We’ve all been there.… Your hands get sweaty, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, your heart races and your pupils dilate, your arms are dotted with goosebumps, and you hold your breath as long as you can, sometimes forgetting to breathe. This is FEAR, and you are loving every second of it!
There’s just something about that adrenaline rush, that wave of dopamine and endorphins that makes scaring ourselves senseless so irresistible. And there have been many adventure games tapping into that primal emotion over the years, so it’s high time we listed the best of the best games that kept us on the edge of our seats, filled with tension and dread.
Now, remember these are adventures, which means games whose challenge is not primarily focused on survival. Sure, like everyone else we might have peed a little while playing Dead Space, or turned the lights on at times while playing Silent Hill, or been too afraid to go to sleep lest we too be afflicted with Little Nightmares, but our list is not for games filled with things trying to kill us, but for games able to convince us that something lurking out there wants to, even if we can’t see it – especially if we can’t see it!
We’ve limited ourselves to only one game per series, and of course there are many frightening adventures not included here. No list will be exhaustive, but our choices reflect a wide range of looks and styles and gameplay that will surely appeal to the fearmonger in any horror fan. If you find thrills in chills, and crave things that go bump in the night, this is for you.
#20 – Stasis
From the moment you stumble out of your pod on the Groomlake dripping with goo and see the other broken pods filled with corpses in various states of decay, it’s clear that something has gone very, very wrong in The Brotherhood’s impressive debut, Stasis. One moment you were settling into cryosleep bound for Titan on a family holiday, and now you’re here, all alone on a seemingly derelict ship, surrounded by broken medical equipment. The photorealistic isometric graphics that render every blood spatter in loving detail are sure to put you on edge as the ancient ship creaks and hisses around you, and that’s only the start. Exploring the Groomlake feels like gradually descending into hell, with recorded details of the (now-gruesomely-former) researchers’ lives serving to throw their ultimately monstrous acts into sharp relief. Stasis doesn’t rely on overt danger to fill you with fear, but rather a dread-inducing atmosphere of horrifying bloody viscera, a slowly building tension mixed masterfully with jump scares, and the grimly fascinating details of the ship’s increasingly inevitable demise, making it anything but certain you won’t be the final victim before all is said and done.
#19 – Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh
While the original Phantasmagoria had its share of horror, it had its rough edges and it relied on enough gore to make Wes Craven blush. The sequel improved on all of these areas and focused more on telling a psychological thriller. In A Puzzle of Flesh you play as Curtis Craig, a nondescript, cubicle-working introvert whose best friend is his pet rat Blob. An unexplained murder at the office has everyone nervous, and that’s before Craig begins experiencing disturbing flashbacks to his forgotten childhood. When his computer starts antagonizing him, Craig’s grip on reality deteriorates as he questions his choices and his sanity. Each subsequent (and apparently psychic) murder scene is shown in horrifying detail, yet it’s the constant suspense regarding Craig’s fate in between that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Despite some continuity issues ever-present with 90s FMV titles, the challenge is light enough that the tension has space to grow. Paul Morgan Stetler does a fantastic job in front of the green screen, his nonverbal reactions matching the horror he’s facing. The subject matter is quite heavy, with prominent themes of S&M and child abuse, but there’s a tongue-in-cheek camp running throughout to lighten things up just enough to keep them from ever being overwhelming. Sure, the ending is a bit overwrought, but the ride is sick fun if you turn your brain off and enjoy it.
#18 – Layers of Fear
Bloober Team has since become one of the pre-eminent names in horror gaming (being entrusted with the remake of Silent Hill 2, no less), but it was Layers of Fear that first helped put the indie Polish developer on the map. In this game you roam a huge Victorian mansion as a painter searching for inspiration to finish his magnum opus. But time and personal tragedy have rendered this poor man insane. The mansion feeds on his inner turmoil, and like a living, breathing creature, it continually transforms its dark nineteenth-century rooms and hallways to bombard you with disturbing psychedelic imagery, giving physical shape to the protagonist’s fears. Not a single corner of the labyrinthine mansion ever looks the same way twice. You feel constantly, uncomfortably disoriented but you must keep moving forward, embrace the horror and try to make sense of it all, only ever pausing to control your nerves when confronted with the occasional jump scare. After each excursion you’re allowed back into your studio to add to the canvas, only to be lured outside again moments later to delve deeper into the ominous secrets the painter’s subconscious tries to keep suppressed. There’s not much in the way of gameplay here, but that’s okay because it’s hard to solve puzzles when you’re shaking in your boots!
#17 – The Last Door: Season One
How do you make chunky pixels look and feel scary? Well, just ask The Game Kitchen. Perhaps better known now for their Blasphemous series of action-platformers, the indie developer first treated us to a pair of episodic horror seasons of The Last Door. Season One explores the decades-long mystery behind a secret society hellbent on crossing “The Veil,” a supernatural realm that can only be reached by those who enter a higher state of consciousness. Protagonist Jeremiah Devitt must re-examine his own past to determine the truth about his role in the organization, which began in childhood after a fateful meeting at boarding school. Mixing equal influence from Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, each chapter is a master class in minimalist dread, where the low-resolution pixel graphics combine with the extremely moody sound design to create a terrifying chimera that leaves loads to the imagination in a way we just couldn’t put down. And for those who get through its four potent episodes clamoring for more, there’s good news: Season Two is just as chillingly great.
#16 – Visage
SadSquare Studio’s Visage feels like a full-fledged spiritual successor of sorts to Kojima Productions’ terrifying but ill-fated P.T., helping to somewhat alleviate the cancellation of the highly anticipated Silent Hills. Following an opening cinematic depicting a murder-suicide that ends in blood (nothing ominous about that!), players find themselves in an old house with a grim history, playing an enigmatic character with a dark past of his own, the unspeaking Dwayne Anderson. Each of the four discrete chapters offers a distinct horror experience with its own central malevolent entity, but all of them are terrifying in their own way. There is real danger at times, and with no place to hide your only recourse is to outrun your pursuer! Most of the fear is all in your mind, however, courtesy of eerie environs like a cemetery and an abandoned hospital, filled with blood smears, creaks, faulty lights, whispers in the dark, and other skin-crawling visual and audio cues, along with random unexplained events sure to paralyze you in place. The problem is that your mind is fragile and light sources are scarce, and the looser your grip on reality, the more disturbing this living nightmare becomes. Pills you find will help restore some sanity, and the more puzzle-based, wonderfully interactive sections usually afford a moment’s respite, but then it’s right back into darkness and despair. Eventually you’ll need to confront Dwayne’s tortured subconscious, and don’t be surprised if it leaves a few scars on your own in the process.
#15 – The Quarry
Some developers are synonymous with certain styles of game design, and Supermassive Games is certainly one of those. Having largely stuck to a tried-and-true interactive horror movie formula for several years in the multipart Dark Pictures Anthology, the team hit upon an undeniable sweet spot when they stepped away from that self-contained horror franchise with 2022’s The Quarry. Exhibiting the same unadulterated joy of cheesy, campy goodness as their earlier titles, The Quarry marries an atmospheric werewolf-infested romp through the woods with stellar production values and an impressive cast of Hollywood talent, including some stalwart veterans of the horror scene. A remote summer camp freshly emptied of its campers; a deep, dark lake surrounding an eerie island; a police officer who displays irrational violent tendencies; the camp’s owner insisting that nobody leave the relative safety of the lodge once night settles in – it all sets the stage as our group of erstwhile counselors become fodder for the grinder as a night of gore, murder, and mutilation unfolds. It may not be an evolution of the formula, but when the game is this much damn fun, it doesn’t need to be!
#14 – Someday You’ll Return
CBE’s Someday You’ll Return is a walk in the park – at least, if the park were the contemporary Moravian woods in the Czech Republic that are slowly being perverted by dark forces that may or may not all be in the damaged psyche of the game’s antihero protagonist Daniel, who’s there looking for his runaway daughter. The search takes you through impressive natural landscapes, to a claustrophobic series of bunker tunnels, to the ruins of a castle. Space and time begin to lose meaning as Daniel’s cell phone accumulates days’ worth of messages in a matter of hours. Dark creatures stalk you, but none as horrific as the terrifying monster – humanoid but perhaps not quite human – that seeks to destroy you. The game provides moments of exploration that are free and safe, but even these feel anything but, as you’ll dread the horrors that could jump out at any moment. When they finally do, you’ll have to hide or flee to escape them in brief action sequences. Some scares are real, some play out only in your imagination, but the tension is always thick as Daniel is forced to confront the demons of his own past before learning what has befallen his daughter. Add in some potion making, excellent audio design, a challenging narrative, and multiple endings, and you have a game as deep and complex as it is haunting and atmospheric.
#13 – The Dark Eye
Edgar Allan Poe is one of the world’s more renowned horror writers, so it’s surprising that so few games have been based on his works. Then again, it would be hard to top Inscape’s The Dark Eye. Presented through a modern-day framing device about a tragically dysfunctional family visit, the game explores three of Poe’s macabre stories: “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “Berenice,” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” and intriguingly, you get to experience each through the eyes of both the victim and killer. The combination of 3D graphics, stop-motion animation and video segments are deeply disturbing, particularly the characters, who have distorted clay faces with grotesque features and unmoving mouths, blowing past the uncanny valley to create an unnerving aesthetic that suits the subject matter perfectly. Even the mouse pointer feels like an eerily living hand guiding you in your possible interactions. Thomas Dolby composed the haunting soundtrack, and author William S. Burroughs voiced the lead character and provided readings of two other Poe poems, “The Masque of the Red Death” and “Annabel Lee.” If you’re familiar with Poe, you don’t need us to tell you why the twisting narratives themselves will keep a permanent chill running down your spine, so if you insist on playing this game (and we highly recommend it, if you can find an increasingly rare used copy), you just might want to keep a light on. If you weren’t a little crazy before you started, you very well could be by the time you’re done.
#12 – Miasmata
Miasmata is a truly strange and eerie beast that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves from adventure fans. Perhaps that’s because developer IonFX bills it as a “first-person survival/adventure game” and it comes within a whisker of landing in outright survival horror territory. But not only is it memorably creepy, it’s also one of the most unique adventure games you’ll ever encounter. Stranded on an uncharted island, suffering from an unknown disease, and stalked by a relentless horned panther-like monster, players are essentially thrown to the wolves (or cats in this case) and left to fend for themselves. Most adventure games feature a mix of exploration and puzzle solving, but few achieve what Miasmata does: making exploration itself a puzzle, in the form of a cartography system that requires you to use triangulation to add landmarks to your map. Most of the game involves navigating the island in order to synthesize a cure for your illness from the local flora, all while staying hidden from the dreaded creature. It’s bewildering, fascinating, and of course, very much terrifying.
#11 – Shadow of the Comet
Of the many games based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Infogrames’ Shadow of the Comet was one of the first and remains one of the best thirty years later. Although not a direct adaptation, it faithfully adheres to the author’s Cthulhu Mythos and was inspired by The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Dunwich Horror. You are journalist John Parker, who travels to the small New England fishing village of Illsmouth in 1910 for its superior vantage point to view Halley’s comet, while also hoping to investigate why noted British scientist Lord Boleskine went stark raving mad in this place during the comet’s last passing 76 years earlier. You end up getting more than you bargained for, however, and must stay alive for three days as you slowly uncover an ancient conspiracy that the townsfolk insist stay hidden. Easier said than done, however, as nothing is as it seems in Illsmouth, no one can be trusted, and you can expect to die many times in horrific ways. The pixel art graphics aren’t particularly scary but they’re nicely detailed, and the soundscape creates a richly eerie atmosphere for a troubling occult story that will ultimately see you confronting some of Lovecraft’s monstrous “Great Old Ones” themselves. The story does commendable justice to Lovecraftian cosmic horror sensibilities, so if you haven’t played it yet, go on … give in to the call of Cthulhu.
#10 – Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Okay, we lied. We said we weren’t including Silent Hill games, but there’s one key exception, and for a very good reason. As a Wii/PS2/PSP re-imagining of the first Silent Hill game, Shattered Memories provides an alternate version of Harry Mason looking for his missing daughter Cheryl after they suffered a car accident in a snowstorm. (That’s not the reason.) The game switches between views of a therapist’s office and the titular creepy, largely deserted town. The answers you give the therapist are used to shape Silent Hill and its characters, with subtle details altered to fit your psychological profile. (Also not the reason.) You’re armed only with only a flashlight, concealing the edges of the world in disturbing darkness and enveloping you in a true feeling of isolation, with sudden sounds feeding your tortured imagination. Your trusty smartphone can take pictures of ghostly shadows of people from the past and receive anonymous but desperate voicemail messages, attesting that the world you’re exploring isn’t all it appears to be. But the reason we consider this an adventure game (or at least, much more adjacent than most games in the series) is that for the most part you’re not in any danger, free to investigate at your skin-crawling leisure. UNTIL… at key plot points, the environment transforms, the world freezes over with walls of ice blocking most exits, and a terrifying monster begins chasing you with no means to defend yourself – truly the stuff of nightmares.
Other recommendations: Clock Tower, Calling, Cursed Mountain
#9 – Until Dawn
We said earlier that Supermassive Games stuck to their own tried-and-true formula for The Quarry, and 2015’s PlayStation-exclusive Until Dawn is the game where that formula first took shape. This masterfully crafted love letter to all-things-slasher delights in hitting all the obligatory tropes, meaning you’re sure to find a heaping helping of horrible things lurking in the night, whatever they may be. Led by Hollywood talent like Hayden Panettiere and Rami Malek, the game follows a group of awful teens around their posh and isolated mountain retreat, where things soon start to go awry. A masked killer begins to stalk the group in and around the lodge, while a ghostly presence in the basement dials up the supernatural element and applies pressure from a different angle. There’s also a menacing figure, equipped with a flamethrower, out in the snowy woods, and none of this even scratches the surface of the nearby abandoned sanatorium or a tragic accident that claimed the lives of a group of miners years ago – or the strange sounds now coming out of the supposedly empty mine. Bringing the chills fast and furiously, all while providing players with agency over how the story plays out, means you simply can’t go wrong crawling under a blanket, turning out the lights, and curling up on the couch with your controller to frighten the living bejeebers out of yourself.
#8 – SOMA
By the time Frictional Games released SOMA in 2015, the Swedish developer had already left an indelible mark on the horror game landscape with its magnum opus (which we’ll get to shortly). Though it’s less of a household name and not as overtly shorts-soilingly terrifying as its more famous cousin, SOMA explores a deeper, more sobering kind of horror that may end up sticking with you longer after the fact. Suffering brain damage after a car accident, Simon Jarrett submits to an experimental brain scan, a procedure that offers the possibility of a cure. The less said about the game’s plot the better, but suffice it to say that when the lights come back on, Simon finds himself deep underwater in the Pathos-II research facility, where – of course – all hell has broken loose. What’s worse are the clues that suggest the surface world may also have changed in irreparable ways. SOMA poses less of a physical threat to its unseen protagonist, opting instead to bulldoze your psyche through sheer and unrelenting existential dread. To be sure, you do still find yourself harangued by enemies on a regular basis, and the environment is never not hazardous. But what really sticks in your brain and rattles your nerves is the suffocating terror inherent in confronting the prospect of sinking into a bottomless abyss, enduring never-ending darkness, and experiencing the soul-crushing finality of the end. SOMA doesn’t skimp on the moment-to-moment chills, but it earns its spot here for making the terror far more cerebral than most, and all the better because of it.
#7 – 5 Days a Stranger
Way back in ye olden days of 2003, the adventure genre was in a bit of a slump. Thankfully the ever-passionate fanbase held things together with toothpicks and twine as the Adventure Game Studio (AGS) community was cranking out free homemade games pretty much nonstop. It was during this era that Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw gave us the first intstallment in what became known as his “Chzo Mythos” games, a terrifying pixel art point-and-click adventure called 5 Days a Stranger. It tells us the story of Trilby, a quirky cat burglar who breaks into the historic and abandoned DeFoe Manor looking for an easy steal but finds he cannot leave. Trilby discovers he’s trapped in this hotel with four other strangers, and things worsen as his companions start turning up murdered. The game takes place over five days, of course; as the atmosphere tenses, the characters become more desperate, and things at the mansion get weirder and weirder. You, as Trilby, must dive into the secrets of the DeFoe family to save yourself and stop the murders. Don’t let the simple art style fool you: Croshaw slowly ratchets up the suspense at an expert pace through dialogue, horrifying discoveries, and subtle background touches, culminating in a bloody final act that will stick with you long after you’re done. The price: anything but scary. The game: holy crap!
#6 – Anchorhead
Not only is Anchorhead one of the scariest games ever made, it is one of the best text adventures ever made. Author Michael Gentry did H.P. Lovecraft proud in crafting a bone-chilling story about a woman moving into the New England home her husband inherited. When her husband starts acting strangely and then eventually disappears, she’s left with little choice but to engage with the eponymous town’s guarded citizens and research its history and her husband’s bloodline. Like a great horror novel, the tension is gradually built through evocative prose and slow reveals that will leave you on the edge of your seat even before the real danger begins. Once you escape from an angry mob, nearly every step you take can be your last as you try to avoid traps, possessed townsfolk, and even Cthulhu itself. The challenges are generally logical and fit within the game world, but like many Infocom titles before it, the game is a puzzlefest and there are a couple of instances where it will let you progress in an unwinnable state, which is a horror of a whole different kind. The highly recommended 20th Anniversary edition, released in 2018 and available on Steam, cleans up several puzzles from the original free version and even includes some horrifying graphics to complement the text, though the fact remains that what you can’t see is oh-so-much more frightening than what you can.
Other recommendations: Doki Doki Literature Club! (free), The Lurking Horror, Hugo’ s House of Horrors
#5 – Dark Fall: The Journal
The year 2003 was a good one for horror. At the same time Yahtzee was torturing five strangers, indie developer Jonathan Boakes was dropping one of the scariest games ever made with no risk of dying. Played from a first-person slideshow-style perspective, Dark Fall (later subtitled The Journal) sees you taking a train into Dorset, England after receiving a desperate call from your brother. He had been working on plans to redevelop an abandoned hotel and train station, but just as was suspected happened here seventy years ago, he along with some local ghost hunters have now gone missing. While unraveling the mystery is the goal, soaking in the eerie atmosphere is where the fun lies. The game can be completed in about seven minutes if you know what to do, but it can take hours and hours of note-taking and deduction to arrive at the conclusion, giving more time for lighting, sound effects, and isolation to produce a never-ending string of goosebumps. At every moment you feel surrounded by ghosts, as phone calls, footsteps, flickering lights, creepy voices, and ominous shadows come from seemingly out of nowhere. And Dark Fall is one of the rare instances where the use of a Ouija board is actually creepy. Along with a meticulously detailed setting that plunges you into the postwar 1940s, this haunting game is a great choice for those looking for scares without the associated risks.
#4 – At Dead of Night
Maya’s English countryside backpacking trip is not going great when she arrives at a secluded hotel all alone as a storm is kicking up, crashing waves into the rocky cliffs below. The creepy proprietor, Jimmy Hall, insists she come watch his one-man comedy routine. This could be a horror story all on its own, but both Jimmy and the Sea View Hotel have darker secrets hidden within. In At Dead of Night, a terrifyingly tense FMV adventure by Baggy Cat, Jimmy’s alter ego, the murderous Hugo Punch, chases Maya around the dark halls of the aging hotel while she embarks on a ghost hunt to unravel Jimmy’s terrible past. With a nifty ghost-detecting device, you must look for clues to significant moments in the lives of all those who were murdered there, and commune with them so you can go back to live out those pivotal moments yourself. The first-person perspective effectively pulls you into Maya’s terror as you hear her breath and wince at the creak of floorboards. Hugo can also be heard off in far corners, taunting you, growing closer. You catch a glimpse of a shadow down the hall and flee, arriving at the elevator just in time to see Hugo’s terrifying visage leer at you from the other side of the closing doors. Your own muscles will tense as you hide in a wardrobe and watch Jimmy search the room. If he catches you, the violent jump scare awaiting will have you leaping from your seat. At Dead of Night has its flaws, but the visuals, the performances, the sense of tension, and the truly disturbing ghost stories of the Sea View will leave you with frights so bad you’ll think twice about staying in a hotel ever again.
#3 – The Cat Lady
The cats come when she plays her piano. They come and surround Susan Ashworth in all of her despair, all of her loneliness as she contemplates ending her life. You may think that’s all you need to know about this sad cat lady, but Rem Michalski of Harvester Games demolishes any preconceived notions you bring to his 2012 side-scrolling horror masterpiece, The Cat Lady. With deliberately rudimentary graphics, the game immediately throws you into a blender of terror and anguish with brilliant sound work, fever-dream imagery, and poignant writing. Your heart will squeeze with tension as you awaken from a failed suicide attempt in a surreal hellscape, leaving apparently abandoned scenes behind as sudden clangings beckon you to keep going. The sounds of death and mayhem set against a backdrop of screaming music almost dare you onward, despite knowing nothing good will be waiting for Susan. The beauty – and deviousness – of the game is that it knows when to break up the unrelenting torment with quiet moments of peace and serenity – which of course only serve to increase the apprehension of returning to nightmares when it’s time to resume. This dark exploration of attempting to live with depression may have you clutching your computer mouse in terror one moment, then holding back tears of sadness the next. It is gory, bleak, and profane, but also starkly beautiful and thought-provoking. So much more wonderful and terrible than a simple story about a lady with a house full of cats.
#2 – Scratches
Just how scary can a game be when there’s no real danger of dying or suffering some other horrible fate? The answer is: Scratches scary. The game follows Michael Arthate, a writer who’s been struggling to pen a follow-up to his surprise hit book. In his chase for success, he moves into a large abandoned manor that should provide just the sort of spooky seclusion a horror novelist needs for inspiration. However, Michael soon finds quite a bit more than he bargained for, leading to a horrifying mystery surrounding the previous owners – and why the game’s titular scratches can be heard reverberating through the fireplaces at night. Made by Argentinian studio Nucleosys, Scratches features simple Myst-like first-person gameplay and shows restraint when it comes to the quantity of big scares, but serves up an unceasing atmosphere of palpable doom from beginning to end that stuck with us in a way no other adventure game has yet reached – or, well, maybe one. While Nucleosys disbanded soon after finishing Scratches and the game is not digitally available, founder Agustín Cordes promises a spiritual successor of sorts in the upcoming, long-anticipated Asylum, and we can’t wait!
#1 – Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Asking a horror fan if they’ve heard of Amnesia: The Dark Descent is kind of like asking if you’ve heard of pancakes for breakfast. If you’re even remotely interested in scary games (and, since you’ve made it all the way through our list, it’s probably safe to assume you are), chances are you’re well aware of what is now widely considered a horror masterpiece. Although Amnesia could have followed in the footsteps of many other more traditional survival horror titles, indie Swedish developer Frictional Games fine-tuned the formula established in their own Penumbra series to help pioneer what is now a fairly commonplace practice: making the player feel absolutely defenseless by taking away any and all methods of fighting back against the things that go bump in the night.
As Daniel, you must explore the crumbling halls and dank cellars of Castle Brennenburg to track down its master Alexander and (if you believe the notes Daniel has left for himself before losing his memories) kill him. But this requires making it through the keep’s crumbling rooms and dungeons in one piece without falling prey to its monstrous denizens. Armed only with tinderboxes and a lantern to maintain your sanity against your crippling fear of the dark, your only hope of safety lies in running for your life and hiding wherever you’re able. Fleeing the very moment you hear even the slightest whisper of a moan or spy the tiniest movement ahead in the murky blackness is a singular panicky stress sensation you won’t soon forget. You don’t actually have to retreat all that often, but the terrifying dread that you might is exhaustingly relentless, and eerie sounds mixed with robust physics and lighting make the first-person frights feel intimately threatening. Though it’s been copied and cloned many times since (including three sequels of its own), the original has well and truly stood the test of time and emerged as an all-time classic of the horror genre – a can’t-miss experience that no true fan of scary games should forego!
That’s a wrap on our top twenty(plus) horror games! If you’re not scared yet, then in the ominously immortal words of Yoda, “You will be… You will be…” If we missed something that deserves recognition, drop it in the comments! After all, when it comes to horror games, misery loves company.
And to wrap things up, for a quirkier take on the (mostly) same games, have fun with the video version of our list below!