The constant improvements in console hardware and game engines have gone hand in hand with the rise in prominence of the horror genre, as the more immersive and realistic a horror game is, the more terrifying, and ultimately captivating it can be. Titles like Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Outlast 2, and Amnesia exemplify this, with their meticulous designs that have unsettled millions of players.
The increase in horror games’ realism has proven to be too much for some people, who find some of the latest releases too scary to enjoy, despite their interest in the horror genre. Thankfully for such gamers, there are numerous excellent games that have plenty of horror elements but don’t try to terrify their audience too much. What is and what isn’t scary is of course subjective, but for most people, these games will provide an experience that is intense, but never too frightening. A couple of these selections may not fit into horror in a “purist” sense, but manage to toe the line closely enough to necessitate inclusion.
10 Left 4 Dead 2
Valve’s sequel for Left 4 Dead was released in 2009 and offered one of the most enjoyable online multiplayer experiences of the decade. The game received an impressive Metascore of 89, with praise being directed towards the game’s enemy variety and fast-paced action.
For numerous years, Left 4 Dead 2 was one of the many Valve titles that had players desperate for a third entry; Left 4 Dead 3 still seems to be more of a dream than a reality, but there has been confirmation of a spiritual successor, Back 4 Blood.
9 Alan Wake
Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake was released exclusively on the Xbox 360 in 2010 before coming to PC in 2012. The gameplay took clear inspiration from Capcom’s iconic Resident Evil 4 while adding an interesting offensive mechanic that let players startle enemies with the use of a light source.
Alan Wake‘s combat isn’t what made the game stand out though, it was its incredible narrative. Inspired by American novelist Stephen King, the game’s story is a supernatural mystery that will have players scratching their heads from chapter to chapter. In terms of the game’s fear factor, Alan Wake is fairly vanilla in its entirety, though there is a jumpscare towards the end of the game that easily frightened players should prepare for.
8 DOOM 3
Along with 007 GoldenEye, the original DOOM is one of the most influential first-person shooters in the genre’s history. Truth be told, any DOOM game could have featured on this list, but DOOM 3 takes the cake as it is debatable whether the other titles can even be classed as horror.
Despite having the most horror elements, DOOM 3 still isn’t a particularly scary game due to how powerful the protagonist is, and how easily he can mow down hordes of enemies. In a sense, the DOOM franchise is more of a horror game for the enemies than it is for the protagonist.
Unlike DOOM which has its fear factor reduced due to how powerful the playable character is, Bioshock‘s horror primarily comes from how powerful and intimidating the iconic Big Daddy enemies are.
Furthermore, it’s easy to forget just how unsettling it is when the player descends into rapture and realizes that they’re going to be fighting for their lives as they watch a splicer kill a man right in front of them at the start of the game. Although these two factors are undoubtedly intense, the game shouldn’t be too worrisome for those concerned about the game being overly scary.
6 The Last of Us
It’s easy to forget now, but many people were dismissive of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us before it had even released. The reason why people were so skeptical was that there had been a huge influx of zombie/infected films, video games, and books releasing around the time, and people were becoming sick of them. So when the trailer for The Last of Us dropped, there were many moans and groans from people who assumed that the game would just be an Uncharted clone looking to cash-in on the zombie hype.
This view sounds comical in hindsight, as the game did of course go on to be one of the most beloved of its generation. The Last of Us has its fair share of intense moments, but the game never gets too scary. Truth be told, the game’s true horror comes from the way that the characters are affected by the post-apocalyptic world, rather than the post-apocalyptic world itself.
5 The Walking Dead
The first episode of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead released in April 2012 and, much like the comic book series that it is based on, gripped audiences with its powerful and emotional storytelling. The game won numerous awards for its narrative, including Outstanding Achievement in Story from the D.I.C.E. Awards.
Much like The Last of Us, The Walking Dead has a nightmarish post-apocalyptic setting, but it never gets too scary due to the game’s primary focus being on the human impact of the outbreak. Moreover, the game features a comic-like aesthetic, which not only looks fantastic but also makes the zombies look less frightening.
The debate as to which is the best Soulsborne game is one that is never likely to be settled, with Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Dark Souls 3 being the frontrunners in many people’s eyes. One thing that most Soulsborne fans can agree on, however, is that Bloodborne has the best setting.
Bloodborne is, of course, an aRPG at its core — buts its gothic aesthetic coupled with its almost directly Lovecraftian narrative and creature design form a compelling case for viewing through a “horror” lens. Even so, players are more likely to find themselves admiring the world’s design rather than being frightened by it. Along with the more offensive combat, Bloodborne‘s setting is what differentiates FromSoftware’s game from its Dark Souls counterpart.
3 Silent Hill 2
The highly anticipated sequel to Silent Hill was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2001 and set a new standard for storytelling in horror games. The game features six different endings, each of which is just about as ambiguous as the other. It’s not just the game’s overarching narrative that earns Silent Hill 2 a spot among gaming’s best story-driven games though, it’s also the way that many of the game’s encounters and enemies are symbolic of the protagonist’s interpersonal feelings.
Silent Hill 2 does become increasingly unsettling as it progresses, but much of the game’s horror has been lessened as years have passed due to the game showing its age.
2 Dead Space 2
Dead Space 2 is the third game on this list that is heavily inspired by the iconic Resident Evil series, along with Silent Hill 2 and Alan Wake. The game’s primary similarities to Capcom’s classic are the similar camera perspective, as well as the impressive enemy variety, with each having certain strengths and weaknesses that players need to exploit to survive.
Dead Space 2 is certainly an intense game, especially due to how tough some of the enemies can be; but the protagonist is just about strong enough to never make the game feel too overwhelmingly frightening. Moreover, like many games on this list, Dead Space 2 utilizes a third-person perspective, which is inherently less scary than first-person.
1 Resident Evil 4
The original Resident Evil was released back in 1996 and has since become recognized as one of the most influential survival horror games of all time. Following numerous successful releases that followed the winning formula of the first game, the series began to become stale with the fifth main series release: Resident Evil – Code: Veronica. Capcom clearly took the criticisms of Code: Veronica to heart, as they drastically changed the direction of their iconic series with the sixth main series Resident Evil title, Resident Evil 4.
The game made two key changes to the series, namely the camera perspective and heavier focus on action. The decision was clearly a wise one, as Resident Evil 4 is today recognized as one of the greatest games of all time. The heavier focus on action makes the game inherently less frightening than its predecessor’s, with the first time the player encounters a Regenerator being one of the game’s few unsettling moments.