Steam is a stunningly huge marketplace, especially since it was opened up to more easily allow indie developers onto the service. It can be tough wading through all of the games on the storefront to find truly excellent experiences. This can be especially true of horror games, which seem to be a prime target for low-effort developers to churn out shovelware for low prices and rake in sales.
So, we’ve done you the favor of diving head-first into the deluge of horror titles, both indie, and AAA, to find the cream of Steam’s horror game crop. Just remember, we’re probably going to avoid putting in entries from large horror franchises. Those guys get their own lists.
Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut
If you’re a hardcore horror fan, then finding a horror game that actually scares you can be quite difficult. Coming across a 2D horror game that scares you would be like a million-to-one find. While we can’t promise that Lone Survivor will actually scare you, it does provide you with a unique, pixel-art horror game with an incredibly oppressive atmosphere that hasn’t been seen since the likes of the classic Silent Hill titles.
Lone Survive puts you in the shoes of, well, a lone survivor. You play a man who has been locked in his apartment for quite some time, trying to avoid the dreadful and mysterious apocalypse that has befallen the rest of the world. With low resources, you must journey into the monster-infested halls of your apartment building to find enough food to survive and to uncover some of the mysteries that surround both the nature of the disaster, as well as the history of the main character.
Being a 2D game with no jump function, it’s incredibly difficult to avoid enemies in Lone Survivor. You do get various weapons you can use to defend yourself, but trying to kill everything you come across is a great way of running out of bullets fast. Instead, you’re most encouraged to avoid enemies, distracting them with rancid meat and moving past them while they feed. This anti-combat attitude really puts you on the defensive and helps promote this feeling of danger and fear that pervades through the entire game.
The way the story is told is another important factor. You can never be 100% sure about what is going on around you, partially due to the fact that being trapped inside his tiny apartment has driven the main character more than a little stir-crazy. Periodically you’re confronted by things that could be hallucinations and dreams and have to balance taking medication that stops your character from going crazy, with making sure you have enough of it left for when it’s important. At the end of the day, the reason that Lone Survivor is a great horror game is that there’s really not much like it.
The Dread X Collection II
If you’ve never heard of this title then you’re definitely missing out. The Dread X Collection is a series of horror mini-games produced by notable figures in the indie scene, including such big names as David Szymanski the developer of Dusk. While we’ve specifically gone for the 2nd collection here, there have been 4 of these so far, and all of them offer some great horror experiences.
Each collection has a different theme that ties the game together, in the case of the 2nd collection, that there was the word ‘Lovecrafting’ and the devs were left to interpret that word any way they liked. Obviously, this led to some incredibly different experiences, and that’s the real joy of the Dread X Collection series.
There are so many different kinds of games involved, that even if you come across something you don’t enjoy, there’s going to be plenty of other games in each collection that you will get some enjoyment out of. There’s not really much else to say about these games, because they’re made up of so many different titles. Needless to say, if you’re a huge fan of horror games, these things are great at being something like a horror-themed sample platter for future horror devs to watch out for.
If you were part of the horror gaming scene back in 2013, then there’s almost no chance that you haven’t at least heard of Outlast. It’s got a lot of very classic elements for horror games. It’s set in a creepy insane asylum, you’re going alone into an unknown place, and of course, you have no means of defending yourself, beyond just hiding under beds and having a little cry to yourself. There were also two final elements that really helped the game to stand out. The first is the heavy use of night vision camera mode giving everything a very eerie quality. The second is the use of full-frontal male nudity, which made hiding under beds fraught with even more danger than ever before.
Jokes aside, Outlast does a lot of stuff right. There’s an interesting storyline about the goings-on at the mental asylum, the gameplay is pretty solid with the night-vision camera view and plenty of places to hide, and overall the presentation is really solid, especially for an 8-year-old game. More importantly, Outlast is scary, really scary. Even if you’re a hardcore horror gamer you’re probably going to make yourself jump at some point thanks to the dark environments, the uncanny valley vibes given off by the green-tinge of the night-vision camera, and the lack of any means of defense.
If you do decide you want to check out Outlast, we highly recommend you get the DLC as well. Whistleblower is a prequel mini-campaign that sets out the story of how the main character even found out about the asylum in the first place. It’s a great way of adding an extra chunk of gameplay to Outlast, and ties the story up in a nice way so you don’t get left with too many burning questions at the end. Overall, an excellent package and easily one of the best horror games available on Steam to date.
Condemned: Criminal Origins
With decades of horror-PC games available on Steam, it’s sort of hard to pick the standout titles for a list of this size. Luckily, a game like Condemned: Criminal Origins is an easy choice to make. Back when it came out, Condemned became an instant cult classic, and over the years since then, it’s managed to remain a top choice of its era for horror-gaming fans. There are plenty of reasons why COndemned stands out, though the primary mechanic that got people excited was the combat engine.
Unlike many horror games, you’re actually allowed to defend yourself in this one. Specifically Condemned uses a melee-focused combat system that sees you beating up angry homeless people with golf clubs and 2x4s. Being both first-person, and melee-focused, there was every chance that the combat would suck, but far from it. Not only does every melee strike really feel like it has some weight to it, like your attacks are actually connecting with something, but on top of that, the perspective and style of combat made the experience that much more intense.
Sure, Condemned does have its issues. The puzzles aren’t overly interesting, the storyline runs away from itself pretty quickly, and honestly, it’s not the best-looking game ever made. But, even with those issues, Condemned is an incredibly visceral experience that will scare the pants right off you.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
This might seem like an obvious one, but it’s hard not to think of PC horror without tackling Amnesia: The Dark Descent. This game was so successful that it spawned an entire series, with spin-offs, sequels, and fan-made mods coming out of every pore. Despite the huge amount of success that the later games in the series have found, the original game is still the best in many ways.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is named after the narrative cliche that is pretty present in horror games: amnesia. You control Daniel, a man who wakes up in a European castle with no memory of how he got there. After receiving a letter from himself, he has to descend into the depths of the castle to discover the truth behind his loss of memory, as well as the dark secrets that plague his mind and the castle itself.
The real genius of Amnesia lies in its use of atmosphere, as well as in the fact that it was really one of the first horror games that left you completely defenseless. While Outlast may have run with the idea, Amnesia was doing it before it was cool. The atmosphere the game created was one of quiet oppression, which combined insanely well with the gameplay too.
See, you can’t stand in the dark too long, or you’ll start to go crazy from fear, but the light makes you much easier to see. So you have to balance your loss of sanity, which makes the game harder to play, with your desire to not get eaten alive by dreadful monsters. This same dichotomy can be found in the monsters too. You really need to look at them to be able to get around them, but this also drains your sanity, making getting around them much harder. In many ways, it’s this second mechanic that’s more important, as it encourages you to not look at the monsters for too long, keeping them mysterious and in the end much scarier. To this day, Amnesia is still worth playing, even if it’s over a decade old at this point.
If you’re a horror gamer who’s been online at all over the past few months and you haven’t heard of this one, we’d like to know where you’ve been keeping the rock you were living under. Phasmophobia is an online co-op horror game that tasks you and 3 others with investigating paranormal activity in a haunted location. As time goes by the ghosts become more and more hostile, and it’s up to you and your team to gather the evidence you need to prove that the ghost exists before anybody gets hurt.
It’s certainly a strange concept for a horror game to ask you to play along with 3 of your friends, as solitude is much more conducive to making you feel afraid. Having said that, Phasmophobia still manages to pull of scares, despite the fact that you have friends backing you up. Part of the reason for this is that in-game chat emulates differences in volume and EQ based on your position relative to your team. So if you split up, anyone far away from you is going to be incredibly quiet, even if they’re screaming in fear.
In general, the key to Phasmophobia’s success is its immersion. Not only is there VR available, which almost always makes a horror game scarier, but everything in-game has been designed to make you feel like you’re really there. There’s realistic lighting, sounds are muffled and modulated by distance and objects being in the way, and you and your friends have to use real tools and work together to get anything done. If you’re not into co-op gaming then it could be easy to dismiss Phasmophobia, but if you do you’ll be missing out on one hell of a horror experience.
The Final Word
Well it wasn’t an easy job, and there are plenty more games on the service that are absolute classics, but we’ve still put together a list of some of the greatest horror games available on Steam. Are there any big games that you think we missed? Let us know which games you’d have chosen in the comments below.