Do you agree with our pick of the 10 most terrifying pixelated experiences?
Developer: Naughty Dog
Platform: PS3, PS4
While the traditional survival horror elements are all undead and kicking in the Last of Us (creepy abandoned buildings, a population-zombifying virus, a severe lack of weaponry), there are two crucial things here which separate the game from more run-of-the-mill undead shockers: an expertly written story and a truly affecting central relationship.
Joel has been tasked with escorting young Ellie across the post-apocalytpic US in search of elusive rebel group the Fireflies for reasons which become clear as the story progresses. The haunted Joel lost his own daughter many years ago, and the story does a wonderful, subtle job of conveying the two travellers as a makeshift father-daughter duo. Don’t let this fool you though- The Last of Us is one of the tensest, most gripping and terrifying games you’re likely to experience.
The most recent title on this list, some might argue that the epic, nightmarish experience of Bloodborne is more RPG than horror. To them we might say, “Have you actually played Bloodborne”? To us they might respond, “Yes, actually I have”, and then, not wanting to get into an argument (because we’re above that), to them we might be like, “Ok, agree to disagree. Whatever. Pass the salted caramel”.
Set in the cursed city of Yharnam, Bloodborne’s aesthetic clearly harks back to all manner of terrifying gothic horrors (Hammer films included). Couple this hellish setting with the hordes of monstrous, scarily difficult creatures you must do battle with throughout the story, and you have a game whose sense of menace is palpable.
Developer: Rockstar North
Platform: PS2, Xbox
No stranger to controversy, Rockstar Games – who, at the time of Manhunt’s release in 2003, were already regularly grabbing headlines thanks to Grand Theft Auto – decided to push boundaries once more by making a videogame about… snuff movies.
Without the usual tropes of horror videogames present here, you might think Manhunt is an odd addition to this list, but play it for half an hour and you’ll see why we’ve included it. A blackly dark satire on our voyeuristic attitude to violence, Manhunt is also stomach-churningly, bone-chillingly, hair-raisingly tense and scary… Not for the faint-hearted.
Platform: Gamecube, PS2, Wii, PC
If this was a list of the “best” horror games ever we might need to go with Resident Evil 2 instead, but for sheer terror our first experience playing Resident Evil 4 goes down as the most memorably nerve-shredding of the series (sorry RE2, we still love you).
Eschewing some of the series’ staples (and challenging gamer expectations in the process) RE4 said goodbye to Raccoon City and its neverending plague of zombies, opting instead to place the story in a mysterious European village, where lead character Leon S Kennedy has arrived in search of the president’s missing daughter. The fixed camera angles of earlier games were also forgotten in place of a more fluid third-person, over the shoulder camera.
It’s not long before Leon meets the fanatical locals, including a chainsaw wielding sack-over-the-head maniac and Rasputin-esque cult leader, and his search for the commander in chief’s daughter becomes a whole lot harder/more disturbing. And for you holding the controller, get ready for a new wave of night terrors.
Developer: Frictional Games
Platform: PC, Mac
In videogames, there are few more successful or immediate ways to ramp up a player’s disorientation and fear than by making them experience a game through the eyes (and in the head) of a mentally unreliable character, This is what Amnesia manages excellently.
In August 1839, a young Londoner awakens in the halls Prussia’s Brennenberg Castle with his memory almost completely erased. All he remembers is his own name- Daniel; his home- Mayfair; and that something is hunting him down. Daniel’s journey to the depths of Brennenberg castle to find answers slowly becomes a journey into Daniel’s own troubled psyche, as the lines between nightmare and reality begin to blur.
Heavy on suspense, symbolism and scare vibes, Silent Hill 2 is a lesson in why thoughtful, character-driven horror can be far scarier than a game based around mere jump scares.
Almost every instalment of the series has its moments, but Silent Hill 2 is easily our pick because, aside from being one of the best horror games we’ve ever played, it was the first time we were introduced to (and now forever can’t unsee) Pyramid Head.
Developer: id Software
Platform: PC, Xbox, Mac
Light on story but heavy on scares, Doom 3, the third installment in the series praised for creating the FPS horror genre, doesn’t so much lead the pack as improve on things other similar titles had already tried out. The inability to equip a gun and a torch at the same time annoyed many upon the game’s release, but this also proved key to Doom 3’s success, as it forced the player to sacrifice either the ability to fight or to see down dark, potentially enemy-filled tunnels.
Developer: Irrational Games
From developer Irrational Games, who would go on to more mainstream success later with Bioshock, System Shock 2 doesn’t sound too original from a description of its opening-
You wake alone on a drifting, almost deserted spaceship, with bloody graffiti-covered walls and a virus having infected most of the crew members. So far, so survival sci-fi horror. But slowly, the sense that you’re the only sane person left on a madship becomes more and more apparent, a hopeless feeling of claustrophobia begins to overcome you, and the true genius of System Shock 2 presents itself.
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Platform: Xbox 360
Microsoft’s Alan Wake may have received some mixed reviews upon its release, but the way it uses its core mechanics of light and dark has made it a lasting success, and one of the more unique titles on this list.
Suffering a two year stretch of writer’s block, psychological thriller author Alan Wake travels to the small mountain town of Bright Falls for a short vacation to help his emotional state and get him writing again. Once there however, things quickly take a turn for the supernatural…
Platform: PS2, Xbox, Wii
J-horror spectacular Project Zero II: Crimson Butterfly (released in the US as Fatal Frame II) does a wonderful job of making the player feel vulnerable (and perpertually in danger) as they control Mayu – often joined by her twin sister Miu – in the abandoned Minakami Village. A village which, by the way, is totally haunted.
The most notable way the game creates this feeling of vulnerability is by giving the player one measly “weapon” with which to fend off the village’s spectral inhabitants: a camera obscura. The fact that the creepy ghosts must be stared down through the camera lens before they can be captured and destroyed, only adds to this unsettling feeling.
PT, Slender, Dead Space, Condemned: Criminal Origins, Clock Tower 3, FEAR