The 2010s were an up and down decade for horror. The genre was largely on life support as we entered the decade, although a few true horror classics like Alan Wake and Dead Space 2 managed to slip past the horror-hating powers that be. Thankfully, things began to turn around with the release of great games like The Last of Us, Alien: Isolation, and Outlast and the success of Resident Evil 7 cemented it – horror was back and here to stay. As we enter 2020 the genre looks as strong as ever, with several major titles like The Last of Us Part II and Resident Evil 3 set to be released, but before we get to that, it’s time to cautiously run down the best horror games of this past decade…
Dead Space 2 (2011)
Dead Space 2 is one of all the all-time great survival-horror sequels, up there with the likes of Silent Hill 2 and Resident Evil 2. The game not only retains the unique sci-fi setting, bristling tension, and gruesome limb-slicing action that made the original Dead Space such a thrilling treat, but expands the winning formula with new Necromorphs, weapons, and some truly pulse-pounding set pieces. Dead Space 2 also delivers an ambitious narrative, showing us exactly how protagonist Isaac Clarke has been affected by the horrors he experienced in the first game. Precious few survival horror sequels attempt that. Dead Space has often been compared to Aliens, but that movie never got a follow up this good.
Resident Evil 7 (2017)
Resident Evil 7 is a true masterclass in survival horror game design. The opening hours of Resident Evil 7 are a fantastic white-knuckle creep show that proved Capcom could stand toe-to-toe (and even one-up) the hip new indie horror games on the block. As the game continues, Capcom beautifully weaves in elements from across the RE series, introducing ammo management and green herb hoarding to a whole new generation. Resident Evil 7 is a reinvention and redemption for the franchise, returning it to its rightful position as the survival horror measuring stick. Will Capcom top themselves with the next mainline RE game? Fingers crossed.
Alan Wake (2010)
Alan Wake is a landmark horror game in terms of character and worldbuilding. Developer Remedy Entertainment aimed to recreate the kind of intimate detail that make Stephen King’s best books stick with you many years after you read them, and, for the most part, they succeeded. The game’s creepy Twin-Peaks-esque town is still one of the most memorable horror playgrounds ever created. In addition to weaving a top-notch story, Alan Wake serves up simple, yet exciting action that avoids the stilted controls that plagued a lot of horror games at the time. There’s a reason fans are still howling for an Alan Wake sequel a decade after its release.
P.T. may have been simple, but the teaser for Hideo Kojima’s sadly-cancelled Silent Hills was hauntingly effective. Really, it’s P.T.’s simplicity that makes it so special, as the amount of mileage it gets out of a single room, hallway, and door is amazing. Rather than focusing on blood, guts, and action, the demo piles on the nightmare-like atmosphere and layer upon layer of secrets. Hell, dedicated fans are still discovering secrets about the demo to this day (turns out the ghost of Lisa was following you the entire time). One can only imagine what the full Silent Hills would have been like -- here’s hoping Kojima finally gets around to making it (or something similar) someday.
Outlast borrowed notes from a handful of other indie horror games of the early 2010s (most notably Amnesia: The Dark Descent), but set itself apart by turning the intensity up another few notches. Forget going to 11 – this game goes to 12 or 13. Outlast doesn’t feature any sort of weapons or combat, but it certainly doesn’t skimp on action, as you’re constantly running, hiding, and generally scrambling for your life. Few horror games are as good at simultaneously delivering atmosphere and a constant sense of urgency and forward momentum. Outlast is a roller coaster that’s still capable of throwing even the most hardened horror fans for a loop.
Dying Light (2015)
Dying Light didn’t necessarily make a huge splash when it was first released, but over the past four years the open-world zombie game has received countless free updates and meaty paid add-ons like The Following expansion, which have transformed the game into one of the deepest and most satisfying sandbox experiences currently available. In addition to being a great example of a “live service” game done right, Dying Light will fry your nerves. Sure, getting around by day is fine, but trying to survive at nighttime is a properly intense experience. If you’re into zombies at all, you need to play this game.
It isn’t easy to build and tension with just text and limited mostly-static images, but the cult-classic visual novel Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (or “999” for the sake of expediency) does exactly that. 999 kicks off the brilliant, mind-bending Zero Escape series, and while later entries went in more of a dark sci-fi direction, this first chapter definitely qualifies as horror.
999 has plenty of blood and gruesome descriptions of death and dismemberment, but it’s the world and aura of creepy uncertainty that writer/designer Kotaro Uchikoshi builds that really sets the game apart. I’ve played a lot of adventure games and visuals novels, but I don’t know that I’ve ever felt quite so immersed in a creator’s head before, and trust me, Uchikoshi’s mind is a weird and scary place.
Raging Loop (2017)
999 introduced the horror visual novel to a worldwide audience, but Raging Loop arguably takes the sub-genre to the next level. This game features great art, an ambitious twisted story, and some moments that will genuinely unnerve you. If 999 was mostly low-level creepy, Raging Loop is, at times, downright scary. Wccftech’s own Kai Powell certainly found the game to be suitably spine-tingling…
Raging Loop was one of those rare visual novels I simply couldn’t put down. From one loop to the next, I was enticed by Raging Loop’s slowly unravelling mysteries. While more of a guided experience than some other visual novels, Kemco has surprised me with a psychological thriller that easily ranks up there among the best games from Spike Chunsoft.
While some may prefer to give the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead the nod, in my opinion The Walking Dead: The Final Season actually delivers the more consistent, satisfying story. The release of The Final Season was overshadowed by the turmoil surrounding Telltale’s surprise bankruptcy, which is a shame, because it’s a nearly pitch-perfect finale (and tense as hell). Here’s what I had to say at the conclusion of The Final Season…
The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 4 wraps up seven years of undead drama in satisfying fashion, delivering genuinely moving character moments and meaningful, ultimately uplifting, observations about parenthood. The Final Season Episode 4 can be slightly exhausting, both emotionally and because of an overabundance of action scenes, but fans who have been with Clementine since the beginning won’t want to miss the final leg of her journey.
Alien: Isolation (2014)
Alien: Isolation was kind of a miracle. The game was developed by Creative Assembly, a studio that usually does PC strategy games, and followed a string of lousy Alien titles, and yet…it might just be the best-designed horror game of all time. You can cut the atmosphere in Alien: Isolation with a knife, as the game perfectly replicates the claustrophobic, grimy lived-in sci-fi world of Ridley Scott’s movie.
Every scene and set piece in Alien: Isolation builds on the last, with Creative Assembly wringing an incredible amount of tension from a single alien xenomorph and little things like the constant pinging of your janky motion tracker. Without giving too much away, this all culminates in amazing, edge-of-your-seat climax that will leave your hands sweaty and shaking. The fact that Alien: Isolation has never received a proper follow up is a crime, but then again…it seems very unlikely the game could be topped.
As mentioned, it wasn’t necessarily the strongest decade for horror, but there were some other big-name games worth mentioning, including Bloodborne, Until Dawn, The Evil Within and its sequel, the Metro games, and the Resident Evil 2 remake. Ultimately though, it was indies that really kept the genre alive, with games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Hotline Miami, Inside, Soma, Echo, and Layers of Fear all delivering unique chills. In recent years we’ve also seen an influx of Asian indie titles like Detention, Devotion, Death Mark, and The House in Fata Morgana which put interesting cultural twists on typical horror tropes. The 2010s provided plenty of scares for those willing to step out of their comfort zones.
So there you are, the best horror games of the decade. Of course, a decade is a long time, so I don’t doubt there are some games I’ve overlooked. What were your favorite scary games of the 2010s?