Ranked: Best and Worst Horror Videogames

  • Publish Date: October 25, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 121 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 ...

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Comments (121)

  • Rilo  

    Just because a game has "dead stuff" does NOT make it a Horror Game. Vampire Rain: Not horror. Castlevania: Not horror. Onechanbara: Not horror. Demon Souls: Not horror. Hell, I have issue with Resident Evil 4+ (and games that mimic these titles) as "Horror", as they're more about action that scaring the living crap out of the player. MOST of the games listed are NOT HORROR, they just have dead stuff in it. This is, quite possibly, the WORST RESEARCHED & WRITTEN DRIVEL I have read on the internet. Easily on this site. The author must not like video games and movies (or at least the horror genre) very much to have such a poor understanding of horror.

  • Icaro  

    Metacritic should stop doing these articles altogether. They even listed Dino Crisis in the "favorite horror series" poll. It's embarassing.
    I was hoping to find an overlooked title I might be interested, but instead this is all about number crunching and keyword box descriptions with "horror" in the text.

  • David Craig  

    It was a good feature but why on earth have you called plants vs. zombies a horror title, the zombies are comedy based really, it shouldn't of been included...

  • Daneil  

    I would consider BioShock a horror game - the first time you exit that bathysphere, a splicer having just killed your guide, no light... It's scary. Plus the ammo conservation and collection elements are true to the genre. The splicers' terrifying repetition of their Christian indoctrination ("Jesus loves me / this I know / for the Bible / tells me so" and blood-smeared messages on the wall help as well. Left 4 Dead and Demon's Souls, sure, they're both horror games too, even if more tense and anxious than monster-closet scary. Castlevania, though, is not a horror series at all - and it represents most of the games on the list. It's just a series peppered with vintage Hollywood monsters. Plants Vs. Zombies is a comedy title, so while you were adding that you may as well have included Konami's Kid Dracula. Where's Amnesia? Silent Hill? System Shock?

    This list belongs on the scariest list of under-researched Best & Worst lists.

  • Alastor  

    While i haven't played some of the mentioned titles i do want to put my 2 cents out there as well.
    Bioshock is a great game but it's not really something that is to be classified as a horror game, i think it's pretty obvious that everyone who has played Bioshock 1 and 2 think it's a shooter. Resident evil 5 isn't really worth mentioning as horror, it's a good ACTION game but there's not much horror in it for me.
    Demon's Souls? The setting may be grim and some levels might be as dark as a level from a real horror game but doesn't horror mean that something scares the crap out of you? Demon's Souls is a great game but far from horror.
    Left 4 Dead is a great shooter, great co-op, great fun to play but again, if it doesn't scare the crap out of you, can it really be noted as a horror game?
    And then, the DS games, now i think that, DS games can be great, i've played neither of those mentioned but i find it hard to believe someone can get scared of some 2D graphics.
    I would have at least expected Dead Space to be in that top 10, maybe even FEAR1 (not 2 cuz that ain't horror as well).
    If there is one thing that people can learn from this article it's the following: there aren't enough horrorgames on the market to feed the horde of horrorhungry gamers!
    And please do if you know some indie horrorgames correct me on my statement, i would love to get my hands on some new ones.

  • Yagun  

    lol
    Plants vs Zombies ???
    Bioshok 1st? FACE PALM

  • Steve  

    Are these getting rated with respect to how horror oriented they are or how popular they are? Why on earth is Plants vs Zombies up there? I'm not even sure if Castlevania should be up there, it's more action oriented with horror mythos elements. I guess Demon's Souls works, it is scary how difficult that game is.

  • Jake  

    Completely agree with Doug. 90% of the ones listed here won't even come close to being called "horror" by even their developers, let alone in any objective article. Forbidden Siren and Fatal Frame are two other truly horror games, which would probably scare the goobles out of this reviewer, along with the truly magnificent Amnesia, Penumbra and even Sherlock Holmes: the Awakened. Now, that's what I call real horror man.

  • conditionals  

    "The spookiest title ever released on the GameCube" doesn't do Eternal Darkness justice.

  • Dan  

    Are you serious!! Most of these games aren't even real horror games! Bioshock isn't a horror game.. Left for dead is not a horror game... Why is Condemned not on this list?? Ask anyone who has played Condemned and they will tell you that it made them jump and scared the crap out of them. The author of this needs to do his homework!

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