Top 25 Best Survival Horror Games
Survival horror pits the player into a hostile environment with few, precious resources at hand to overcome opponents, puzzles and the levels themselves. Here are the 25 best survival horror games of all time.
We’ve recompiled this list with the addition of 2013’s The Last of Us for its haunting setting, emotional story, and mind-blowing gameplay. Read on to find out where it stands on this list.
Survival horror games give us a rush. They tap into our primal fears and give us feelings that we wouldn't otherwise get in the real world—at least, not most of the time. The formula of classic survival horror has been established in the mid 90s, and few games have strayed far from it. Survival horror pits the player into a hostile environment with few, precious resources at hand to overcome opponents, puzzles and the levels themselves. The survival aspect here is key, resources need to be gathered, the levels carefully pilfered for items to defend or heal or in some cases even save the game. In a lot of the more modern games, combat is even de-emphasized altogether, making avoidance of the enemies key rather than bludgeoning them to death with a crowbar. It’s a dog eat dog world. And the you, the player, have to do your part, regardless of whether you're playing them on the PC, or on consoles like the PS3 or Xbox 360.
#25 Alone in the Dark
Edward Carnby’s forays into cthuloid terror were what started the whole genre. This was a revolutionary game at the time, and spawned into its own franchise with the years. The original saw the player character, who could be male or female, trapped in a haunted Louisiana mansion. The investigation of the mysterious suicide of the house’s former owner turns into a nightmare, as supernatural creatures start stalking the player.
At the time of its release in 1992, the game boasted a lot of relatively new features, like fully realized 3D graphics. Also, the first entry to the series let the player explore the mansion at his own pace, in whatever order the player wanted to approach the game. Also, combat was a feature, but by far not central to the game. The key was avoiding the enemies and beating them through puzzle solving rather than through brawling. A truly revolutionary title and the father of the genre.
#24 Dead Space
Some would argue that Dead Space is more of an action game than it is a survival horror, but I would argue that it is both. The game nails all the right aspects of a survival horror title—it gets the feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and helplessness down.
Despite putting you in an armored suit and equipping you with a powerful mining tool to kill your foes, it ups the ante by making it so that not even the tools you wield are enough to keep you from getting seriously injured. Even shooting your enemies in the head won't do much good, because they'll simply sprout a new appendage in its place. The only way to kill them is to dismember them limb from limb, and them crush them under the weight of your heel just to make sure that they're dead.
#23 Alan Wake
Alan Wake is a psychological horror game, written in the vein of a Dean Koontz horror novel. You take on the role of a Stephen King-like writer named Alan Wake who travels with his wife to the sleepy town of Bright Falls. Upon his arrival at the town and his trip out to the cabin, his wife goes missing and it's up to him to find the damsel'd lady.
He discovers that the recurring nightmare he's been having has come to life, and that the characters from his unwritten book are intent on haunting, if not killing him and those around him. Along the way, he finds scattered pages of the book he's yet to write, and has to do so in order to find out what happened to his wife.
#22 Silent Hill: Downpour
You play an escaped convict, but remain a prisoner of your own mind. Having escaped on foot from a crashed prison bus, you find yourself in a city that knows more about you than you do about yourself.
Silent Hill: Downpour, like all its predecessors, is as much a psychological thriller as it is a survival horror game in which you must unravel the secrets of who you are as you explore the haunted, and fog-filled town.
#21 Siren, Siren 2, Siren 3
Made by a team formed exclusively to make this game, Siren follows a trend established by Fatal Frame, namely by having a pretty mean core mechanic. Where Fatal Frame forces the player to look closely at the supernatural enemies in order to defeat them, Siren forces the player to look through the enemies’ eyes.
Similar to fatal Frame, Siren is very Japanese and heavily influenced by the same wave of Japanese horror movies that brought forth Fatal Frame. The player has the command over a range of different characters, one per chapter, and the story of the game unfolds through each individual’s point of view. The game is set in a remote Japanese mountain village, after a devastating earthquake hit and the village has been overrun with zombies, two events that eventually turn out to be connected.
The predecessor to the infamous Amnesia, Penumbra already had a lot of things in place. Especially the interface has remained largely the same. The biggest difference between Penumbra and Amnesia is, that the Penumbra games actually featured combat, which was half heartedly implemented and not very satisfying.
As such, Penumbra is a game that, like Amnesia, takes strong inspiration from the Lovecraft mythos. The focus is on exploration, and physics based puzzles. The first episode of this three episode game was conceived as a mere tech demo, upon which the later episodes then expanded.
This game has become stuff of legend already. The original STALKER was a highly ambitious project, that was stuck in development hell for a long time, and ended up a rough, almost broken piece of work at release in early 2007. STALKER is a unique game insofar, as it is first of all Russian (well, Ukrainian) made, and an adaptation of the Tarkovski movie of the same name and of a science fiction story called Roadside Picnic written by the venerated Russian scifi authors, the Strugatzki Brothers.
STALKER pits the player as an unnamed gatherer of artifacts in the exclusion zone around the twice exploded Chernobyl nuclear power plant. There the player has to fight mutated creatures and animals, strange anomalies tearing holes into reality, and of course other stalkers. The game emphasizes exploration, as the artifacts found inside the anomalies are one of the biggest sources of revenue, and also a part of the game’s underlying super light RPG mechanics, boosting some of the player’s stats. STALKER was incredibly ambitious and has become game with an immense cult following in the PC gaming scene.
#18 Eternal Darkness
Another game from development hell. This Silicon Knights developed title was originally planned as an N64 game, but the developers took too long with it, and so it eventually became one of the GameCube’s launch titles. Eternal Darkness is a unique game, as it is essentially a Lovecraft mythos game in all but in name. It strides across time and space, having the player in the shoes of characters from ancient Roman times up until the present day. The frame narrative is that of Alex Roivas, investigating the family mansion upon her father’s untimely demise. She discovers bits of information that unlock each subsequent chapter of the game that takes the player to four different continents across different time periods.
The game prominently features an insanity mechanic, whereby the player characters lose insanity, which then translates into strange things happening within the game. Also, the game features a fairly unique magic system that has the player combine runes for varying effects. Overall the emphasis is on combat and exploration, and revealing the mysteries of the Roivas mansion and -family across the aeons.
#17 Silent Hill
The original Silent Hill was created as a part of the surge of survival horror games following Resident Evil’s success. Silent Hill was developed as a much more cerebral endeavor, a much more subtle game, less about combat and more about fear of the unknown. The game made a virtue out of the relatively weak hardware of the PS1, creating the now famous fog effect, limiting draw distance intentionally and making that a part of the game world.
Silent Hill was a huge success across the board, both in the US and Japan. While being a Japanese game, Silent Hill was also intentionally aimed at a western audience, and with success, as evidenced by the eight sequels the game spawned.
#16 Silent Hill 2
Regarded by many as the best survival horror game ever made, if not the best game ever made – period -, Silent Hill 2 upped the psychological horror ante of the original up a notch. Apart from the eponymous town, the game’s plot had nothing in common with the original, boasting a wholly self contained story and non recurring characters.
Silent Hill 2 was arguably influenced strongly by classic David Lynch movies and other strange cinematic tales like Jacob’s Ladder. The strange tale of the husband coming to Silent Hill looking for his dead wife, thereby slowly unraveling the mystery of his own past while delving deeper and deeper into madness is one of gamings’ strongest yarns yet. Too bad the recently released HD version was such a horrible port.
#15 Silent Hill 3
The entry into the series picks off where part 1 ended. This time the protagonist is the daughter of the first game’s protagonist, trying to solve the mystery of her father’s murder. As before, the town of Silent Hill plays a prominent role in this game. Interestingly, part 3 features the same basic layout and road map of the town from part 2.
Unlike the previous parts, Silent Hill 3 deemphasizes combat a lot. The monsters here are easily avoided most of the time, and taking them all on is a not even an option most of the time. So the emphasis is on running away, dodging the bigger ones and getting rid of the smaller ones when possible. Silent Hill 2 and 3 share a common visual style, thanks to creature designer Masahiro Ito, a Japanese fetish artist.
#14 Resident Evil
Alone in the Dark created the genre, Resident Evil made it vastly successful. With the launch of Nintendo’s GameCube in 2002, Capcom delivered a launch title that recreated the original game with vastly improved graphics and some added gameplay elements like the Crimson Head zombie, a fast zombie variant that spawns from downed enemies if the player does not burn them down.
Like the original, Resident Evil is first and foremost a game about resource management. Not every zombie has to be killed (however that makes traversal of the game world a lot easier), and each and every shot has to count, for ammunition is – like every resource in the game – incredibly scarce. The overall story, including the Umbrella corporation’s secret test lab underneath the mansion, the T-Virus and the various creatures springing from that, is still the same. The game mechanics haven’t changed either. Aiming is hard, walking around isn’t simple either, with the characters moving like tanks. This is a game that is intentionally hard due to suboptimal controls, scarce resources, camera perspectives and other things. But still, this is a classic in its own right, one without one of the most important games of the last generation, Resident Evil 4, wouldn’t have existed.
#13 Slender – The Arrival
Running circles around Amnesia in terms of scariest game ever, Slender – The Arrival started out as a little experimental game and was recently expanded into a full blown release. The mechanics are simple enough. Collect eight pages, close eight valves, do eight things. After the first of these eight was done, the Slenderman starts stalking you, getting perpetually closer with each subsequent task solved.
The mechanics are simple, the presentation is great and hard to dismiss. Slenderman cannot be stopped or even fought or touched. He can only be avoided. Looking at him straight makes the player character go insane. Not looking at him straight means he will start moving and may just reappear right next to the player. It’s a game of sheer terror. And probably the most horrifying experience to be had in a video game yet.
Created by the team who brought us Blood, Shogo and FEAR, Condemned is a game that’s all about survival in the depths of the insane asphalt jungle. This first person brawler proudly wears the label of being one of history’s most relentlessly brutal games. But Condemned is more than just a brutal brawler. The player has to hunt down a serial killer through a city that is going mad, being confronted by deranged homeless and junkies at every corner.
With the power of his own two fists and every makeshift weapon he can get a hold of, FBI agent Ethan Thomas throws himself into the frey, exploring subway tunnels, abandoned houses and other urban sights. Condemned breathes a malevolent, sick and decayed urban atmosphere like very few other games, making it a deranged classic.
#11 Last of Us
It might not be the cinematic thrill ride that Naughty Dog has become known for over the course of the generation, but The Last of Us stands as the most interesting zombie-themed/survival horror game released in 2013.
Few games manage to drive us to feel emotion, and The Last of Us holds the honor of having pushed us to our emotional limit several times over the course of the game. Itâ€™s an emotional rollercoaster wrapped into a post-apocalyptic survival horror experience.
#10 Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is easily the scariest survival horror game to date. With more than just monster-in-the-closet scares, the game offers much in the way of horror with tales of torture and losing one's humanity.
There's more to the game than meets the eye—and much like Nietzsche's popular saying, when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you.
The very best survival horror games take away power from the player, leaving them vulnerable. Amnesia does this quite well making the player completely powerless in the face of the game's many evils by giving him/her absolutely no way to fight back.
#9 Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4 may be the last title in the Resident Evil franchise that managed to elicit genuine fear. Quite unlike RE5 and RE6 that came after, RE4 was a lot like its predecessors in that it made players feel powerless in the midst of deadly monsters who could dismember them limb from limb in a moment's notice.
While zombies were to be feared, the most terrifying of all is the chainsaw-wielding monstrosity with a bag over his head. The same monster reared its ugly head in Resident Evil 5, but by then, all he did was serve as another challenge in the game's long list of bad guys Sheva and Chris could kill without breaking a sweat.
It goes without saying that if you want to play a Resident Evil game with its roots in horror, this is the one to play.
#8 Fatal Frame, Fatal Frame 2, Fatal Frame 3
The Fatal Frame series utilizes one of the outright meanest gameplay mechanics of the genre. The player is equipped with a so called “camera obscura”, a camera that can capture ghosts. In order to fight the many malevolent spirits populating the haunted mansion the first game in the series takes place in, the player has to focus the camera on them, and wait until they are really close and in focus before placing a “shot”.
Fatal Frame takes a ton of inspiration from the early 2000s batch of Japanese horror movies that came on the heels of The Ring’s enormous success. The whole mythology of the games is that particular shintoist kind, a mythology that seems very exotic and strange to non Japanese people. As they are, the Fatal Frame games are probably the most “Japanese” of this bunch, and that is a very good thing.
#7 System Shock 2
People often quote System Shock 2's SHODAN, whose glitchy voice stammers the words "Look at you h-h-hacker, a creature of meat and bone." It sounds insidious, but it barely scratches the surface of what the game has to offer—which is fear.
You're alone and unarmed aboard a derelict space ship whose crew has died in mysterious circumstances. All that's left of them are the logs they left behind, telling you of what went down. Each log a warning of what's to come.
With little choice but to push onward, you have to ignore their warnings and unravel the mystery of the dead ship.
#6 Zombi U
Zombi U is poorly named for what it should instead be: Zombi. The name "Zombi U" just makes me think of someone angrily pointing their finger at me and saying "ZOMBI, YOU!!!"
Exclusive to the Wii U, Zombi U is a first person zombie-apocalypse simulator in which you play the role of a human survivor. You have to scavenge for your resources, find weapons and ammunition, and secure your safehouse—all the while following the directions of a mysterious voice over the radio who aids in your survival.
The twist in Zombi U is that if you die, you die for good—and another character takes the place of the previous survivor, at which point you'll have to recover the items the previous guy was carrying. In an interesting twist, your previous character can potentially become one of the zombies.
#5 Siren – Blood Curse
The third entry into the Siren series is a strange one. This episodic game was produced with the intention of selling this very Japanese game to an American audience. The plot sees again a larger cast of player characters, first and foremost an American TV crew shooting a documentary in a remote Japanese mountain village, when, again, the double whammy of Earthquake and Zombies occurs.
Blood Curse makes the most of the series established episodic structure. Initially released as a PSN exclusive in five Episodes, with a subsequent release of the game on disc. It marks one of the rather few true Japanese survival horror games of this generation.
#4 Resident Evil 2
Celebrated by fans as the best entry into the initial series, Resident Evil 2 frees the player from the confines of the original game’s mansion, opening up all of Racoon City for exploration. Introducing players to Leon S. Kennedy, Ada Wong and Cyril Redfield, the second installment opened up the Resident Evil lore that should dominate the games to come.
In a way, this game refined and polished up the ideas, mechanics and designs of the first game, letting them bloom fully. The graphics engine ended up being more refined, the overall gameplay more polished and to the point, and also, the whole game structure was stirred up by having the actions of one character playthrough affect those of another character, eventually leading to the two character system found later in Resident Evil Zero.
Another two men indie project, Miasmata is survival horror in it’s purest form. The game set the player free on a mysterious tropical island as a medical doctor stricken by a deadly disease. On the island the good doctor hopes to create a cure for his ailment from the local flora. Too bad he’s not alone. A deadly creature also roams the tropical paradise.
There are no weapons in Miasmata, the creature can only be avoided. When the player receives damage, the good doctor quickly slips into a deadly fever and will soon after die, so having some self made medicine at hand is vital. The game also has a day-night cycle. The emphasis is on exploration, and on eventually finding a cure without getting eaten by the creature. It’s impressive feat for a team as small as this to create such a compelling, immersive game, that forces the player to closely observe the game world for not getting hopelessly lost. Or eaten.
#2 Dino Crisis
Resident Evil designer Shinji Mikami created this game of primal carnage, taking the proven success formula of Resident Evil and replacing zombies with man eating dinosaurs. Story wise, there is a lot of pulpy sci-fi going on, time traveling dinosaurs and secret scientific experiments, as you would expect from something that mixes, well, Resident Evil and Jurassic Park.
Dino Crisis proved to be somewhat successful. Dinosaurs always sell it seems, so the original game spawned two sequels and a lightgun shooter. Especially Dino Crisis 3, an early Xbox exclusive, is worth mentioning, for it takes the dinosaurs to space. There can’t possibly be a much more awesome game idea than that. Maybe if there’s pulp nazis. One can dream…
#1 Silent Hill 4 – The Room
Originally conceived as a spinoff to the actual Silent Hill series, part 4 eventually became an actual entry to it, despite the game never taking place inside the eponymous town, but in a neighboring borough of South Ashfield. The Room is the story of Henry Townsend and the serial killer Walter Sullivan. Henry has been locked in his apartment with no apparent way out, except for a mysterious hole in his bathroom wall. The Room is special insofar, as that the apartment acts as a hub between missions, a place where Henry can recover and is safe – for a time – from the horrible forces outside.
The Room adds several elements to the formula. First of all, there is the Room itself, an area of the game that is explored in first person view. Then there are the ghosts, victims of Walter Sullivan which will haunt and damage the player throughout the individual levels. Those ghosts are invulnerable to regular weapons, and can only be pinned in place by ritual swords found throughout the game, of which there are very few, so pinning a ghost is always an investment of a precious resource. It’s an ambitious and strange game, a weird entry into a weird series, and the last Silent Hill game that was actually any good.