5 Must-Play Survival Horror Video Games
By Daniel Rester
As we approach Halloween 2020, a lot of people will be staying in because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. But that doesn’t mean that Halloween has to be boring. You could watch some classic horror films like Halloween (1978) or The Exorcist (1973). But if you’re looking for something a bit more interactive, how about trying some survival horror video games. Here is a list of five games from the genre that I highly recommend for getting in some good scares during Halloween or any other time. There are dozens of great games in the genre, but these are strong ones to start with.
Note: Most of these games are available on multiple systems, though I chose to play them on Xbox One.
Resident Evil 4 (2005)
The Resident Evil series is arguably the most popular horror video game series, and Resident Evil 4 is the best one of the bunch. The good news is you won’t be lost if you decide to skip the previous games and hop right into this one as the game does a fine job of bringing you up to speed. Resident Evil 4 helped popularize the over-the-shoulder view in horror gaming and upped the shooter action and tension for the series. The plot follows Leon S. Kennedy, who travels to a creepy village in Spain in order to rescue the United States President’s daughter from a dangerous cult. Resident Evil 4 quickly locks players in with its rescue story while throwing new threats in at every corner. While some parts of other Resident Evil games can feel like a grind at times, this game never feels that way. You’re constantly moving across the diverse map, whether it be through churches or caves or castles. Paul Mercier has the perfect amount of wit and heroics as the voice of Leon, with the character taking on everything from cult members in robes to a giant lake monster. There are a few tricky and fun puzzles to solve during quieter sections too. Though Resident Evil 4 is fifteen-years-old, it still looks good and feels fresh. The bag-head chainsaw guys will never not be scary either.
Dead Space (2008)
Like third-person shooters and terrifying science fiction-based horror? If yes, then Dead Space is the game for you. The protagonist is Isaac Clarke, an engineer who is searching for his girlfriend on the spaceship Ishimura. The problem is that the ship’s crew have turned into violent Necromorphs. Dead Space sets up a simple story, but it becomes more gripping as the layers start to unfold. As Isaac, you explore the massive Ishimura, which has everything from hallways with flickering lights to zero gravity rooms. There’s no usual hud either, with only a blue light on your suit indicating your health level. This lack of text and graphics on the screen makes the game more immersive. The Necromorphs are horrifying as well, with the design work owing much to John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). You have to use weapons and stomping in order to take off the limbs of the creatures in gory fashion. Dead Space has been followed by two sequels so far, but the original still packs the best horror punch of the series.
Outlast acts like a found footage horror film as you play as Miles, a freelance journalist exploring a remote psychiatric hospital. At night. All alone. With no protection. That’s right, there are no weapons to defend yourself with in Outlast. You take a first-person perspective using a video camera with night vision as you run and hide from homicidal patients and discover what is going on at the hospital. The Mount Massive Asylum in Outlast is full of character and populated with antagonists and jump scares meant to make your pulse pound. The game is short, lasting only about five hours, but you won’t soon forget it. The DLC Whistleblower and sequel Outlast 2 are thrill rides too.
Alien: Isolation (2014)
Of all the horror games I’ve played, Alien: Isolation might be my pick for the scariest. The game takes place 15 years after the film Alien (1979), with Amanda, daughter of Ellen Ripley, investigating the disappearance of her mom. Perhaps no other piece of media in the Alien franchise has felt as close in style and appearance to the original film as Alien: Isolation has. It drips with the same slow-burn atmosphere and nails the look of the technology in the film. You play as Amanda in the first-person, using such things as a motion tracker and flamethrower to combat a Xenomorph that is running around the ship. A lot of the game is about stealth as you hide from both the intelligent alien and malfunctioning androids. Whether you’re in a locker or under a table, it’s hard not to gasp as you hide from the menaces. There are weapons and distraction devices in Alien: Isolation, but there is more emphasis on evasion as you get little ammo to use. The fact that Alien: Isolation still doesn’t have a sequel is a shame. The game can be frustrating at times, but it’s a masterclass in suspense and design that deserves a sequel.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010) might be the more famous horror game from Frictional Games, but Soma is the better game from them. You play as Simon (in first-person), who does an experimental brain scan and then wakes up in an abandoned underwater facility called PATHOS-II. I dare not reveal more about the narrative. Part of the grip of Soma is the exceptional storytelling as multiple cerebral twists are revealed. The voice acting is terrific and the machines with human characteristics are terrifying. This is a game with rich aquatic settings, but it’s the ideas where the true horror comes from. Soma will leave you cold and mesmerized.