Horror has always been a huge genre in video games. However, psychological horror seems to have recently seen a surge in popularity with a torrent of new titles to pick from. So, if you’re looking to enter into a world of fear, disgust, oddities, and terror that’ll have you crawling back for more, check out this list of great games, new and old.
1. Silent Hill
This is, arguably, where it all started. When asked to recall one of the first psychological horror franchises out there, many people would probably reply Silent Hill, and for good reason. With its fear-instilling atmospheres, limited visuals, and horrendous monsters, it’s no question that Silent Hill is a game about internal conflict and psychological breakdown.
The first installment of the series follows Harry Mason who stumbles upon the mysterious town of Silent Hill while searching for his missing daughter. While doing so, he encounters a cult that is conducting a ritual to revive their deity. Although the first game is certainly memorable and one I would advise, the second game in the franchise, Silent Hill 2, is probably the best in the series.
2. Layers of Fear
Layers of Fear is a franchise from Bloober Team, a polish developer, that, at this point, has a handful of psychological horror games under their belt. In Layers of Fear, the player controls a painter who is trying to complete his magnum opus, the focal point of which is his late wife. To do this, the player navigates a Victorian mansion, uncovering disturbing secrets along the way while the painter becomes more and more unhinged.
The beauty of this game is not only in the graphics and story but in how the game plays with your own mind. When you walk through a door to turn around and find a wall instead, you feel exactly how the character feels: confused, deranged, and just a little mad. And these cuts are seamless; you don’t expect them which only heightens the tension and makes you stay on your toes from start to finish.
This team has also brought to us Layers of Fear 2 which, despite the name, does not continue the same narrative as the first. Although it’s not as good as the first game, it’s still a wonderful play and I would highly recommend it as well.
If you’re a fan of Blade Runner or George Orwell’s 1984, you’ll be interested in this game. Another game from Bloober Team, this one delves into a cyberpunk world ravaged by a digital plague that has caused widespread war and drug use.
After the latest war, Chiron, a megacorporation in Poland, took control of the government and created a police unit known as the Observers who can hack into people’s minds. You play as one of these Observers, Daniel Lazarski. Daniel receives a mysterious call from his estranged son, Adam, and traces the call to a run-down tenement building housing drug and hologram addicts. Making his way through the derelict hallways, Daniel finds his son’s apartment but also a corpse. The body is missing a head, so Daniel has no way of knowing if this is, in fact, Adam or one of the other degenerates living in the building. To make matters worse, upon discovering the body, the building goes into lockdown, trapping not only Daniel in the building but also the killer.
4. Amnesia: The Dark Descent (and all of its iterations)
Amnesia: The Dark Descent places the player in the empty halls of the Prussian Brennenburg Castle. Playing as Daniel, a young man from London who has amnesia, the player finds a note written by Daniel himself informing the player that Daniel deliberately erased his memories. On top of this, Daniel is being hunted by an unearthly presence that manifests itself in fleshy growths throughout the castle. The letter instructs Daniel to venture further into the castle to find and kill its baron. As Daniel explores the castle, he learns more about his past and the demented mysteries revolving around the castle.
Amnesia is another one of those franchises that is super popular, and for good reason. This franchise knows how to make the player feel helpless and powerless as they encounter hostile monsters while trying to stay sane. On top of this, if you like this game, there are a few others in the same franchise that you can check out and an upcoming game potentially being released this year.
What better way to get you into the psychological horror feels than a game featuring a psychiatric hospital and inhumane experimentation? Well, that’s exactly what you’re going to get with Outlast.
An investigative journalist by the name of Miles Upshur receives an anonymous email detailing that inhuman experiments are taking place at Mount Massive Asylum which happens to be run by a corporation notoriously known for being unethical. Hoping to find a big scoop, Miles breaks into the Asylum only to discover the mutilated corpses of the staff. He manages to find one of the personnel still living who tells him that the source of all this death is because the deranged inmates were set loose and are now roaming the grounds. Unfortunately, Miles can’t exit the way he entered so he’s forced to find an alternative route that leads him deeper into the Asylum.
6. Pathologic 2
Pathologic was a weird game and not very good. Pathologic 2 is also weird, but this one is actually playable. Pathologic 2 is odd and very unsettling, the perfect combo for a psychological horror game.
In Pathologic 2, you play as Artemy Burakh, a surgeon who is also known as the Haruspex. For the past few years, Artemy has been away from his hometown studying medicine. However, when he receives a letter from his father asking for him to return to help with the great difficulties coming their way, Artemy drops everything to head home. His journey home is odd, with Artemy experiencing several strange visions. To make matters worse, upon arriving home, three locals attempt to kill him. A few strangers in plague doctor suits inform Artemy that the locals suspect him of killing an important figure in town. Artemy is forced to figure out just what is going on and try to prove his innocence in a town that’s going insane.
7. Penumbra: Overture
Penumbra: Overture is the first game in a series of horror games that are well-known for their excellent atmosphere, audio, and story. So, if you find this game intriguing, there’s two more you’ll be interested in playing as well.
Set in the far-flung past of 2001, the game places you in the shoes of a psychiatrist, Philip, whose mother recently passed away. A mysterious letter from his supposedly dead father leads Philip on a hunt for clues that guide him to Greenland. However, the harsh climate forces Philip to halt his search in preference for finding shelter. Luckily, he finds an abandoned mine; unluckily, the mine’s entrance collapses after he enters. With no way back, Philip is forced to venture deeper into the mine where he finds a diary of a scientist who resorted to eating cave spiders and was changed because of the psychoactive toxins in the spiders. At the same time, Philip begins getting radio messages from a man named Red who was driven mad by cabin fever. With little choice, Philip descends deeper into the mines searching for Red and discovering secrets revolving around the former and current inhabitants of the mine.
Soma has a wonderful way of setting up chilling atmospheres, along with some very good plot twists. It’s a scary game and one that’ll have you questioning what it means to be human.
Simon Jarrett survives a car crash but sustains severe brain damage. Because of this, Simon agrees to undergo an experimental brain scan. However, during the brain scan, something goes wrong and Simon blacks out only to regain consciousness in an abandoned underwater research center. Exploring the station, Simon establishes radio contact with a woman, Catherine Chun, who reveals to him that Simon has woken in 2104, a year after a comet destroyed Earth, and he stands in the last outpost of humanity. Catherine instructs Simon to find his way to Lambda Site, forcing Simon to venture further into the station. While he explores the station, Simon encounters robots that believe they are human along with monstrous hostiles.
9. Hellblade: Sensua’s Sacrifice
Hellblade is a novel psychological game because it showcases a mental disorder in a way that isn’t demeaning but instead uses elements of this disorder to expand the horror and cause you to really get into the protagonist’s head.
Senua, a Pict warrior from the late 8th century, arrives at the border of Helheim in a quest to save the soul of her late lover, Dillion. In order to do this, Senua will have to confront the goddess Hela herself. Senua also suffers from a schizophrenic disorder, however, she believes it is a curse and that she hears “Furies.” These Furies comment on her every action and one acts as a Narrator who often talks directly to the player. To save Dillion, she carries his severed head to Helheim, but, in order to enter, she must defeat multiple monstrous foes and eventually, face Hela herself in her own domain.
10. Those Who Remain
Those Who Remain has some beautiful graphics, but its greatest accomplishment is in the way the game creates tense atmospheres and plays with your head. Pile on the fact that the game allows for choices that lead to multiple endings, and you’ve got a psychological horror game that is easily replayable.
The small, American town of Dormont is generally unsuspecting from the outside but has been cursed by a demon and shrouded the town in darkness. The town’s inhabitants have no way of escaping or contacting the outside. You play as Edward Turner who is probably the unluckiest man alive. Visiting Dormont at the wrong time, you soon find that there are monstrous creatures lurking in the supernatural darkness, killing indiscriminately. The only way to survive is to stay in the light.