Top 20 Scariest Video Games of the Century (So Far)

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Top 20 Scariest Video Games of the Century (So Far)

VOICE OVER: Riccardo Tucci WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
If you love horror games as much as we do, you've probably played some of these titles! For this list, we'll be looking at the scariest video games that have been released since 2000. Our countdown includes “Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria Simulator” (2017), “Dead Space 2” (2011), “Until Dawn” (2015), “The Evil Within” (2014), “The Last of Us Part II” (2020) and more!
Transcript
Script written by Nathan Sharp

Top 20 Scariest Video Games of the Century (So Far)


Turn off the lights, throw on some headphones, and prepare to freak out! Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 20 scariest video games of the century (so far).

For this list, we’ll be looking at the scariest video games that have been released since 2001. And for the purposes of variety, we will only be including one entry per franchise - even if a franchise has turned in countless scary titles.

#20: “Slender: The Eight Pages” (2012)


This game helped give rise to the indie craze of the 2010s and proved that video games didn’t need massive budgets to be effective. Like “The Blair Witch Project” and similar low-budget horror films, “Slender” does a lot with a little. The gameplay itself is very simple - you walk through the darkened woods, collect notes, and avoid the creepy Slender Man. But there’s something inherently terrifying about hiding from threats in the dark; it activates something primal buried deep within the brain. The game’s low-budget aesthetic adds an extra layer of uneasiness, like it was something pulled from the dark web.

#19: “Soma” (2015)


A lot of people were wondering what Frictional Games would do after the brilliant “Amnesia: The Dark Descent.” The answer was the similar yet totally different “Soma,” which concerned sentient robots in an underwater research facility. Like its predecessor, “Soma” primarily involved sneaking around enemies and solving puzzles while uncovering the mystery behind your identity and precarious situation. It also contains a relentlessly unsettling atmosphere - a unique mixture of “Amnesia,” “System Shock,” and “BioShock” all rolled into one. And when all that is combined with the disgusting body horror present throughout the game, you get an experience pulled straight from a nightmare.

#18: “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” (2017)


“Hellblade” is a self-proclaimed “independent AAA game” from British developer Ninja Theory. It follows a Pict warrior named Senua in her attempt to save the soul of her dead lover from Hela. And though the story is compelling, it’s Senua’s psychosis that really stands out. The developers consulted with neuroscientists and people suffering from psychosis in order to accurately depict the condition, and it was this aspect of the game that subsequently received the most praise. Game critics noted how Senua’s psychosis lent to the game’s unsettling horror - such as visions, auditory hallucinations, and even some psychological tricks - while experts praised the realistic depiction of the condition. It’s scary, but in a deeply tragic and humane way.

#17: “Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria Simulator” (2017)


By 2017, interest in the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” series was waning. It needed an injection of creativity and invention - and “Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria Simulator” proved just what the doctor ordered. This game unexpectedly took the franchise into business simulation, tasking the player with managing and maintaining a fictional pizzeria. While doing so, you must avoid the hostile animatronics that are set loose in the establishment. It’s during this section that some of your business decisions will either help or impede your progress. For example, accepting sponsorship offers will give your business more money but will later prove detrimental when loud advertisements play on the computer. It’s a wildly inventive game that horrifically blends business sim with the traditional creepiness of“Five Nights at Freddy’s”.

#16: “Inside” (2016)


“Inside” is the second game from Playdead, who gave us the brilliant “Limbo”; it’s something of a spiritual success, characterized by a similar art style and 2.5D gameplay. Taking control of an unnamed boy, players explore and traverse a monochromatic dystopian world while avoiding obstacles like security machines and hunting dogs. Should the boy die, the deaths are often depicted in a surprisingly realistic manner, which lends the game an unexpected grittiness. The world itself is also deeply unsettling thanks to the art design, general lack of sound, and some incredibly nasty creatures. Seriously, the Huddle has to be one of the most disturbing things we’ve ever seen in a video game. “Inside” isn’t so much “scary” as it is just deeply unnerving.

#15: “Alan Wake” (2010)


If “Twin Peaks” and Stephen King merged together, then “Alan Wake” would be the result. It tells the story of the titular Alan Wake, a novelist who tries to uncover his wife’s disappearance in the “Twin Peaks”-esque town of Bright Falls. Of course, the town’s name is largely ironic, as it is plagued by something called The Dark Presence, a shadowy force with seemingly impossible speed, super strength, invulnerability, and the ability to possess. It’s not bloody or gory or viscerally impacting, but there’s just something really creepy about being hunted and stalked by the darkness itself. Especially when it has the ability to turn the town’s inhabitants against you. Nothing makes you feel more alone. Or more powerless.

#14: “Dead Space 2” (2011)


Now if you want to talk viscerally impacting, let’s talk about “Dead Space 2!” The “Dead Space” series is the medium’s answer to the scary space stories of old. Space inherently makes for a terrifying setting – not only is it seemingly beyond human comprehension, but there’s literally nowhere more isolating. In short, it really gets the ol’ imagination going. And not in a fun way. Add in some Lovecraftian alien things and some truly disturbing body horror, and you have the living nightmare that is “Dead Space 2.” We didn’t think it could get much scarier than the first game. This proved us wrong.

#13: “Layers of Fear” (2016)


Developed by the oddly named Bloober Team, “Layers of Fear” is a psychological horror game that takes its cues and influences from the independent horror titles of the early decade. More on that later. You play as a mentally disturbed artist who is trying to paint his masterpiece but who keeps getting distracted by puzzles and an ever-changing mansion. As you do. Like most psychological games, “Layers of Fear” places most of its horror within the mind and forces us to evaluate what is and isn’t real. As such, it asks us to share in the protagonist’s surreal experience, even if that’s something we don’t necessarily want to do. The persistent jump scares and disturbing visions don’t help much.

#12: “Until Dawn” (2015)


“Until Dawn” is one of the PlayStation 4’s most unique exclusives. It serves as an interactive, choose your own adventure style of game, as the choices you make directly impact the story and characters. The story takes its influence from a wide variety of horror styles, starting as a creepy slasher in the vein of “Friday the 13th” before transitioning to a more fantastical tale involving wendigos and Native American curses. Of course, much of the horror derives from the nature of those stories. But the stress of keeping your characters alive and trying to make the best decisions possible also adds an element of unpredictability that helps keep the game fresh and relentlessly nerve-racking.

#11: “The Evil Within” (2014)


Being a third person horror title directed by Shinji Mikami, “The Evil Within” was bound to be compared to the “Resident Evil” series. But while the latter primarily focuses on B-movie thrills like zombies, mutants, and parasites, “The Evil Within” is far more psychological and disturbing. It’s themes were more in line with “Silent Hill” than “Resident Evil,” complete with a troubled protagonist, otherworldly locations, a general nightmarish tone, and a story so bizarre and bonkers it’ll have you genuinely questioning the sobriety of its creators. And who can forget the grotesque enemies such as Quell, Laura, and everyone’s favorite, The Keeper? It’s deeply disturbing, but also incredibly rewarding.

#10: “Condemned: Criminal Origins” (2005)


“Condemned” is basically the video game equivalent of “Seven.” You play as an SCU investigator named Ethan Hunt who must study and analyze crime scenes to catch serial killers. And much like “Seven,” the game’s setting of Metro is visually dark, seedy, and repressive -almost as if the city is an embodiment of the violence and depravity within it. As if that’s not scary enough, Ethan suffers from visual hallucinations, each episode more unbelievable and deeply unsettling than the last. The game is a hideous combination of inventive jump scares, unimaginable perversion, brutal melee combat, and surreal visuals. “Condemned” isn’t “played” so much as it’s lived in and experienced.

#9: “The Last of Us Part II” (2020)


May we just say one thing - the Rat King can go right to Hell. Like its predecessor, “The Last of Us Part II” involves sections made up of pitch black hallways, distant clicks and screams, and many disgusting visuals. But it’s not just the visuals that make “The Last of Us Part II” so unnerving. It’s the game’s general atmosphere. Unlike its predecessor, there are very few, if any, lighthearted moments to be found. It’s just unending hatred and horrific violence, including the most brutal and realistic death animations we’ve ever seen in a video game. Devastating, uncomfortable and downright exhausting, this sequel will stick to you long after the end credits roll.

#8: “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem” (2002)


“Eternal Darkness” is a definite standout within the Nintendo library. Released exclusively on the GameCube and published by Nintendo, “Eternal Darkness” was the esteemed publishers’ attempt at going mature. And what a resounding success it was! Most of the game’s scares stem from its “sanity effects,” a highly unique mechanic in which the game essentially trolls the player. Some examples include pretending to change TV inputs, fake-deleting your save files, clearing your inventory, and disconnecting your controller. This, of course, was in addition to various character-specific and environmental effects. The end result is unlike anything seen in a video game before, and it greatly aids in both interactivity and immersion within the story. “Sanity’s Requiem”... will have you questioning your own.

#7: “Resident Evil 7: Biohazard” (2017)


A lot was riding on “Resident Evil 7.” “Resident Evil 5” was considered a bit of a disappointment after the masterpiece that was “4,” and “6” was just…well, let’s not talk about “6.” Now taking cues from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Resident Evil 7” came barrelling out the gate, and it did not hold back! From the unnerving atmosphere of the Baker family residence, alongside disturbing boss battles and gruesome sequences we can’t show here, “7” brought the scares, both psychological and visceral. There may not have been a familiar face in sight until the very end, but this game singlehandedly brought the franchise back from the brink of extinction. (xref) “Resident Evil 2” only solidified Capcom’s miraculous redemption.

#6: “Alien: Isolation” (2014)


Finally – FINALLY! – we got an “Alien” game in keeping with the first movie’s tone. Most “Alien” titles have followed in the bombast of James Cameron’s “Aliens,” and that’s fine. But a lot of the franchise’s fans were clamoring for a more atmospheric and claustrophobic experience in keeping with Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, and Creative Assembly delivered. There are few video games as stressful and anxiety-inducing as this, as you are persistently hunted by the titular alien and left utterly powerless to defend yourself against it. Yes, there are defensive techniques, but most of your time will be spent cowering under tables or holding your breath in a locker as the alien stomps and sniffs around outside. We didn’t think our hearts could beat that fast.

#5: “P.T.” (2014)


We may never forgive Konami for what they did to “P.T.” If you’ve been living under a rock for the last five years, “P.T.” was a playable teaser (hence the initials) for a new “Silent Hill” game. This could have been the greatest horror game ever released – not only was it being co-directed by Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, but the demo alone was scarier and more impactful than most AAA horror games. This demo was a masterclass in horror, creating tension like nothing else and cycling through a wide variety of horror styles, each of which were well integrated and deliriously terrifying. It’s a masterpiece of supernatural horror, and it will never again see the light of day.

#4: “Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly” (2003)


The first “Fatal Frame” was certainly scary, but “Crimson Butterfly” is on a whole other level. This game is quite possibly the greatest representation of J-horror within the video game medium. The gameplay largely centers around exploring an abandoned village and exorcizing its ghosts and demons with your magic camera. The village has a delightfully spooky atmosphere, and the game forces you to literally confront your fears by interacting with the ghosts rather than running or hiding from them. And while all this is going on, the player’s sister Mayu is overcome with some type of malicious force, making the whole thing feel deeply personal. There’s simply no other ghost game like “Fatal Frame II.”

#3: “Outlast” (2013)


“Outlast” helped define the independent horror surge of the early 2010s. Developed and published by Red Barrels, this game had you playing as a journalist who travels to a seemingly abandoned insane asylum to uncover the truth about inhumane experiments. The gameplay is relatively simplistic, as it mostly consists of walking around, running away from enemies, and hiding under beds. Most of the game’s mastery lies in its execution. It preys on our intrinsic fears of the dark, of being chased and hunted, and of being helpless against an enemy who wishes to do us harm. It’s amazing what Red Barrels managed to do with such limiting gameplay, and it helped revolutionize the way horror games were made throughout the decade.

#2: “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” (2010)


The legacy of “Amnesia” cannot be overstated. It kickstarted the independent horror craze of the early 2010s, and its gameplay mechanics and general style were heavily copied throughout the decade. The game has you control a man named Daniel as he explores a dark and foreboding castle, solves intricate puzzles, and hides from deformed and nightmarish creatures that literally cause him to go insane. Never before had a game focused so heavily on sheer survival, and few have made the player feel so alone and vulnerable. You may begin questioning your own sanity by the time the credits roll, never mind Daniel’s. It’s a masterful example of the survival horror genre, and it remains one of the scariest games ever made.

#1: “Silent Hill 2” (2001)


It’s certainly worth debating, but “Silent Hill 2” may just be the perfect horror video game. It combines essentially every element of horror into one nerve-racking package, ensuring that not even the most resilient gamer can come out unaffected. There are the visceral scares inherent to otherworldly monsters, creepy abandoned towns, and the game’s grimy, foggy atmosphere; from a gameplay and visual perspective, “Silent Hill 2” is terrifying. But then there’s the psychological aspect, including the game’s metaphorical use of Pyramid Head, the Bubble Head Nurses and the horrific integration of James’s wife, Mary. The game gets in your head and stays there, forcing you to contemplate and confront its numerous horrors, both real and allegorical. It’s a stunningly effective piece of horror.
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