Throughout several mediums, there are countless stories that aim to stimulate one of humankind’s oldest and most primal emotions – fear. What makes the gaming medium stand out is its interactive nature, making it the perfect format for horror. Over the years, developers such as Capcom and Frictional Games have come up with many creative methods to induce fear in their titles.
Players know their Silent Hills and their Resident Evils, but there are many other horror game franchises which lie awaiting their next curious victim. These are some of the most overlooked, but no less spine-tingling gaming series that are worth a look for any horror aficionado.
Years before Mortal Kombat and Doom, Splatterhouse stood out from its contemporaries with its copious amount of gore and bloodshed. The game was a love letter to 80’s slasher horror flicks, complete with its Jason Vorhees-inspired protagonist Rick Taylor. Unfortunately, clunky controls and frustrating level design put a damper on the first two entries.
The third outing fared much better due to its revamped combat system, non-linear stages, and multiple endings. While it wasn’t without its moments, the 2010 reboot suffered from a tumultuous development period, culminating in a buggy and poorly optimized brawler.
9 The D Trilogy
Kenji Eno and Warp’s D trilogy consisted of highly flawed, but interesting experiments in terror. The first game, simply known as D, was a Myst-like graphic adventure where a young woman traverses through a gothic manor to uncover the cause behind her father’s murderous rampage.
The second title, Enemy Zero, was a blend of adventure and FPS where players had to fend off invisible creatures with a pathetically short-ranged ray-gun. The trilogy was capped off with the Dreamcast exclusive D2 which took on a more conventional survival horror approach. While each title is held back by dubious design choices, their atmosphere and presentation warrant at least a look.
8 Clock Tower
In Clock Tower, players can run, but they can’t hide. In stark contrast to Resident Evil, this blend of graphic adventure and horror put players in control of regular people whose only assets were their wits and their cardio. Players were utterly defenseless against the dreaded Scissorman, making almost any attempt at direct confrontation an act of suicide.
While the original Super Famicom title has yet to see an official release in Western shores, its visuals and multiple endings have been lauded by many English-speaking critics. Unfortunately, its polygonal follow-ups ranged from mediocre to downright abysmal.
7 The Residents’ PC Titles
The avant-garde group known as The Residents have dabbled in all sorts of different mediums, ranging from music to online shorts, and even a couple of point-and-click titles. Their first foray into gaming was a graphic adventure known as Freak Show. Gameplay-wise, it was pretty bare bones and more a collection of pre-rendered animations.
Their follow-up, Bad Day on the Midway, provided a greater level of interactivity and featured several playable characters with their own specific agendas. Each playthrough had many different possible outcomes depending on which objectives were cleared and who was left alive.
6 Dark Seed
While plenty of games have taken influence from H.R. Giger, only one franchise has actually had his name involved in the production. Dark Seed was a graphic adventure with a heavy emphasis on psychological horror and macabre imagery. The game centered around Mike Dawson who suffered from nightmares about an alien menace known as the ancients.
Players were given three hours to traverse through both the real world and the Dark world and thwart the ancient’s nefarious plans. The second title continued on Mike’s story and saw him framed for murder in his hometown. It proved considerably darker and more violent than its predecessor.
5 Parasite Eve
Based loosely on the Hideaki Sena novel of the same name, Parasite Eve marked Square’s first foray into adult-oriented titles. This Playstation title put players in control of NYPD officer Aya Brea who attempted to stop the ambitions of the mysterious hybrid named Eve. Gameplay was a mixture of JRPG and survival horror where each encounter with the mitochondria menaces consisted of random turn-based battles.
While it was criticized for its short-length, Parasite Eve was nonetheless praised for its mature story and creepy visuals. The game saw a so-so sequel on the same platform and an utterly abysmal soft reboot with the PSP exclusive The 3rd Birthday.
4A’s blend of shooter and survival horror were more than just playable adaptions of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s post-apocalyptic novel. The Metro games expanded upon their source material while staying true to its themes of xenophobia and retaining hope in the darkest of times.
The second title, Last Light, is where the series really established an identity of its own as it deviated from the events of the second novel and continued the story of Artyom. The series wonderfully blended its social commentary with its game mechanics such the ability to use bullets as currency.
Sega and Monolith’s Condemned titles provided a fascinating mixture of first-person melee combat and horror. Players were put into the shoes of FBI agent Ethan Thomas who was framed for the murder of his colleagues during an investigation in a derelict apartment.
Armed with whatever wasn’t nailed down, players were forced to stave off numerous hostiles and gather enough clues to clear Thomas’ name. While the sequel went into a considerably more action oriented focus, it still boasted the same gloomy visuals and relentless atmosphere. Unfortunately, Monolith’s wish to produce a third installment has yet to be fulfilled.
2 Fatal Frame
Known as Project Zero in certain territories, the Fatal Frame titles tasked players with braving haunted locales in 1980s Japan. With their trusty camera, players fended off several supernatural terrors by taking a quality snapshot at the right moment. The second entry, Crimson Butterfly, is widely regarded as one of the scariest titles of all time.
Of course, this being a Koei Tecmo franchise, each entry features some gratuitous cheesecake which slightly diminishes the horror and immersion. However, players who can overlook that will find a suitably atmospheric and relentless horror experience.
1 System Shock
The spiritual predecessors to the Bioshock franchise, the System Shock series revolutionized the industry with their blend of first-person shooting, RPG mechanics, and horror. Each game put players in control of an unnamed hacker who awakens in a ship that’s become overrun with hostile hybrids controlled by a malevolent AI.
The second game expanded upon the RPG mechanics of the original with cyber modules that allowed players to customize their stats and skill sets. Like its cybernetically augmented protagonist, the series went into a long hibernation. Fortunately, a remake of the original was released in 2023 to rave reviews.
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