As much as we all love what the new-fangled age of technology has brought us when it comes to realism in chills and spills (like the recent Resident Evil 2 Remake), there's something to be said for the halcyon days of horror. We're talking about some real classics like F.E.A.R, Amnesia, and Silent Hill. Before everything was so high-fidelity that you could see the pores on the nose of the zombie trying to drag its rotting claws through your flesh. Wondering aloud about skin blemishes does detract a little from the scare factor, in our opinion, if a game hasn't got that certain horror je ne sais quoi about it. Here's our list of the top 10 retro horror games that we've put together. Now, we're not necessarily talking the SNES, but these are definitely at least one console generation old.
Top 10 Retro Horror Games - Silent Hill 2
This one truly goes without saying. Konami's torment of the poor James Sutherland turned into a veritable giant of the horror game genre. It's been ported multiple times since its initial release in 2001, and there are very few people who aren't already at least passingly familiar with James' tragic adventure to find his dead wife in Silent Hill. With a whole bunch of endings and a variety of different unsettling discoveries to be made, the horror of Silent Hill 2 wasn't in inexplicable amounts of gore but in the way that it explored how twisted certain kinds of trauma could make the human psyche.
Top 10 Retro Horror Games - Amnesia: The Dark Descent
A cult classic that is still ridiculously popular to stream today despite its age, Amnesia: The Dark Descent tells a particularly macabre tale of one man desperately clinging to his sanity as he plumbs depths unknown to discover the truth. Amnesia was infamous at the time for removing power from the player character by preventing you from being able to fight back, and this helplessness is a big part of why fans still consider it a uniquely harrowing experience even though it doesn't tread particularly groundbreaking narrative ideas.
Top 10 Retro Horror Games - F.E.A.R
F.E.A.R was the name on everyone's lips when it came out, and despite doing almost the opposite of Amnesia when it came to giving you ways to get back at things pursuing you (we're talking straight up guns), its horrifying impact wasn't diminished in any way. Those who have played the game will know what we're talking about: you're not meant to fear the horrors that you can kill. It's the grating, insidious tension of that incredibly creepy child that's always lurking. It's also the way that things start to go bump in the night before you can take them out. Soon, you're in total darkness and all you can hear is the rattling of your own terrified breathing. Checkmate.
Top 10 Retro Horror Games - Dead Space
For those who like their thrills and spills to be a little more divorced from God's green Earth, look no further than Dead Space. Set in, well, space (where apparently no one can hear you scream), you take on the role of a hapless engineer who's definitely in over their head. If you've played Prey recently then this might start to sound a little familiar, but exchange formless enemies for terrifying, previously-human flesh bags that writhe nightmarishly and you get the gist.
Top 10 Retro Horror Games - System Shock
System Shock is arguably one of the early innovators of the template for the space horror subgenre that titles like Dead Space catapulted into the spotlight. A resounding commercial success, System Shock was all about trying to get the better of a malevolent AI whilst armed mostly with their wits in a claustrophobic, cyberpunk space station. The true horror here is the almost-inescapable reminder that the player's power is nothing compared to a supercomputer armed with mutants that were once compatriots. System Shock twists everything that the player can relate to into an awful, dehumanized version of itself, and if that isn't scary then what is?
Top 10 Retro Horror Games - Left 4 Dead
The original Left 4 Dead made shockwaves when it exploded onto the multiplayer, zombie-murdering scene, and all for good reason. Not content with making sure that you got up close and personal with the slavering enemies after your brains, everything from the AI design to the way the Horde would swarm you in times of panic was like catnip to a horror aficionado. There's nothing that gets your blood pumping quite like a loud bang out of nowhere before the rumbling of the ground indicates that the end is quite possibly near.
Top 10 Retro Horror Games - Deadly Premonition
Deadly Premonition released to mixed reviews in 2010, but it has since gained quite the cult following amongst those who consider themselves fans of being, well, scared out of their minds. This survival horror game doesn't initially appear to buck many trends when you're chucked into the shoes of a detective investigating a murder, but things very quickly spiral out of control and soon it's not just a matter of keeping your wits about you during the day. Something supernatural lurks afoot, and it's out for blood.
Top 10 Retro Horror Games - Five Nights at Freddy's
Everyone has had at least one brush with Five Nights at Freddy's, even if it's on the back end of an ill-aged meme. The animatronic foes of this particular horror game are incredibly distinctive, and it was even recently announced that there would be an AR version for those who truly wanted the sensation of being trailed by killer animals in their own homes. Five Nights at Freddy's central premise seemed simple enough: survive a night at a pizza joint making sure that nothing in a totally empty and totally normal store goes awry. Most of us know how this ends, though, and we've got one word for you: bloody.
Top 10 Retro Horror Games - Alone in the Dark
This was a survival horror game from the 90s which, as the name suggests, was about braving the horrors of the night all on your lonesome. While it may sound conceptually simple, Alone in the Dark was the framework for a lot of the Resident Evil titles, and a lot of the sensibilities in the game about ways to deal with enemies outside of killing are easily spotted in modern iterations of the horror game genre. Fancied yourself trapped in a haunted house and having to outsmart all manner of undead foes to escape? This is definitely one to experience, and not only because it's since received multiple accolades for its design and mechanics.
Top 10 Retro Horror Games - Fatal Frame
Fatal Frame is from the minds at Koei Tecmo, and they bring a distinctly Japanese-flavored twist to the usual horror game offerings. Each Fatal Frame game was special because it dealt with supernatural scares all rooted in Japanese folklore, and while it hasn't quite managed to crack the West to a huge degree, the titles are still incredibly influential. The mechanics in each game involve pacifying spirits that you're observing in order to put down a larger supernatural threat, and the titles were notable for having protagonists who were women instead of the usual men that populated the genre at the time.
Now that you've got our pick of the top 10 retro horror games by our estimation, you can start ticking items off your own spooky October checklist if you're short of things that go bump in the night and will make you shriek in response. Want more of that sweet, sweet Halloween content? We've even compiled a list of the best horror games on the Nintendo Switch.