Video games allow imaginations to run wild, creating new things that go bump in the night. All manner of ghouls and ghosts can come alive in a reality where loading a save point is just a click away.
So, if you’re here to get scared, the games on this list will have you leaping from your couch, shrieking for your mommy. And, as always, it’s best to play with the lights off.
“Horns of Fear”
Nothing is what it seems in “Horns of Fear.” You play a journalist, Jim Sonrimor, specializing in the paranormal, who receives an ominous phone call to a mansion with a grisly reputation. Down on his luck, Jim accepts the caller’s invitation in hopes of finding the story that will snap him from his listlessness. If only he would have declined.
Developed and published by Pixoala, “Horns of Fear” is a top-down exploration game that tasks you with solving puzzles and dodging the vicious Caretaker in order to uncover the real horror hiding within the mansion’s grounds. The death animations for failing the quick-time events with the Caretaker are a highlight, produced with clay models to truly enhance the face-ripping gore. And as you dive further into the madness, you’re met with a heady metaphysical terror entrapping Jim in an endless maze.
PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Released in 2005, “F.E.A.R.” is a visceral game that mixes classic first-person shooter elements from “Max Payne” and “Half-Life 2” with a horror story that cackles with menacing, bloody laughter.
Enter Point Man, your character, and his organization, First Encounter Assault Recon (F.E.A.R.), which is tasked with taking down Paxton Fettel and his army of telekinetically controlled soldiers. And when the action takes over, the gunfire is pure, beautiful mayhem. Bullet trails fly across the environment. Never has a nail gun felt so satisfying. The first time a cloaked ninja surprised me with a sword to the face, I jumped out of the chair.
But the true terror behind the story is Alma, whose psychically induced hallucinations strike when you least expect. Oh, you’ve just finished clearing a room full of enemies? All you have to do is walk down this hallway to safety. Then you hear it, faint but clear — a child’s laugh. Turning around to look behind you, blood coats the ceiling and a small girl waits to strike you down.
“The Evil Within”
PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
There’s something beautiful about giving an artist free rein to create a masterpiece. When that artist is "Resident Evil" creator Shinji Mikami, you can rest assured that it will be something horrifying.
Mikami doesn’t disappoint with "The Evil Within," creating a host of ghastly creatures that roam across a psychopath’s mindscape. Yes, you read that correctly. As detective Sebastian Castellanos, you are thrown into a system controlled by the mind of Ruvik, a gifted but highly dangerous man, who seeks to escape his creation within the body of another.
In his journey to rescue his partners, Sebastian is chased by chainsaw-wielding, multi-limbed and creepily hooded figures. Tension builds at every turn as you wait for the next monster to come rambling around the corner. Yet the bone-chilling scream from Ruvik’s recreation of his sister, Laura, is a sound to behold. And then to run from as quickly as possible.
A group of oblivious teenagers? Check. Holiday get-together on the first anniversary of a disappearance? Check. Spooky mountain setting in the dead of winter? Check. Cleaver-wielding, blood-soaked and masked stranger wandering about? Check. Need I go on?
“Until Dawn,” developed by Supermassive Games, is the classic teen-slasher flick in video game form. As the player, you control eight different characters (including appearances by Rami Malek, Hayden Panettiere and Brett Dalton) as they attempt to survive through the night. The multiple branching storylines means every decision you make in the game, from picking up an item or choosing not to go into that abandoned mine, has a number of consequences. You can rescue all eight characters or let them all perish.
In place of combat mechanics, quick-time events are used to considerable effect. At a moment’s notice, an event may pop up on screen, forcing your constant attention. Until the monster jumps out from the dark and you close your eyes screaming in fright.
“Amnesia: The Dark Descent”
Mac, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
A truly suffocating experience, “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” is a survival horror game that tests the limits of your sanity.
You’re tasked with guiding Daniel, an archaeologist, throughout the foreboding Brennenburg Castle. As you explore, Daniel happens upon a letter he left to himself: In order to face the upcoming horrors, he erased his own memory. With good reason, as it turns out, for Daniel has discovered an ancient power in both the castle’s baron, Alexander, and an artifact far beyond his comprehension.
As you journey through the castle, the first-person view through Daniel’s eyes will leave you gasping. Leave your lamp lit and the men-turned-monsters roaming the castle will find and kill you. Stay in the shadows and Daniel’s sanity will drive him further into madness. This constant cat-and-mouse game is made even more harrowing in that Daniel has no weapon with which to fight back. Only the player’s wits will help Daniel survive the terrors.