October is in full swing, and as all fans of horror know perfectly well, there’ no better month to indulge in some scary stuff. One option to do that is by playing horror video games.
There’s one subgenre that has been particularly exposed these past few years – psychological horror. Games that focus on diving deep into the player’s psyche and play on their darkest fears are pretty popular these days. Hence, in this article, we will take a look at the top fifteen psychological horror games, both classic and the ones released quite recently.
|Fear||2005-10-17||Monolith Productions, Inc.||97%|
|Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice||2017-08-08||Ninja Theory||85%|
|Alan Wake||2012-02-16||Remedy Entertainment||79%|
|Blair Witch||2019-08-30||Bloober Team SA||85%|
|Fran Bow||2015-08-27||Killmonday Games AB||30%|
|Outlast 2||2017-04-25||Red Barrels||88%|
|I Have No Mouth, and I Must||1996-10-31||Cyberdreams||6%|
|Alice Madness Returns||2011-06-14||Spicy Horse Games||9%|
|ALICE VR||2016-10-27||Carbon Studio||89%|
|Layers Of Fear||2016-02-15||Bloober Team SA||79%|
|Layers Of Fear 2||2019-05-28||Bloober Team SA||53%|
|Blair Witch Deluxe Edition||2019-08-30||Bloober Team SA|
|Silent Hill Homecoming||2009-03-02||Double Helix Games||91%|
|Fear 3||2011-06-23||Day 1 Studios||83%|
|Amnesia The Dark Descent||2010-09-08||Frictional Games||76%|
|Amnesia Rebirth||2020-10-20||Frictional Games||92%|
|Amnesia Collection||2010-09-08||Frictional Games||67%|
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Hellblade is certainly one of the most intriguing games released in 2017. This cinematic action-adventure title has received praise especially for its depiction of psychosis.
Set in a dark fantasy world inspired by Norsemen and Celts, Hellblade puts you in the shoes of Senua, a Pict warrior whose goal is to rescue the soul of her dead lover from the clutches of the goddess Hela. It’s a mixture of exploration, puzzle solving, melee combat and a really fantastic presentation, especially when it comes to voice acting.
Turns out that Hellblade is also a psychological horror of sorts. The main character suffers from psychosis and believes she’s cursed. She’s haunted by a being called the Darkness, voices in her head and past memories.
The developers went to great lengths to represent what it means to suffer from psychosis. They consulted neuroscientists, mental health specialists and people suffering from this condition in order to properly, realistically depict it. The ultimate result is a haunting game, even if not every aspect of it is top-notch.
There is a sequel in the works, called Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II. It’s being built using Unreal Engine 5. If you’re a fan of the band Heilung, you’ll be pleased to learn that they’ll compose the soundtrack for the game.
This one is a curious title, as it is set in Taiwan in the 1960s. If you’re looking for a game set someplace exotic, this one’s a great pick. Detention is also a genuinely scary psychological horror set in a school.
Greenwood High School, located in remote mountains, has changed considerably. It turned into a dark, evil place where malevolent spirits known as the lingered roam the hallways. What happened here? Why is the high school cursed? It is up to Wei and Ray, students trapped in this haunted place, to uncover the dark secrets of the past.
Detention is an atmospheric point-and-click horror adventure game. Expect lots of puzzle solving, exploration, references to the Taiwanese culture and mythology, as well as evading the rampaging monsters.
Its audiovisuals are also notable. The music fuses traditional Asian instrumentation with electronic, lo-fi and rock influences. The visual style is memorable and haunting. If you’re looking for an unusual horror game, Detention is a great pick. By the way, it has also received a film adaptation in 2019, followed by a TV series released in 2020. If you liked the game, you might check them out as well.
Fighting a possessed excavator? Oh yeah! A small, idyllic town of Bright Falls is being haunted by a strange “darkness” that is taking over its inhabitants, even animals and objects. And you are the one who has to stop it!
Alan Wake puts you in the shoes of the titular character, a writer of thrillers whose life is now a mess. His wife has gone missing and all the stuff he described in his latest novel – which he does not remember writing! – seems to come to life.
This one is an action-adventure game where fighting all sorts of monsters requires you to use the power of your flashlight to burn the darkness away and then finish the job using more traditional tools: revolvers and shotguns. One of the key mechanics in the game is using light sources to fend off enemies and ensure your own survival.
Two bonus “episodes” were released as DLCs. The game has also received a standalone spinoff in 2012: Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. A sequel is also in the works, planned for a 2023 release. There’s even a prequel mini-series, Bright Falls, that you can watch on YouTube.
As the official description of Observation (not to be confused with Observer, also on this list) says, you’re not on a space station. You ARE a space station! That’s right: your protagonist here is not a human.
As SAM (Systems Administration & Maintenance), an AI in charge of an entire space station, you are tasked with monitoring what’s going on across the hallways. And things go really awry. The crew mysteriously vanished and it’s up to you to help Dr. Emma Fisher find out what is going on.
Observation blends puzzle solving, exploration, a strong focus on the narrative and space horror. Thanks to its unique protagonist and great presentation, it’s a thrilling game from start to finish.
As SAM, you can control the station. For example, you can open or close hatches or mess around with safety systems. Over time, you gain access to more modules. All this is in order to figure out what Saturn’s hexagon is all about…
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
This one is a true classic. An adaptation of a classic short story by Harlan Ellison, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is a truly gut-wrenching science-fiction horror where the source of dread comes from the worst atrocities that humans can commit.
It’s a classic point-and click adventure game that tells the story of the only five people who have survived the destruction brough about by AM, an American supercomputer that gained sentience and eradicated all humanity. AM then left a bunch of humans alive to torture them with horrific visions.
His latest design is a personalized quest for each of the five main characters that is a journey through pain, fatal flaws and horrors. Your task is to help each protagonist overcome their terrible pasts and redeem themselves, all in order to bring about the end to AM’s rule.
Ultimately, there are seven endings to the game, depending on the way you complete the finale. So, are you ready to come face to face with the ugliest side of humanity and defeat AM once and for all?
|Developer:||Killmonday Games AB|
There’s no way to experience the horror than through the eyes of a child. When we were younger, every shadow moving on the wall, every dark corner, every weird sound spelled something foreboding, some terrifying monster coming to get us.
Now the player can experience similar emotions with Fran. This 10-year-old girl witnessed the murder of her parents, and the subsequent trauma has landed her in an asylum. Separated from her only friend – a black cat named Mr. Midnight – Fran is fed drugs that alter her perception, turning the already terrifying situation into the stuff of literal nightmares. Determined to reunite with Mr. Midnight and return home, Fran escapes into the world of her drug-addled hallucinations.
Fran Bow is an adventure game, offering the player a gameplay experience typical to the genre. Throughout the game, the player will have to explore the gruesome environment, marked with blood and decay and inhabited by shadowy creatures. The player’s job is to lead Fran through this macabre world, collecting items necessary to solve puzzles and interacting with NPCs. That is not all, though. At specific points, the player will have to play through challenging minigames or control Mr. Midnight. All this makes for an unforgettable journey through a traumatized child’s psyche that will keep you awake long after you’ve completed it.
Outlast represents the horror game genre that, from the start, puts the player in a losing position. The protagonist of the game, Miles Upshur, is a journalist investigating an abandoned asylum in Colorado.
Soon, he finds out that it was a scene of a massacre by an entity known as the Walrider. Trapped within the maze of decaying corridors and pursued by the asylum’s deranged inmates, Miles must rely on his evasive skills to survive the night and find out the secrets behind the Walrider’s rampage.
In Outlast, the player’s objective is to survive. The game doesn’t feature any combat mechanics. Instead, it forces the player to avoid any conflict by hiding or running away from the aggressors. Such a solution isn’t by any means new, but among the horror titles that rely on scaring the player with jumpscares, having no way of defending yourself from the pursuing madman is a mechanic that does stand out. If you feel up to the task of exploring Mount Massive Asylum and facing its darkest secrets, then go ahead. But make sure to bring some clean underwear.
American McGee's Alice
|Developer:||Spicy Horse Games|
We all know the sorry of Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. It might not be the scariest read, but it does contain some moments that one might consider spooky. However, compared to American McGee’s interpretation of Alice’s tale, Lewis Carroll’s novel really feels like a children’s story.
In American McGee’s Alice, the protagonist is a survivor of a house fire that had killed her parents. As a result of the traumatic experience, Alice was left in a state of catatonia, during which she mentally travels to Wonderland to confront the Queen of Hearts. The land Alice had so often seen in her dreams has fallen into disarray, and she is the only one who can save it.
American McGee’s Alice pulls no punches about freaking the player out. The design of Wonderland, which one might recognize as a colorful, albeit a bit cooky location, is nothing short of terrifying, representing Alice’s broken mind. The game mechanics involve exploring the world and interacting with its inhabitants (including the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, and the Twiddles), as well as fighting various enemies sent by the Queen of Hearts. To do that, Alice uses her trusted Vorpal Blade – in this version represented as a butcher’s knife. If that doesn’t give you a complete picture of the utter horror you’ll experience while playing the game, then take a look at the screenshot above. This is what awaits you in the twisted version of Wonderland conjured by American McGee.
Layers of Fear
|Developer:||Bloober Team SA|
In Bloober Team’s excellent psychological horror game, the player takes the role of an artist who begins work on his opus magnum. Searching for inspiration, the painter explores his studio, uncovering a dark web of secrets that lead him to this place. As the artist adds more layers of paint to his work, the world around him begins to deteriorate, causing him to slowly fall into madness.
Layers of Fear shows how frightening a game can be with little to no effort. All it takes is the right atmosphere and setting. The glum painting studio that the artist explores to uncover bits and pieces of his past is riddled with dark corners and objects that cast ominous shadows on the dirty walls. The player has to search for visual clues to solve puzzles and progress the game’s story. The title is riddled with jump scares, which, combined with the game’s eerie atmosphere, make for an unforgettably scary experience.
Everybody knows about the benefits of experiencing scary stuff in a group of friends. That is why the next title on our list, Phasmophobia, is the first game to feature a multiplayer mode. Phasmophobia draws inspiration from various popular horror tropes, including found footage and ghost hunter videos.
The players must work together while exploring haunted sites and gathering evidence of ghostly presence. Their task won’t be easy as ghosts don’t take kindly to strangers invading their personal space.
While still in the Early Access development stage, Phasmophobia has already made ripples in the gaming community. Thanks to its multiplayer character, it’s an excellent party game to play online. The players divide each other into the exploration team and one person who stays in the van monitoring their status and providing assistance on the radio. With nine types of paranormal beings to investigate and several kinds of locations to explore – including suburban houses, farms, and school buildings – Phasmohpobia guarantees hours of spooky fun, perfect for a Halloween virtual get-together.
The Blair Witch series
|Developer:||Bloober Team SA|
An unquestionable king of the found-footage horror genre, Blair Witch Project has quickly become a cult classic among the fans of movies based around urban legends. The film’s success led to the creation of an entire franchise around it, including a series of video games. The Blair Witch Trilogy was released over two months between October and November of 2000 and greatly added to the legend of the Blair Witch.
Despite being based on an at-the-time popular franchise, the games weren’t met with a positive reception. The critics praised the story and the atmosphere of these games but panned the trilogy of its short length, wonky controls, and weird camera angles that hindered the gameplay. The trilogy now exists on the periphery of the mass consciousness, together with the movie series that spawned it. We, however, recommend that you try it out, if only to see for yourself how the legend of the Blair Witch franchise was built.
Silent Hill 4: The Room
The Silent Hill series is one of the classic examples of the survival horror genre, which includes elements of psycho horror. The series developed by Konami takes players to the titular town, existing on the edge between two dimensions.
As the fog descends on the town, the hellish landscape and its monstrous inhabitants reveal themselves to the unfortunates who happen to wander there for whatever reason. The series has gained critical acclaim, and its installments are quite often placed among the best horror genre titles in history.
One of them is the fourth game in the series, Silent Hill 4: The Room. It follows the protagonist, Henry Townshend, who tries to leave his possessed apartment. However, each opening that appears in the walls of his place leads to a new nightmare. Unlike the previous games in the series, The Room focuses mainly on combat, offering the player a choice of melee weapons to use against various opponents. Fans of the complex puzzles the series is known for might balk at this change of gameplay style, but Silent Hill 4: The Room remains a decent horror game that will put the player’s brain through a terrifying grinder.
Another game that leaves the player powerless against the terrors that await them, forcing them to run for their life quite frequently. Soma takes place in an underwater research facility, where a rogue AI had turned human survivors of an ELE into biomechanical mutants. The player must explore the facilities stations and piece together clues to further the plot of the game.
As with the previously-described Outlast, Soma is a survival horror game that emphasizes the player’s complete unpreparedness against the monstrosities that will chase them around the flooded station. The only way to avoid getting captured and killed is to run and hide. However, the “Safe Mode” added to the game by the developers lessens the threat by making monster encounters non-lethal. That doesn’t change the fact that running into one of them while looking for clues to solve in-game puzzles will test the strength of the player’s sphincter.
|Developer:||Monolith Productions, Inc.|
F.E.A.R. is a unique game on our list – a full-blown first-person shooter heavily based on psychological horror themes. The game takes place in the headquarters of Armacham Corporation, where a group of supersoldiers called Replicas, led by Paxton Fettel, a man with paranormal abilities, has taken over the building.
The F.E.A.R. squad – a fictional first-response special force team – is sent in to investigate, but quickly falls victim to the overwhelming Replica forces, leaving only the Point Man, a rookie team member, to carry on the mission to eliminate Fettel. Throughout the game, a presence known as Alma, manifesting itself as a little girl, appears before the player, warping the reality around her.
F.E.A.R. draws inspiration from the Japanese horror genre, especially the movies such as The Ring. The spooky stuff here comes from the jumpscares caused by Fettel and Alma’s sudden apparitions, and also the atmosphere of constant danger. The gameplay mechanics are a standard FPS fare, amplified by a time manipulation power that allows Point Man to slow down time for an easier kill. Despite being a far cry from the previous games on our list, F.E.A.R. is worth checking out for all the fans of horror games.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Amnesia: The Dark Descent takes place in the 19th century in Castle Brennenburg. The protagonist of the game, Daniel, awakens to find himself imprisoned in the building with a note saying that he must descend to the lowest dungeon of the castle to kill Alexander, its master. Thus begins Daniel’s journey towards the lowest circle of Hell, during which he will encounter dark monsters and a mysterious entity possessing the castle.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent play similarly to Outlast and Soma: the player explores the castle’s halls, finding items and solving puzzles. At the same time, he has to avoid being seen and captured by monsters roaming the corridors. The game implements a mechanic called the “fear of darkness,” by which Daniel’s sanity will deteriorate the longer he remains in the dark. The consequences of low sanity vary from visual hallucinations through an increased chance of attracting monsters and even death. The task of keeping the protagonist more or less psychologically sane in order to survive adds a yet another layer of spookiness to the game.