Horror, like comedy, is subjective. What scares one person will not necessarily be scary for the next. Oxenfree is a horror game that I did not find scary. Do not be alarmed the title is not a typo, Oxenfree sets out to be a horror game, and while personally, I was unphased it doesn’t speak to the quality of the work and passion the developer has poured in the title.
Games like Oxenfree won’t scare you as much, or perhaps would scare you more, that cannot deny the beauty and uniqueness of the game.
Related read: 15 Games Like 7 Days to Die You’ll Love to Play
Honestly, the game is more of a throwback to the 80’s rampant horror classics such as Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc. In Oxenfree you play as one of the teenagers from a group going out to party before things spiral downwards, typical 80s horror kids, energetic and dumb.
Oxenfree plays in a 2/2.5-D with beautiful oil pastel drawn like backgrounds and a surreal atmosphere thanks to the sound design and believable voice acting. I won’t be comparing it to 2-D horror games only as that would be a disservice to the many great titles the genre has churned out over the years, I’d like to list games like Oxenfree that I personally believe are able to pull off the horror aspect better.
But like I said horror is subjective (Till the lights go off and you see Jason out your bedroom window).
1. Resident Evil HD
Ah yes, Resident Evil arguably stated the framework for the 3-D modern horror video game in 1996. Using fixed cameras and pre-rendered backgrounds as a workaround with the limitations of the PS1, somehow inadvertently making it staple for the genre for many years to come.
In 2002 Capcom remade the game for the newer generation of consoles, and would you believe it, it still holds up today. This game from 2002 still looks graphically impressive. Featuring the same fixed cameras and beautifully pre-rendered backgrounds, Resident Evil kicks off with a Squad of police officers being chased into a big, seemingly empty mansion by a pack of hungry, rabid dogs.
Of course, what follows next is known to everyone. Resident Evil is a household name by now, with Resident Evil 8 and its memes about Lady Dimitrescu. However, I’d argue as a fan of the franchise since the third instalment and have played most of them except the spinoffs. Resident Evil 8 was not scary, it did not have the intricate puzzles that define the franchise, and it has a terrible length.
If you’re looking to get into the franchise to be scared out of your wits, Resident Evil HD Remaster is a great place to start, and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is where you should stop (Barring Resident Evil 2 remake which is one of my favourite games) anything after that while were good games they didn’t even try to be horror.
2. Silent Hill Trilogy
It’s no coincidence I placed Silent Hill just below Resident Evil, it was after all a work inspired by Resident Evil. Silent Hill has an interesting story behind it, and its developers who were considered to be a “B-team” managed to release Konami’s perhaps most successful franchise after Metal Gear.
The journey of Team Silent (as they’d later be known) to the creation of Silent Hill is testament to their will to put their vision on a PS1 disc, so much so that after Konami refused to give him credit if he wanted to work with a team, Takayoshi Sato, worked on the CG cutscenes for the first two games without anyone else and no help. I have seen videos of him imitating the actions of characters in game before going to his terminal and working tirelessly on it, sometimes he’d just live in the office.
All this tireless dedication shows in the game. They managed to make something better (at least in the technical aspect) than Resident Evil, dethroning the game as the horror king. Of course later down the line both their respective companies would in their own way destroy their franchise and try to resurrect them only for one to succeed.
3. Dead Space
Dead Space is a relic of its time, a time when EA wanted to make quality games and not make money off of core content they dared to call DLCs.
Dead Space was inspired by Resident Evil 4 and its over the shoulder shooting mechanics but unlike RE4, Dead Space managed to stay horror. Issac Clark sets out to board a seemingly life-less spaceship with a team of trained men and women to find his wife, and figure out why the USG Ishimura just went silent.
Dead Space does subversion of expectations very well, if you’re a seasoned horror player you expect the game to start slow and then hype things up slowly before the crescendo in the second half of the game, but you see the death of the majority of your team 5 minutes into the game.
There are also many twists and turns story wise that make it a very enjoyable experience. I’d recommend the first two games of the franchise seeing as the third is not very horror at all. If you’re a patient gamer you can even wait for the just announced remake of Dead Space.
4. Alien: Isolation
No coincidence, placing Alien so close to Dead Space. Alien: Isolation is honestly the only movie based game that stays so truthful to its source.
Alien: Isolation is a first-person survival horror set between the events of Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens. You play as Amanda Ripley daughter of and equally as badass as Ellen Ripley the protagonist of the franchise, in search of your mother. Alien: Isolation is a slow burn for the first part of the game, the Alien not even showing up for the first hour, as Amanda familiarizes herself with other threats on the ship like other humans and androids.
When the Alien does show all hell breaks loose, forget about fighting it, like in the movie Alien is the perfect organism, it can’t be reasoned with, it can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear and it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead. (Sorry, researching all these 80’s hit Hollywood flicks, I couldn’t help myself).
Amnesia can be attributed to the success of “Let’s plays” on YouTube, with now famous streamers sitting in front of a low definition camera and screaming every 5 seconds.
The entire gameplay loop of Amnesia is not something I have good understanding of, you are chased by monsters who you cannot defend yourself against, this aspect just drains out the horror for me. If the choice between flight or fight doesn’t exist then where is the anxiousness and tension? If the entire environment is built around giving the player hiding spots then how can the player be scared?
Alien: Isolation while making it very clear that there is no way to beat the Alien you can still either distract it by releasing it on unsuspecting humans or use a flamethrower which scares it away for a bit. Amnesia doesn’t give it that option, but still, many gamers regard Amnesia as a horror masterpiece and horror is subjective so, I guess an argument could be made for Amnesia’s presence on this list.
Now this is a title that probably wouldn’t manage to scare most with its top down camera and 2-D esque graphics, I for one am terrified of this title. So much so that I have to my shame never managed to beat it.
Darkwood is a survival horror game set in the woods (duh!), as the player starts to feel a sense eerie and unexplained urgency to leave the place, you begin to prepare for the night when the shadows stalk you and try to devour you. I am not sure about devouring but they certainly want to harm you.
Darkwood is survival horror done right, with a bleak setting and scarce resources and no hand holding, this title is more for veterans of the genres, newcomers might be overwhelmed by the lack of direction the game gives, but the game design works to its favor and the simple mantra – Exploration is key, should suffice in beating the game. I on the other hand will wait till I am not such a scaredy cat.
7. System Shock 2
One of the first, if not the first immersive sim game ever was also a horror game, in fact back when I first played this game with little knowledge of how to play an immersive-sim/deep RPG, I couldn’t stop having nightmares about it. A dilapidated spaceship floating in space filled with mutated crew members and an AI that just doesn’t want anything good.
System Shock 2 is a good balance between survival horror and action game. While the shooting won’t be on par with today’s standards, SS2 makes up for it with its RPG mechanics and freedom to solve the hurdles of the game as you see fit.
System Shock 2 should be enjoyed more for its niche immersive sim genre but it does carry undeniably heavy tones of horror, which along with its dated graphics and synth aesthetic actually works better than most modern titles.
8. Alan Wake
Alan Wake came out at a time when fans were clamoring for the sequel to Max Payne 2. But Remedy gave us a different masterpiece altogether.
The first thing that striked me as I installed and booted Alan Wake before getting down to write this article is how well the game still holds up, graphically and mechanically.
Alan Wake is a story about an author trying to overcome his writer’s block by going on a vacation to the fictional town Bright Falls, and of course, in true horror fashion things seem off at first until the game goes all out on Alan (or you), with cinematic set pieces and the combat loop of making enemies weaker by shining light on them before shooting them, Alan Wake does the best kind of Horror while giving the player all the means to fight against it.
It’s in a way very similar to Alien, while in Alien ultimately there was no way to defeat the titular monster, Alan Wake allows you to get past the obstacle but their numbers are high enough that sometimes I think they just respawn around the corner making combat a strong suit but not the solution to the problem.
9. Silent Hill: PT (RIP)
When Hideo Kojima left Konami, there was a great disturbance in the Force, as if a million voices suddenly cried out in agony and were suddenly silenced. In the wake of his departure was the mysterious PlayStation Store game famously found and beaten by gamers all around the world trying to figure out the message in the first-person horror game, which leads to the now famous trailer of the game Silent Hills.
Silent Hills would have been the biggest game in horror genre hands down, with a franchise so well known and deep rooted in the minds of gamers and a man like Kojima at the helm of the project nothing could have gone wrong. Except everything went wrong and Kojima departed from Konami to greener pastures.
Life came full circle after Resident Evil 7 took inspiration from Silent Hill PT and made the choice (one of the best Capcom has made in hindsight) to make the game a first-person affair, making it more intimate and placing players directly in the shoes of Ethan Winters.
How fascinating is it, that Silent Hill when starting looked to Resident Evil, and Resident Evil when on the edge of irrelevancy looked to Silent Hill and made a comeback. It’s almost poetic. You know what’s not poetic? The treatment of Silent Hill fans by Konami.
10. Tormented Souls
This is a title from an indie studio that many may not have heard of. That’s probably because it’s yet to be released, but I am already impressed and if the gameplay trailer is reflected in the finished product it’s something that many players like me have been waiting for.
A return to the Tank controls and fixed camera angles of the original Resident Evils and Silent Hills. I cannot say much about this title as I haven’t experienced it for myself, but it’s worth looking at, especially if you’re like me always on the lookout for horror games.
The horror genre has seen its ups and downs, nothing can make this more apparent than Capcom’s Resident Evil. In my personal opinion Resident Evil 3 remake and Resident Evil 8 were just too bland, repetitive, short and not so scary compared to their predecessors.
Horror is subjective, but a lot of it can be influenced to a great degree by player choices, which I think is a point most people miss. If Nemesis is chasing me and all I have to do is hold W, while a cinematic plays in front of me that feigns control by killing me if I let go of W, is no fun but more importantly it’s not scary.
Jill Valentine using a bookshelf to block Nemesis and dropping F bombs on him did not induce fear in me, it just showed Jill being a badass and Nemesis being weak, compare this to how Resident Evil 2 introduces Mr. X, giving players complete freedom of how to handle the situation.
You could try shooting him but that would only make him chase you faster, you could try running past him but he will punch half your HP bar, finally players realize they can only run and that’s where the dread sets in. It’s the difference between being told and realizing something that can make something Action adventure or Horror.