Fear is one of the most basic feelings human beings share. But not all fear is made the same.
Just as a well-timed jump-scare can make you lose your chill, a deeply disturbing game can shake you down to your core.
It’s the feeling you get when you can tell something is profoundly wrong, but you can’t put your finger on what it is. Or, perhaps, you’re scared of what you might uncover if you look closer.
It’s not so much the thing itself but, its implications that fill us with anxiety.
If you like movies like Hereditary and Get Out, then you’ll find a lot to love in these disturbing video game titles.
12. Outlast (2013)
Available on PC / PS4 / Xbox One / Nintendo Switch.
Outlast puts you in control of a halfwit journalist who puts himself in deathly danger by infiltrating a shady psychiatric hospital instead of just staying home and writing a sports column.
Jokes aside, this survival horror game does a great job at making you want to look away from the screen.
It’s full of malformations, horrible mutations, and terrifying mutilated bodies that’ll remind you of the plasticity of the human body.
That said, the game doesn’t really have much to offer other than grotesque and gory imagery.
Once you become accustomed to the flayed bodies and insane inmates, you’ll breeze through the game no-prob.
11. Manhunt 2 (2007)
Available on PS2 / PSP / Wii.
Manhunt is one of those games that leave a mark on history for all the wrong reasons.
This third-person psychological horror title casts you as a mental patient suffering from amnesia who’s roped into a murder spree by sociopathic mastermind Leo Kasper.
The horror comes not only from your enemies’ brutal and twisted nature, but from your own raw murderous violence.
This narrative was vilified by the media back when it came out. It’s understandable, though.
If games really were turning people more violent, this was about to cause a massive rise in murderous psychos.
Of course, nothing of the sort happened.
10. Hatred (2015)
Available on PC.
Sociopaths and murderous psychos are often a reflection of the ways our society has gone wrong.
They’re a symptom of the unsightly realities we choose to ignore.
We see ourselves in them, and there’s nothing quite as disturbing.
It’s no wonder Hatred caused such media outrage back when it was first announced.
The game is basically a mass-murder simulator where you rebel against mankind’s inherent evil by killing as many innocent NY citizens as you can.
It also includes gratuitously brutal mechanics like recovering health by executing incapacitated victims in gruesome ways.
The game is supposed to be a statement against political correctness in the gaming industry. And I appreciate the counter-cultural sentiment, but I can’t see it as more than an edgy experiment.
9. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017)
Available on PC / PS4 / Xbox One.
The seventh main entry in the Resident Evil franchise is a return to form of sorts, focusing on the survival horror, rather than intense action and combat that characterized the series since RE4.
You control main character Ethan from the first-person perspective, which gives you a privileged point of view to the horrors he must endure – including getting his arm chainsawed off at one point.
Never mind that he gets a new hand and attaches it with a stapler and some magical healing water or something only moments later.
I’d be scared out of my mind if I was him.
8. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017)
Available on PC / PS4 / Xbox One / Nintendo Switch.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is lauded by critics and mental health specialists for its realistic portrayal of mental illness, and the distortions in perceived reality experienced by psychotic patients.
Of course, the 8th Century Pict warrior you play as doesn’t consider herself “mentally ill”.
To her, she’s being followed by entities and dark energy that torments her but pushes her forward toward her objective.
Senua’s Sacrifice is a fantastic game with gratifying gameplay. Still, I can’t help but feel slightly disturbed by realizing that real people experience stuff like Senua’s hallucinations daily.
The fragility of our reality is pure existential horror.
7. Silent Hill (1999)
Available on PlayStation.
Silent Hill may not be the most disturbing game on the list.
But it’s definitely one of the most iconic.
Despite its time’s graphic limitations, Silent Hill managed to deliver an intense psychological horror experience through smart sound design (I can still hear the radio static) and creative storytelling.
There’s something that just feels wrong in Silent Hill.
It’s not the destroyed avenues or the eerie fog, but something more fundamental shared by every character and location in this game. They’re tainted, and you instinctively feel like there’s no way out.
6. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (2014)
Available on all major platforms.
It doesn’t take detailed graphics and realistic environments to create a disturbing experience that’ll take you out of your comfort zone.
This indie roguelike shooter puts you in control of Isaac – a traumatized child traveling the hellish dungeon beneath his home in a quest to kill his own mother before she kills him.
On the way, he’ll bump into horrible creatures like ghostly aborted fetuses and giant severed hands that you must kill by… crying?
Well, what else is a child to do?
With challenging procedurally-generated levels and more than a few secrets, the Binding of Isaac plays like a bad psychedelic trip into the depths of hell.
5. Pony Island (2016)
Available on PC.
Pony Island tricks you into a sense of security by pretending to be a pretty basic 2D game about an innocent unicorn, but quickly descends into madness as it’s revealed that the game is possessed.
And your computer may be, too.
Much like Doki Doki Literature Club, this game will creep you out in unorthodox ways.
I don’t want to spoil this metafictional experience, so let’s just say an executable file doesn’t easily contain the devil.
4. Dead Space (2008)
Available on PC / PS3 / Xbox 360.
Any game can be spooky. But it takes a great game to really chill you to the bone and leave a lasting impression.
Dead Space does that, and more.
Looking back, this was the first terrifying game I played.
I was paralyzed by the sound of Necromorphs crawling around in the USG Ishimura’s vents – and the “quarantine sections” where you must fend off wave after wave of monstrosities were the closest I’ve ever been to a panic attack.
The game is also full of the agonizing stories of the Ishimura’s crew as they were turned into Necromorphs one by one.
Every new area you reach holds a new, disturbing story of a crew’s last few days.
Add to that Isaac’s hallucinations and the whole “space cult worshiping an alien monolith” thing, and you can see why this game is so high on the list.
3. Sanitarium (1998)
Available on PC / Mobile.
The stuff that’s most disturbing to us humans are things that realistically stray from the norm.
We’re scared of demons and monsters, but disturbed by what may become of us if we’re just a bit unlucky.
You’ll experience this brand of deep discomfort while playing Sanitarium, a point-and-click adventure with a penchant for the grotesque where you’ll be treated to deformities, self-mutilation, and insanity of every kind.
You’ll shudder as you accompany asylum inmate Max on his descent into hell, passing through a village of malformed children, a deranged circus, and even an Aztec village devastated by Quetzalcoatl.
And don’t even think about looking away. You’ll have to dig deep into the game’s subtle hints if you want to progress and uncover the truth behind your internment.
2. Doki Doki Literature Club! (2017)
Available on PC.
At first glance, you’d never guess DDLC of being anything other than a cute dating sim with an adorable cast of hot anime girls – but you should never judge a book by its cover.
While it does start as your average high school romantic comedy where a guy joins the Literature Club to keep it from being closed down, things go south fast once the girls start showing their true (and disturbing) selves.
The game only gets darker and darker from there, eventually falling apart completely and revealing yet another layer to the puzzle.
It’s fair to say this review nails it pretty well.
1. LISA: The Painful (2014)
Available on PC.
Women are a vital part of most men’s lives. In a way, they’re what drive us forward. Without women, we’d probably be lazy and quickly fall into depravity. And maybe in time, we’d go insane.
That’s exactly the kind of world explored in LISA: The Painful, where your balding middle-aged playable character must protect his adoptive daughter from the dangers of a post-apocalyptic world with no women.
All kinds of deviancy reign over this sweaty & hairy world – and survival doesn’t come cheap.
Will you betray your friends? Sacrifice a limb?
Or will you turn to some helpful chemicals for a little extra push?
No matter how you decide to play, this dark tragicomedy will scratch your itch for outlandish content.
Frequently Asked Questions
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Amnesia series Amnesia is one of the best survival horror series of all time, with the first game in the series, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, proving to be one of the most terrifying games we’ve ever played. Imagine, if you will, that you’re being chased by a monster and have no means of defending yourself.
What is the scariest game to play in real life?
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