Spooky season is almost upon us — well, going by social media it started on the first day of October — and thus it’s the prime time to dig out some classic systems and enjoy some of the best horror games ever for the umpteenth time.
Some of these are a little more accessible than others these days thanks to remasters and ports — but all of ’em are well worth your time, especially if you’ve never experienced them for yourself. And, as always, lists are never truly exhaustive, so if you’ve got your own top picks for what you think are the all-time best horror games, be sure to share ’em down in the comments, or via the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page!
Note that we’re deliberately excluding visual novels for this list — we gave them their own feature last week!
Silent Hill 2
Konami’s classic horror series has had its ups and downs over the years, but very few people would argue that its second installment was its absolute pinnacle, and one of the best horror games ever created.
Following the traumatic journey of James Sunderland as he arrives in the fog-covered town of Silent Hill in search of his wife, Silent Hill 2 is magnificently crafted psychological horror that is as thought-provoking as it is genuinely unsettling. Filled with imagery and themes that people are still discussing and debating to this day, this is a genuine masterpiece of gaming — and one that all horror fans, without exception, owe it to themselves to enjoy on a regular basis.
It’s just a shame that on Konami’s last attempt to remaster the PlayStation 2-era Silent Hill games, they made such a monumental hash of things that it’s unlikely we’ll see these games rereleased any time soon. I guess you never really know with Konami these days; those Castlevania collections came out of nowhere, after all, so maybe one day we’ll see a proper, respectful remaster or rerelease of the best Silent Hill games.
In the meantime, Silent Hill 4: The Room is available on GOG.com, and it’s actually quite a good port as well as being a decent (rather underrated) entry in the series — so if you don’t have a PS2 or original Xbox on hand to play Silent Hill 2, give that a shot.
Project Zero/Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse
The fourth Project Zero game never got a western release, but there’s a full fan translation out there that you can apply to the retail Japanese version, and with a bit of fiddling around you can even run it without having to make permanent changes to your Wii. (It’s worth making those changes, though, since the ability to run import games on a Wii opens you up to a whole host of fascinating games that we never got over here.)
Why would you bother doing this? Well, because Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is one of the best horror games of all time. Created through a collaboration between Tecmo and Suda51’s Grasshopper Manufacture, the game tells a terrifying story of a group of individuals discovering the truth behind a cursed island and the ghosts which inhabit it. Featuring absolutely exemplary environmental and sound design as well as some of the most solid gameplay the series has ever seen, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse is a magnificent horror game that is absolutely worth your time and effort.
With the rerelease of Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water imminent, hopes are high that Koei Tecmo will consider remastering the rest of the series and releasing it on modern platforms. Let’s hope if that happens, they don’t forget about Mask of the Lunar Eclipse, because this masterpiece of horror deserves all the love it can get. In the meantime, be sure to support Maiden of Black Water when it releases to send a clear message that we want more Project Zero!
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Most Castlevanias are good Castlevanias (there are even people out there who liked Judgement) — but you probably won’t get any argument from anyone if you say that Symphony of the Night is one of the best games in the series, and one of the best horror games of all time.
Castlevania isn’t a horror game in the sense that it’s scary or gory, but given that it’s all vampires, zombies, skeletons and demons, the descriptor absolutely applies. It’s horror in the more light-hearted Halloween sense rather than horror in the “I fear for my life” sense, to put it another way.
As a defining entry in the series of action-exploration Castlevania titles, Symphony of the Night still holds up magnificently today thanks to its excellent level design, awe-inspiring soundtrack from Michiru Yamane and well-crafted mechanics. Plus it’s home to the one and only “what is a man?” speech.
And it’s actually reasonably easy to get hold of today, too, even if your pockets aren’t deep enough to snag a copy of the PlayStation original — you can pick it up as a digital download for Xbox 360 (backwards compatible with both Xbox One and Xbox Series blahdeblah) or alongside Rondo of Blood in the Castlevania Requiem pack for PlayStation 4.
Play the PlayStation 3 version of Demon’s Souls and I defy you to tell me it’s not a horror game. Some of the edge ended up filed off a bit in the more recent PlayStation 5 remake, which means for my money the PS3 original is still a superior experience and one of the best horror games of all time — at least if you go into it wanting “horror fantasy” rather than “dark fantasy”.
Yes, Demon’s Souls may have plenty of dragons and people in armour, but it also has horrible throbbing pulsating Lovecraftian tentacle monsters. Which, as we all know, are the very essence of good horror. Particularly when you get to stab them repeatedly, fearing every moment for your absolute life.
If you’re yet to experience a Soulslike, Demon’s Souls is a good entry point. The more linear stages make for less likelihood of getting lost in a vast open world — plus there are some truly memorable setpieces throughout. Play a mage if you’re a big scaredypants — but know that a lot of the joy of these games comes from getting up close and personal with things that will tear you to shreds at a moment’s notice!
And of course, we couldn’t close out a feature on the all-time best horror games without including good ol’ Resident Evil, now, could we? If you’re an enthusiast of the genre, Resident Evil is required reading, whether it’s in its original PlayStation incarnation or its more recent versions. The most recent ports of the enhanced version (originally released for GameCube) include analogue controls alongside the traditional “tank” controls, so they’re much less frustrating to play — though some argue that frustrating controls is a key part of classic survival horror!
Resident Evil is responsible for popularising so many things that we still see regularly in the horror game genre today. It may not have been the first to do things like awkward camera angles and jumpscares — classic PC game Alone in the Dark beat it to all these things — but it has managed to remain constantly relevant in one way or another since its original release. Plus its straightforward core structure — at heart, it’s simply a game about opening doors and navigating through an environment — makes it easy to get into.
Like with Castlevania, popular opinion varies as to which is the “best” Resident Evil — particularly with regard to the series’ divide between classic survival horror and modern action horror — but sometimes you can’t beat going right back to the origin point of a legendary series.
So what are your all-time best horror games? Share ’em down in the comments — or pen us a letter for the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page if you’ve got more to say! Go on, we love hearing from you, yes we do.
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