Some horror games stay with you long after the credits roll. It’s not always the monsters or creepy locations that get under our skin, sometimes it’s the ideas and concepts that chill us to the bone. Here’s our top picks.
Not all horror is about jump scares, gore, and creepy mansions. Some games are able to scare us simply by planning seeds in our minds and feeling them sprout their sinister tendrils. The developers that get this concept often tell the scariest stories – and create the scariest games.
Games that play psychological games with their players are usually horror games, but not all of them are. Some simply invoke horror through their creative storytelling, while other games were horror titles masquerading as other genres. This way they can lull unsuspecting gamers into a false sense of security before pulling the rug from underneath them.
Here is a selection of titles that employed mind games to mess with the player:
Dead Space utilizes a setting similar to Alien, body horror that channels The Thing, and gameplay that’s reminiscent of Resident Evil 4. Its sequels got bigger and louder, but the original Dead Space stands out as a horror classic. The game is one engineer’s mission to explore a derelict space station and make it functional again. The only problem is a deadly alien virus has turned the crew into mutated undead monsters called nercomorphs.
Not only does the game deliver an intense survival horror experience, but it also piles on the pressure with dark psychological moments that drive its protagonist, Isaac, to the edge of sanity. Isaac hallucinates throughout the game until the line between real and imaginary is blurred. The game is also being remade for current-gen, so it will get to terrify and confuse a new generation of horror fans.
We’re being a bit cheeky with this one, as we also included it on our recent Survival Horror list. But we can’t do a list about psychological horror games and not include Soma. The game toys with concepts like identity, consciousness, and what it even means to be alive. Yes, the game contains creepy dark corridors and monsters that want to eat your innards, but that’s not what’s scary here.
Instead, Soma raises questions about our bodies and minds and if those two things need to be separated, are we still us? Or are we classed as a new entity entirely? Soma explores these themes in a very thought-provoking and dark fashion. It’s the sort of game that sticks with you long after you’ve uninstalled the software.
Hellblade isn’t like the other games on this list in that it’s not really a horror game. It’s more of an action-adventure akin to Ninja Theories’ previous titles, especially at first glance. The story involves a Celtic warrior trying to retrieve the soul of her dead lover. As the game progresses, it starts to toy with the player’s expectations in a way usually seen in horror titles.
By the end, Hellblade has explored mental illness in a way few games have been brave enough to tackle. To properly represent Senua’s psychosis, the developers consulted actual neuroscientists, mental health doctors, and people suffering from the same condition to tell an authentic story.
Layers of Fear has become one of the most celebrated psychological horror games ever made. It needs to be experienced by those who enjoy allowing developers to mess around with their brains in sinister and creative ways. The player takes on the role of a painter returning home to complete his masterpiece.
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In first-person, he wanders around an abandoned Victorian mansion discovering clues about his past. Naturally, this is going to lead him down some deeply unpleasant rabbit holes. But the fun is the journey. We’ll let you discover what the destination has in store.
While the game’s age prevented it from making our Survival Horror List, there’s no denying that Silent Hill 2 might be the scariest game of all time. It took the baton from Resident Evil and ran in bold new psychological directions that horror games had yet to explore.
Silent Hill 2 tells the tale of a man receiving a letter from his supposedly dead wife to meet him in their special place of Silent Hill. The story is a dark, uncomfortable trudge not just through the demonic town, but also his past. And you might not like what’s waiting for you at the end.
Bioshock is considered more of an RPG shooter than a horror game. But at times Bioshock and its sequels are nothing short of horrific. Be it the atmosphere or the in-your-face bloody violence, Bioshock is every bit a horror game – and deserves the title just as much as any Resident Evil.
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The original game’s mid-point twist is also of deep psychological impact. Not only does it change what we know about our protagonist and his mission, but it also makes us consider our role as the player. No game has ever quite matched this moment since in terms of the relationship between player and avatar. If you’ve not played it yet, would you kindly go and do so now?