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Best survival horror games to test your endurance skills

(Image credit: Capcom)

Survival horror is a particular branch of pant-wetting game where players are vulnerable to all manner of attacks. Where most scary titles set you up with a gun or enormous stick to ward off whatever Big Bad stalks you, in survival horror you’re usually only armed with your wits. Resources are scarce, health is limited, and terrifying creatures often can’t be killed. It’s this inversion of the traditional video game power fantasy that’s so unsettling, and there are plenty of experiences in this genre to try if you fancy raising your heart rate. Here are ten of the best survival horror games.

11. Boogeyman VR

(Image credit: Clockwork Wolf)

Available on: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Google Cardboard

VR makes everything ten times scarier. If Boogeyman were a normal game, it might make you feel creeped out but it wouldn’t make you scream. In VR, it’ll have you ripping the headset from your face. Each night when you go to sleep the Boogeyman visits to snack on your tootsies and your only defence against him is a flashlight left behind by the girl who used to live in your house. Jump scares abound here as you scramble for batteries in the dark hoping that the Boogeyman isn’t creeping up behind you. 

10. Resident Evil 2 

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, and PC

Almost 20 years after its original PS1 release, Resident Evil 2 is back and better than ever. The Resident Evil 2 Remake has rebuilt the original game from the ground up, which manages to simultaneously honour its roots and build a future for one of the most groundbreaking horror games of all time. Leon and Claire are attempting to escape the zombie-filled Raccoon City, and will face plenty of monsters and challenges along the way. Tight gunplay, clever puzzles, great set pieces and some strangely beautiful gore – seriously – all combine to make one of the most essential, and best, survival horror games.

9. The Last of Us

Available: PS4

There was a BBC documentary on a little known fungus called Cordyceps, which infects the brains of ants, assumes control, and drives the ants to water before bursting from their skulls. This savoury topic became the inspiration for Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, the tale of a man named Joel trying to take a girl called Ellie across post-apocalyptic America, when the cordycepts fungus has found a way to infect humans. Resources here are incredibly scarce, meaning you’ll have to scavenge for bullets or tape and scissors to hastily make shivs when creeping through infected ruins. The scares are brutal and unyielding, but punctuated by real tenderness in the narrative. The Last of Us is one of the most well-told stories ever and is a must-play for fans of horror and video games more broadly.

8. Soma

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, and PC

Soma reaches far. The studio behind Amnesia: The Dark Descent decided to turn its hands to sci-fi, examining the fluid relationship between our bodies and minds. You wake up in an abandoned research facility and come face to face with broken robots who think they’re people. It soon becomes clear that real humans’ minds are actually inside these robotic shells, but they’re completely unaware they’ve been uploaded there and don’t understand why you don’t think they’re human. The story is intriguing, creepy, and at times heartbreaking, and well worth a play for those interested in the concept of AI. 

7. Observer

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC

Cyberpunk is a hot topic right now, and the developers behind Layers of Fear have tapped into it. Observer is a dystopian glimpse at a future where humanity has become so dependent on technology it’s fused with it. Here, VR addicts are second-class citizens and police have the power to hack into people’s minds - largely thanks to a “digital plague” of technology addiction that killed thousands. You play a detective who can access the memories of both the living and dead in a bid to find his missing son. The blend of mystery and investigation with survival horror ratchets up the tension; There’s nothing scarier than having to push your nose deeper into a dark room, even when you know something’s likely to go bump there.  

6. Alien Isolation

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, and PC

Creative Assembly wanted to explore what happened between the events of Ripley blasting the alien out the airlock and the moment her floating sleep pod is recovered. The result is Alien: Isolation, where Amanda Ripley goes looking for answers about why her mother disappeared. Her search brings her to a remote space station called the Sevastopol, whose dark halls are being stalked by a familiar creature who literally does not stop hunting you. The AI in Alien Isolation was groundbreaking; the alien can’t be defeated, but it’ll learn your ways of avoiding it. Hide in too many lockers, and it’ll start throwing them open searching for you. Use the motion tracker to steer clear of its path, and it’ll hear the beeps and draw closer. If it sees you, it’ll remember which door you went through to escape. Thanks, sadistic game tech clever clogs. 

5. Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC

You have no gun. When the shambling creature hunting you in Amnesia draws near, the only thing you can do is hide or run. If you light your lantern to see in the dark it’ll find you more easily. If you extinguish the flame you’re better hidden, but your character goes slowly insane with terror. Amnesia is a Lovecraftian tale where you wake up on the floor of a castle with no memory of where you came from, but a note from your past self explains you must find and kill the master of the house. The loading screen instructs you to turn the lights off and play with headphones, and truly, that is the scariest way to play. The graphics may be a little dated now, but few games have an atmosphere this genuinely frightening and suffocating. 

4. Outlast

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC

There’s a moment in Outlast where everything could have been different. When your car groans to a halt in the deserted grounds of an eerie asylum, the front doors are locked but your character, an investigative journalist, spots an open window. At this point, anyone with a sliver of self-preservation would walk away and call for backup, but that would make a terrible game. Instead, you climb through the opening, video camera in hand, and what unfolds is five hours of pure terror. The inmates run the place, and in some areas the bloodstained corridors are pitch black meaning the only way you can see is through your camera’s night vision. True to survival horror form, camera batteries are scarce; jump scares aren’t, though.

3. Evil Within 2

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, and PC

Another one of Mikami’s creations was The Evil Within, which like Resi explores the corrosive effects of megacorp greed - but this time the suits are dunking people in an alternative reality called STEM rather than turning them into zombies. Here, each character’s worst nightmares play out as they’re trapped in their own heads, linked up to a collective consciousness like a messed up Matrix that no pill will let you leave. The sequel follows Detective Sebastian Castellanos who must venture into STEM to find his missing daughter, who’s been subject to experiments by the greedy company behind the simulation, Mobius. The sequel has much greater freedom in its map design than the first Evil Within, with more areas to explore and more ways to advance through a level, making it a great place to jump in.

2. Resident Evil 7

Available on: PS4, PSVR, Xbox One, and PC

The only place to start is with the inventor of survival horror, Shinji Mikami. The legendary Japanese video game designer directed many of Capcom’s biggest titles in the 90s, including Resident Evil. That first foray into the twisted world of the Umbrella Corporation is credited as the original survival horror game, and the series has spanned over two decades since. Resident Evil 7 follows the story of a man named Ethan, whose search for his missing wife leads him to a rotten old house belonging to the twisted Baker family. 

After the more action-oriented Resident Evil 5 and 6, Resident Evil 7 firmly re-roots the series in survival horror. And the series' return to horror is deliberate, grimy, and effective. There's a sense of dread that never lets up as the Baker family relentlessly pursues you, and every few turns brings another horrific monster to contend with. The whole game is playable in VR too, meaning when you peer around corners in-game you have to physically twist your body forward in your living room. Be prepared to have your toes forcibly uncurled via local anaesthetic after.

1. The Last of Us 2

The Last of us 2 deals prices

(Image credit: Sony/Naughty Dog)

Available on: PS4

Ambitious, disruptive, and brave, The Last of Us 2 set a new bar for video game storytelling by taking your hopes and affections, bringing a bulldozer to them, and then making you fall in love with the bulldozer. But even putting the monumental narrative achievements aside, Naughty Dog made a survival horror game that's wicked smart, unpredictable, and scary on a whole new level.

The infected are terrifying enough in their own right - if you thought clickers were bad, wait until you meet the Rat King - but The Last of Us 2 affects each kill with a moral dilemma at-times brought on by your personal relationship with that character, and other times by the visceral way in which they struggle to breathe another breath and eventually succumb. If the survival horror genre is meant to haunt, challenge, and question you, but somehow still be fun to play, The Last of Us 2 is the best of the best.