Forget jump scares; if you’re looking for a scary game to play this Halloween, you need to sit down with one of these great psychological horror games. Let the feeling of unease creep beneath your skin as you absorb yourself in the unnerving worlds of these incredible games.
These are our best psychological horror games of all time.
The Evil Within
The Evil Within, under the guidance of Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, utilised extreme scenes of psychological torture and ever-increasing tension to wear the player down.
Criticized for its character models, bosses and texture pop-in, The Evil Within was certainly not perfect, but it expertly created a tense, stressful experience with an excellent cinematic visual style.
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
Call of Cthulhu was a revelation when it launched. It’s first-person design brought the player closer to the horrors within, creating a constant sense of dread and suspense.
The player’s condition wasn’t displayed as a health bar, but through sound cues and a Sanity meter. As the player’s mental health wanes, this manifests itself as graphical and control anomalies, which can rapidly spiral into insanity. Call of Cthulhu has earned its place as one of the best psychological horror games.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Being powerless is something that players aren’t used to, but it is something that Amnesia used to its advantage to create one of the tensest experiences in video game history.
As darkness encroaches and with no obvious weapons to defend themselves, players must balance the dangers of stepping into the light with the hallucinations experienced by hiding in the shadows. It is a nightmare from start to finish – in a good way.
Fatal Frame, titled Zero in Japan and Project Zero in Europe, switched the horror formula up on release by replacing weapons with a camera.
Called the Camera Obscura, this ancient camera had the ability to capture the attacking ghosts. Reacting quickly to the hostile inhabitants rather than running away took great resilience. Our time creeping through the abandoned Japanese mansion in search of our sibling was as tense as any game in the decade and a half that has followed.
While many games have followed with better-improved graphics, the original Fatal Frame more than deserves its place on this list of psychological horror games for its menacing atmosphere.
Dead Space 2
Delicately straddling the line between action and horror, Dead Space terrorises players with a suffocating atmosphere that toys with the psyche.
Combat is frantic, the sound design is exemplary and the set pieces are masterfully built towards then delivered. This one is a must play for horror fans.
Siren: Blood Curse
Siren: Blood Curse sets itself apart by constantly reminding you of how close you are to death. It does this by allowing you to see through the eyes of your pursuer, a Shibito ghost, as it stalks you through the nightmare-inducing Hanuda Village.
This gameplay mechanic alone is enough to create an unbearably stressful and anxious experience. Psychological horror games don’t get much better than this.
Silent Hill 2
We’ve saved the best for last. Silent Hill 2 is the poster-child for atmospheric horror. Under the blanket of a smothering fog, players explore the town of Silent Hill as the game plays upon the fractured psyche and twisted thoughts of protagonist James Sunderland.
The writing is a masterclass, the scares and genuinely haunting and the nightmares seem to be relentless. Silent Hill 2 is the definition of psychological horror.
…and a bonus 8th…
I have to mention P.T. I know it’s wrong. I know it’s dead. I know we’ve only played a demo. It was just so good, an embodiment of what the horror game genre could become with the right budget and a visionary at the helm.
The playable demo for the cancelled Silent Hills entry was a masterclass in claustrophobic level design and puzzle design from legendary video game creator Hideo Kojima.
Sadly, we will never know how good this game could have ultimately been, but even just playing through the demo is an unforgettable experience.