Interactive Nightmares: A History of Video Game Horror

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As you progress, the island becomes increasingly strange and unnerving, and Oxenfree deploys some clever tricks to hold your attention and keep you second guessing throughout this ghostly yarn. Man of Medan, like most horror movies, is best experienced with mates. You control a group of friends stuck on a ghost ship, exploring and making split-second decisions that may very well end in death. It's a tricky ship where you can't trust your eyes, or your co-op partner, who might be seeing something entirely different.

It's B-movie fare, but the jump scares are top quality and you'll be a paranoid wreck by the end. Darkest Dungeon is cruel roguelike where stress is a lot more trouble than the armies of monsters your squad will have to slay.

21 Best Horror Games This Halloween (October 12222)

There are plenty of external horrors, but it's the impact they have on your adventurers that will unravel your journeys under the haunted mansion and beyond. They'll develop vices and fears and personality traits that make subsequent adventures harder, forcing you to find more and more victims to toss into the meat grinder. As a trial-and-error stealth game, Outlast 2 might not be for everyone, but thematically it's among the more interesting games on this list.

Playing as a journalist searching for a missing woman in Arizona, your wife is then kidnapped early on by a deranged cult, the origins of which are told through snippets of letters during the game. You navigate dark environments using the night vision mode of your camera, and it's just scary as heck, with a whole village wanting you dead and some of the most gruelling imagery ever put into a game. An unrelentingly bleak platformer that puts you through a gauntlet of hellish imagery: creepy mermaids, security robots, people hunting you down, nasty weather and more that we won't spoil here.

Inside's vision of a cruel dystopian world that's out to kill you at all times is extraordinary, even if the moment-to-moment platforming is pretty familiar and can be frustrating. You're mainly playing it to experience the setting, really. See also Little Nightmares, a similar type of horror platformer that isn't as scary but is arguably just as inventive.

But it's also a tough one to pitch, because much of its terror lies in the surprises that shouldn't be ruined by a meagre word-long recommendation. Know that it borrows from 90's horror games via its aesthetic and fourth wall-breaking, file-bothering makeup; and that it consistently strives to surprise and keep players guessing. Understand that it'll play with your emotions, and drop you into a confused and confusing world while incessantly goading you till its final breath.

Don't expect jump scares, but do expect to be scared enough to jump from your chair. If you think we're at all grandstanding here, please be our guest and give it a try.

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We'll be hiding behind the couch. A rhythm action nightmare in which you play a silver beetle speeding down a track into the mouth of a huge demented boss head. Death comes quickly. Miss a couple of turns and you're dashed into a million glittering pieces against the courses metal banks. Miss a beat in the gaze of the ring-shaped guard robots and they'll hurtle towards you, lasers blazing. All the while the ambient soundtrack pulses uneasily and the the rhythms become faster, and more erratic.

Probably best to play Thumper in short bursts only. It was the first game to really push the idea of horror narratives as subjective, fluid and untrustworthy things, with a story that invites interpretation and a semi-sentient city that warps and shifts itself to fit the damaged psyches of its inhabitants. The confusing cult nonsense of the first and third games was pushed to the backburner for the more personal story of a psychologically damaged widower battling his way through a foggy purgatory populated by zombie-things, dog-things, and whatever the hell Pyramid Head was.

Whereas the likes of Silent Hill and Fatal Frame rely on radios to alert players to otherworldly adversaries, Sylvio uses sound, EVP electronic voice phenomenon and audio manipulation as its central ideas. Not only that, the game builds its entire gorgeously creepy world around this principle theme as players strive to uncover its backstories, bizarre plot twists, and insights into its unsettling unknown—all of which is backed up by some stellar voice acting. Generic first-person horror this ain't, and while it does occasionally force tedious combat set pieces upon players, it thrives in its quirky, idiosyncratic moments that are filled with atmosphere and character and dread.

Sylvio is a thinking game and is unique within the horror genre. Horror games owe a significant debt to HP Lovecraft, and not just because he's long dead and his work is out of copyright. Plenty of games too many, really have included references to his brand of cosmic horror, but Anchorhead is more inspired than most, drawing from several of his novels and stories to tell the tale of the a married couple who have inherited an old mansion in a creepy New England town.

The sedate exploration of the game's opening segments eventually give way to tense, turn-limited puzzles as you struggle to stop an ancient, possibly world-ending ritual from being completed. No pressure then.

Atmosfear/Nightmare Game Video [VHS]

It's free, and you can play it in your browser. Amnesia: The Dark Descent casts you as Daniel, an amnesiac who wakes up in a mostly deserted castle that must be explored in search of escape. Frictional draw on all of their experience creating atmospheric, exploratory horror in the Penumbra series to fill Amnesia's fortress with an oppressive and lingering sense of foreboding.

Expect distant echoing noises, strange rumbles behind the walls, and to start seeing half-formed dark figures in the ambiguous candlelight.

There's a monster, too, stalking you through the corridors. The perennial rule of horror creatures—that they're less scary once you've seen and understood them—certainly applies here, but Dark Descent is still a must-play horror game.


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Pathologic 2 is nasty. It will sit on your hard-drive like a gangrenous limb, in need of amputation. If this sounds like a criticism, it isn't. Beyond the dirty, putrefied atmosphere, Pathologic 2 is weird and theatrical, frequently breaking the fourth wall and questioning your role as the player. You have 12 days to save a town afflicted by disease, paranoia, mob justice, and paranormal happenings. That ticking clock isn't just for show—events unfold in real-time and you have to make difficult decisions about what you want to do and who you want to save.

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It's exhausting, yes. It's gruelling, yes.


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But it's also unique and unforgettable. In the background, he could hear the scratching of hideous claws, signaling what he assumed to be the arrival of the horrible Rap Rat himself. It was pointing at him — and smiling with sadistic menace.

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Something huge seemed to be trying to claw its way in. The author switched off the video, but that horrible sound continued, escalating in volume… until suddenly and abruptly, it stopped. He stared at the blank screen for what seemed like forever, breathing heavily, hearing his heart pound against his ribs. He flinched away reflexively, and the tape clattered to the floor. The nightmares he remembered from his childhood following his first experience with RAP RAT then returned in full force… but this time, they were even more vivid and detailed.

These dreams also had one element in common: he could see and hear something scratching across the floor of his bedroom… and it sounded like the thing was dragging something heavy. The resulting scandal drove the parent company out of business, and the plant in Haiti has since been purchased by a rival company. In another odd detail, the original rat puppet prototype has also gone missing — along with its designers.

If you have already done this, it cannot be undone.