When it comes to representing real terror and its consequences, it doesn’t get any scarier than Silent Hill 2. It’s an increasingly disturbing and psychological journey into the repressed thoughts of its unassuming protagonist, and the tortured souls he meets along the way.
Emotional tragedy, guilt, anger, sexual abuse, and the horrible ways the resulting trauma manifests are handled with a grace and maturity that only strengthens Silent Hill 2’s disturbing subject matter. The mounting feeling that you are fleeing from an inescapable mistake, all leading up to the haunting revelation at the end and a devastating fight against one of video gaming’s most menacing antagonists, makes Silent Hill 2 the scariest game of all time.
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.
The inability to fend off pursuers coupled with the sanity system, which deters players from staring directly at the disfigured monsters, makes every encounter uncomfortable and mysterious. As the game progresses, safe puzzle areas becomes less frequent and the narrative shifts from creepy to flat out disturbing. At which point, any one of the game’s multiple outcomes is a welcome end to this demanding nightmare.
The brainchild of Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro, P.T. came out of nowhere and floored us with its visual fidelity, layered mysteries, and effortless ability to conjure terror. Set in a single, looping hallway, P.T. forces us to relive the terrifying experience of turning that ominous corner again and again and again. And yet, even on the sixth or seventh loop, it still found new ways to scare us, slowly manipulating the environment in subtle, yet disturbing ways until it all culminates into the absolute feverish madness of its finale.
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 meanderings through the halls of the Spencer Estate that much scarier.
The gorgeous 2002 update (and 2015 remaster) not only added new levels of detail, atmosphere, and sophistication to the already remarkable design of the original, but it also threw some sinister curve balls. The newly added Crimson Head zombies and the nightmarish tale of Lisa Trevor help make for one of the most important and terrifying horror games around.
Eternal Darkness transforms terror into a game mechanic. As the torments of this Lovecratian-nightmare relentlessly weigh down on your character, your sanity meter begins to collapse, triggering in-game effects that range from amusing and strange to downright scary.
A fake operating system crash, blacked out displays, and a message that your save data is being deleted bring the scares into the real world, messing with the player’s mind in ways rarely seen in horror games
Unlike the run-and-hide trend of modern horror games, Fatal Frame 2 forces you to face your fears. In order to survive, you have to point your camera straight at the encroaching horrors and snap a picture. It’s a wonderful subversion of our natural desire to turn away from danger, and provides some of the best horror game jump scares out there as a result.
No amount of scripted jump scares can amount to the sheer, heart-pounding tension we’ve encountered in DayZ’s hostile open-world. But it’s never been the game’s zombies we’ve had to fear. In DayZ, the scariest thing of all is the unpredictability of other human players.
Unforgiving permadeath, a scarcity of resources, and other brutal design choices all work in horrifying harmony to bring out the absolute worst in the people playing, making DayZ one of the most stressful and scary video game experiences.
The little-played early survival horror game Enemy Zero forces you to explore a dark, lonely starship armed with an audio-based sonar device. As invisible enemies stalk you in the dark and the tension slowly mounts, your heart actually begins to sync with the pulse of your detector.
Necromorphs define the terror of Dead Space with their gruesome designs and unpredictable natures. Unlike the foes of most horror games, these guys don’t go down with a bullet to the brain — sometimes their heads aren’t even located where they should be.
But even with a “strategic dismemberment” system that lets us rip enemies apart in creative ways, wandering the corridors of that desolate starship is never not scary. That’s because Necromorphs are creative too, adapting to a sudden lack of limbs in disturbing new ways that keeps the stakes high and the fear factor even higher.