Video games are great for a lot of things: connecting with friends online, experiencing fantastical stories, and in the case of the games listed below, being scared half to death. Horror titles often provide some of the most memorable and emotionally effective experiences in all of gaming, but they often get left out of the spotlight. Simply put, first-person shooters and open-world adventures get far more recognition than horror games.
To celebrate this generally underrated genre, I’ve whipped up a list of the scariest, goriest, most unsettling horror games to ever grace the industry. Whether through groundbreaking mechanics, horrifying creature designs, or consistently effective scares, these horror game franchises have elevated our heart rates time and time again. Gory, entertaining, and always good for raising our anxiety, these are the scariest horror game franchises I’ve ever played.
The Scariest Horror Video Game Franchises of All Time!
This monumental third-person horror franchise kicked off in 1996 with Resident Evil on the original PlayStation, which set the foundation for the genre moving forward. Playing as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, two elite operatives of the Raccoon City Police Department, this iconic horror sees gamers exploring the zombie-infested Spencer Mansion. While the first Resident Evil had some rough edges, specifically its awkward controls and goofy voice-acting, the memorable scares and challenging gameplay more than made up for the mistakes. As the franchise that coined the term “survival horror”, we owe a lot to Resident Evil.
Since the 90s, Resident Evil has reached epic amounts of success, spawning numerous sequels, spin-offs, and even a movie adaptation series. Now nearing the release of Resident Evil Village, the eighth game in the core series, this classic horror franchise has seen a resurgence of popularity. Developer Capcom has also done a great job revitalizing the older instalments with stunning modern remakes.
If there’s anything that the past 25 years have proved, it’s that Resident Evil can withstand the test of time. Whether we’re dodging zombie dogs as they bust through windows or fighting off massive, mutated creatures with a measly supply of ammo, Resident Evil continues to keep us glued to our seats with fear and enjoyment.
Although the Amnesia franchise might not be as popular as some other games on this list, its influence is undeniable. The first game in the franchise, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, was created by the indie developer Frictional Games and released on PC in 2010. Set in the mid-1800s, The Dark Descent follows the story of Daniel, an unassuming protagonist who wakes up in a mysterious castle with a harsh case of amnesia. Hunted by a paranormal entity that defies description, Daniel must explore the grimy and gloomy stronghold to uncover the answers behind his condition.
Unlike other conventional horror games at the time, Amnesia: The Dark Descent stripped players of any weapon, forcing them to flee and hide. The combination of horror and puzzle elements proved to be effective, and most importantly, scary. Despite its indie roots, Amnesia has continued to be a contender in the landscape of modern horror games.
The latest game in the series, Amnesia: Rebirth, continued to evolve the franchise’s narrative and gameplay, producing even more intensity and white-knuckle dread. When we consider the game series that truly kept us up at night, Amnesia deserves its spot as one of the scariest horror game franchises of all time.
Originally released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in 2008, Dead Space is a third-person sci-fi horror game that’s as terrifying as it is fun. Similar in style to Resident Evil 4, Dead Space (and its two sequels) combined over-the-shoulder shooting mechanics with an incredibly intense space setting. Set in the distant future, players control an engineer named Isaac Clarke as he explores the seemingly abandoned and vast spaceship, the Ishimura. Unfortunately, Isaac quickly discovers the ship has been infested with a hostile, violent alien species called the Necromorphs. Armed with a handful of high-tech weapons, Isaac must salvage the Ishimura by dismembering and destroying every Necromorph lurking in the shadows.
At a time when other horror games started to focus on action over horror, Dead Space delivered a gut punch of absolute terror. The game expertly mixes a feeling of deep isolation and loneliness with the persistent dread of Necromorph attacks, making your skin crawl as you trek deeper into the sprawling ship. The two sequels, simply titled Dead Space 2 and Dead Space 3, continued to raise the stakes, throwing Isaac into increasingly depraved and dire circumstances across the galaxy.
Unfortunately, developer Visceral Games shut its doors soon after being acquired by the publisher Electronic Arts, so Dead Space is a mostly dead franchise. However, it lives on in our memories as one of the scariest horror game franchises of all time, and easily one of the most frightening sci-fi tales in gaming.
Like the Amnesia games, the Outlast franchise is all about throwing players into deadly and terrifying encounters with minimal defenses. Developed by the twisted minds at Red Barrels game studio, this first-person horror franchise has earned a reputation for being exceptionally twisted and controversial. In the shocking first game, players step into the shoes of a journalist named Miles, sent to investigate the secluded Mount Massive Insane Asylum. With just his night-vision camera and ability to duck and hide, Miles must survive a brutal and bloody night inside the hospital’s decaying walls. Time and time again, Outlast pushes the envelope, offering progressively more gory and depraved acts of horror.
Despite its notably grotesque story and imagery, Outlast was a hit with horror fans, resulting in an even more shocking sequel. Outlast 2 keeps the found-footage style atmosphere but swaps settings, trading an insane asylum for a barren desert packed with psychotic cult members. It also highlights several phobias, intent on disturbing the player in any way possible. Whether you’re afraid of tight spaces, open water, or gory body-horror, Outlast and its sequel will make it very hard to sleep at night.
The Silent Hill franchise started with the release of the original in 1999 on the PlayStation, offering an intense third-person survival horror experience with a notable focus on psychological horror. In each entry of the series, players explore the foggy, supernatural town of Silent Hill, where a mysterious cult preys on the weak and unwilling. Much like the Resident Evil franchise, you must solve puzzles and search your surroundings while simultaneously evading a wide roster of grotesque creatures. From a hulking monstrosity aptly nicknamed “Pyramid Head” to a vast variety of other surreal and ghastly beings, the streets of Silent Hill never feel safe.
While other horror franchises utilize geysers of blood and gore to shock the audience, Silent Hill digs under your skin with slowly building dread and suspense. There’s a persistent feeling of weirdness that permeates every inch of Silent Hill, further strengthened by the mysterious plots and scenarios that players encounter. Despite its success throughout the 2000s, the Silent Hill series has slowly faded out of pop culture, mostly due to lackluster support from publisher Konami.
That’s disappointing too, as the Silent Hill brand has shown potential to have a huge burst of popularity when handled properly. While there might not be a new Silent Hill game anytime soon, this remarkable series deserves recognition.
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