Although survival horror video games and the broader “horror” category are often confused by gamers who don’t play either genre, they’re undoubtedly different.
Essentially, you can’t fight back against evil in a true horror video game. You simply have to run, hide, or find someone to help you.
In survival horror video games, however, you can fight back—and that key difference makes for some wholly unique gameplay.
- The Evil Within (2014)
- Dead Space (2008)
- Fatal Frame (2001)
- Until Dawn (2015)
- Deadly Premonition (2010)
- The Last Of Us (2013)
- F.E.A.R. (2005)
- Left 4 Dead (2008)
- Resident Evil Series
- Silent Hill Series
The Evil Within (2014)
In 2014, survival horror got a great addition with The Evil Within.
As is common in this genre, you play from a third-person perspective as you maneuver your character, Sebastian, to avoid traps, upgrade weapons, and try to take down enemies known as The Haunted.
The protagonist is a detective investigating the scene of a mass murder, which happens to be a mental hospital. From there, things only get weirder as you quickly discover that reality is not what it seems.
Dead Space (2008)
One common trope within survival horror video games is the idea of being on a spaceship somewhere in the galaxy. It’s a fun way to justify limited resources and or hard-to-access weaponry.
Additionally, it gives the developers a treasure trove of scary aliens to choose from for enemies.
With Dead Space, you’re facing down Necromorphs: terrifying creatures that have taken over your ship.
In addition to simple fighting and resource-gathering, this game also features exciting puzzles that take full advantage of space’s lack of gravity.
Fatal Frame (2001)
Fatal Frame is an unusual take on the survival horror genre: your character’s weapon of choice is a camera.
The ghosts and spirits which plague your character are frightening, and use plenty of jump-scares to keep you on the edge of your seat. You fight back, however, by taking their picture and dispelling some of that fear.
It’s not exactly clear why these spirits are so camera-shy, but it makes for a compelling storyline, especially if you’re into Japanese-themed horror.
Until Dawn (2015)
Zombies have been done to death—and back—which is why Until Dawn took a fresher route with a different creature that goes bump in the night.
For most of this game, your only option is to hide from whatever stalks you and your friends alone in the woods. There are times, however, when you can fight back.
The creature reveal plays out differently depending on your choices during gameplay, but mostly mimics the realistic glimpses and flashes of an actual monster attack.
This game also introduced an interesting mechanic not usually seen in video games: the Butterfly Effect. Your decisions have consequences later in the narrative, which makes for some truly excellent replay value.
Deadly Premonition (2010)
In this game, you play as Special Agent Francis York Morgan, investigating a suspicious death in a bizarre town.
Based on the TV show Twin Peaks—and shamelessly ripping off many elements in comedic ways—this game is full of delightfully strange storylines, and moments where York has entire conversations with himself, who he calls Zach.
What’s more, the recently-released sequel is just as good.
The Last Of Us (2013)
Naughty Dog brought gamers something exceptional with The Last Of Us, both its first and the second installments.
You follow Joel and Ellie, played by voice acting legends Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, respectively.
The characters live in a world with zombies, a common scenario for survival horror, but this take on it is unique and makes for great storytelling.
Unlike other games that focus on interesting mechanics, The Last Of Us is primarily a story about humans, with the zombies more so serving as a background.
As a special forces team member, your character is more prepared to fight supernatural entities than most.
Unlike many of the other games on this list, and in this genre, F.E.A.R. is from a first-person perspective, so you feel right there in the action as it unfolds.
However, since the developers knew players wouldn’t have the reflexes of a trained soldier, they introduced a mechanic where time essentially slows down. This then allows you time to aim and shoot at the monsters threatening you.
The plot is a little silly, as your enemies are scientifically-enhanced people who don’t appreciate being experimented on. Despite that, the game manages to stay scary and hold your attention.
Left 4 Dead (2008)
What this game lacks in narrative, it more than makes up in cool weapons and even cooler enemies.
Ostensibly, the creatures are zombies—but perhaps they’re better described as simply “monsters,” given their breadth of powers not typical of the undead.
Left 4 Dead encourages cooperative play, or co-op.
The teamwork angle is an “either you love it or you hate it” element for most gamers but Left 4 Dead‘s co-op mode doesn’t feel like an afterthought, like it does in many games. Instead, it’s a core component of gameplay.
Resident Evil Series
The Resident Evil franchise is vast and storied. Players can pick and choose from various stories and formats or start at the beginning and follow the entire narrative.
While the Umbrella Corporation transforms innocent civilians into zombies and other creatures with the use of the T-virus—and more—you play as tactical agents trying to survive and, ultimately, stop Umbrella.
Sometimes, though, you can play as related characters, including some Umbrella agents themselves.
While all the video games in this series are technically survival horror, a few are better at home in the shooter categories. You can check out the full list of installments in the Resident Evil series here.
Silent Hill Series
With a library of thirteen games, two movies, and more, the Silent Hill franchise has terrified and delighted gamers for over two decades.
Usually, the games take place in Silent Hill, Maine, a small rural town where reality is interspersed with flashes of the Otherworld: a place where characters’ deepest thoughts—and fears—become reality.
There’s also a cult that “runs” Silent Hill, and their role in each installment varies, but always amps up the terror.
The fact is survival horror video games can be just as scary and tense as traditional horror.
However, the former gives you more options, a more immersive experience, and greater involvement with the narrative. Even some great indie games can give a more immersive experience than a traditional horror game.
Whether armed with magic or a hefty baseball bat, you’re given an outlet to take charge and face the horror head-on and go all Yakuza on evil—while still being scared half to death.