Oh, what’s that? Why are we covered in blankets even though the heating’s on? No reason. No reason at all.
Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got some
cowering very brave, extremely courageous things to do. Goodbye.
Wait, don’t turn the lights off!
A combination of the biggest cliches in horror films with the biggest cliches in gaming, Until Dawn is somehow far better (and scarier) than it perhaps should be.
This is basically an interactive horror movie featuring split-second decisions, quick-time events and a cast of the most obnoxious teens you’re ever likely to encounter, and during the first hour the desire to not bother is strong. Keep playing, though, and you warm enough to the characters to work extremely hard to save them as their potentially horrible end approaches.
And my word, some of the decisions you have to make are really appalling.
Available on PS4
Frictional Games adapts its bed-wetting horror formula, mastered in Amnesia: The Dark Descent, to a science-fiction tale beneath the ocean that makes BioShock’s Rapture look like a family picnic.
Its world is refreshingly tactile, and regularly requires players to physically interact with objects such as doors and levers whilst under the pressure of impending mutilation. The gurgling mutants of PATHOS II will have you hiding behind your teddy bears, but the even bigger frights come from the existential terror underpinning its story. Life is cruel, and so is SOMA.
This indie game was among the first of a recent wave of first-person survival horror titles, and casts you as an investigate journalist prodding into dodgy goings-on at a remote psychiatric lab. At night, for some reason. What could possibly go wrong?
Armed with nothing but a notebook and a camcorder, Outlast is, like Alien: Isolation, a game in which you’ll be running away and hiding from things rather than fighting them. The camera’s night vision option is the closest you have to a weapon, and more often than not it’ll reveal something that’s probably better off left unseen.
Outlast is available for just a few quid on all three of its platforms, so it’s one of the cheapest ways to have a proper scare this Halloween.
From the sweet, tranquil music and snowy imagery in its trailer, you’d be forgiven for questioning Year Walk’s inclusion in this list. But on playing, you’ll immediately notice a kind of creeping unease as you trudge about a cold, bleak Swedish forest in the winter snow.
As the story unfolds, it’s clear you’re somehow seeing through the protagonist’s eyes, as they embark on a dangerous year walk that could afford them a glimpse of the future and whether they lose their true love. But the journey is full of terror, akin to being immersed inside a fairy-tale picture-book stuffed with cryptic puzzles. And we’re not talking sanitised modern fare, unless you’ve been reading fairy tales where someone takes the souls of dead babies to a ghostly horse’s head lurking in a fetid brook.
Almost unbelievably, DayZ is still in the alpha test phase it’s been in for two whole years, but don’t let that put you off downloading it, because it’s one of the most uniquely terrifying games there’s ever been.
Dropped at a random point on the island of Chernausus with only the clothes on your back, a single flare and a rag, your only goal is to survive. Zombies are the most obvious immediate threat, but you’ve also got hunger and thirst to keep at bay, which means carefully scavenging the abandoned villages and towns without attracting gnashing undead attention.
Most dangerous of all, though, are the other human players. They’re not all necessarily enemies, but with supplies being so scarce the temptation to murder another survivor for the contents of their backpack is too strong for many to resist. And when you’re dead, you’re dead. No extra lives, no retained loot or experience; just the cold, harsh reality of having to start from scratch all over again. Now that’s scary.
Available on Steam
As a game, Alien: Isolation isn’t without its problems – mainly that it’s incredibly stingy with its save points, often forcing you to replay huge, hard-as-nails sections again and again until you get lucky. But as a horror experience, it’s incredible.
Set aboard a crumbling space station inhabited by a few hundred violent humans, a handful of murderous androids and one seriously mean xenomorph, it’s drenched in creepy atmosphere. Moody lighting, spooky context-driven music and limited weapons and tools put you on the back foot from the get-go, but once the creature is actually hunting you the creepiness is replaced by sheer terror and panic as you run, hide and distract to prevent being cornered.
The alien is AI-driven rather than scripted, which makes its actions difficult to predict – you have to outsmart this unstoppable killing machine time and time again, and you’ll die a heck of a lot attempting to do so.
It might not be the most cerebral horror game on this list, but without a doubt it’s one of the most enjoyable. The recipe the Doom series follows is timeless: take a horror archetype, amplify its insanity tenfold, add a bucketload of bizarre weapons, and simmer over hellish heat for a puerile but unarguably delicious first person shooter.
Doom 3 has it all: zombies bearing chainsaws. creatures vomiting acid bile, angry floating heads. It’s utter madness and we love it. At £5.99 on Steam this is an absolute steal, too, and guaranteed to bring a smile to your face on old hallow’s eve.
Available on Steam
An open world title in which you free-run your way around a zombie-infested city drop-kicking the dead and collecting supplies for refugees, Dying Light doesn’t really feel like a horror game until the sun dips below the horizon (thanks, day/night cycle). This is one of a handful of games that does darkness really well, and you’ll need to use your wits (and your torch) to avoid blundering into packs of shambling “normal” zombies.
But it’s the fast-moving, nigh-on unkillable Night Hunters that provide the true scares: they can run and climb as deftly as you, and if they catch you it’s almost certainly curtains. You can avoid them by simply hiding inside overnight, but developer Techland gives you plenty of incentives to venture out into the inky blackness. Just be prepared to run away. A lot.
Five Nights at Freddy’s
During the day, pizza joint Freddy’s is a place of joy, children entertained by animatronic robot animals in top hats! But you’re not there during the day — you’re there at night. It turns out the droids won’t stay put and aren’t thrilled by your presence. They think people are endoskeletons that aren’t in costume and will force them into a mechanical spare, killing them in the process.
Rather than reprogramming their deranged droids, the bosses have instead employed you to keep watch, because that’s cheaper. You therefore track the potential killers on CCTV, scaring them away with lights should they venture too near. Handily, cutbacks also limit the electricity you have access to, and so you mostly sit there in the dark, sporadically checking cameras, and hoping you get the timing just right when a furry murderer is about to strike. We’d ask for a raise, frankly. And we’d certainly think twice about fifteen further nights across the three sequels, if you want to survive with your sanity and face intact.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Real nightmares seldom equip you with fancy weapons to battle your demons, so why should games? Amnesia taps into those night-time terrors we’ve all faced by omitting combat and instead giving players only two options to survive: run or hide.
Creatures strike from the shadows, they chase from the water, and most of the time remain entirely unseen. All that remains is a harrowing cacophony and the desperate sound of footsteps – a masterwork of sound engineering. This game doesn’t use the word ‘horror’ lightly and is only suggested for people who enjoy a sincere fright.
Available on Steam