SLIDESHOW

20 terrifying PC horror games to play with the lights off

Don't be ashamed to curl up in a ball in the corner. These PC horror games will scare the pants off of even hardened gamers.

besthorrorgames primary 100066190 large

The horror, the HORROR

Horror games are a dime a dozen. Good horror games—well, those are much rarer. We've rounded up some of the best horror games ever made, running the gamut from big-budget extravaganzas released this very year to... text adventures. I'm serious.

Turn out the lights, put on some headphones, make sure you've got a spare pair of underwear nearby, and enjoy these terrifying spine-tinglers.

Editor's note: This list is updated annually in October.

alien isolation

Alien: Isolation

One alien. That was the design direction behind Creative Assembly's Alien: Isolation, which pursued the survival horror mood of the original 1979 film instead of the action-packed plot of Aliens.

And it worked. Though a bit overlong and at times needlessly difficult, Alien: Isolation is the strongest big-budget horror experience in years. This game is just plain tense—almost unbearably so if you play it with a VR headset. And it's available for Linux, Steam Machines, and OS X, too.

Alien: Isolation

layersoffear

Layers of Fear

Layers of Fear made it onto this list last year while still in Early Access, and the finished product did not disappoint. This story of a painter-gone-crazy has some hammy sections and a few too many cheesy jump scares, but its quieter moments are masterful psychological horror.  Not scary, per se, but unsettling in ways similar to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves.

See, every time you turn the camera, things change. Maybe the door you just came through disappears, or you enter a seemingly-normal room only to realize all the furniture is on the ceiling. You can never trust your surroundings, and there’s something captivating about that.

Layers of Fear

soma

SOMA

SOMA’s not the scariest game Frictional’s ever made. It’s not. It’s barely a horror game for long stretches at a time, and the monsters are more hindrance than terror.

But the underwater confines of PATHOS-II are often unnerving, what with the groans of pressurized metal and the flickering lights and the robots that seem to believe they’re still human. It’s a strong experience, and one well worth playing even if it won’t make you leap out of your seat.

SOMA

amnesia dark descent

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Now we're digging into Frictional's truly great scares. A Victorian-era castle may not seem like the best setting for a horror game, but with Amnesia: The Dark Descent Frictional took everything it learned from its earlier games, polished it, and released one of the scariest games of all time. You play as Daniel, an archeologist who's lost his memory and has only a letter—apparently written by him—to guide his escape from the mad castle and shadowy figures that stalk him.

While it's more polarizing, the sequel Machine for Pigs is also worth checking out, as long as you curb your expectations.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

penumbra

Penumbra: Black Plague

Before there was Amnesia, there was Penumbra. Frictional's first horror series charged players with navigating an abandoned underground research compound. While the first game's cave system was a great start (Penumbra: Overture) it's Black Plague that will make you need a new pair of pants.

Penumbra: Black Plague

doom

Doom

Grab a big-ass gun and get to Mars, because there’s a full-on demonic invasion happening and you’re the only one that can stop it. Doom resurrects some of the best bits of ‘90s shooters—the blazing pace, the over-the-top weaponry—and adds in a satisfying high-reward melee system that rewards getting up close and personal with the ugly hellspawn.

Okay, so Doom isn’t actually a “horror” game maybe. But you know what? It’s one of the best damned shooters of 2016, you spend part of the game in Hell, and there are a ton of demons to shoot in the face. So in a year that’s incredibly light on horror games, Doom is good enough for me.

Another good option in a similar vein: Wolfenstein: The New Order and its Nazi-zombie-killing action.

Doom

condemned criminal origins

Condemned: Criminal Origins

There's a serial killer on the loose, and whoever it is really loves mannequins. You're a crime scene investigator and must catch this disturbing killer while also contending with your increasingly violent surroundings. Probably by hitting those surroundings (read: psychopaths) with a pipe.

Condemned is damn terrifying. You'll have nightmares about those mannequins.

Condemned: Criminal Origins

pathologic

Pathologic HD

Pathologic has been on this list since its inception, but as of October 2015 there’s an update: A new, HD remaster of the game (complete with new translations) has been released on Steam. It’s not the full-fledged remake that Ice-Pick Lodge Kickstarted last year, but rather an intermediate step called Pathologic Classic HD.

Why’s the game so great? In short, Pathologic is like someone hired Kafka or maybe Camus (because of the plague storyline) to write The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. There’s a plague killing The Town, and you play as one of three characters trying to unravel the mysteries held within. Many people will die. It’s a cult classic, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s three-part tome about the game is pretty much required reading.

Pathologic Classic HD

outlast

Outlast

Asylums are easy fodder for horror. That said, Outlast makes the most of its clichéd setting by providing you no way to defend yourself and forcing you into the found-footage conceit popularized by horror films like Blair Witch Project. The game has some pacing issues, but it's definitely not for the faint of heart—gore and jump scares abound.

And if you already played and enjoyed the base Outlast game, be sure to check out the Whistleblower DLC released last year.

Outlast

among the sleep

Among the Sleep

Nighttime is creepy. Nighttime as a baby is even creepier.

Among the Sleep is a first-person horror game where you're awakened in the middle of the night and must investigate. The twist? You're a two-year-old child. The game's a bit on the short side, but the atmosphere is fantastic, and there's no better way to feel vulnerable than to inhabit the body of a toddler.

Among the Sleep

phantasmagoria

Phantasmagoria

Phantasmagoria was added to Steam a few months ago along with a bunch of other classic Sierra titles, and let me tell you: If you have any interest in ‘90s FMV games, this is one to grab. With acting on a par with (or worse than) your local community theater, Phantasmagoria tells the story of a woman, her husband, and a womanizing magician Zoltan Carnovash.

Yeah, the game’s about as stupid as that plot summary, and that’s the charm. Phantasmagoria’s a pretty easy point-and-click to churn through in a couple of nights at most, and about as cheesy as it is surreal. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Phantasmagoria

stasis

Stasis

It’s a point-and-click, but Stasis has atmosphere in spades. You wake up on a strange spaceship, surrounded by bodies, and it only gets worse from there.

Styled after the classic isometric horror game Sanitarium and paying obvious homage to Alien, Event Horizon, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, and other bits of beloved genre fiction, Stasis is easily one of the best horror games in recent years—not necessarily because of overt scares, but because it tells a compelling story and has a way of getting under your skin.

Stasis

alan wake

Alan Wake

Alan Wake is one part Stephen King novel, one part Twin Peaks, and one part Twilight Zone episode—in other words, it's a horror fan's dream. Darkness is taking over the town of Bright Falls. Author Alan Wake realizes he's already written a book about the events, and it's slowly coming true, one page at a time.

Combat in Alan Wake is a bit clunky, but it's really Remedy's storytelling and atmosphere you're here for, both of which are superb.

Alan Wake

re4

Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4 is commonly cited as the best of the series, which is slightly funny if only because the game doesn't even revolve around the zombies the series is known for. Set in Spain, protagonist Leon Kennedy has to contend with a creepy cult pledged to "The Enlightened Ones."

The original PC port of Resident Evil 4 was trash, but in 2015 Capcom released Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD, which seems to fix most of the issues while also improving the graphics.

Resident Evil 4

residentevilhd

Resident Evil HD

Resident Evil 4 ruined Resident Evil.” Yes, I know you’re out there, angry person.

If you’re a devout fan of the classic Resident Evil feel, then you should know Capcom put out Resident Evil HD last year—a remastered version of the GameCube remake of the original PlayStation 1 game. Phew.

It looks beautiful, as we mentioned in our Resident Evil HD review, and you can play without tank controls, which is (sort of) a relief. Just be sure not to end up a Jill Sandwich.

Resident Evil HD

system shock 2

System Shock 2

Before BioShock there was System Shock.

It takes more than a few mods to get the best out of aging space horror game System Shock 2 nowadays, but it's worth it. System Shock 2 is legendary due both to the atmosphere of the starship Von Braun and the quality of its writing.

System Shock 2

dead space

Dead Space

If System Shock 2 is the best space-based survival horror game of all time—and it is—Dead Space is a close second. Engineer Isaac Clarke attempts to repair an enormous space station, only to find it's infested by aliens known as the Necromorphs.

Dead Space is essentially the horror game Doom 3 so desperately tried to be. It’s absolutely worth checking out.

Dead Space

anchorhead

Anchorhead

Scared by... a text adventure? It's true. The tale of a creepy old mansion and a young couple, Anchorhead is over fifteen years old at this point and owes a hefty amount to Mr. H.P. Lovecraft. Like a good horror novel, Anchorhead is less about jump-out-of-your-seat scares and more about creating tension, but it does that masterfully.

Plus it's free, like most modern text adventures, and playable through your browser.

Also worth checking out: Slouching Towards Bedlam, Vespers

dead secret

Dead Secret

Prior to virtual reality’s commercial release, Dreadhalls was the game everyone used to demo horror on the Oculus Rift (and the game we had on this list). Now that the Rift and the HTC Vive are both available, though, the output has really picked up, and horror games are one of the best VR genres.

One of my favorites from VR’s early days is Dead Secret, a short little murder mystery adventure. But I’ll go ahead and throw some honorable mentions in here too: A Chair in a Room: Greenwater, The Brookhaven Experiment, The Visitor, Blue Effect VR, The Cubicle, and...well, Dreadhalls still.

Dead Secret

call of cthulu

Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth

I really, really want to include Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth as it's one of my favorite horror games of all time. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a buyer-beware situation, as the version of the game on Steam is exceedingly buggy and crash-prone.

If you can find a more stable version, however, or can play on an old console, do so immediately. This is one of the finest examples of psychological horror ever done in video games, with the exception maybe of the Gamecube's Eternal Darkness.

Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth