Over the years, horror has become one of the most popular video game genres, with hundreds of new titles being released on various consoles every year. From small indie titles to big AAA games, the vast genre attracts players of all kinds, often spurred on by viral marketing and famous internet content creators.
But, the horror genre has not always existed as it does today. Without multiple influential games from the last efw decades, modern horror games either wouldn’t be as prevalent as they are, or wouldn’t exist at all. These older horror titles laid the foundation for many tropes and ideas that still exist today.
10 Sweet Home
Released for the Famicom in 1989, Sweet Home is a survival horror RPG where the player controls several filmmakers as they look for rare paintings inside large mansion. While exploring, the player will need to fight various supernatural creatures and solve puzzles. There are different endings depending on how many characters survive.
Based on a Japanese horror film of the same name, Sweet Home is considered one of the biggest inspirations for later survival horror hallmarks. Sweet Home‘s limited inventory, scattered notes, backtracking, and permadeath mechanics are just a few aspects from it that later games would use. Also, as mentioned by TheGamer, the first Resident Evil game was originally supposed to be a Sweet Home remake.
9 System Shock
System Shock is a cyberpunk first-person horror action-adventure duology in which the player controls a nameless hacker as they explore a space station and fight SHODAN, who is an evil A.I. During the game, the player must solve puzzles across the large map and collect items in order to fight enemies and stay alive.
With the original game being released in 1994, the series had a major influence on many horror and science fiction games to come. The 3D graphics, physics engine, puzzle designs, and horror tropes continue to be used in first-person horror games to this day, which is why many fans want a remake. What’s more, Bioshock, it’s spiritual successor, is often lauded as one of the very best horror video games of all time.
8 Fatal Frame
Set in 1980s Japan, the Fatal Frame franchise is a series of survival horror games based on Japanese horror films. Each game focuses on a different location that is haunted by hostile spirits, and the protagonists can only fight back by using the Camera Obscura, which damages the ghosts when they are captured on film.
After the first game came out in 2001, the series helped revitalize the horror genre by introducing a new gameplay style and popularizing Japanese horror tropes in video games.
7 Amnesia: The Dark Descent
In 2010, Frictional Games released Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which distilled survival horror down to its most basic elements. The player controls a man named Daniel as he explores Castle Brennenburg, solves puzzles, avoids monsters, and, most importantly, tries to maintain his sanity. As the player continues through the game, they slowly learn more about Daniel’s past as he remembers it.
After several famous YouTubers played Amnesia during the early years of the platform, horror games like this have become a normal occurrence. Before this, horror games—particularly ones from smaller studios—were far less common, but now hundreds of horror games are created every month. Many of these games, especially indie games, mimic Amnesia‘s style by including sanity management, physics puzzles, running from monsters, and other gameplay mechanics.
6 Yume Nikki
Originally released online for free in 2004, Yume Nikki is a surreal horror RPG maker game. Players control a girl named Madotsuki, who refuses to leave her apartment in the real world. Instead, players explore her vast dream world and collect various “effects” that give her abilities which help her explore more of the world. The game ends once the player finds all the effects.
Although it started out as an unknown game, Yume Nikki has since become one of the most influential games of all time. Along with having its own sequel, several adaptations, and many fan-games, the game also started the now famous RPG maker horror genre and has influenced other games including Undertale.
5 The 7th Guest
The 7th Guest is an FMV horror game that has the player control a disembodied being named Ego as he explores a killer toymaker’s mansion. To progress through the house, the player has to solve puzzles, with the toymaker commentating in the background. After each puzzle, the player sees FMV cutscenes that slowly explain the narrative.
As one of the first games to only be available on the CD-ROM, the game marked a turning point in not just horror gaming history, but gaming history, in general. The FMV cutscenes and 3D graphics were incredibly new at the time and showed a small glimpse of what video games would eventually be able to do.
4 Alone In The Dark
In 1992, Infogrames published the survival horror game Alone In The Dark, which would later spawn a whole franchise. As either Edward Carnby or Emily Hartwood, the player has to escape a large mansion by solving puzzles and fighting monsters. While the start and end of the game are linear, most of the middle part of the game is somewhat non-linear as players can choose which rooms to explore.
Alone In The Dark was the first 3D survival horror game, and is one of the inspirations for later games in the genre such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill.
3 Clock Tower
Inspired by Italian film director Dario Argento’s films, Clock Tower is a 1995 point-and-click survival horror game for the Super Famicom. The game follows the orphaned Jennifer Simpson who is recently brought to the Barrows Mansion with some of her friends from the orphanage. Shortly after arriving, however, Jennifer and her friends are attacked by a masked stalker with a giant pair of garden sheers named Scissorman.
Unlike many early survival horror games, the protagonist cannot fight the antagonist. Instead, Jennifer must run away, and then either hide, stun him, or lose him. This helpless aspect made the game stand out and led to many sequels and other horror games which de-emphasized combat.
2 Resident Evil
Resident Evil is a survival horror game released in 1996 for the PlayStation. As either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, who are both part of the elite task force S.T.A.R.S, the player gets trapped in a convoluted mansion and must solve puzzles and fight zombies with various weapons in order to uncover the secrets of the mansion and escape.
With numerous sequels, remakes, and adaptations that have continued to this day, the Resident Evil games brought zombies back into popular culture. The games also inspired many other games, spawing a wave of “RE clones” that would help to popularize horror gaming in the late 90s.
1 Silent Hill
Developed by Team Silent in 1999 for the PlayStation, Silent Hill is a survival horror game about a man named Harry Mason who searches for his missing daughter Cheryl in the titular town Silent Hill. While there, he faces many strange creatures as he uncovers a mysterious cult.
Silent Hill would eventually become a popular multimedia franchise with many sequels and adaptations. But, the biggest impact would be the aesthetics of the games. To hide the limitations of the hardware, the town is constantly foggy, and that foggy atmosphere has been used in other horror franchises. The rusty environments have been reused, as well. Also, Silent Hill 2‘s psychological-focused narrative is one of the main reasons why psychological horror games and movies are popular today.