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Oogie Boogie: 10 Horror Games That Are Actually Scary

I’ll be the first to admit that when a new horror game comes around, I’m the first to gawk at the new trailer and immediate criticize it for not being scary. Normally, I don’t enjoy actually terrifying video games, despite my immense respect for the better examples of them. Most mainstream horror games actually are more “jump scare” type affairs because dread, suspense, and a creeping sense of unease are difficult to achieve in a game where the player controls the main character. Jump scares and splattery gorefests are easy and sometimes fun, but dull. I haven’t been frightened by a Resident Evil game in probably 10 years. The Scarecrow scenes in Batman: Arkham Asylum are just PG-13 weird, not really scary. Maybe I’ve just been desensitized by Goatse and our dysfunctional government, but rarely just anything labelled “horror” actually get to me. Many so-called horror games have the same effect of my cat jumping out of a closet: momentary startling.

In celebration of All Hallow’s Eve, in predictable click-bait fashion, I’ve put together a short, non-ranked list of 10 games that I feel achieve that skin-crawling sense of unease and terror. Most are recent, some not, but all have given me the shivers at some point, so much I couldn’t easily shake them. Here’s your oogie boogie list of my favorite horror games in recent memory:

1. Aliens Vs Predator Classic 2000

Release Year: 1999

Available for: Windows, MacOS, Linux, AROS, MorphOS, OnLive

The 1999 version of the game stands out from its lukewarm 2010 glossy remake for a simple reason: it’s simplistic, almost primitive. The intentionally confusing areas, the dark hallways, the wimpy weapons, all of this serves to put the player in the position of someone woefully out of their depth. In the Marine campaign, Aliens and Predators could literally come from anywhere, and you could even turn the table as an alien baddie yourself for some cathardic purging. It’s one of the few games to capture the clawing panic of the first two Alien films.

2. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

Release Year: 2013

Available for: Windows, MacOS, Linux

The most recent entry on my listy thing. The real horror in this game comes from 2 sources: freakish pigmen chasing you down with no way to defend yourself, and the slowly unravelling plot, which reveals a torturous and darkly disturbing secret hidden deep within a steampunk abbatoir. I think the word is: nope. Seriously, don’t play this at night. Just don’t.

3. DayZ

Release Year: 2012 (mod), rumored Q1 2014 (standalone)

Available for: Windows

DayZ has the distinction of being the only mod on this list. Most mods, like Nightmare House or Cry of Fear, are more gorey, slashery affairs with little interest in building atmosphere. This mod dropped you square in the middle of the zombie apocalypse with only a pistol and confusion. DayZ is a clumsy game, as well, with no music, no indication of where to go, and you’re surrounded by the living dead. Those I can handle. The true horror experience comes from tense encounters with other human players. Murder and betrayal are a fact of life in DayZ, and the game’s greatest achievement is that locked cabin feeling when you’re in a group. Will we make it to the airport? Will someone just up and shoot all of us for our beans? Will another 12 year old Russian hacker 360 noscope headshot us?! Find out next episode!

4. Eversion

Release Year: 2008

Available for: Windows, MacOS, Linux

Oh, you sneaky bastard. You think you’re playing a cheerful, slightly dull NES-era platformer? Wrong. Wait until one of your many deaths and you get a creepy quote on the screen, telling you: “Right Behind You”. The game’s levels gets progressively weirder and more distorted as you continue, ramping up the bizarro factor.

5. Home

Release Year: 2009

Available for: Windows, MacOS

Note, this is not the Benjamin Rivers game. This game was made by Steven Lavelle at Increpare Games. I played this about 2 years ago in a random webcrawl looking for weird indie games. Home is about the horror of the familiar, an elderly man living out his last days in a nursing home. He has 4 meters:  happiness, hunger, bathroom, and sleep. Sort of like a simplified SIMS game about the existential terror of old age, your youth wasted, and your body a crumbling wreck of failure. It’s a game designed to make you fail, to feel the struggles of an old man in his last days. The horror in this game comes from his defeated acceptance of his own mortality and the cold, clinical changes forced upon him. Hug a puppy after this one.

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The Author

Carl Wilhoyte

Carl Wilhoyte

Carl Wilhoyte is the Video Games Editor of a class warrior poet who writes about all things video games. He's sure everything is not under control and is not going to be okay. For a good time, follow his angry rants and smart thoughts on Twitter: @carlwilhoyte.