Layers of Fear developer Bloober Team stepped away from its usual psychological horror for Observer, a mind-bender set in a cyberpunk dystopia. The result is a well-realized concoction of mind tricks that will have you slowly questioning the reality of the game world.
Echo may not be a typical horror game, but it’s main hook — being hunted by clones of the playable character who use your play style against you — creates a constant sense of unease and a moment-to-moment tension as you question every move you make.
Coming in at under an hour per play through, Anatomy makes the most of each moment, guiding you through a barely visible house of horror. Developer Kitty Horrorshow told Slate “a jump scare is when you attack the player; a dread scare is when they have to do something, even if they don’t want to” — and the dread scare is what Kitty Horrorshow deploys to great effect in Anatomy.
22. Layers of Fear
Bloober Team has a knack for distorting reality, and the ever-shifting home of Layers of Fear’s mad artist is that distortion at its most effective. While its tricks become more predictable, and therefore less scary, as you progress, Layers of Fear hits impressive horror heights in its opening hour.
When any everyday object could be a murderous shape-shifting blob of black goo, it’s hard to ever feel safe in the world of Prey. With its constant threat of Mimics, occasional jump scare, and head-spinning sci-fi story, Prey succeeds as one of the generation’s best psychological horrors.
20. Stories Untold
Stories Untold is a fresh take on the decades-old text adventure. There’s nothing in the realm of monsters or jump scares here; Stories Untold succeeds in its underlying psychological horror, thanks to smart writing and puzzle design that will keep you engaged through its four connected stories.
SOMA’s atmospheric horror & occasional jump scares work to great effect in its underwater research facility. However, it’s the existential horror — a bleak look into the potential future of humanity and AI — that makes it stand out as one of the generation’s most frightening and though-provoking games.
18. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs trades in the jump scares of its predecessor for a slower, dread-filled journey through the eyes of wealthy industrialist Oswald Mandus. A Machine For Pigs is not the Dark Descent followup some expected, but it’s nonetheless successful in its more personal story and haunting world.
Bloodborne may be billed as one of the generation’s best action-RPGs, but it’s also a masterful take on both survival and gothic horror. Through its storytelling, world design, monster design, and the constant threat of consequential death, Bloodborne is one of the most tense and terrifying experience you’ll find on PS4.
16. Yomawari: The Long Night Collection
“Please turn off all the lights and focus only on this screen,” a prompt reads before the beginning of Midnight Shadows, one of the two bundled games in The Long Night Collection. It then asks if you promise not to look away, to which you must select yes, though we doubt it’s a promise every player will be able to keep.
Don’t let its cute style fool you: These games are skin-crawling in their atmosphere and design. Beautiful, haunting, and occasionally upsetting, Yomawari’s expertly juxtaposes childlike art and adult themes.
15. Little Nightmares
Like Yomawari, Little Nightmares can’t be taken at face value. As the pages of this cartoonish, storybook-style adventure turn, its grotesque character design and gruesome varieties of death are revealed. Tense chase sequences add to create a memorable, relatively family friendly horror experience.
14. Until Dawn
Until Dawn possess all the best (and worst) qualities of a B-grade horror movie: camp, gore, death, interpersonal tension, cheesy dialogue, a corny plot, and overused jump scares. It’s not everybody’s cup of horror, but it’s good fun, and the closest thing you’ll find to a playable version of A Cabin in the Woods.
13. The Last of Us
The disturbing nature of The Last of Us’s Infected — namely the Clickers and their awful, gravelly groans — alone would have earned it a spot on our list. However, it’s the human element of Naughty Dog’s masterpiece (remember David?) that provides the real post-apocalyptic horror.
(Yes, The Last of Us was a last-gen game, but with its stellar remastered version, we’ve allowed it on our list.)
12. Doki Doki Literature Club
More than any other game on this list, it’s hard to discuss what makes Doki Doki Literature Club so unnerving without spoiling it. The best horror games keep you on edge after you stop playing, and few games do that as well as Doki Doki.
11. Five Nights at Freddy’s
Five Nights at Freddy’s built a cult following off its effective jump scares. While simple in its design, its success is perhaps best attributed to its passive approach to gameplay — you’re not exploring an abandoned asylum, navigating a haunted house, or even hunting monsters; you’re sitting and waiting for the danger to come to you.
10. The Forest
The Forest drops — or, rather, crashes — you into lush, serene woodlands, complete with bright greens and warm sunlight. Then come the cannibals, and the serenity of The Forest turns to hear-pumping terror. A thoughtful AI system that prevents enemies from blindly attacking keeps you on your toes and makes the scares that much more effective when they choose to strike.
9. The Evil Within 2
Take The Evil Within, expand its world, further limit its resources, add a more coherent story, and you have an excellent sequel to an already excellent survival horror experience. It’s one of the generation’s most complete horror packages, and while it’s scares often surpass those of the first, familiarity dampens fear, and for that reason, we give the slight edge to its predecessor.
8. The Evil Within
Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami’s return to survival horror came in 2014 with The Evil Within, and it didn’t disappoint. With roots in RE, Evil Within thrived off its challenging gameplay, limited resources, inspired world, engaging story, and brilliantly horrific enemy design—The Keeper, Laura, Zehn, and Neun, to name a few.
Quiet and disconcerting, Detention is a slow-paced, 2D horror game that largely takes place in an abandoned school. This isn’t in-your-face horror; it’s thoughtful, emotional, psychological horror rooted in mid-century Taiwanese history. From character design and movement to environmental art and lighting, Detention subtly nails the atmospheric horror of the genre’s best games.
6. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Coming into Resident Evil 7, the most prolific horror franchise in gaming had lost its way, gradually shifting toward action-heavy gameplay. RE6 was a low point for the mainline series, and after a five year hiatus, Capcom returned with the series’ scariest, most inventive game since RE4.
For the first time in series history, RE7 used a first-person perspective, a controversial decision for the historically third-person franchise. The decision paid off, however, as RE7’s new perspective notched up the immersion, and therefore the scares, and opened the door to an even more terrifying VR experience. Despite the change in perspective and initial disconnect from the series other games, RE7 proved to be the most “Resident Evil” game in years, paving the way for this year’s exceptional RE2 Remake and an exciting future for the survival horror franchise.
5. Outlast 2
As with The Evil Within series, Outlast’s second outing expanded on the original in scope and scale, while maintaining what made the original’s horror so effective. Unmatched disturbing imagery, grotesque enemy design, a murderous cult rooted in religion, fast (jump) scares, slow (psychological) scares, and a coherent story to boot, Outlast 2 has a pinch of well-crafted terror for every type of horror fan.
4. Resident Evil 2 Remake
Capcom followed up RE7 with a masterful remake of Resident Evil 2. An already stellar survival horror game was made better by exponentially improved visuals, better character models, a more threatening version of Mr. X, a more fluid over-the-shoulder camera angle, and much more.
2019 upgrades aside, RE2 remains one of horror’s most effective games in terms of building tension: resources are scarce, sound design is excellent, and the constant threat of Mr. X and his improved stalking ability is surpassed only by that of the next game’s antagonist….
Alien: Isolation nails both the survival and horror aspects of the genre. It isn’t the most consistently scary game of the generation, but at its best, its terror is unmatched by that of any other game from the last six years. Beyond this generation, few games have achieved the level of tension-filled gameplay that makes up the majority of Alien: Isolation, as the Xenomorph’s sharp, focused hunting ability leaves little time for respite across its 15-20-hour runtime.
With Outlast, developer Red Barrels took the found footage movie genre and expertly turned it into a fiveish-hour interactive nightmare. Outlast gives players nothing in terms of defense; it’s a game of cat and mouse, where you’re the mouse and the cats are hyper-aggressive, disfigured patients at a supposedly abandoned psychiatric hospital.
Further, Outlast effectively turns sight into an in-game resource; the majority of the hospital is only visible through the green, grainy lens of your camera’s night vision, and that camera relies on batteries sparsely scattered throughout the building. When you can see what’s chasing you, Outlast is as scary as any game on this list. When the lights go out, it stands nearly in a league of its own.
P.T. wasn’t a full release, and it’s no longer available to download, but the playable teaser was nonetheless the scariest video game released this generation.
The result of a cross-industry, once-in-a-console-generation collaboration between acclaimed creators Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, P.T. was revealed via a nondescript teaser at Gamescom 2014, followed by an otherwise quiet release on the PlayStation Store. Hours later, the enigma was solved, and P.T. was revealed to be Silent Hills. Though the code was cracked, the solution wasn’t clear. P.T. became an obsession, as players across the internet — Twitter, Reddit, Twitch, YouTube, NeoGAF, and other forums — attempted to piece together exactly how to reach P.T.’s true ending.
Kojima’s grand plan paid off, at least for a time: P.T. was downloaded over one million times in a month, and it remained at the center of the gaming world for weeks — a massive accomplishment in an industry that largely moves by day.
Then there was the game itself, which was as terrifying as its reveal was fascinating. P.T. was set in a single, beautifully rendered looping hallway. Turning a corner remained as scary the first time as it was on the fifteenth. The subtle changes to the environment on each loop preyed on players expectations of familiarity and added disturbing life to a seemingly restricted play area.
Like the other top entries on this list, you’re completely vulnerable in P.T., unable to manipulate the playable character beyond walking. You can’t fight. You can’t hide. One wrong step can result in failure, and the price of failure is steep when Lisa’s always right behind you.
Of course, Silent Hills would never come to fruition. Konami officially canceled the project a day after P.T. was removed from the PS Store, and with that, the bizarre tale of the generation’s most terrifying game came to an end.
What do you think is the scariest game of this generation? Let us know in the comments.