you’re being chased. In other scenarios, you’re constantly encountering haunting presences in a fast, almost aggressive manner, leaving little room to breathe.
The influences of other first-person horror games are clear from the beginning. Yet Visage avoids clichés. It’s a game that understands where it comes from, and meticulously toys with pacing, enemy design, and visual effects to prove that there’s more to be afraid of, despite all of the examples that precede it.
Visage is available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
Devotion is about a home, a family, and a legacy. It’s a reminder that horror games aren’t there just to frighten us, but to elicit empathy as well. Devotion mixes a heart-wrenching tale of a deceased family with a clever structure, in which the player revisits the same location throughout different time periods. It’s not just the notes or items you can pick up that tell the story, but the space itself. Sometimes it’s a preparation for a birthday party or a TV show that sets the scene, hinting at better times — but it doesn’t take long for these memories to become corroded, drenched in marital frustrations and a tragedy surrounding the family child.
In this house, objects move out of place, crying and laughter rush rapidly over your ears, and nowhere feels safe. Its story is one of resistance, using horror to push back each time us unwanted guests make a breakthrough in the family’s story, and to the nature of the house. And if you do push through, you’ll encounter one of the most visually enchanting and eloquent stories that the genre has to offer.
Red Candle Games’ legacy will forever be marked by its controversy. Gladly for the studio and for us, the game has been publicly available for a while now, and you owe it to yourself to book a visit. Just make sure to keep an eye on your back at all times.
Devotion is available on Mac and Windows PC.
Honorable mention: P.T.
Our perpetually online nature prevented P.T. from becoming the urban myth that Hideo Kojima may have envisioned. He and the team expected that it would take players two months to complete the game. But the final puzzle ended up being solved in just two days, leading to the reveal that this was the since-canceled Silent Hills.
The merit behind the playable teaser cannot be underestimated. It not only invigorated the genre, but also showcased new ways in which to toy with the player’s mind when they’re subject to a first-person perspective. Not being able to see the promised collaboration between Kojima and top talents such as Guillermo del Toro and Junji Ito will always be a scar on the genre. But in the end, the fact that its legacy remains on the hard drives of PlayStation 4 consoles (without the possibility of playing it on PS5, even though the recent jailbreak allows players to circumvent the PSN Store blacklist to download it) has fulfilled that initial vision in an unexpected way. It may not be the urban legend Kojima intended, but it became one nonetheless.