Update

20 terrifying PC horror games to play with the lights off

Don't be ashamed to curl up in a ball, as these PC horror games will scare the pants off of even hardcore gamers

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The horror, the HORROR

Horror games are a dime a dozen. Good horror games, well, those are much rarer. We've rounded up some of the best horror games ever made, running the gamut from big-budget extravaganzas released this very year to text adventures. I'm serious.

Turn out the lights, put on some headphones, make sure you have a spare pair of underwear nearby, and enjoy these spine-tinglers.

alien isolation

Alien: Isolation

One alien. That was the design direction behind Creative Assembly's Alien: Isolation, which pursued the survival horror mood of the original 1979 film instead of the action-packed plot of Aliens.

And it worked. Though a bit overlong and at times needlessly difficult, Alien: Isolation is the strongest big-budget horror experience in years. This game is just plain tense -- almost unbearably so if you play it with a VR headset. And it just became available for Linux, Steam Machines, and OS X.

Alien: Isolation

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Layers of Fear

One of my favorite experiences this year is a little virtual reality demo called Sightline: The Chair, where your surroundings change every time you turn your head away. Take that concept, add creaking walls and spooky music and a crazed painter, and poof: You have Layers of Fear.

It's unsettling. Walk into a dead-end room, turn around, and the door's gone. Turn around again and there's a new door waiting. Or the furniture's all changed. Or the furniture's on the ceiling. The game's still in Early Access so the typical “Buyer Beware” disclaimers apply. But what I've seen so far seems smart and suitably nightmarish.

Layers of Fear

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SOMA

SOMA’s not the scariest game Frictional’s ever made. It’s not. It’s barely a horror game for long stretches at a time, and the monsters are more hindrance than terror.

But the underwater confines of PATHOS-II are often unnerving, what with the groans of pressurized metal and the flickering lights and the robots that seem to believe they’re still human. It’s a strong experience, and one well worth playing even if it won’t make you leap out of your seat.

SOMA

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Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Now we're digging into Frictional's truly great scares. A Victorian-era castle may not seem like the best setting for a horror game, but with Amnesia: The Dark Descent Frictional took everything it learned from its earlier games, polished it, and released one of the scariest games of all time. You play as Daniel, an archeologist who's lost his memory and has only a letter -- apparently written by him -- to guide his escape from the mad castle and shadowy figures that stalk him.

While it's more polarizing, the sequel Machine for Pigs is also worth checking out, as long as you curb your expectations.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

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Penumbra: Black Plague

Before there was Amnesia, there was Penumbra. Frictional's first horror series charged players with navigating an abandoned underground research compound. While the first game's cave system was a great start (Penumbra: Overture) it was Black Plague that will make you need a new pair of pants.

Penumbra: Black Plague

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Condemned: Criminal Origins

There's a serial killer on the loose, and whoever it is really loves mannequins. You're a crime scene investigator and must catch this disturbing killer while also contending with your increasingly violent surroundings. Probably by hitting those surroundings (read: psychopaths) with a pipe.

Condemned is damn terrifying. You'll have nightmares about those mannequins.

Condemned: Criminal Origins

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Pathologic HD

Pathologic has been on this list since its inception, but as of October 2015 there’s an update: A new, HD remaster of the game (complete with new translations) has been released on Steam. It’s not the full-fledged remake that Ice-Pick Lodge Kickstarted last year, but rather an intermediate step called Pathologic Classic HD.

Why’s the game so great? In short, Pathologic is like someone hired Kafka or maybe Camus (because of the plague storyline) to write The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. There’s a plague killing The Town, and you play as one of three characters trying to unravel the mysteries held within. Many people will die. It’s a cult classic, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s three-part tome about the game is pretty much required reading.

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Outlast

Asylums are easy fodder for horror. That said, Outlast makes the most of its clichéd setting by providing you no way to defend yourself and forcing you into the found-footage conceit popularized by horror films like Blair Witch Project. The game has some pacing issues, but it's definitely not for the faint of heart -- gore and jump scares abound.

And if you already played and enjoyed the base Outlast game, be sure to check out the Whistleblower DLC released earlier this year.

Outlast

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Among the Sleep

Nighttime is creepy. Nighttime as a baby is even creepier.

Among the Sleep is a first-person horror game where you're awakened in the middle of the night and must investigate. The twist? You're a two-year-old child. The game's a bit on the short side, but the atmosphere is fantastic, and there's no better way to feel vulnerable than to inhabit the body of a toddler.

Among the Sleep

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Stasis

It’s a point-and-click, but Stasis has atmosphere in spades. You wake up on a strange spaceship surrounded by bodies, and it only gets worse from there.

Styled after the classic isometric horror game Sanitarium and paying obvious homage to Alien, Event Horizon, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, and other bits of beloved genre fiction, Stasis is easily one of 2015’s best horror games -- not necessarily because of overt scares, but because it tells a compelling story and has a way of getting under your skin.

Stasis

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Alan Wake

Alan Wake is one part Stephen King novel, one part Twin Peaks, and one part Twilight Zone episode -- in other words, it's a horror fan's dream. Darkness is taking over the town of Bright Falls. Author Alan Wake realizes he's already written a book about the events, and it's slowly coming true -- one page at a time.

Combat in Alan Wake is a bit clunky, but it's really Remedy's storytelling and atmosphere you're here for, both of which are superb.

Alan Wake

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Five Nights at Freddy's

I thought the first Five Nights at Freddy’s was a fun, jump-scare ridden gimmick. Three more of them in the past year? Diminishing returns.

Still, if you’re looking for some lightweight horror, you could do worse. I don’t think you need to play all four, but the idea of bloodthirsty, Chuck-E-Cheese style animatronics coming to life remains terrifying and the “Trapped watching events play out through security cameras” mechanic is inspired. The fact that you can only watch the not-so-merry crew over grainy security cameras as they close in on your location gives the game an ominous, incredibly tense feel -- though that fades after a few playthroughs.

Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise pack

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Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4 is commonly cited as the best of the series, which is slightly funny if only because the game doesn't even revolve around the zombies the series is known for. Set in Spain, protagonist Leon Kennedy has to contend with a creepy cult pledged to "The Enlightened Ones."

The original PC port of Resident Evil 4 was trash, but earlier this year Capcom released Resident Evil 4: Ultimate HD, which seems to fix most of the issues while also improving the graphics.

Resident Evil 4

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Resident Evil HD

Resident Evil 4 ruined Resident Evil.” Yes, I know you’re out there, angry person.

If you’re a devout fan of the classic Resident Evil feel, then you should know Capcom put out Resident Evil HD earlier this year -- a remastered version of the GameCube remake of the original PlayStation 1 game. Phew.

It looks beautiful, as we mentioned in our Resident Evil HD review, and you can play without tank controls, which is (sort of) a relief. Just be sure not to end up a Jill Sandwich.

Resident Evil HD

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System Shock 2

Before BioShock there was System Shock.

It takes more than a few mods to get the best out of aging space horror game System Shock 2 nowadays, but it's worth it. System Shock 2 is legendary due both to the atmosphere of the starship Von Braun and the quality of its writing.

System Shock 2

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Dead Space

If System Shock 2 is the best space-based survival horror game of all time -- and it is -- Dead Space is a close second. Engineer Isaac Clarke attempts to repair an enormous space station, only to find it's infested by aliens known as the Necromorphs.

Dead Space is essentially the horror game Doom 3 so desperately tried to be. It’s absolutely worth checking out.

Dead Space

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Anchorhead

Scared by ... a text adventure? It's true. The tale of a creepy old mansion and a young couple, Anchorhead is over fifteen years old at this point and owes a hefty amount to Mr. H.P. Lovecraft. Like a good horror novel, Anchorhead is less about jump-out-of-your-seat scares and more about creating tension, but it does that masterfully.

Plus it's free, like most modern text adventures, and playable through your browser.

Also worth checking out: Slouching Towards Bedlam, Vespers

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Dreadhalls

Horror games on the Oculus Rift VR headset are about a thousand times more intense than they'd be if played on a normal monitor. Dreadhalls, a procedurally generated dungeon crawler, isn't the most polished nor the most graphically intensive game around, but it's a great proof-of-concept of horror in virtual reality.

Dreadhalls via Oculus Share

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Betrayer

Betrayer is rough around the edges, which is a shame, because at its best moments this atmospheric take on the vanished Roanoke colony is really, really creepy. Wandering the empty wilderness of Virginia, wind blowing balefully between the pines, hearing the far-off snorts of the animalistic Spaniards, flashes of red breaking the otherwise monochromatic environment ... it’s enough to give you the shivers.

If only the game played better.

Betrayer

call of cthulu

Honorable mention: Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth

I really, really want to include Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth as it's one of my favorite horror games of all time. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a buyer-beware situation, as the version of the game on Steam is exceedingly buggy and crash-prone.

If you can find a more stable version, however, or can play on an old console, do so immediately. This is one of the finest examples of psychological horror ever done in video games, with the exception maybe of the Nintendo 64’s Eternal Darkness.