Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos Courtesy of the Developers
The approach of Halloween is getting us all in the mood for something spooky, and there’s no better way to feel the fright than with horror video games. By immersing you in the action and putting you in charge of your own fate, horror games are often scarier than even the most intense horror movies.
Of course, even the horror-averse might want to dip a toe into the world of interactive scares this October. With those scaredy-cats in mind, we’re rounding up games that fall everywhere on the spooky spectrum, from those that are simply horror-adjacent to games that might actually cause you to literally die, Ringu-style.
We also made sure to include a diverse mix of games, spanning contemporary and classic, solo and multiplayer, competitive and cooperative, and more. So no matter what kind of scares you want to get into this October, there’s a horror game waiting for you.
Play if you want: Addictive action gameplay that isn’t actually scary.
Vampire Survivors isn’t exactly a horror game, despite the name. But its gothic aesthetic and endless hordes of monsters make it a good choice for Halloween gaming. Your character attacks automatically; all you have to do is aim and survive as long as possible, which makes this game friendly even for the most casual gamers.
Play if you want: A Japanese-style interactive novel with surreal elements.
At first glance, Doki Doki Literature Club appears to be a typical Japanese-style “visual novel” in which you do high-school stuff like attend class and woo girls — a popular genre in its own right, but why is it on a horror list? The game, developed by a team led by American designer Dan Salvato, eventually devolves into full-on psychological horror. To say more would risk spoiling the experience, so we’ll leave it at that.
Play if you want: A polished Nintendo game with light horror atmosphere.
Metroid is one of the oldest and most beloved series in gaming. It’s always been tinged with horror, as you guide space bounty hunter Samus Aran around derelict spaceships and hostile alien environments until she’s powerful enough to escape. The latest entry, 2021’s Metroid Dread, lives up to its name, which producer Yoshio Sakamoto told GameSpot was inspired by the emotions he wanted the game to center on: fear and dread. It’s a must-play for Nintendo Switch owners.
Play if you want: Slasher-inspired multiplayer fun.
Dead by Daylight is something known as an “asymmetrical” multiplayer game, because the teams are uneven. Four players control normal individuals simply trying to survive, while a fifth takes the role of a powerful Killer who stalks the survivors and tries to do what killers do. The game features a wide range of licensed characters, from Freddy Krueger and Leatherface to the Demogorgon from Netflix’s Stranger Things.
Play if you want: Dark Souls, but with werewolves and Lovecraftian horror.
Elden Ring broke through to the mainstream this year, but it was just the latest in a long line of challenging, immersive “Souls” games by Japanese developer FromSoftware. That line includes Bloodborne, the 2015 PlayStation exclusive set in a world of H.P. Lovecraft–inspired cosmic mythology and gothic horror. Fans have been waiting years for a remaster on modern platforms, but failing that, the original still holds up well — as long as you don’t mind a challenge.
Play if you want: To revisit the classic horror-comedy franchise in game form.
Who you gonna call if the most recent Ghostbusters films have just not scratched that ectoplasm itch the way you hoped they would? Try Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which is essentially a direct sequel to the original Ghostbusters 2. Set in 1991, the game casts you as a new Ghostbusters recruit and features the voices and likenesses of the original cast. The remastered version available on modern consoles is well worth a trip down memory lane.
Play if you want: Narrative-focused YA-style horror.
Oxenfree casts you as a teenage girl named Alex and sets you loose to explore an island where seemingly supernatural events are taking place. Its Stranger Things vibe gives it wide appeal, and its visuals, music, and writing are all top-notch. Best of all, its developer, Night School Studio, was purchased by Netflix, so Oxenfree is available to play for free from the Netflix app on your phone.
Play if you want: Old-school gameplay with modern ambience.
Horror games often play in the first-person perspective, as the intimacy of being inside a character’s head can create plenty of chilling moments. Limbo is the rare old-school horror game that plays more like Mario, with the character moving from left to right on a 2-D plane. That doesn’t quell its spookiness, though. The black-and-white puzzle game and its spiritual successor, Inside, are cult favorites; just think twice before you start it up if you have a fear of giant spiders.
Play if you want: A cinematic horror experience that’s more like an interactive movie.
The Quarry has a traditional horror setup: Teenage summer-camp counselors have to survive a night filled with supernatural attackers. Its gameplay is anything but traditional, though, as you spend most of your time as the player simply making choices that impact the story. Any of the characters might live or die by the end, depending what you do. Developer Supermassive Games’ previous entry, Until Dawn, is also highly recommended.
Play if you want: Sci-fi horror with an emphasis on story.
From the developer of the beloved Amnesia series, Soma casts you as a hapless explorer on a decrepit underwater research facility run by an artificial intelligence. The story is intriguing and the setting is uniquely atmospheric.
Play if you want: Goofy co-op horror with friends.
Phasmaphobia takes all the goofy fun of a ghost-hunting show and puts the supernatural investigation in the hands of you and your friends. Missions set in haunted houses, prisons, campgrounds, and more task you and your team with using ghost-hunting tools like night-vision cameras, ouija boards, EMF meters, and UV flashlights to identify what kind of phantasm is haunting the area. It’s hilariously janky, but undeniably fun.
Play if you want: More Resident Evil.
The Evil Within and its sequel are largely traditional survival-horror games created by Resident Evil series creator Shinji Mikami. It’s like a greatest hits of video-game horror: It has everything you want, from nightmarish environments to fight-or-flight gameplay, all in a polished package. Both games are worth playing, but start with the original.
Play if you want: Open-ended survival-horror.
Unlike many of the other survival-horror games on this list, The Forest is relatively open-ended. You play as a man looking for his son on a remote peninsula, and the environment is yours to explore. You scavenge and craft to survive while dodging the local cannibal population. It’s atmospheric and spooky, plus you can play by yourself or with friends.
Play if you want: Psychological Taiwanese horror.
Devotion is an atmospheric adventure game in which you explore an apartment complex while learning about the lives of a family who lived there. The game was the subject of controversy on its release in 2019 and was quickly removed from digital shelves due to a number of elements that were interpreted as being critical of the Chinese government. Eventually, developer Red Candle Games self-published Devotion online, where it’s available now.
Play if you want: To be equally disgusted and terrified.
The Mortuary Assistant puts you in a totally unique role as an actual mortician, tasking you with performing embalmments and other skin-crawling duties. Of course, the horror doesn’t stop there, as River Fields Mortuary may or may not be haunted by a demon. The Mortuary Assistant is not for the faint of heart, but it’s a must-play for horror enthusiasts.
Play if you want: Animatronic scares in an easily digestible format.
The game that spawned a moderate-size media empire is well worth a play still, even eight years after its original release and dozens of sequels and spinoffs later. You play as a night-shift employee at a Chuck E. Cheese–style amusement restaurant where the animatronic animals have come to life and developed murderous tendencies.
Play it if you want: Traditional single-player survival-horror gameplay with some serious scares.
The seventh Resident Evil game is, paradoxically, the perfect starting point for the legendary gaming franchise. You can jump straight into its kidnapped-by-cannibals story without any prior knowledge of the series’ zombie-apocalypse-sci-fi lore, and enjoy exploring an extremely scary house and its surrounding estate. The fun continues in the more recent Resident Evil Village, which concerns a coven of dominatrix-y vampires.
Play if you want: Hard-core co-op that will test the skills of you and three friends.
There are tons of cooperative multiplayer shooters that let you team up with friends to take down hordes of enemies. But GTFO stands out for its sheer, terrifying difficulty. You explore an underground complex with limited resources and try not to wake up too many enemies at a time, while always preparing for the worst. Because the worst will definitely happen.
Play if you want: Authentic horror set in the classic Alien movie universe.
Alien fans need look no further than Alien: Isolation. You play as Ripley and sneak around a space station while avoiding an unkillable Xenomorph alien, as well as other enemies. The creature stalks you intelligently, and this game pushes horror-stealth to its limits. There’s even an iOS version for those who like gaming on the go.
Play if you want: To sneak around a psychiatric hospital while managing your camcorder’s battery life.
Starting with Amnesia: The Dark Descent, some horror-game developers in the 2010s decided to do away with combat entirely. What’s scarier than being totally unable to fight back? Outlast is one of the most fucked-up entries in this subgenre. You sneak around the Mount Massive Asylum while managing the battery life in your camcorder, your only source of light. The game got an expansion and a sequel, and a third entry is due out soon.
Play if you want: Gory survival-horror with a sci-fi twist.
Dead Space is one of the best survival-horror games ever made. You’re cast as a space explorer on a mining ship infested with horrifying, mutilated monsters, armed with industrial weapons that can dismember them limb from limb. The game was so successful that its developer, EA Redwood Shores, was rebranded Visceral Games and set to work on sequels. The original has never been surpassed, though.