Horror games that don't rely on jump scares


Specializes in: Unrelenting peculiarity, plus a ton of disease-based bleakness

This is one of gaming's deepest wells of pure weirdness, freshly reworked in HD to smooth out the rough edges without losing its outlandish aesthetic. Pathologic almost defies classification: it has elements of first-person horror, character building RPGs, and town management all mashed into one eccentric package. It's also incredibly difficult, forcing you to survive an inescapable plague and making you choose between sharing medicine or hoarding it all. The town's inhabitants are all mysterious individuals, ready to spout tons of enigmatic dialogue at the drop of a hat. And with multiple protagonists and endings to discover, there's no telling how your actions will save or damn the town till it's all over.

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Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Specializes in: Fear of the unknown, and scaly mutants

Lovecraftian horror is a special flavor - something of a fishy taste, what with all the mermen and the squid-like demigod Cthulhu, mixed with the smoky aroma of 1950s Noir ambience. Not every game that attempts this unique brand of terror gets it right, but this 2006 shooter nails it. The atmosphere is thoroughly foreboding at any given moment, where even the local townsfolk seem somehow... wrong. It's also a great murder mystery that builds up to the supernatural, keeping you on your toes with each new wrinkle in the investigation. Oh, and shootouts with gigantic fish people are always fun.

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Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Specializes in: Helplessness, with a handful of jump scares mixed in

This one's become a staple of the genre, but hey, there's a chance you still haven't gotten around to playing it yet. Amnesia (and to a lesser extent, Slender) kicked off the modern era of first-person horror games, but few have actually managed to top The Dark Descent. There are certainly moments that will startle anxious gamers, but the majority of the horror is spent cowering in fear as a disfigured atrocity tries to sniff you out. Your sanity is constantly slipping away, and the dark corners of the macabre castle are either comforting or foreboding, depending on whether you're currently being chased. It's an ominous thrill that hasn't yet been completely recaptured - not even by Amnesia's own sequel, A Machine for Pigs.

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Gretel and Hansel

Specializes in: Upbeat amusement interspersed with repulsion

You probably know the classic Brother's Grimm fable of Hansel and Gretel: abandoned children who stumbled upon a candy house in the woods and nearly ended up as a witch's other-other-white-meat dinner. But you probably don't know the story with any detail - which is a gap this point-and-click adventure happily fills, with cute and horrifying imagery. You play as Gretel, the intellectually superior of the two siblings, endeavoring to escape the most horrific fate known to children's stories. The watercolor visuals and (initially) whimsical atmosphere are excellent, oscillating between charming and disgusting at just the right times.

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Deep Sleep

Specializes in: Paranoia, with one or two spine-tingling jumps

"Wake UP. You have to WAKE UP." That's one of the foreboding messages you receive in this first-person point-and-click puzzler - a message that's being whispered through a solitary phone in a paralyzingly dark room. Deep Sleep is another trip through the mind, where you wake up in an alternate reality with no clue of what's going on. This browser game utilizes a grainy filter over its pixelated backdrops, creating a murky, disquieting atmosphere. Yes, there are the occasional jump scares, but they're infrequent and brief enough that they never feel obnoxious. Plus, the relatively simplistic visuals help take the edge off the shocking moments.

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Lone Survivor

Specializes in: Dementia and emotional distress

Take I Am Legend, remove the dog, and make the protagonist a nameless everyman. That's the simplest description of Lone Survivor's premise, though there's so much more to it than that. As you struggle to maintain your sanity and ration basic necessities, you can try to fend off hordes of spindly mutants or use stealth to stay unnoticed. The choice is yours, but no matter what you do, you'll find that going it alone in a post-apocalypse can wreak serious havoc on a fragile psyche. Hallucinations are everywhere, until you're completely unsure of what's actually happening. All you'll know for certain is that the music is amazing.

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Specializes in: Apprehension of the world and all its cruelty

This is about as obscure a horror game as they come (not counting the actual Obscure series, mind you). But it's still readily available on Amazon, provided you don't mind paying a little extra for a haunting rarity of a game. This first-person DS thriller is actually an import from the Korean mobile gaming scene, meaning it's probably unlike anything you've ever played before. It revolves around two interweaving stories of a woman and a man trying to get by in a war-torn nation. With elements of claustrophobia, hypochondria, and psychological horror, Theresia tackles a wide array of emotions that few games do. Just be ready when the tears start flowing.

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Yume Nikki

Specializes in: Mild unease, deep-set confusion

There are so many RPG Maker horror stories to choose from: games like Ao Oni, The Witch's House, and Mad Father, to name a few. But Yume Nikki stands out from the crowd for its incredibly bizarre ambience and totally abstract gameplay - if you can even call it gameplay, because the whole thing boils down to exploring and basic puzzle solving. You're primarily wandering through the dreamscape of the reclusive main character Madotsuki, encountering bleak expanses and psychedelic mazes in equal measure. A lot of the amusement of Yume Nikki is derived from figuring out what you're supposed to be doing at a given time, if there's even anything you can do. It's a positively ethereal game, with hours of unsettling entertainment for the curious.

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