Forget horror movies and Stephen King novels — when it comes to scaring yourself silly this season, it’s all about video games. Whether you’re a fan of top-down roguelikes, point-and-click shockers, or atmospheric RPGs, there are an impressive number of creepy, disturbing, and downright terrifying titles for you to pick up and play this October. Here are five of my all-time favourite horror video games.
Very, very few games inspire quite the same level of oh-God-what-is-that-kill-it-with-fire reactions as Amnesia: The Dark Descent. In fact, in terms of sheer heart-pounding, fist-clenching immediacy, you’d be hard pressed to find a better game available. Part dungeon-crawler and part Lovecraftian mystery, The Dark Descent makes survival horror, a genre many have struggled to stretch into feature-length format, look effortless. I myself played it in high school with a few friends — one of us would play, and the rest of us would watch — and it was downright terrifying. Good luck getting through this one on your own without reaching for the lightswitch.
Named for the Biblical story in which Abraham is told by God to sacrifice his son, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth manages to somehow be doubly as disturbing and terrifying as its source material. This game is crude, juvenile, disgusting, and punishingly difficult — and I love every single minute of it. A top-down 2D roguelike which borrows more than a little of its aesthetic from the original Legend of Zelda, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth features enough secrets, collectibles, and challenges to warrant hundreds of hours of obsessive gameplay, though its active fan community will ensure that you won’t have to mourn the loss of your social life alone.
If you haven’t heard of this relatively obscure gem, I wouldn’t be surprised — it was a commercial flop upon its release in 2002, and has only really attained a deserved classic status in the past few years or so. Spanning centuries and boasting a plot as convoluted as the 19th century novels it borrows from, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is a rich and visually remarkable action-adventure that features the distinction of actually simulating you, the player, slowly losing your sanity along with your character. The game will even fake “crash” or cut out the sound at crucial moments to underline your mental instability. Now that’s what I call immersion.
This survival horror has the distinction of being the first M-rated game I ever played, and I can’t imagine a better introduction into the world of adult gaming. As the sixth (I know) main entry in the popular Japanese horror series, this game manages to distill everything great about the series into one incredible experience: namely, killing zombies and traipsing through haunted eastern European towns and abandoned castles with the president’s kidnapped daughter in tow. Difficult but never unfair, Resident Evil 4 will challenge you without leaving you frustrated or stuck — something many modern games could learn to emulate.
No, no, not the TV show. I’m talking about the actually good adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels. (Sorry, fanboys.) Playing as Lee, one of a team of survivors during a zombie apocalypse, you’ll be forced to make careful decisions and pick up on clues to keep yourself and those you care about alive. Featuring some of the best writing and voicework the medium has to offer, The Walking Dead: Season One is a point-and-click adventure that amounts to the most ethically challenging Choose Your Own Adventure novel you’ve ever read. Except, you know, with zombies.