Best survival horror games – start stockpiling your herbs, it’s gonna get scary
Like any genre of video game in 2022, the definition of survival horror is pretty fluid. We think the best survival horror games all have a few key elements in common, however.
They all make you feel intensely, uncomfortably vulnerable. This means that, as scary as your favorite shooter may be, your ability to eviscerate enemies with a brief burst of LMB rules it out of the genre. You are brittle.
You are also often totally under-prepared and ill-equipped. Managing the rare items around you and turning them into survival tools is a big part of the genre, of Resi‘s famous herbs at the Macgyvered Arsenal of Alien: Isolation.
There must be something specific and unique about its sense of place and the events taking place there as well. Resident Evil 2 gets a goodbye on such a generic premise as “zombies take over a city” to popularize and define the whole genre, but subsequent games have all had to work harder, searching beneath every part of our psyche a new combination of place and situation that we didn’t know we were afraid of.
Here are ten of the best titles for doing just that. Here are six handgun bullets, a broken flashlight and a camera. Go for it.
It was a big step forward in changing the perspective from third to first person in Resident Evil 7but in the end, it revitalized a series that, let’s be honest, was getting a bit silly until then. Town once again, the action is uncomfortably close in first-person, but expands the area far beyond the Baker family’s rather messy abode.
The titular village is a snowy Eastern European environment, dominated by the great lady Dimitrescu and her daughters in a not at all ominous castle. Turns out it’s not the best place to Resist 7 surviving Ethan to start a new life. A little too much lycanthropy in this part of the country.
It is the harshness of your situation that affects you. Alone on an abandoned spaceship whose every element seems to resemble a xenomorph in silhouette, you are relentlessly hunted down by a most fearsome movie monster. There is simply no downtime. Saving your game is a stressful experience. Walk down a hallway. Turn on a light. Everything is torture.
But you continue. Because Alien: Isolation gets the fine details of Ridley Scott’s movie sets so to the right, you can’t help but explore the next room, marveling at 70s futurism, hoping maybe – just maybe – that beyond that next door is Dallas and the gang.
Are we our minds or our bodies? SOMA wants us to think about this. A lot and quite hard. That’s what really sets it apart from Pewdiepie fodder elsewhere in the genre, an ambitious determination to find the scary in our own philosophical ruminations instead of a dark figure making a loud noise.
It’s almost a shame that there are, in fact, both dark silhouettes and loud noises aboard the unsettling research facility you find yourself in. of training day on a USB key that really gives chills.
Older than dirt, though System Shock 2 is still able to get under your skin and do untold things to nerve endings. It’s a classic piece of Ken Levine storytelling — cocky adversary, environmental storytelling via voice logs and wall doodles — set on an abandoned spaceship called the Von Braun. Popular locations for survival horror, those.
Not only is it incredibly creepy – rogue AI turning all the ship’s technology against you, indulging in long smug monologues, bizarre mutated creatures stalking you from room to room – it’s also mechanically free-form, you allowing Heath Robinson to experiment and your way to safety…for the next few moments.
Amnesia really set a pattern for scaring people, but it’s TheChineseRoom’s take on that pattern that proves the value of detail in horror. It starts in familiar territory. You wander through a spooky Victorian-era mansion, re-enacting who and where you are from echoing monologues. Then it takes a turn for…well, the piggy.
As if we weren’t scared enough already of Piggsy legends in Rockstar games, A machine for pigs find something so frightening in Victorian industrialism, our white-meat mammalian cousins and being alone and disoriented is almost too much. Almost.
For many people, the horror of survival begins and ends here. Even before a visually stunning remake that modernized everything from the cameras to the controls while retaining the atmosphere and sense of place, this game had long since become iconic.
Zombies, a police station where the cops have presumably passed the time by creating ever more convoluted puzzles, neatly plucked haircuts, and a huge spider we still see every time we close our eyes. Absolute perfection of survival horror.
Paintings usually aren’t the scariest material on the horror game designer’s slate. However, when you look at these paintings a) alone, b) in a Victorian mansion, hello again my old friend, c) through the eyes of a deranged painter who became obsessed with creating his magnum opus and d) while intermittently hallucinating horrible things… well, it adds up. Layers of fear isn’t big on inventory management and the like, but it’s blazing with fresh ideas and a thick atmosphere.
Many survival horror games have an element of police procedurals. These are the cops who would naturally arrive at the scene of a supernatural event, if you think about it. Corn Phasmophobia takes this idea further. You’re a co-operative team of highly skilled supernatural investigators, bundled up in a van, settling into a haunted house in the dead of night, and putting your instruments to work.
Best of all, ghosting is actually quite rare, so there are long speaker pauses while you’re using all your audio and visual gear, and getting nothing. Then: all of a sudden, you all make a noise that you promise later never to talk about again. It’s here.
Before resident Evil reinvented itself as a first-person horror and old games revamp project, The Evil Within took up the torch. Resi creator Shinji Mikami has taken his knack for singular, unsettling enemy design and psychologically draining pacing and applied it in an all-new IP. One with too many limbs, permanent pools of blood everywhere, and horrible passages of being chased by huge supernatural butchers. It’s a lot. History is a freewheeling jamboree of barely comprehensible and enjoyable absurdities, but it’s the stories that unfold between you and your pursuers, in the moment, that you remember.
Survive to follows that grand cinematic tradition where you scream and plead with the on-screen character for the series of inconceivably stupid decisions they make in the run up to their inevitable demise. We understand that you are a journalist. You want to know the truth about what is happening in this abandoned asylum where you heard about unethical and inhuman experiences. But can he wait until morning?
No, apparently it can’t. I guess we’ll be relying on our camera’s impossibly short-range night vision to navigate this labyrinthine setup of, at best, travel hazards, and at worst, murderous psychopaths. Sound plan.
Written by Phil Iwaniuk on behalf of GLHF.