Five of this generation's best horror games (plus five less obvious choices)
Horror films have evolved in recent years in several ways. The same can be said about the horror genre in video games, which has progressed immensely thanks to modern technology. It's not just a visual upgrade, though — horror games can now tell poignant stories that touch on all manner of hard-hitting themes. And if all you need is a good scare, well, there's plenty of that, too.
Here are five of this generation's best horror games, as well as five titles that may not be the most obvious choices but still fit within the realm of horror in some way, shape, or form.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Let's get right down to the most obvious choice of this generation. Capcom's Resident Evil 7: Biohazard marked a return to form for the series, which had become more of a third-person action-shooter franchise. While there's still plenty of action in Resident Evil 7, there's just as much as terror. Tension builds in that slow, methodical survival-horror fashion that it used to back in the '90s, albeit in a polished, up-to-date product.
The cinematic influence is heavy in Resident Evil 7, which borrows heavily from films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Ring, and Saw. This game isn't just a wonderful tribute to those movies — it's also a true horror video game that sets the standard for what the genre can accomplish in terms of sheer terror.
Less Obvious: Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods was one of last year's best narrative experiences. You play as Mae, an uninspired anthropomorphic cat who's just dropped out of school and returned to her hometown. While Infinite Fall's story-driven masterpiece isn't scary in the traditional sense, it's an honest look at the horrors within. Depression, anxiety, loss, overbearing responsibility, and guilt are common themes the game explores, and if you've ever experienced any of these, you know exactly how difficult — and how scary — it can be to just get through the day.
While the fall-colored visuals may be lighthearted and bright, there are a few dream sequences that are especially dark and nightmarish. These moments help to add a more familiar horror look to a game that's otherwise scary due to the harsh realities it forces its protagonists to deal with.
Dead by Daylight
Probably the purest homage to the horror film, Dead by Daylight is about as close to a slasher movie as you'll get in video game form. Like The Cabin in the Woods, Dead by Daylight gives a behind-the-scenes reason for the murder and madness, creating an evil known only as The Entity, which feasts on the blood of killers' victims in an endless game of cat-and-mouse that drops a group of “survivors” against an imposing killer in a four-versus-one multiplayer environment.
Dead by Daylight may be simplistic — fix generators to unlock an exit — but its take on the horror genre is true to the style of the '80s slashers from which it draws influence. If you play with friends, you'll often come up with a game plan and opt to “stick together,” but when all hell breaks loose, you can bet you'll all be running in different directions and probably picked off one by one. Wait a sec — isn't that why we yell at the screen whenever camp counselors get separated in really dumb ways in slasher flicks?
Less Obvious: The Evil Within
The Evil Within is an underrated horror title that bridged the gap between the previous and current console generations. While nowhere near perfect, the game helped bring the genre to the modern era and marked a return to form for Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami. The game's story wasn't too memorable, but the setting and mood of the game were reminiscent of what survival-horror games used to be. In addition, there were some really gruesome moments and truly grotesque enemies, creating a nightmare-scape of a world.
Killing Floor 2
There's no real story or variety of modes to be found in Killing Floor 2. What you'll find here, however, is one of the most accurate examples — at least according to a few Romero films — of what happens when government experiments go wrong and millions of zombies, um, sorry, Zeds are unleashed into the world. A wave-based multiplayer shooter, Killing Floor 2 is all about survival. It's fast-paced, scrappy, and intense.
While not a horror game in the traditional sense, there are plenty of frightening moments to experience. There's nothing quite like running backward Serious Sam style, picking off Zeds one by one while your ammo begins to run low, only to be grabbed by a bloody, drooling monstrosity you didn't know was lurking behind you.
Less Obvious: Oxenfree
Like Night in the Woods, Oxenfree is scary because of the mental health themes it tackles. Similar to Stranger Things, the game follows a group of young friends whose world is turned upside-down (pardon the pun) when they encounter a series of odd, otherworldy happenings bridging this world with another, darker world. By blending its protagonists' personal, internal terrors with supernatural elements, Oxenfree manages to create an experience that's both somber and chilling.
SOMA from Amnesia developer Frictional Games is an ambitious title. Blending horror and sci-fi in a puzzle-filled, monster-inhabited world, the game explores some heavy philosophical themes. You play as Simon, whose consciousness has been transplanted to a robotic body. Set in a high-tech but dilapidated facility, you deal with the fear of knowing that the world as you know it has ended, and you are now trying to come to grips with the harsh reality that your human body is no longer a part of this world, which creates all kinds of internal ponderings.
When SOMA isn't making you reflect, it has you running scared from its vile, surreal, almost alien-like monsters. The game takes the tension of the Amnesia franchise and combines it with thought-provoking storytelling to create an experience that's equal parts terrifying and distressing.
Less Obvious: Little Nightmares
The influence of Limbo and Inside can be seen throughout Little Nightmares. What separates this 2D puzzle-platformer from its contemporaries is its storybook look. The game is a joy to behold, and its horrors, which rear their sinister heads and pretty much try to eat the adolescent protagonist, are incredibly surreal. The game can drag at times with nothing particularly scary going on all too often, but when you encounter a disfigured demon creature that looks like it could've come out of a Guillermo Del Toro movie, it's difficult not to feel a little uncomfortable and mortified.
Considered by many to be a love letter to horror movies, Until Dawn wears its cinematic inspiration on its sleeve. The game follows a group of friends who must survive the night in an isolated cabin after a series of bizarre and morbid events begin to unravel around them. You play as each of the game's protagonists and follow several branching storylines. Aside from the sharp writing and strong narrative choices, the game also features a creepy atmosphere.
Until Dawn is best played in the dark, and even if you're not playing, this is one of those games that's still scary even if all you're doing is watching a friend play it.
Less Obvious: Let It Die
Let It Die has the signature Grasshopper Manufacture attitude stamped all over it. The game's characters and themes are quirky, fun, and over-the-top. Beneath that lighthearted layer, however, is a dreary, post-apocalyptic world filled with death and decay. Your goal is to climb to the very top of a tower, which is a lot more difficult than it sounds considering the gameplay of Let It Die draws such huge inspiration from the Dark Souls series.
Sure, Uncle Death, the skateboard-riding Grim Reaper type, isn't exactly scary, but the world you inhabit in Let It Die most certainly is. And given the game's perma-death mechanics, the fact that you're one bad decision or clumsy misstep away from sudden, painful death creates feelings of panic, anxiety, and dread.