Horror is designed to unsettle you and make you feel unsafe. Despite this, it can be easy to feel a little confident about the distance from it. After all, everything bad happens to the character in the game, not to you.
Sometimes, though, you’ll get a horror game that isn’t content to be confined to the window. It knows you’re there and it’s going to reach right through the fourth wall and grab you. Sometimes this is clear from the start, others like to lull you into a false sense of security before breaking the story wide open. Either way, expect the unexpected.
10/10 Pathological 2
Pathologic and its remake, Pathologic 2, are weird games about a plague, or maybe they’re games about a play. Maybe they are games where you are in a play about a plague. When you start, you find yourself in a theater, with the three main characters on the stage below. They argue over which one of them is the real hero of the story and you have to make that choice to choose your character.
Masked tragedies litter the streets, and while you’ll probably soon starve and die of disease, you can enjoy feeling thoroughly mocked by the reminder that you’re only playing a role. Brecht would have been proud.
9/10 I’M AFRAID
A fitting title if ever there was one, IMSCARED creates a game within a game. What appears to be a simple game of object puzzles and pixelated graphics soon takes a turn.
You’re introduced to the malevolent entity known as White Face, who will stalk you through the environment, crash your game, and leave you with disturbing little .txt files in your game’s folder from time to time. To succeed, you must learn to take nothing in the game for granted, as the grinning face will change the rules to suit their own agenda.
8/10 I see you
In I See You, all you have to do is explore the halls of a strange hospital, trying to find a door marked with a red cross. You go through the door to a new area, then repeat. Easy, right? Well, you can get a hint that things are a little off when the pop-up messages in the tutorial start getting more and more menacing. What follows is a descent into a surreal nightmare.
Graphical pop-in are weapons to scare you and the end game is something that should not be spoiled. Just don’t let your guard down.
7/10 A dark place
A Dark Place is definitely not a title you want to go into unprepared. It comes with a warning that while the game is harmless to the machine itself, the game will interact with your computer, and it absolutely does.
You start off in what seems like a fairly normal puzzle game, where you try to open doors while avoiding a train circling through the level. Soon, however, the game will quickly stretch out the window. It will close itself, change your desktop background and even log you out of your profile. All the fun of a computer virus, but hopefully none of the risk.
6/10 No players online
There is something particularly strange and sad about abandoned multiplayer servers. They are the shells of dead games, stripped of their purpose.
No Players Online lets you wander through a seemingly desolate multiplayer map for a Quake-style shooter. It’s lonely, and the game mechanics make no sense, but beyond that, something else is a bit odd. It was almost certainly a figure in the distance for a moment. You will then receive a notification that someone else has joined the game. You can’t see any other players, but unfortunately for you, you’re not alone.
5/10 Irisu syndrome
Irisu Syndrome is an intense anime-style puzzle game. You match shapes to get points and must chain together combinations to make the shapes disappear. You also need to keep your health from dropping to zero. This seemingly casual match game has higher stakes than you might first think. These concern the figure in the background, a girl in a hat with rabbit ears. As you play, images and text files will be added or changed in the game’s folder.
A story will unfold and will play out very differently depending on how well you do in the game. Eventually, you can figure out how the two things are connected, which only makes zapping blocks a more stressful experience.
4/10 kill the princess
You are on a path in the forest. Up ahead is a cabin. Inside the cabin is a princess. You must kill her or the world will end. That’s the premise given to you in Slay The Princess, how much of what you act on or believe is up to you.
At least you are led to believe that it is up to you. The forces at play in this world will put blocks in your path if you deviate from the narrator’s intended story. You probably shouldn’t trust the princess too much either. There is definitely something wrong with her. Who is the real prisoner here?
3/10 Pony Island
Pony Island is a game about ponies. It’s also a game about you playing a game about ponies. Most alarmingly, it is also a means for a demon to capture people’s souls.
In this game, you play a character playing a seemingly simple platformer that has been corrupted by some kind of diabolical influence. The malicious entity controlling the game will certainly not play fair. You’ll have to hack the game’s code in short puzzles, wrangle a collapsing options menu, and protect your pony from Satan’s machinations. Hope you weren’t expecting a game about unicorns to relax to.
2/10 Doki Doki Literature Club
Doki Doki Literature Club Yuri glitched
Perhaps one of the most abrupt and left-field examples of meta-horror is the supposed visual novel dating sim nightmare that is Doki Doki Literature Club. It takes a lot of time and effort to lull you into a false sense of security at the beginning. You will find yourself in the shoes of a socially awkward protagonist, navigating the difficult situation that arose from being the only boy in a school club.
Compose poems, talk to the characters and choose one of the romantic options, none of which will save you from the horrible surprise that comes to you at the end of the first playthrough. Something in the game isn’t happy with how things are turning out, and that’s bad news for everyone.
1/10 Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is aptly titled but still manages to surprise you, and has a very new take on that Lovecraftian idea of insanity-inducing horrors. The player character has a sanity bar, which drops when perceived by an enemy.
When the line of reason falls too low, things get weird. In addition to hallucinations in the game, you as a player will also start to doubt what you see. Your game will start to freeze, display errors, and even mute itself. Combined with the player character screaming about things not being real, you have to wonder if they just realized they were a character in a Nintendo game.
Next: The Best Horror Game Jump Scares