Survival Horror games play on the fears induced by vulnerability, resource scarcity, imminent threat and impending doom. They make us fear the horrors that loom just out of sight, occasionally tapping on our shoulder only for us to turn to face gloomy nothingness.
1987s Shiryou Sensen: War of the Dead is deemed to be the first survival horror game to have sent shivers down our spines, and since then we’ve been seeking the perfect fright to jolt us from our tedious safety.
Check out the list of the best survival horror games below, and prepare to wake whatever lurks in the darkest depths of your psyche.
It isn’t what you see that drives the incessant dread of Survival Horror but instead what you don’t. SadSquare Studio’s Visage utilizes the sense of questionable isolation impeccably. You roam this hellish house alone, but always feel like there is something sinister right there with you.
Defenseless and unaided, you seek out answers to the history and mystery of this twisted dwelling. As the game progresses you are transported into the numerous lives of those that befell a grisly demise in the residence before you.
A searing industrial soundtrack screeches at you like nails on a blackboard before abject silence leaves you in apprehensive panic. Apparitions and horrific specters flash sparingly from corners and reflections. The graphics are unnervingly detailed and with no weapons, you truly do feel helpless in this bleak and foreboding setting.
2. Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water
Players embody three different characters exploring Mount Hikami, once home to a ritualistic religious cult and a site of many gruesome secrecies. Horrifying phantoms haunt your screen and your only form of protection is a ‘camera obscura’, a device that exorcises ghosts by taking pictures of them.
The series has always revolved around trauma, and the mysterious ways in which it bleeds into our lives. Admittedly, this entry is among the weakest in the series, but given that its recent remaster has seen some success, there’s hope that we’ll see the terrifying earlier entries reappear one day.
The Fatal Frame/Project Zero series consists of five main entries. Maiden of Black Water is the fifth of these but the first to be remastered. As it was a Wii U game, it’s been adapted to work without the infamous ‘second screen as a camera’ gimmick, and is probably better for it.
3. Song of Horror
You are sent to investigate the disappearance of a famed writer and his family but a mysterious and wicked entity, branded ‘The Presence’, incessantly stalks your every move. 13 playable characters are, in turn, marked for death by exposure to the sound of a cursed music box that drives the listener to madness.
With each chapter, we negotiate the corridors and rooms of spooky mansions, abandoned hospitals and other time-honored horror locations. Meanwhile, an otherworldly menace is right on your heels.
The A.I. of the enemy means it learns from your actions and adapts accordingly. This, along with permadeath of your characters, means a unique play through each time. With a mix of prolonged heart-pounding tension and jump scares, the frights are varied and genuine. Song of Horror is a devoted ode to the classic dismal and wretched survival horror tropes of old.
As supernatural investigators, your goal is to locate and identify ghosts. This isn’t a Ghostbusters game where you burst in with traps set, but neither is this a simple case of spotting a ghost and running away. Your character has to interact with the specter numerous times with different equipment to identify it before it tears you apart.
We all assume that playing horror games alone is the scariest way to go. But Phasmaphobia takes that notion and massacres it. The beauty of this co-op game’s terror is the human interaction that drives your internal fear to maddening heights.
In-game voice recognition allows the enemy to respond to your speech. Announcing “it’s gone” might spark an unnerving verbal response or – worse – an impromptu appearance around the next corner. Your friends can’t help you then!
5. Tormented Souls
With Tormented Souls, we have a welcome return to classic survival horror with strong Resident Evil and Silent Hill influences. In this modern take on a fixed-perspective adventure, we follow Caroline Walker as she investigates the disappearance of missing twins through a vile mansion-turned-hospital.
Minimal ammo and resources hamper your survival and puzzles involve plentiful backtracking – an ode to its genre forefathers. Mirrors mark the gateway between different loathsome realities, again clinging on to Silent Hill nostalgia.
The game can’t escape the clichés of the genre but the developers make no apology for this. And it works! Depraved in their design, enemies become increasingly abhorrent in their bid to stop you discovering the truth. This is a well-constructed credit to the genre and every bit as petrifying as its predecessors.
6. The Medium
Marianne is a psychic enticed to an abandoned Polish resort with the intention of discovering the origin of her clairvoyant talents. Through her analysis of the area, the secrets of a dark and evil history slowly emerge. She uses her extrasensory perception to scan objects and unravel the story of the resort’s departed owners, while using out-of-body experiences to reach new areas.
The Medium delves into the realms of dual-reality and does this with a unique gaming technique: the two worlds play out at the same time with you controlling the protagonist simultaneously through a split-screen.
The Medium has a thoroughly gripping story and remains consistently and tangibly tense. But a defining factor in this anxiety-drenched masterpiece is its main antagonist – an unstoppable manifestation that unceasingly torments you known as ‘The Maw’, who is worthy of a place up there with survival-horror icons like Nemesis and Pyramidhead.
7. In Sound Mind
We find ourselves in a dark, ominous building uncertain of how we got there. Further exploration brings us to the conclusion that we are a psychotherapist and, on locating patients’ audio recordings, we systematically relive their traumatic tales through four creepy dreamscapes.
Unique but fairly simple puzzles are solvable through found items but also with novel forethoughts, such as peering at the reflection of a broken mirror shard to reveal mysteries. This first-person psychological horror starts out as an existential delve into your inner consciousness, as mannequins change position behind your back and you’re plagued with shadowy movements in your peripheral vision. Eventually this makes way for a more tongue-in-cheek experience that substantially breaks the tension.
In the best possible way, this is an angst-ridden nightmare and a precursor to a sleepless night.