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)

  • Jordan  

    Should probably get someone that knows something about videogames to write this...I would 6 of the top 10 games Metascores are inaccurate because of them being very old, not to mention some games (Plants vs. Zombies and Demon's Souls) arent exactly horror yet they are listed as top 5. In my opinion, Dead Space and Condemned 2 have been the scariest games Ive ever played, with Resident Evil 4 in close competition.

  • Doug  

    This article is poorly researched. Amnesia the current PC game is easily one of the best horror games ever made. The rest of the Penumbra series certainly beats out almost all the castlevania games. Even indigo prophecy is more horrific than 90% of the crap you put on this list...miserable miserable article.

  • Johnfreeman45  

    Is the title "Shocks for your system" an accident?
    System Shock is easily the best of all time and its not even in the list. Why would the title allude to it without it even being mentioned?

  • Matty  

    I would say favorites RE2 or the RE1 remake for the game cube, as the only thing horrifying in RE1 for PS1 was the voice acting. Least favorite probably Alone in the Dark Inferno.

  • Pattysin  

    Is this a joke? Half of these games aren't even horror. Bioshock can hardly be counted as horror. Castlevania has never been a horror genre. Left 4 Dead has zombies but isn't presented as a horror at all (this last one may be debatable). Please get someone who actually plays games to make a list instead of searching for random metacritic scores for games that contain the word "horror" in the review.

  • Eganil  

    Once again, I follow a link to an "article" on Metacritic hoping it will bring me informative details about something I wouldn't already know everything about and once again I am sorely disappointed. Just like every other top 10 you guys put out there, one has to wonder what are your selective criterias beyond the Metascore and if the "reviewer " even knows what he/she's talking about or has done a bit of research prior to writing the article. What about Call Of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth? What about Cold Fear? Where is Silent Hill 2? And what are the Castlevania titles doing here! They're good games but have nothing to do with Horror!
    when will Metacritic stop writing articles that haven't been researched or documented? Or , if you insist on doing so, when will you hire REAL writers?

  • Kirby  

    Agree with you entirely Jordan. RE4 was my first memorable survival-horror game. Both Condemned games scared the bejesus out of me (especially the school mission in the first game... gave me nightmares). But Dead Space easily tops my personal list of horror; best atmosphere ever in a horror game.

  • Z3r0  

    Bioshock as number 1, is that scary? cmon! what about SH3 or even SH1? or even the old alone in the dark series (not alone in the dark inferno, that just crap), and resident evil isnt so much for scares or chills...

    Cmon guys, play at least the games and not read the counter part of the box!

  • Connor  

    Yeah, Amnesia just came out. That demo is scarier than any game on that list. I would also call RE4 just more of a third person action game and while Plants Vs. Zombies is awesome, that game is not a horror game by any stretch of the imagination. I can rally behind Demon Souls though. While I have never played it, the atmosphere and the difficulty can scare the poop out of people.

  • Guido  

    Agreed everybody. I read this in opes of finding a game I might not have known about, and instead found myself questioning what I knew. I woudl say that Silent Hill should be on here for sure, I dont care which one you pick. The Penumbra series also deserves a note. I would also like to place the Fatal Frame series on here, and although technically misguided at times, Clock Tower messed me up for a few days.

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