Our Horror Week coverage continues with a look at the highest- and lowest-scoring horror videogames in our database. Later this week, we'll also examine the best and worst horror films of the past decade.
Shocks for your system
Though the newest re-boot of Splatterhouse (out Nov. 23 for 360, PS3) is coming a bit too late for Halloween this year, any gamer looking for scares right now can find them in the back catalogs for virtually every gaming platform ever released. In fact, even the Atari 2600 boasted a horror-related title, Haunted House (sort of a more dimly-lit variation on the system's earlier title Adventure), though few players accustomed to the blood and gore of today's cinematically dark, violent, and frightening games would find that 1981 release scary.
Yet horror-themed videogames have evolved in the ensuing three decades to become as frightening as anything you might see on the big screen. And we're not just talking about "survival horror," the most prevalent form of videogame horror that involves battling against a large group of much more powerful -- and typically supernatural -- enemies in a terrifying environment. Indeed, other staples of the horror genre, from haunted houses and zombies to werewolves and vampires, have haunted numerous games over the years, while even some of the darker fantasy releases have demonstrated the gore, supernatural terror, and and pervasive feeling of dread more closely associated with horror.
Best horror games for any platform
Let's start by looking at the 13 best-reviewed horror games in our database. Note that when a game has been released on multiple platforms, we have averaged those scores together to determine the rankings on this list. (Averaged scores are denoted with an asterisk below.) And, yes, you'll notice that while we do have some games from the 1990s in our database, others (and games from the 1980s) are not included, so a few horror classics did not make the list.
The Best-Reviewed Horror Videogames
1. BioShock 95* (2k Games, 2007)
"BioShock hearkens back to a time of fantasy and wonder, blending elements of Jules Verne and John Carpenter into a cinematic masterpiece of sci-fi horror that you won't want to miss."
-- Game Chronicles
Building on the innovative cyberpunk adventure series System Shock, Irrational Games' award-winning 2007 release blends elements of the survival horror genre into a visually stunning -- and spooky -- first-person shooter set in the underwater dystopia of Rapture. While this descent into hell presents players with numerous physical challenges, it is BioShock's confrontation of morality that elevates it to one of the best games ever released for current platforms.
2. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night 93 (Konami, 1997)
"One of the best games available for the original PlayStation."
Considered by many fans of Castlevania to be the best game in the long-running series, the 2D action-adventure Symphony of the Night ditched some of the standard platforming structure of prior releases in favor of more open-ended gameplay, while retaining -- and giving an interesting twist to -- the usual Dracula's castle setting. The game was also re-released for the 360 via Xbox Live Arcade in 2007.
3. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem 92 (Nintendo, 2002)
"It's the little things that start to freak you out. Pounding doors, bleeding walls, out of focus shadows, voices, moving statues, and then things get really messed up."
-- Cheat Code Central
The spookiest title ever released on the GameCube, Eternal Darkness boasted a gripping story set in a haunted mansion. But it was the game's "sanity effects" that were its biggest calling card, slowly messing with players' minds as the game progressed by adding frightening sound effects, altering visuals, and simulating console and TV malfunctions.
(tie) 4. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow 91 (Konami, 2003)
"An amazing, exciting, must-have game that'll keep you entertained for many, many years."
The series' third (and best-looking) GBA release updates the setting from the Middle Ages to the year 2035, where a young student and his companions battle evil in Dracula's castle. At the time of its release, Aria of Sorrow was hailed by many reviewers as second only to Symphony of the Night among all Castlevania games.
(tie) 4. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon 91 (Konami, 2001)
"Set against a myriad of beautifully rendered 2D environments, the detailed visuals convey a feeling of dread."
The very first Castlevania title released for Game Boy Advance, Circle of the Moon was praised for its challenging gameplay, though many reviewers weren't quite so fond of the game's too-dark graphics.
(tie) 4. Planescape: Torment 91 (Interplay, 1999)
"If you don't mind some weirdness, have a penchant for the macabre, and love the idea of role-playing in a setting where death is a doorway instead of a slammed door, then Planescape: Torment is just what the (witch) doctor ordered."
-- Computer Games Magazine
Though this story-driven role-playing game was based on the rules of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, its brand of fantasy was much darker than similar RPG titles, ditching the usual assortment of elves and dragons for an immortal, nameless protagonist moving through a bleak, multi-dimensional world that incorporates touches of both science fiction and horror (the latter though the presence of zombies and gore more than its ability to frighten). Critics praised its originality, but its emphasis on story and dialogue over action and combat turned off some players.
(tie) 4. Resident Evil 91* (Capcom, 1996)
"It tests your reflexes, satiates your bloodlust, stretches your mind (and temper) and leaves you both thrilled and drained."
While Resident Evil 4 (see below) might be a better game, its hard to understate the importance of the original Resident Evil to the "survival horror" genre; indeed, it was the first videogame ever marketed using that term. This graphically violent and undeniably scary 3D game set in a secluded mansion overrun by mutants asked players to solve puzzles and explore in addition to slaughtering zombies, spiders, and other horrific creatures.
8. Resident Evil 4 90* (Capcom, 2005)
"This is simply the best survival horror game ever created."
Eliminating the puzzle aspects of previous titles in favor of more action and an emphasis on rapidly blasting zombies (or in this case, parasitically-controlled humans known as Los Ganados), Resident Evil 4 is arguably more of a standard action game or third-person shooter than a survival horror title. Still, it was a highly successful and influential one; nearly every such shooter to follow emulated its style. And the enemies contained within RE4 were scarier than anything that had come before.
9. Demon's Souls 89 (Atlus, 2009)
"Probably the best and most frightening role-playing game this generation so far."
-- Gamer 2.0
One of the best PlayStation 3 exclusives to date, this extraordinarily challenging fantasy-RPG is set in a gloomy fog-infested land where demons feast on the souls of inhabitants. Though Demon's Souls may be too much of a fantasy game (yes, there be dragons here) to appeal to gamers looking for more conventional horror, it is certainly filled with tension and scares throughout, as any good horror game should be.
(tie) 10. Left 4 Dead 89* (Valve, 2008)
"A redefining moment for the survival-horror genre."
-- The Onion A.V. Club
Another groundbreaking title in the history of survival horror (though, like RE4, it is more shooter than horror title), Left 4 Dead added something new to the usual zombie-blasting exercise: competitive multiplayer. What it lacked it variety it made up for in its cinematic environment, attention to detail, and replayability.
(tie) 10. Left 4 Dead 2 89* (Electronic Arts, 2009)
"The Southern setting has made the game even scarier, with the redneck look of the Infected creating a more unnerving bestiary of creatures to contend with."
This quick sequel added the variations in weaponry, locations, and gameplay modes lacking in the original Left 4 Dead, though it didn't introduce any major new concepts. That didn't stop the game from becoming a critical and commercial hit.
(tie) 10. The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery 89 (Sierra Studios, 1995)
"A great horror adventure, driven by a script that puts the competition to shame."
-- PC Gamer
The second of three Gabriel Knight releases was a werewolf tale rendered in full-motion video. While that meant that storytelling was fixed and linear, the story itself was strong, and the graphics and sound were better than those of many other games of the day.
(tie) 10. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow 89 (Konami, 2005)
"A delightful trip through a macabre fun house full of blood and assorted horrors that should not be missed by anyone who enjoys playing games."
The first Castlevania game for the DS was a direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow, bringing back that game's hero (Soma Cruz) who now must fend of a cult seeking to kill him to bring back Dracula.
Best horror games for current consoles
Here are the top horror titles for each of the current-generation consoles:
|BioShock||Plants vs. Zombies||Left 4 Dead 2||Left 4 Dead||Dead Space|
|BioShock||Demon's Souls||Dead Space||BioShock 2||Resident Evil 5|
|Resident Evil 4||Dead Space: Extraction||Silent Hill: Shattered Memories||The House of the Dead: Overkill||Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth|
Horrific in all the wrong ways
Continue to the next page for our look at the worst horror videogames in our database ...