Ranked: Best and Worst Horror Videogames

  • Publish Date: October 25, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 123 user comments

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)

Released for:
xbox Xbox 360 96
pc PC 96
playstation PlayStation 3 94
Image

"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)

Released for:
playstation PlayStation 93
Image

"One of the best games available for the original PlayStation."

-- JustRPG

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)

Released for:
xbox GameCube 92
Image

"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)

Released for:
gba GameBoy Adv 91
Image

"An amazing, exciting, must-have game that'll keep you entertained for many, many years."

-- GameZone

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)

Released for:
gba GameBoy Adv 91
Image

"Set against a myriad of beautifully rendered 2D environments, the detailed visuals convey a feeling of dread."

-- GamePro

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)

Released for:
playstation PC 91
Image

"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)

Released for:
playstation PlayStation 91
cube GameCube * 91
* Updated 2002 edition
Image

"It tests your reflexes, satiates your bloodlust, stretches your mind (and temper) and leaves you both thrilled and drained."

-- TotalGames.net

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)

Released for:
cube GameCube 96
playstation PlayStation 2 96
wii Wii 91
pc PC 76
Image

"This is simply the best survival horror game ever created."

-- IGN

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)

Released for:
playstation PlayStation 3 89
Image

"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)

Released for:
xbox Xbox 360 89
pc PC 89
Image

"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)

Released for:
xbox Xbox 360 89
pc PC 89
Image

"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."

-- Destructoid

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)

Released for:
pc PC 89
Image

"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)

Released for:
ds Nintendo DS 89
Image

"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."

-- Modojo

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:

playstationXbox 360
1 2 3 4 5
Image Image Image Image Image
BioShock Plants vs. Zombies Left 4 Dead 2 Left 4 Dead Dead Space
2007 96 2010 89 2009 89 2008 89 2008 89
playstationPlayStation 3
1 2 3 4 5
Image Image Image Image Image
BioShock Demon's Souls Dead Space BioShock 2 Resident Evil 5
2008 94 2009 89 2008 88 2010 88 2009 86
wiiWii
1 2 3 4 5
Image Image Image Image Image
Resident Evil 4 Dead Space: Extraction Silent Hill: Shattered Memories The House of the Dead: Overkill Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth
2007 91 2009 82 2010 79 2009 78 2009 78

Horrific in all the wrong ways

Continue to the next page for our look at the worst horror videogames in our database ...

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (123)

  • sarttan  

    Uh, Left 4 dead 2 was definitely NOT Electronic Arts. It was by Valve. How did you get Left 4 Dead right and Left 4 Dead 2 wrong?! You need to learn to proofread!

    Anyway, the Half-life series is much scarier than the Left 4 Dead series, especially the chapter, "We Don't Go To Ravenholm" in Half-Life 2. Why is Half-Life nowhere to be found?

    Also, how did Castlevania beat Silent Hill in terms of horror?! Castlevania was never a horror-game series. If it was, then IT would be the first horror game instead of Resident Evil. Get your facts straight and consistent next time.

    As a whole, this article was poorly written, poorly proofread, and not even properly researched. I give it a FAIL/10.

  • Ryan  

    The scariest game ever is Amnesia: Dark Descent, if you don't agree than you haven't played it, fact. it's new too!!

  • R1911  

    For the purpose of this article, I probably would agree with BioShock being at #1. This article doesn't talk about the most horrifying but the most critically acclaimed horror-themed games, and I'd probably put BioShock there.

    However, when it comes to the most horrifying, I'd instantly say F.E.A.R. is more horrifying. I'm not a big fan of third-person horror games (at least from a scary standpoint considering I don't feel as immersed) so I tend to flock to first-person horror games, and F.E.A.R. I'd say is quite possibly the scariest I've ever played. BioShock was scary, yes, but F.E.A.R. keeps you at (possibly) dangerous levels of fright for much longer periods than other games I've played. Some may disagree with me, but that's my opinion.

  • Ben  

    @Doug
    Totally agree with you on that one man. Amnesia makes most of these games look like they have been aimed at 3 year olds... Amnesia is the f*cking scariest game I have ever played. Haven't played Penumbra but I'm gonna buy it soon and it looks amazing. Frictional Games know what's what when making horror games... Metacritic definitely needs to research more thoroughly because if they atually played Amnesia, they would rate it No. 1...

  • evilroy  

    If I ever make a list of worst lists ever this list will be #1. Silent Hill? System Shock? Undying? F.E.A.R.? Dead Space? Condemned? Doom? Nope, nope and nope. Apparently four Castlevanias were scarier than any of those . . .

    please . . .

  • Joe  

    Are you people familiar with Metacritic? They do not review anything. They gather reviews. They are not giving their own opinions of what is best or worst. If you read the thing, there are some key phrases early in the article that clarify this. For example (all emphasis mine): "the highest- and lowest-SCORING horror videogames IN OUR DATABASE," "the 13 BEST-REVIEWED horror games in our database," "The Best-REVIEWED Horror Videogames," etc.
    They also point out 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 genre is vague, and that IS fair game for debate, but don't get mad because they "left out," or didn't "choose" such-and-such game.

  • J  

    Agree with pretty much everyone, this list is a joke. While most of the top 10 are great games, none bar eternal darkness are really horror. Bioshock was scary for the first 10 minutes then it was just a great shooter.

    Not having Dead Space is unforgivable, it's pretty much the only game i've ever played where I choose to walk slowly with my gun held up through the entire game. On the plus up side of this "article" I've seen a lot of praise for amnesia so I plan to play it asap.

  • colormesurprised  

    omg this list sucks no clock tower!?!?!?!? wth man
    silent hill condemned system shock<----------- those are horror games!!!!!!

  • Steve  

    Most of these aren't even horror games. Stick to movies.

  • Ali  

    and wtf , was L4D was horror game ? lol i didnt knew that till now

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