Horror games don’t need jumpscares to be scary. Today we’ll take a look at some great examples of titles that are making an actual effort to provide you with a meaningful, dreadful experience.

Introduction

There are various types of horror games. Some of them are genuinely scary, some are just goofy and not meant to be scary at all. The ones that are really terrifying can use a variety of ways to make you feel that way.

The cheapest and easiest way to give players a fright is to introduce jumpscares. These, however, are often considered a bad practice, since it doesn’t take much to scare someone like that. You can scare someone by making a loud noise when they’re nearby. Shout or clap your hands loudly when they expect it the least – that’s usually more than enough to make someone jump.

There are, however, more advanced techniques the developers can use to make their horrors scary. Whether it’s a psychological horror or something simpler that talks directly to your primal sense of fear, we’ve probably got it covered, so take a look before proceeding further.

Why Horror Doesn’t Always Need Jumpscares

If the developers put actual effort into making their horror games, they can achieve better results in terms of giving players a fright than developers who rely on jumpscares. Such an experience will also be considered more valuable and memorable because it’s so much harder to achieve.

Whenever you get genuinely scared without seeing a single jumpscare, you can easily get impressed by the abilities of the development team.

Sometimes it’s all about the atmosphere and tension. There are horror games that build such a scary atmosphere, that there’s simply no need for a jumpscare. A good narrative can also play a crucial role in how we perceive horror games and whether we feel scared or not.

There are even games that use a different kind of jumpscare, which can’t really be called that. Imagine a situation, where you enter a dark room, you look around, and the door close behind you.

There’s nothing of importance here, so you decide to exit. You open the door, but as you open them, you realize there’s a mannequin standing right in front of you now. This alone can cause a real fright, simply because it wasn’t something you expected to see, but it certainly wasn’t a jumpscare, because the mannequin did nothing, except just standing still in an unexpected place. You fell victim to your own expectations.

With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the best games without jumpscares you can play right now.

Silent Hill 2

Release date:2001-09-23
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Team Silent

Let’s start with a classic title that’s most likely known to anyone who loves good horror games, but also good games in general.

Silent Hill 2 did an outstanding job at giving people a fright without resorting to jump scares. Part of the game’s success in that department lies in the fact that it used the so-called tank controls and had a static camera that didn’t follow the player, but rather just rotated in place and switched its position to a different one, once the character left the screen.

This gave the game an unexpected result, which was jump scares that weren’t really jump scares; after the camera switched its position, you could’ve found yourself right next to a zombie, and that itself was a truly terrifying experience. The extremely limited vision with foggy weather also played a vital part in making SH2 so amazingly scary.

Key features
  • A classic survival horror, often considered one of the greatest games of all time
  • Tense atmosphere that will constantly keep you at the edge
  • Limited vision and camera capabilities that may result in some unexpected encounters
  • Difficult controls that can make things worse if you can’t keep a cool head

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Release date:2010-09-08
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Frictional Games

Here’s another excellent example that shows that you don’t need jump scares to make the game genuinely scary.

Amnesia was extremely popular back in the day due to getting attention from some of the most influential streamers at that time and it’s not without a reason – the game was and still is an amazing horror experience that will mess with your head and evoke fear through means other than cheap jump scares. A dreadful atmosphere and creepy sounds will guarantee an extremely immersive adventure.

It’s also worth mentioning that Amnesia features a physics-based environment you can interact with. Clever usage of available objects can make or break the run, and it also adds an element of uncertainty – when you’re panicked, even such a simple task as opening the door can prove to be difficult, as it requires two well-coordinated mouse clicks, not just a single one.

Key features
  • A psychological horror mixed with some blood and gore
  • Gameplay that combines exploration with problem-solving and stealth elements
  • Physics-based puzzles and environmental interactions
  • Dark and scary atmosphere with a strong sense of uncertainty

Soma

Release date:2015-09-21
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Frictional Games

After getting some valuable experience with Amnesia, the development team returns 5 years later with a brand-new horror game to give players a real fright.

Soma is a survival horror where you are tasked with exploring the surroundings, learning more about the place you’ve found yourself in, your past, and all the mysterious circumstances that brought you to the current situation, where things are not what they seem to be.

The game takes place in an underwater research facility, which alone adds quite a lot to the unsettling atmosphere. The facility seems to be abandoned and you’ve got no one to ask for help. In the depths of the ocean, there’s no one who could hear your cries. It’s only you, the water, and the mystery that needs to be revealed.

As opposed to Amnesia, Soma puts more emphasis on the narrative and immersion – it’s an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.

Key features
  • An intriguing story that begs to be revealed
  • Gameplay focused on exploration and puzzle-solving
  • Dreadful underwater environment
  • Great voice acting that further helps to build immersion

Pathologic 2

Release date:2019-05-23
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Ice-pick Lodge

A horror game doesn’t have to be a stealth or action game like it is in the majority of cases. It can also be an RPG – here’s one for you.

In Pathologic 2 you will be playing as a surgeon in a suspiciously empty town, where only a handful of citizens remained. Your primary job is to save people from the plague, but there’s only so much you can do with a single pair of hands. As such, you’ll face difficult choices that will make you pick who to save and who’s not worth your time.

The game touches on the topic of surrealism and supernatural phenomena, but overall, it’s a rather grounded and down-to-earth experience inspired by the early 1900s. The open-world environment gives a certain degree of freedom, allowing you to explore and collect useful items at your own pace. Don’t slack off though – you must take care of your character’s basic needs to stay alive and healthy.

Key features
  • A horror game with elements of survival and role-playing
  • Open-world environment set during the Russian Civil War
  • Challenging difficulty level
  • Reputation system – help the citizens to gain their trust… Or don’t

Darkwood

Release date:2017-07-17
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Acid Wizard Studio

Another option for a game that revolves around the theme of plague, but this time it’s a top-down title.

Darkwood is a unique game for several reasons. It’s one of the few top-down games with stylized visuals and an ominous aura around it. There are no usual jump scares, but the atmosphere is so tense that even stepping on a pile of mushrooms that make a weird noise when you get close can send shivers down your spine.

The game features a randomly generated world, which means no two playthroughs are exactly the same, encouraging experimenting with currently available options. It also increases the game’s replayability and makes tinkering with stuff more fun. On top of that, Darkwood offers an immersive experience where you’ll be making important choices that can shape the world around you.

Key features
  • A terrifying top-down horror with impactful choices and elements of survival
  • Randomly generated environments for increased replayability
  • Relatively high difficulty level and no hand-holding
  • Character progression with unlockable skills and perks

Oxenfree

Release date:2016-01-14
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Night School Studio

If ghost stories are your thing, Oxenfree could be something worth giving a shot.

Supernatural elements play a crucial role in Oxenfree. Join a group of teenage friends and explore the island as you try to reveal its secrets and communicate with the ghosts inhabiting this secluded place.

It’s not a very terrifying game – it’s more like a paranormal-flavored teenage story that combines exploration and building relationships, so it’s a perfect title for those who can’t take a real scare.

One of the coolest features of the game is how you can interrupt dialogues in a very natural way. Whenever characters are talking, you can choose not only what to say but when to say it – or you can stay silent, and that’s also an option. Also, keep in mind that choice actually matters, so think twice before you say your line.

Key features
  • A ghost-related adventure with a smooth dialogue system and light-hearted spookiness
  • Impactful choices that can shape the story
  • A certain degree of replayability
  • Memorable voice acting and a great atmosphere that fits a horror game

Detention

Release date:2017-01-12
Genre:Adventure
Developer:Red Candle Games

halloweenFor the final game we’ve got a truly scary Taiwanese title, so prepare for a mind-bending experience.

Detention is an immersive story about two trapped students who are trying to find their way out from the school that got mysteriously transformed into a place they’re not familiar with. Uncanny faces and dark art style make for a great horror experience, where evil may be lurking behind any corner – you can’t feel safe anywhere.

The game doesn’t use the usual jump scares, but it doesn’t mean there are no sudden appearances of scary elements that can cause a fright. Relatively peaceful sequences of exploration will sometimes be disrupted by intense chasings – the evil presence is extremely strong around you, so don’t let your guard down.

Key features
  • A scary point-and-click adventure with exploration, puzzles, and evil monsters
  • A unique setting that draws inspiration from East Asian culture
  • Contains disturbing elements of adult content, including blood and gore
  • Distinctive art style that further helps to build the right atmosphere

Conclusion

Horror video games don’t necessarily need jump scares to be scary – there are plenty of ways to achieve that goal without resorting to such cheap tricks that are talking directly to our uncontrollable primal sense of fear.

Some games try to build a dreadful atmosphere, others alter the reality in unexpected ways. Others introduce paranormal phenomena or devilish themes to frighten you, and others masterfully use creepy ambient sounds and music. Games can build tension in a variety of ways and that feeling of constant fear and dread can be much more impactful than a jump scare in the long run.

If you’re looking for some amazing horror games without jumpscares, feel free to take a look at our list above and choose your favorites.