It's a difficult genre to get right, and certain famous horror games have lost their way over the years. So, in honour of the genre (and to get my mind off the horrors of Silent Hill), here's the ten games that I believe are the best I've ever played:
Of course by modern standards the game doesn’t hold up well at all. The visual style is horribly dated and the zombies are laughable, though the remake on various consoles is sublime. One thing has remained though through the years that modern Resident Evil games have lost; the tense controls. The slow movement and the difficulty of turning with the "tank" controls made for an experience than had a young me very fearful of what was behind me. Even if it was a slow moving zombie. And that, to me, is what a horror game should be. These precision controls of modern Resident Evil games? Easier and less frustrating, yes, but the games are more of action experiences than horror games now. That disappoints me.
But it’s what happens behind the scenes that makes this a mind-twisting game. The famous sanity effects in the game itself are one thing, but more importantly, every part of this game is a homage to HP Lovecraft. From the music, to the envionments, and the story itself, it looks and feels just like a Lovecraft story. Those who know Lovecraft well can easily imagine that this is a bit of lost canon in the mythological lore, and then the horror hits.
The game does such a good job of controlling the information flow to the player to ensure the game stays a mystery through much of its running time, and there’s some genuinely shocking, dark themes running behind this game. It's also a relentless game where standing around thinking will do more harm than good. If only the developers hadn't ruined the game's puzzles by having the stalkers show up while you were in the middle of them.
But still, great game and genuinely edge-of-the-seat stuff.
It’s hard for RPGs to carry a genuine sense of horror. The nature of the genre is that characters tend to be powerful, and level grinding is a solution to powerful monsters. Dark Souls is a modern example of the two styles marrying well. Strahd’s Possession was a great example many years ago.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
While the game isn’t an RPG, it was clearly heavily inspired by Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu pen-and-paper RPG, and there’s a wonderful mix of action, stealth and raw horror storytelling experiences to keep just about everyone interested. A real rollarcoaster ride.
But Forbidden Siren makes our list for its sheer tenacity in creating a horror atmosphere. Few games are as earnest in creating something out of a nightmare. There was little attempt to sanitise the game to appeal to a mass audience (unlike recent Silent Hill and Resident Evil games), and there was clearly some talented writers that kept people playing through its less refined moments (unlike Amy).
And that raw energy of the game put it above its more refined, but soulless sequels. This series went south after the first game, so make sure the original is the one you play if you feel compelled to track down a copy.
Never through Manhunt does the player become sanitised to the experience. Rather the depths of depravity become ever more pronounced. The best film I can compare this to is Gespar Noe’s classic Irreversible. You’re uncomfortable as you play this game, and you’re meant to be. This is theatre of transgression at its finest, and Foucault would be pleased.
The sequel went so over the top that it could hardly be considered a horror game any longer. In other words, Rockstar reverted to its typical "so overblown it's funny" style. Fingers crossed for a HD remake of this one, though.
Clock Tower 3
It’s so important to hide in this game, and the killers are actively stalking Alyssa at all times that players start to feel fear about what might happen in the next few seconds, rather than simply reacting to what they’re seeing. Anticipation is often said to be the real secret to success in horror tales, and few do it as well as Clock Tower 3.
Silent Hill 2
As with Resident Evil the actual technical elements of the game don’t hold up so well, and the recent HD remake of the game has done nothing to fix this. If nothing else, that visual upgrade will do wonders for a game that was ahead of its time. Stay tuned to Otaku Gaming for the full review!
Fatal Frame 2
But Fatal Frame’s true brilliance was in removing the weaponry. By requiring combat to be resolved without guns, the focus moved away from the gore and ammunition counting and placed it firmly on surviving the hellish story.