In recent years, horror games have really gained steam in the gaming world. Even though they've been around since video games first started being made, horror games always seemed to take a backseat when compared to AAA titles. With the release of games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and, more recently, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard the genre has once again found its rightful place in the limelight. However, even though the genre may have been on the back burner for so long, it doesn't mean that it didn't hold the throne back in the day. In fact, the horror genre used to be one of the most popular in the medium.
With the indie resurgence of the horror game, big developers have started to take notice and make their own. With the popularity of Youtube play alongs and the subsequent fun of watching a stranger scream and fall out of their chair, horror games are thought to be at their scariest. This isn't true. There are quite a few retro games that are insanely scary, even by today's standards. From adventure games to first person shooters, these games have been scaring gamers since before it was cool. So, load up your inventory, make sure your flashlight has some extra batteries, and carry the least amount of ammo possible, because we're about to explore the haunted mansion that contains the 15 Retro Titles That Are Way Scarier Than Today's Horror Games!
15 Personal Nightmare
Released in 1989, Personal Nightmare is a classic point-and-click adventure set in a small town that has been invaded by the devil. The player must eliminate all the possessed villagers and defeat the devil in four days or the game is over. There are also many, ghastly ways to die while exploring the town and trying to eradicate the demonic presence that has overtaken it.
Although the game’s interface is a bit cumbersome by today’s standards—requiring use of a compass to move, text based commands, and item manipulation—it still does manage to have a creepy vibe and some true jump scares, made all the creepier by the limited graphical capabilities of the day. Plus, the game features a priest being struck down by a lightning bolt through a stained glass window that sets the church on fire, while the devil rises, laughing, from the flames. If not a horror game intro, it would have made some gnarly heavy metal band cover art.
14 The Dark Eye
A first person psychological horror game released in 1995, The Dark Eye is a very strange game. Based on the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, the game follows a nameless protagonist that goes to visit his uncle’s house. All the NPCs in the game have realistic human features, minus their heads, which are horrific looking Claymation with odd features. The game exists as little more than a vehicle to introduce a new era of gamers to Edgar Allen Poe’s freighting stories, with one unique addition: the stories are told through both the viewpoint of the murderer and the victim.
This can lead to some truly disturbing instances, even for gamers that may be accustomed to the selected stories that The Dark Eye chooses to tell. Even the Uncle’s house, which serves as the hub to transport from story to story, is creepy and off-putting, especially when you interact with your family members. Plus, everything is unsettling with those damned Claymation heads and faces.
Dropping players into the shoes of a man with a mean case of car crash-induced amnesia; Sanitarium is an isometric, point-and-click physiological horror game that is still disturbing to this day. The game begins in an abandoned, gothic sanitarium (hence the title), and must explore to try and reestablish their identity and how they arrived at the sanitarium in the first place. After reanimating an angel statue that cries blood, the protagonist of Sanitarium is transported to different worlds that all hold a key to his identity.
Environments range from a village full of frighteningly deformed children, to an abandoned carnival. Most of the puzzles are pretty standard; consisting of item collection and implementation or just common sense. Even though some could consider the game laughable, Sanitarium still holds some truly unsettling content.
12 Alone In The Dark
Deemed “The First Ever 3D Survival Horror Game” in the 2008 Guinness Book of World Records, Alone In The Dark was originally released for PCs in 1992. Taking place in a deceased artist’s mansion that he hung himself in, the game follows Edward Carnby, a private investigator tasked with finding a piano for an antique dealer, or Emily Hartwood, the owner’s niece who wants to find the same piano because she thinks it will explain her uncle’s suicide.
The game immediately drops the player into a desperate situation, as you’re left defenseless as you’re stalked by a zombie in the attic. The player then has to make their way back through the house to uncover the mystery of the mansion. The game is terrifying in part because of the tank controls, which makes combat and evasion of monsters that much more difficult.
11 Clock Tower
The original Clock Tower on the Super Nintendo is a legitimately terrifying game. Following Jennifer Simpson, an orphan who is being stalked by an unusually short man with an enormous pair of scissors, the game is a point-and-click adventure that offers some serious scares. From Scissorman jumping out of the shower in your first encounter, to the little portrait of Jennifer zooming up on one terrified eyes while you run to escape his sheers, Clock Tower manages to frighten today.
Gameplay centers around searching the spooky Barrow’s mansion, solving puzzles and avoiding the scissor-wielding madman who seeks to cut you down. Although it may not have aged particularly well, Clock Tower is still definitely worth a play through for any gamer who wants to delve into the history of horror in video games or just wants a bloody, freighting good time.
10 The 7th Guest
One of the first PC games to be released solely on CD-ROM, The 7th Guest still has a strong presence in the gaming community today, having most recently been released on iOS to scare the pants off a new generation of gamers. When a thief and murderer turned doll maker builds a mansion, you know bad things are going to happen. Basically, you explore the mansion and experience flashbacks of ghosts that attended the mansion in an attempt to bring the “7th Guest” to the house, a young boy.
The game consists of exploration, solving puzzles, and watching FMV events of the six other guests being killed in creative ways, including one of the guests that is dissolved in her own bile. The game has an all around creepy vibe and watching the guests killing each other while you explore and solve puzzles is unsettling, to say the least.
9 Maniac Mansion
The first self-published title from Lucasfilm Games, Maniac Mansion is a point-and-click comedic horror game. Ron Gilbert created the SCUMM engine that revolutionized the adventure games industry. A humorous tribute to B- Movies, Maniac Mansion can actually get pretty dark. Aside from the bright color scheme and the upbeat soundtrack, for most of the characters, the mansion is creepy as hell. As soon as you enter the kitchen of the house, a bloody chainsaw is mounted on the wall, and a creepy old lady chases you down and throws you in a dungeon, almost harkening to the feel of Resident Evil 7.
Even though the game is drenched in satire and genuine humor, I still get a feeling of unease when I’m guiding my team of unwitting teens through the tacky halls of Maniac Mansion.
8 I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream
I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream doesn’t seem like much at first. A point-and-click adventure in the same vein as the old LucasArts and Sierra On-Line point-and-clicks. Following the same general story as the short story written by Harlan Ellison, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream is an extremely dark game. Controlling one of five sole survivors after a massive supercomputer named AM wipes out the rest of humanity, you must traverse a story created by the computer to redeem yourself.
But the game offers you some bizarre options along the path to redemption. You can force your characters to eat glass, sell your true love's soul to a demon, be burned alive in an oven by Nazis…the list of bizarre methods to torture your characters goes on. While the game contains no jump scares or especially pulse-pounding moments, its tone and content is deeply unsettling.
From the infamously weird mind of Kenji Eno, D is an odd duck. Part adventure game and part interactive movie, the game follows a young woman named Laura as she tries to discover why her father, a successful doctor, murdered everyone in his hospital. After arriving at said hospital (and somehow just walking in despite dead bodies literally everywhere), she is transported to a mysterious castle where she must find out what drove her father to madness. The gameplay is mostly maneuvering Rachel around the environment and solving puzzles against a time limit.
Having played it, it’s definitely worth a play through for the multiple endings and the fact that there are some truly horrifying moments; especially a series of flashbacks that reveal the backstory are especially spine-tingling. D was also one of the most violent games of the time, with creator Kenji Eno submitting a clean version and later swapping the original master (that includes some pretty gnarly cannibalism), in for production in the U.S.
6 Dark Seed
Dark Seed allows players to control Mike Dawson, a successful writer who has just purchased a Victorian mansion that has a doorway to an alternate reality, based on H.R. Giger’s artwork (the guy who designed the Xenomorphs in the Alien franchise), and must save humanity. Pretty typical, and the inclusion of H.R. Giger influence means that you may have a few more bellends and lady bits than usual. Genital inspired design aside, the game is very disturbing for a variety of reasons.
The game is a point-and-click affair, and the protagonist rocks a seriously mean mullet. Because of this, the game may be written off as dated or tedious, but the game definitely holds some disturbing scares for those willing to get through the slow opening. Creatures stalk the player, and the otherworld is truly eerie, making Dark Seed has more than enough potential to create some gooseflesh.
5 Sweet Home
Based off the Japanese horror movie of the same name and directed by Tokuro Fujiwara (who produced the original Resident Evil among many other classics), Sweet Home is considered by some gamers to be the granddaddy of the survival horror genre as we know it today. The game follows a news crew that breaks into an artist’s mansion in the hope of finding his rare frescoes that he hid away before he mysteriously vanished. The gameplay revolves around switching between the members of the news crew, who all posses certain items that can be used for solving puzzles and exploring the mansion.
Not only is the mansion you explore creepy enough, the encounters with the creatures in Sweet Home are particularly unsettling when encountered in the RPG turn-based battle system. Members of the news team can also die permanently in the game, making traversing the twisted creatures and traps of the mansion particularly terrifying.
Released by Sierra On-Line in 1995, Phantasmagoria was one of the bloodiest and most violent games released at the time. The victim of substantial delays and eventually released on seven CD-ROMs (which I remember having to swap when playing it as a kid), the game was a commercial success and is still deeply unsettling to this day.
A point and click, live action horror game that follows a successful novelist and her husband after they move into a massive mansion that was previously owned by a famous magician whose five wives all died mysteriously. You see where this is going. Cliché plot aside, the game does have some terrifying scenes, like trying to escape from a massive pendulum blade while strapped to a chair (and the subsequent head splitting that occurs if you don’t), or the mass of hands that pull the protagonist into a mattress she’s napping on. Even though the puzzles can be a bit simple, the games particularly gory death scenes and supernatural flair make it stand up to the horror games of 2017.
Yet another point-and-click adventure game from the 90’s, Harvester was considered the most violent adventure game of all time when it was initially released (it even said it on the box!), and is still regarded as one of the most disturbing games ever made. You play as Steve, a young man with no idea how he ended up in the bizarre town of Harvest, a freaky little 1950s hamlet filled with macabre neighbors and townsfolk.
A point-and-click affair, you must commit several crime-related tasks in order to join the Lodge, a mysterious club located in a massive building in the middle of the town. The game was initially a commercial failure due to it being delayed for almost two years. It has now reached cult status thanks to, what was at the time and continues to be extremely disturbing and violent content. Any game that features children eating their own mother definitely still has the ability to scare gamers today.
2 System Shock 2
Considered one of the finest FPS/RPG titles ever made, System Shock 2 is a truly scary game. Gamer’s assume the role of a lone soldier sent aboard the abandoned starship Von Braun, in an attempt to track the source of a genetic virus that has transformed all of the crew on board into feral monsters and other abominations. In addition to fighting and avoiding the mutated crew, the onboard AI that controls the whole ship named SHODAN tries its best to kill the player in some extremely terrifying ways.
Fleeing from a group of rampant, deformed crew members —armed with only a wrench and a shot of adrenaline— the game is scary because of the experiences that gamers can create for themselves. System Shock II is more than a compilation of set pieces full of jump scares. Plus, the ghosts of the ships deceased crew slowly revealing SHODAN’s slow and methodical takeover of the Von Braun is terrifying in its own right.
1 Splatter House Series
One of the most obscure, and somehow prominent, horror video game series ever made Splatterhouse rules. Like still really rules. The Splatterhouse series follows Rick Taylor, an evil mask wearing badass who beats the living poop out of all types of twisted monsters and demons with a variety of weapons, in his endless search for his girlfriend, Jennifer. One of the bloodiest series to be released on home consoles at the time, Splatterhouse is your typical beat ‘em up with over the top violence and gore. On top of the superb gameplay mechanics, the game is genuinely creepy for a variety of reasons.
The sound design is excellent, with howls and screams framing the extremely disturbing environments and creatures. Rick will fight bloated mounds of flesh, possessed teddy bear demons, and corpse eating jacked humanoid frights that are as unsettling as they are challenging. With the amalgam of all of these elements, the Splatterhouse franchise is truly a gem of the retro era.