The distinction between survival and survival horror is a little muddled.

Are you looking for the scariest games? If you like jump scares, interactive fiction, thematically fascinating stories, or big men chasing you with a chainsaw, we’ve got a list of games that will hopefully scare the heck out of you.

We tried to concentrate on a number of horror experiences that still hold up well today, similar to our lists of best strategy games, best FPS games, and best free PC games, but we’ve extended the remit slightly to include a few retro curios as well. Check out our complete list of the best games to play right now for more details.

Phasmophobia is a fear of heights.

This community detective game is all the rage on Twitch, and Rich calls it “the best ghost game ever made.” Using an EMF reader, UV torch, and other instruments, you’ll explore haunted locations with other players to ascertain the identity of the supernatural force involved—imagine the ghost hunting shows on TV.

If you want to be scared, read nothing else and go figure it out with some buddies if you’ve managed to avoid seeing anyone else play this Early Access phenomenon so far. It’s best if you can both learn and be tormented by ghosts at the same time.

After decades of horror games, Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 2 does something that almost seems impossible: it makes zombies scary again. The shambling horde appears to be unstoppable lumps of sluggish, shambling flesh that smash through doors, spill through windows, and just keep on coming. This is a clever reimagining of one of Resident Evil’s most popular locations, as well as a return to the survival horror theme that made the franchise famous. It’s a treat for fans of the first film, but it’s also a competent and clever horror game in its own right.

Resident Evil 7—especially the creepy first half—remains a grisly treat if you prefer your scares in first-person.

Take command.

Remedy’s new excels at surreal bureaucratic dread. It’s not horror in the typical sense—undeads, gore, teenagers making bad decisions—but it is horror in the sense of surreal bureaucratic dread. As the new director of the Bureau of Control, you must investigate a sinister, changing office full of possessed employees, enigmatic power items, and The Board—an eerie inverted pyramid that talks almost entirely in synonyms. And, oh, if you just want to be terrified, just watch an episode of Threshold Kids, the game’s in-universe puppet show.

2nd Edition of System Shock

Before BioShock, there was System Shock: an even weirder mix of RPG and FPS that told the tale of a rogue AI on a haunted spaceship in its second (and best) iteration—the rogue AI being the incomparably uppercase SHODAN. Of course, GlaDOS was made possible by the murderous artificial consciousness, but it’s the combination of realistic character progression, satisfying discovery, terrifying enemies, and (at the time) the novel use of audio diaries that makes System Shock 2 such a memorable horror game. It was basically Deus Ex on a spaceship—imagine how delicious that sounds if you’ve ever played Deus Ex or been on a spaceship. Despite the challenges, I feel empowered—like a complete badass—when I master a survival game. When I play a survival horror game, however, something different happens inside of me. They may have a lot in common, but I’m more interested in what sets them apart. Fair warning: the distinction is a little wacky.

A survival game can be filled with horror themes and depend on the fight-or-flight answer to hook you in, but it’s not a survival horror. This is uncharted territory, and it’s not just the eerie graphics that distinguish it from other survival games. Although fear is present in both, there is one factor that separates the two: power.

In survival games, there is a strong emphasis on crafting. Pick up a stick and use it to create a barrier. As a way to fight back against your fears, you’re given a lot of agency, or influence. If you’ve played survival games like The Forest or DayZ, both of which are heavily horror themed but not survival horror, you’ll recognise this feeling of empowerment.

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