Fear is one of the many things that push us to progress, regardless of whether or not we’re ready to move forward. Video games have been capturing that riveting emotion for years now — and it’s always made up for some petrifying fun. Even when we’re not mentally prepared to march through the shadowy abyss — we still grit our teeth and tiptoe towards it anyway. Of course, we often ask ourselves why we choose to immerse in such horrifying tales that leave us backpedalling through mind-bending questions, but the truth is — we all love the concept of horror. We live for the intrigue, and we pursue it as if every moment is an unsolved riddle.
Okay, so not everybody is a die-hard fan of psychological horrors. Many of us would much rather settle into a simple hack and slash quest with very little emotional involvement. But we’re not here to justify the differences between two genres. We’re here to drag up some of the most thought-provoking horror games we’ve seen in the past few years. You know, the types of games that really make you stop and evaluate the story post-credits as you stare at your own reflection in awe. Those are the types of games that we want to talk about. Just don’t forget to switch out the lights before you sink in.
5. Blair Witch
Have you ever felt like you’re going around in circles? Well, if you’ve played Blair Witch — then you probably experienced this at least a hundred times or more. That’s sort of the selling point to the video game adaptation of the horror icon: to make you feel like you’re losing your mind. And, with a camouflaged woodland terrain resting as the grounds to your journey — you’re most definitely going to get lost along the way — both literally and mentally.
Blair Witch puts you in the shoes of an ex-police officer, Ellis, who is enrolled in a desperate search for a missing boy. However, as you step through the misty greenery of Black Hills forest, you soon start to find yourself losing sight of the outside world. With only a checklist of uncharted territories to explore — it is up to you to push forward and decipher the unsettling timeline of events that took place in the hills. But come night, you might just struggle to find anything at all. Are you ready to enter the treacherous world of the wicked witch?
4. Alan Wake
Although not exactly nightmarish — Alan Wake definitely deserves a place on this list for its originality. Unlike many horror games that focus purely on either narrative or action, Alan Wake tends to combine the two and concoct a powerful experience that no other developer has been able to recreate. Even the story alone is worthy of an awards cabinet, and we don’t mean that lightly, either. Without a doubt, Alan Wake truly is a masterpiece for its generation.
So, what is it about? Well, to put it short — it’s about an author. An author, who is questionable at best, that takes a trip to a place called Bright Falls with his fiancé to help clear his two-year writer’s block. However, upon arrival, the renowned horror writer begins to enter trance-like phases that allow him to see otherworldly visions and shadowy creatures. The writing hiatus comes to a close, and the chapters soon begin to pour out of the trembling hands of one paranoid author. But how does the story end? Is there a moral hidden deep within the waves of Bright Falls? Or, is every word a simple trick of the mind?
3. The Evil Within
Going back to the whole walking around in circles thing, and we’re looking at another credible hit. The Evil Within, although taking a serious case of influences from the likes of Silent Hill and Resident Evil, is a horror game that exaggerates psychological elements by a whole new degree. It also has a whole bunch of disturbing creatures and level designs, too. But we’re mainly focusing on the thought-provoking pieces that string this game together flawlessly. That’s pretty much where the money is.
The Evil Within follows the bleak story of Detective Sebastian Castellanos, who is summoned to Beacon Mental Hospital to investigate a mass murder scene that took place several hours prior. However, after the detective and partners are separated in the lobby, the only choice left available is to delve deeper into the bloodstained wards in search of answers. Only, things aren’t quite as they seem at face value. Beacon Mental Hospital homes a lot more than patients — and it’s about time you discovered them for yourself. Just don’t expect to find the exit so easily.
While a jump scare or two can often work wonders to the unexpected player — it isn’t always the answer to creating the ideal unsettling atmosphere. SOMA, although featuring a couple of cheap scares itself, is a perfect example of how to build a powerful atmosphere while not having to resort to endless scare tactics to provide an ambience. That’s not something every developer can pull off — but Frictional Games managed to execute it beautifully. And, what’s more, is that SOMA really does leave you on the edge of your seat even thirty minutes after the credits roll.
Throwing you into the pits of a deep-sea expedition, you are tasked with wading through a decaying research facility in search of answers to its questionable origins. However, with an ocean of machinery cradling eternal life and interfering with your investigation, you are left with little choice but to interact with the voices that still haunt the old facility. Sadly, it isn’t only machinery with human-like characteristics that still wander the waters. There is much more to PATHOS-II than meets the eye, that’s for sure.
1. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
When it comes to intensive research during the pre-production phases of a game — Ninja Theory have it in the bag. Why? Well, if you’ve managed to scoop up Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice since its 2017 launch, then you’ll understand exactly how much work went into exploring the lore behind Norse mythology and mental illnesses. And, that’s sort of why we’re compelled to plaster Hellblade all over our number one spot on this list. Gameplay-wise, it’s engaging and bittersweet. But psychologically — it’s genuinely disturbing and downright mind-bending.
While exploring the rather risky subject of mental illnesses, Ninja Theory seriously did manage to tackle the topic and provide a spectacular experience that’s not only enticing — but surprisingly educational, too. The voices that hover over your head and guide you through the eerily-quiet depths of hell itself are enough to make your bones rattle. The masterfully-placed shadows and thought-provoking puzzles that scatter over the lands, and every nook and cranny of the ashen-filled terrain; it’s all enough to make your skin crawl and brain frazzle. But hey, we’re living for it. Just be sure to play with headphones if you do happen to pick it up. You won’t regret it.