The easiest way to describe Darkwood would be to call it a top-down survival game, but while the survival elements exist to keep your character, well, alive, it’s less a game about surviving and more about pushing you deeper into its forest of horrors so you can enjoy being creeped out by what you find. The only place you’re safe is your hut, so you need to maintain it, but in order to do so you need to go out – funny how that sometimes turns out. On your journey through the woods, you sometimes find weapons to defend yourself with, but you’re better off using meagre inventory space in other ways, frantically pointing the cone of light that marks how far you can see to and fro to not miss a thing. Darkwood is proof that even a game from a top-down perspective can be absolutely nerve-wracking.
Available on: PC
From Software's Dark Souls games - of which this is a very obvious descendent - don't play like horror standards. They're action-RPGs, built around stat micromanagement and skilful play. And yet they feel scarier than most games that build themselves around fear - stress, dread and jumps come as frequently as loot and levelling.
Bloodborne is the best of the lot, a sprawling, mysterious tale of eldritch horror set in a twisted nightmare vision of Victorian Europe. Travelling down cobblestone streets amidst dark spires, you'll hear hushed conversations behind firmly-locked doors, wondering who you are, and what "The Hunt" you seem to be on could be. It's gaming's best Lovecraftian horror - you'll be driven to discover its secrets as much as you are to master its vicious combat systems.
Available on: PS4
Red Candle Games first Devotion may now be best known for its troubled release history, but it’s a masterclass in environmental storytelling. It’s horror doesn’t come from survival combat or even jump scares, but a feeling of creeping dread, mounting in time with you gathering more information about what happened to the inhabitants of the house you’re exploring. Devotion does a lot of great stuff with visuals, and while it’s not the most interesting game from an interactive perspective, it’s a great example of how to use space in horror, on par with classics like Amnesia.
Available on: PC
12. Resident Evil 4
This is the series that invented modern survival horror, but that wasn't good enough for director Shinji Mikami. So in Resident Evil 4 he invented the modern third-person shooting, just for fun. Leon Kennedy's adventures in gunplay are rightly famous, the feedback-heavy combat making every situation a shaky joy. But, I hear you cry, how does that make it qualify as a top 10 horror game? Surely it's just an action experience in Resi clothing?
Tell that to anyone coming to the Ganado-infested village for the first time. The sheer stress of being rushed by the parasite-infested local population, headed up by a sack-masked, chainsaw-wielding maniac ranks up there with gaming's most frightening moments. It's a feeling that returns constantly - whether it's one of the iconic boss fights, a battle across crumbling rooftops or in the most expected location, Resident Evil 4's horror is in how it puts you on the backfoot and asks you to fight your way out.
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, and PC
11. Amnesia: Rebirth
Building on the themes of memory loss, pursuing monsters and otherworldly magics, Amnesia: Rebirth builds on the previous games in the series to deliver a tense, playable slice of horror fiction. There's almost a literary feel to the game as you explore the darkness as Tasi, a French explorer lost in the desert. Familiar mechanics like failing sanity, eroded by the dark or looking at monsters, returns but this time contained within a much more coherent and enticing story. There are some great puzzles, horrible monsters but it's that narrative that binds it all together. Tasi goes on a journey and there's a strong draw to following her to see where it all goes and what it means. Whether you're a fan of the Amnesia franchise or not there's a real page turning, 'must see what happens' feel to the adventure. The monster encounters can be horrific and stressful but it's the space between where the story expands, and twists and turns that really sells it.
Available on: PC, PS4
10. Dead Space
If Resident Evil is the king of survival action-horror, then Dead Space aimed to be the pretender to the throne, bringing together Capcom's early dread and latter day over-the-shoulder shooting into one gory package. Borrowing from Alien and other sci-fi classics, the 2008 release put players in the role of Isaac Clarke, an engineer trapped on a derelict spacecraft. Soon Isaac finds out the ship isn't as empty as it seems, as a strange alien artefact has transformed everyone on board into hideous, flesh-eating creatures, each more horrific than the last.
Dead Space crafts a horrifying experience by limiting the player. Isaac is short on ammo, he rarely knows whats going on in the continually shifting story, and he's most in danger of what he cant see. So much of the disturbing atmosphere is built on what you hear, and the amazing sound design uses audio to fashion an entire deadly world around Isaac. Though the sequel pulled back on the scares somewhat in favour of cinematic action, the original remains trapped in our nightmares.
Available on: PC
SOMA has problems, largely from clumsy stealth section, but it also has, hands down, one of the most unpleasantly disturbing stories of anything in this list. To explain why would ruin it, but this plays with ideas of consciousness and what makes you 'you' in a terrifying way. When you're not exploring the rusting, decrepit undersea base of PATHOS II, you're playing with some pretty heavy metaphysic concepts fit to give you nightmares.
This is a world, filled with broken machines full of glitching human consciousnesses and slimy growths, that expands and grows into something terrible the longer you spend exploring. The undersea and biotech elements make a Bioshock comparison hard to avoid but while there are similarities - man's hubris and science pushed too far, especially - this is far more unpleasant and ethically shocking. The new 'safe mode' means you can also now play it just for the story - finish it and see if you can sleep after.
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, and PC
Outlast offers a first-person trek through a setting literally no one in real life would willingly check out - an old asylum that seems abandoned, but also strangely very active. At night. In the mountains. Miles from help. Who does that?! The set up alone is perfect horror fodder, but this plays out like Found Footage: The Game, via clever use of a videocamera's night vision mode to see in the dark. The grainy, glowing green view it creates gets a little too close to real life as well. It's one part exploring to two parts follow shadowy, wheezing shapes in the black distance through a view finder while cowering behind a table. Scary enough already, the perfection of its pixilated whirring focus pulls only adds to the atmosphere. It's a great game to play with company as well because you'll both be screaming at some point.
Available on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch
7. Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill, as a franchise, is home to some of the most frightening enemies and situations in gaming history, but the series' most abiding horror is Silent Hill 2. This PS2 classic manifests our deepest fears as flesh, to reveal there is no greater evil than our own imagination. Though he'll encounter creatures like the iconic nurses and Pyramid Head, protagonist James Sunderland is far more threatened by his personal demons. And the empty town of Silent Hill brings them all to the surface.
James has returned to Silent Hill answering a letter that seems to come from his dead wife, but all he finds are reminders of his own anguish and guilt over her death. Every corner of the town is inhabited by some new horror, but James has to push past his fears if he ever wants to know whats going on. You and he will not like what he finds beyond them. Silent Hill 2 doesn't just present you with a horror game worth playing, but a story worth being listened to, parsed, and gawping awfully about. The deeper you go, the worse it gets.
Available on: PC, and Xbox One and PS4 (via backwards compatibility)
6. The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners
The only reason this isn't our top horror game full stop is because it's VR, which obviously limits a lot of people's access to it. However, if you can get a VR headset this is an essential horror game. It's one of the greatest playable interpretations of the source material ever made - from swinging axes or stabbing screwdrivers into zombie heads, to cautiously exploring rotting house, terrified of every corner - this absolutely nails the zombie horror fantasy. There's a semi open world too where you explore and revisit hubs, crisscrossing locations in search of valuable resources, enemies, and allies to help. It's also got nothing to do with the comics or TV show beyond the zombies, so you don't need to be a fan to enjoy it, either.
Available on: PS4, PC