10 absolutely terrifying games you still have to play

scaredy cat

To celebrate the recent release of The Last of Us, which, we think you’ll agree, is pretty darn terrifying, I now present 10 of the scariest games I’ve ever had the (mis)fortune of playing.

The Last of Us imagines an Earth ravaged by a parasitic virus that infects humans and turns them insane. It’s a vividly imagined world indeed, but not for the faint of heart, and Gearburn editor Steven Norris still hasn’t quite recovered. He mumbles about “clickers” and “blindness” and “death”. He’s assumed the fetal position when he sleeps ever since. It does make it easier to get money out of his wallet though. A scary thought indeed, for him.

If you’re similarly susceptible to scares, give the following games a wide berth.

10. Resident Evil 4 (2005)

Leon Kennedy’s boy band fringe gets tested to the very limit in Resident Evil 4. Dropped off in a remote European village in search of the president’s missing daughter, it’s not long before Leon’s perfect blonde locks are in danger of being ruffled as he runs headlong into townsfolk who are more interested in skewering his head to a stake than trading tips on hair conditioners. But even in the face of these axe-wielding Spaniards, Leon remains measured throughout, making sure never to move too quickly lest he fluff his ‘do (he also refuses to move laterally).

It’s Leon’s slow, measured gait that makes Resident Evil 4 such a claustrophobic and unsettling experience. And the townsfolk, who occasionally spout tentacles from their heads, are a pretty frightening bunch too.

I deliberated whether to include the original Resident Evil instead of 4, because the original game is more classic horror. But 4 has stood the test of time so well that it deserves any number of accolades, not least a place on this list.

9. Deadly Premonition (2010)


Welcome to Deadly Premonition, one of the oddest games you’ll ever play. More to the point, meet Francis York Morgan, the detective and hero of the story. York seemingly suffers from mental health problems and regularly talks to his imaginary friend Zach about the weather, current affairs and Patrick Bateman.

York’s in the fictional Greenvale to investigate the death of a young beauty, and you might find yourself chuckling at the inhabitants of the town. But then, without warning, Deadly Premonition throws you into an existential realm where you come face-to-face with a killer dressed in a raincoat. The coated killer chases you while dragging a giant axe in his wake. In these moments, when it’s just you versus the metallic clang of the approaching axe, few games inspire greater dread.

8. Dark Seed (1992)

What would you get if H.R. Giger gave birth to a video game? Answer: Dark Seed.

This 1992 point-and-click adventure game is indebted to Giger’s artwork at every turn. From the man who sketched the original Xenomorph (the Alien) comes a video game draped in Giger’s ghoulish illustrations. The story almost feels secondary to the macabre and truly unsettling drawings that give Dark Seed a uniquely inorganic and unsettling atmosphere. But what story there is suits Giger’s penchant for the supernatural.

Advertising executive Mike Dawson is staying in an ordinary house and living his ordinary life, until he dreams he’s been impregnated by an alien embryo. It’s then that the headaches start and the nightmares ruin his sleep. Is that really a headache at all or an alien crab trying to burst from his forehead? Go on, keep that charming image in your mind the next time a throb settles over your temple. But not only is Dark Seed unsettling, it’s also punishingly difficult. Keep your eye on the clock if you want to survive to the end of the game. Not for the faint of heart, Dark Seed is buggy and at times broken, but still crazy scary even by today’s standards.

7. Manhunt (2003)


Manhunt – or as I like to call it: Your Own Personal Snuff Film – is the story of Cash, a prison inmate freed from captivity on one condition: that he executes everyone in his path for the sick satisfaction of the watching Starkweather, a snuff film auteur. The twisted film director is brilliantly voiced by actor Brian Cox, and Cox gives the nefarious overseer an ominous baritone quality. Cox has perhaps the best bad guy voice in all of Hollywood and while he remains unseen for the majority of the story, his voice is really the star of the show, while grimy killshots and grisly CCTV footage during the game properly heightens your terror.

6. Alien vs Predator (1999)

The only game on this list where the feeling of fear and invincibility changes so rapidly, depending on who you’re playing as. In this three-in-one package you have access to cloaking, night vision and the most powerful jaws this side of a great white shark as either the predator or the alien, two veritable killing machines that stalk their prey for the fun of it.

And then there’s the flesh-and-blood marine. As just a sack of meat, you’re in for a ride. Listen to the squawk of your motion tracker as the grim reaper approaches. You’ll blindly peel of a round from your pulse rifle as the squawk continues and your heart races – when suddenly, the alien snaps acid jaws around your throat and the screen goes red…

5. Clock Tower (1995)

In a game that tries to scare you half to death, it’s unfortunate that Clock Tower’s scissor-wielding baddie is called… Bobby. Not a name to inspire dread, I think you’ll agree. Then again, the awfully named Freddy Krueger got nine films.

Still, Clock Tower is unique as a “survival horror point-and-click adventure game” (thanks Wikipedia), a genre neither LucasArts nor Sierra were tackling back in the day. And, in a strange way, the horror genre is well suited to the point-and-click interface. Clock Tower forces you to hide from Bobby rather than tackling him head-on, and by virtue of point and click being so limiting and restrictive, you find yourself frantically maneuvering the mouse whenever Bobby gets close. That you never feel comfortable with the mouse becomes, ironically, the game’s stand-out quality.

Furthermore, if Bobby catches you, it’s instant death, meaning you tread with caution and trepidation. Bobby might be a scissor-wielding youth with a silly name, but he’s a source of true terror in this classic adventure game.

4. Silent Hill (1999)

I get the sense that Silent Hill was developed by Konami as a direct response to Capcom’s Resident Evil. If Chris Redfield’s adventure was survival horror with an action bent, then Konami was determined to make Silent Hill survival horror with a supernatural, cultist bent.

In search of his missing daughter, Harry Mason gets stuck in the eponymous Silent Hill. A thick fog and a deranged populous stand in his way. So begins a nightmarish adventure through the twisted town, full of fashionable low-angle camera shots that starve you of a clear line-of-sight. You cautiously move through this world, aided only by your flashlight and the weapons you salvage. There’s no HUD to speak of, so you’re forced to bring up a separate menu just to check Harry’s health.

The original game is available on the PS network today and it’s worth playing. Unlike games today, Silent Hill is content to leave you with an obtuse camera and a punishingly slow sense of progression. You might be “in control”, but the developers are the ones orchestrating the scares.

3. Condemned: Criminal Origins (2005)


We all remember F.E.A.R., the first-person shooter that was part Ring, part John Woo movie. But Monolith’s most frightening game proved to be Condemned: Criminal Origins.

You’re Ethan Thomas, a police detective caught in the middle of a mysterious illness that is causing paranoia and psychosis in the city’s inhabitants. And guess what? They all want a piece of you. What makes Condemned special is the way it revels in the unflinching brutality of hand-to-hand combat. Ethan’s arsenal doesn’t cover shotguns and sniper rifles, rather wooden planks and lead pipes. It’s not until the end of the story that you even get a pistol, as Condemned is built around the purity of its melee combat.

What results is violence that is brutal, kinetic and almost staccato in quality. Eyes dilated, bodies tattooed, these nutters are at the mercy of the psychosis sweeping the city. But it’s you or them, and in that moment when they rush you, you’ll happily mash the triggers, bludgeoning them with your impromptu weapons and cuting a path through the derelict world which, in its graffiti-sprayed dilapidation, seems as affected by the illness as the inhabitants themselves.

2. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (2005)

Based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu is designed to be frightening, confusing and mostly, nauseating. You’re in the shoes of private detective Jack Walters who finds himself trapped in the cultist town of Innsmouth. It’s the classic story of a lone man pitted against a powerful, all-encompassing tribe of radicals who will stop at nothing to protect their secret.

The story layers on the scares, but it’s the gameplay that proves most spine-chilling. As Jack begins to lose his grip on sanity, the game conveys this shift with stunning visual touches, while a moody soundtrack keeps you locked into this surreal world; a world that honours the beats of Lovecraft’s classic short stories.

1. Amnesia: Dark Descent (2010)

There could be no other victor — Amnesia is simply the king of scares. It’s the work of independent development house Frictional Games, who began their odyssey with a student project in 2007 entitled Penumbra. Three years and four games later and Dark Descent is the zenith – a game that proves that Frictional do horror better than anyone.

It’s a pitch-perfect, wonderfully paced ride; a game that grabs you in its vice-like grip and turns your blood cold. Like Clock Tower, you’re left to fend for yourself with absolutely no weapon to speak of. Hiding is the only option to avoid the demons that stalk you, and should you have the misfortune of coming face to face with one of them, you’ll very likely be too petrified to pick the game up again. I should know. I’ve never finished Dark Descent.

Image via Flickr by Dat’



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