Kids dressed up as various Fortnite characters are likely going to ring your doorbell and yell “trick or treat” tonight. After you hand them candy, and perhaps watch them perform one of Fortnite’s dance moves before vacating your property, we suggest diving into a horror game to end your Halloween night. We recommend playing one of the scariest games ever made – a game that may make you put the controller down and say “Nope. I can’t go on.” Which game could frighten you this much? I polled Game Informer’s staff to find out which game they would deem “the scariest of all time.” Along with some of the heavy hitters of video game horror, some staffers picked the game that defined this genre for them. One writer also picked a game that should scare no one.
We hope this list leads to a night of terrifying screeches and popcorn being thrown due to jump scares. Let us know in the comments section below which game you’d classify as the scariest ever made.
I’m a bit of a baby when it comes to horror – even the most telegraphed jump scare can send me rocketing out of my seat, to the point where my wife gets genuinely concerned about my well-being whenever it happens. Despite my skittishness, I still love horror films and games, including Visceral’s beloved sci-fi hit, Dead Space.
Despite being a decade old at this point, Dead Space still stands out in my mind as the scariest game ever made. And not because of the jump scares, which are abundant, or the necromorphs, which are appropriately grotesque. The real magic behind Dead Space’s cringe-inducing terror is the atmosphere; the unrelenting sense of dread that you are stuck on a dead spaceship overrun by horrific creatures. Granted, Dead Space’s setting and tone borrow liberally from Alien, but you couldn’t pick better source material to crib from, and Visceral did an exceptional job translating it into their own memorable and unique experience, through impeccable, claustrophobic level design, and unparalleled sound design that brought Isaac Clarke’s nightmare to life.
In fact, Visceral did such an amazing job on Dead Space that I never actually finished it – thanks to the oppressive, omnipresent sense of danger, most of my nightly play sessions only lasted about 30 minutes; I’d creep my way through the derelict halls of the Ishimura, complete an objective or two, and then say to myself, “You know what, I think I’m good for the night! Good progress!” After a few months of snail-like progress, I finally threw in the towel and moved on to other games – but not before being convinced that Dead Space is a true horror masterpiece. If EA ever releases a current-gen remaster (seriously, how has this not happened yet?!), I’m ready to give it another shot. – Jeff Marchiafava
My first true moment of video game terror occurred in 1996 when I was reviewing Resident Evil. At the time, horror games were creepy, unsettling, and sometimes dabbled in gore, but they didn’t deliver much in terms of suspense. That changed with Resident Evil. When a dog unexpectedly jumped through a window, I jumped out of my seat, screamed in a pitch I likely will never hit again, and my perception of what horror video games could offer completely changed in that moment.
The uncertainty of not knowing what could happen next stuck with me for the rest of the journey. It was the perfect scare delivered at a time where we didn’t expect that from games. Resident Evil is known for the rise of zombies in gaming, but should also be credited for its delivery of jump scares. It’s one of those rare games that challenged the norm and succeeded enough in doing so to redefine a genre. – Andrew Reiner
Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly
I first started at Game Informer in 2003, the same year that Fatal Frame II released. Several of my new co-workers had recently played the game, and they told me to check it out. I didn’t have much experience with scary games back then, but I assumed that my love of horror movies would inoculate me against the worst Fatal Frame II could offer. I was wrong.
The game follows two sisters who explore a creepy old house filled with ghosts, and your job as a player is to take pictures of those ghosts. That doesn’t sound too bad, but Fatal Frame II slowly establishes an atmosphere of dread and helplessness that distinguishes it as one of the scariest games ever made. In fact, I couldn’t finish it because it just freaked me out too much. I could handle the jump scares, but the combat was just too much; it combines creepy ghosts, wonky controls, and precise timing in a way that seemed tailor-made to fray my nerves. I’ve tried playing it twice, and both attempts ended after about 90 minutes. When people tell me it’s one of the best horror games ever made, I don’t doubt them – but I’m fine taking their word for it at this point. – Joe Juba
Silent Hill 2
Let me just get this out of the way: Yes, I know that being scared of a game or movie or TV show is dumb, and you are very brave and strong for pointing that out. That said, I had to “NOPE” out almost immediately after the first time I tried playing the original Silent Hill. I was living alone at the time, and something about the opening moments got me right in the scaredy zone. I was fine right up until the part where all the little creepy ghost things with knives bumbled around Mason and the screen faded out. I don’t remember why, but something about that moment really creeped me out. I went back to the game a few years later and realized how utterly ridiculous the whole thing was, and I didn’t have any similarly embarrassing meltdowns. It’s still a really good game, but its low-poly horror didn’t withstand the test of time for me. Whew! – Jeff Cork
The scariest game moment I’ve ever had is from a game you’ve probably never heard of called 3D Hunting Shark, which features a gruesome death scene where your diver is ripped to shreds by a flurry of sharks. It looks dumb, but it scared the bejesus out of my 10-year-old self.
However, the scariest game I’ve ever played, as in the whole package being scary, is Frictional Games’ heartbreaking meditation on A.I., the meaning of life, and our worst fears: Soma. Soma’s terrors don’t arise from jump scares but instead from its claustrophobic atmosphere as you search your way through an underwater base in a ruined world, desperately searching for a way to save humanity from extinction. I won’t ruin the ending here but I will say it’s the most stomach-churning experience I’ve ever had in a video game, one that melds horror and tragedy in a sublime fashion, and has kept me up many a night thinking about it. – Javy Gwaltney
Playdead is one of my favorite developers and my appreciation for the studio stems from my first experience playing Limbo. It’s a creepy game that uses unsettling atmosphere instead of jump-scares to sell its fear, and there is one specific moment in the game that stands out to me, and it’s not the battle with the spider which is scary for different reasons. So much of Limbo is about figuring out how to make your way through its dark environment. It’s lonely, scary, mysterious, and just generally unsettling, but the thing that made me the most uncomfortable was the discovery that I was not the only child there. The first time another child appeared in the game I was shocked, and when they attacked me, as though I was the one who wasn’t supposed to be there, it cemented the idea that this world was wholly unwelcoming. Whatever limbo is, if that’s what that world is even called, it is never safe. Not alone, not it numbers – there is death around every corner. Your interaction with the other children in limbo is short, and fatal, but in a game full of strange terrifying moments, the simple appearance of another person is what has always stuck with me the most. – Kyle Hilliard
I’ve loved horror for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I played P.T. that I felt so rattled I was unsure I could complete the game. P.T. was a playable teaser that was temporarily available on the PlayStation Store, directed by Hideo Kojima with the assistance of Guillermo del Toro. With Kojima’s love for the strange and del Toro’s devotion to horror, the combination felt like a perfect fit to make something spectacularly spooky. Although the full game was cancelled, what was available of P.T. was unlike anything I had played before. It had great tricks up its sleeve, by looping you through the same hallway of a suburban house repeatedly and having small changes, like blood dripping from the ceiling or a fetus wailing in a sink, appear as you solved puzzles. Relying less on jump scares and more on atmosphere, P.T.’s creepiness was unrivaled. Of course, despite its attention to atmosphere, there’s one jump scare I won’t forget for a long time coming, and her looming presence in the home left me on edge for the entirety of the experience. – Elise Favis
Video games commonly retread the well-worn ground of power fantasies, giving players a set of skills to master and dominate their rivals. Alien: Isolation flipped the script to great result and freaked me the f*** out in the process. Amanda Ripley may be Ellen’s daughter, but she isn’t packing the stopping power necessary to put down a xenomorph. Instead, when the nightmarish drone descends on her position, the best you can do is turn tail, run for the best hiding spot you can find, and pray that the undefeatable predator doesn’t find its prey. Making matters more complicated, the alien threat seemingly follows none of the discernible “search and stand down” enemy A.I. patterns we’ve studied in countless other games, making each encounter unpredictable. The unrelenting tension created by these cat and mouse sequences forced me to walk away from the controller more than once. For a horror game, that’s one of the highest accolades of all. – Matt Bertz
SadSquare Studio’s trek through a haunted house starts off slow, but quickly turns into a surreal mind-bending trek through terror. While only early access is currently available, the first journey through Lucy’s unfortunate tale begins with a camera. With only lighters, candles, and the camera flash, the trip through darkness ramps up steadily, relying on a strong combination of atmospheric horror and the occasional well-placed jump-scare.
I’ve played tons of horror games and Visage is among the best even in early access. While it’s easy for this genre to fall back on loud jump scares to make players surprised and uncomfortable, Visage uses them as exclamation points to long sentences instead of a constant barrage that can desensitize the player if overused. As I worked through the house’s basement using only my camera flash to reveal the path – and scares – in front of me, I’m continually impressed by the game’s ability to build up to a satisfying, scary payoff. There are no defenses, so much like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, you are at the utter mercy of anything that comes your way, and must keep your sanity high, stay out of the dark as much as you can, and escape from very real ghouls and ghosts that come your way. You are always utterly vulnerable, and the creaks, crawls, TVs turning on and radio blips ratchet up the tension at all times. Turn out the lights, turn the volume up, and see if you can make it through this house’s haunted halls. – Dan Tack
Super Mario Party
This may be a surprising pick, but the loudest I’ve ever screamed from a video-game scare has probably come from the Don’t Wake Wiggler minigame in Super Mario Party. Players take turns petting a sleeping Wiggler, with the person who logs the most pets earning the crown. However, with every pet, Wiggler comes closer to waking up. Since the competition is so tense, you find yourself leaning in and getting laser focused on the screen, hoping it sleeps through your turn. Even if you’re not the one who wakes the Wiggler, you’re still likely going to fall for the scare that comes when it notices your presence. Sheer horror that likely puts the other games on this list to shame. – Brian Shea