There are horror video games out there that use terrifying monsters, hair-raising jumpscares, and visceral displays of gore to scare and unsettle gamers but some other games, however, manage to do this without the need for any traditional horror elements.
In fact, some of the eeriest games don’t even belong in the horror genre, which is perhaps what makes them so unnerving. Whether it was the intention of game developers or not, some video games possess a distinctly eerie quality regardless of their genre or age rating.
Subnautica is an open-world survival game that sees players attempt to survive a sprawling ocean planet. If players don’t experience thalassophobia when they start this game, they will by the time they finish.
Part of Subnatautica’s initial fear factor is the vast unknown of the expansively wide and infinitely deep ocean, however, the game becomes exponentially scarier once the player starts to get an idea of what’s down there. In the dark depths of the ocean, players will come across terrifyingly huge hostile alien creatures such as Crabsquids and Reaper Leviathans. The latter of these is truly massive and experienced players will know to run and hide as soon as they hear its harrowing call. The leviathans of Subnautica alone make this survival game less like Minecraft and more like Amnesia.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)
Not only is the look of the game much darker and more gothic, but a lot of its story elements and characters are. Gamers playing the “action-adventure” will come across the actual corpse of a”Deku” child, mummies, and Majora himself, a demonic being that sprints around Link in a manic fashion. All this occurs whilst the moon is on a collision course with the planet and can constantly be seen bearing a sinister grin as it gets ever closer. These examples serve to make Majora’s Mask the first game to genuinely disturb a lot of young gamers.
Despite its colorful visuals, cute character designs, and primarily young demographic, Minecraft’s developers seem to be constantly coming up with new ways to frighten and disturb unsuspecting players.
From its early stages, Minecraft creeped players out with its eerie “cave sounds.” This is the name for the game’s unsettling sound effects that play seemingly randomly and instill a sudden terror in gamers who find themselves deep in a mine. On top of this, Minecraft features mobs like the “Enderman” and “The Warden” that have genuinely scary appearances and are accompanied by disturbing sound effects. When playing Minecraft alone, these features add up to put any gamer on edge.
Garry’s Mod (2006)
On the surface, Garry’s Mod seems like it wouldn’t be scary at all, being a sandbox game that has no real gameplay and instead relies upon a player’s creativity to build vehicles, structures, and even whole game modes.
However, more often than not, the game can feel quite unnerving as players load empty sandbox maps that are eerily quiet and have an uncanny atmosphere surrounding them. Two maps in particular, “gm_flatgrass” and gm_construct,” feel like something from the “Backrooms” creepypasta. These maps genuinely feel more like unsettling, liminal spaces than most horror game areas that intentionally try for this same effect.
Death Stranding (2019)
Despite being branded as an open-world action game, the wide world of Hideo Kojima’s innovative Death Stranding is one of endless horror and unease.
When traversing the post-apocalyptic U.S.A of the game as “Sam,” gamers will encounter roaming hordes of ghostly apparitions called “BTs” that provide some horribly tense moments as players try to creep past them. If a BT senses the player, the ground beneath them becomes thick oil and slows the player down as they try to escape the numerous oil-covered BTs that grab at Sam to drag him away. The repeated encounters with these malevolent entities in just about any location in the open world are enough to keep gamers constantly unnerved as they play through the game.
A quirky sci-fi puzzle game with a sense of humor, the mazelike facility of Portal has an unexpectedly eerie feel and harbors some disturbing secrets.
The concept of being forced to complete tests in an abandoned testing facility, all at the will of a psychopathic AI, might be scary enough for some players. However, more explorative gamers will stumble upon “Ratmans Dens.” These are hidden areas of the game that contain the manically scrawled thoughts, drawings, and warnings of the last surviving employee of the facility, who lost his sanity after being alone for so long. Happening upon these dens is always an unsettling experience for gamers and paints the rest of the game in an eerie light.
Elite Dangerous (2014)
Elite Dangerous is an open-ended simulation game that allows players to complete contracts and explore the vastness of space in their own personal spaceship. The open-ended nature of the game, whilst freeing, can make it a particularly frightening experience.
Even when playing the game’s massively multiplayer mode, players are essentially alone in the galaxy and it certainly feels like it as gamers fly through endless space. One wrong move, like using up too much fuel or damaging the ship, can leave the player stranded in darkness with no means of reaching safety. In these instances, players can only wait for either another player to miraculously pass by and help them or for their eventual death when their ship runs out of oxygen. The unforgettable knowledge that the player is truly on their own makes Elite Dangerous an often nerve-wracking game.
Batman: Arkham Knight (2015)
One might think that playing as one of the most intimidating and fearless characters in comic books would prevent players from being scared of any villain Batman: Arkham Knight throws at them. However, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
Whilst jumpscares from “Killer Croc” and “Man-Bat” have been known to make many gamers scream in fright, it’s some of the Arkham Knight’s quests and environments that make the game truly scary. One example is a questline that has Batman discover “Professor Pyg,” a pig-masked surgeon who kidnaps and performs experiments on people to turn them into his zombie-like minions. Finding the various mutilated victims of Pyg and exploring his lab makes this questline stand out as a genuine horror story within the game’s wider narrative.
2016’s Firewatch is a cinematic adventure game with a beautiful art style that has players working as a fire lookout in a large forest. Despite sounding like a light-hearted premise, the game’s story quickly takes quite a dark turn.
As the player explores disturbances in the forest, they quickly realize they are not alone after finding signs of human presence and spotting shadowy figures watching them from a distance. Other times they will return to their lookout tower to find it broken into with a note left for them. These are just a few creepy elements from the game that make it feel as though someone is watching the player at all times and that they’re about to discover something terrifying around every corner.
Return of the Obra Dinn (2018)
Return of the Obra Dinn might seem like a standard adventure puzzle game with a nautical theme, but its gameplay is actually quite the chilling experience as gamers solve clues surrounding what happened to a ship’s missing crew.
As players make their way through the game by using a magic device that lets them see any corpse’s moment of death, they begin to realize that supernatural forces may have been at play. Paired with the game’s black and white retro graphics, this haunting mystery becomes more and more spine-tingling as the tale unfolds.
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