The best horror games to give you nightmares in 2021

The best horror games are a varied bunch but they all have one thing in common; they all want to scare you out of your wits and make you ask yourself why you even Googled this in the first place. And yet you read on because you actively want to be afraid. You can’t explain exactly why, and you even understand why other people think you’re unhinged, but horror games are a perfect way to face your fears in a safe environment.

No, you don’t want to push on and find out what lurks in the dark at the end of this corridor but simultaneously, you do and you must. The majority of the games on this list are lone experiences – better to scare you with, my dear – but there’s a couple of horrific experiences to find some friends for and see who can reach final girl status. Good luck. And yes, it’s better to just ignore the screams.

1. Alien Isolation

Alien Isolation
Alien Isolation. Credit: Creative Assembly

  • Developer: Creative Assembly
  • Playable on: PS5, Xbox Series, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch

Ask someone about their experiences with Alien Isolation and chances are that they’ll get a very specific look in their eyes. Suddenly they’re back, alone, hiding under desks and frozen, too terrified to progress along space station corridors for fear of what’s waiting for them there. A monster that they know all too well. That look is exactly why you need to play Creative Assembly’s terrifying love letter to the xenomorph-packed film franchise. Imagine a hunting sim where you are very much the hunted instead of the huntee with only that iconic motion tracker to help you survive. The opening hours of Amanda Ripley’s quest to find out what happened to her mother are nerve-shreddingly tense. Decades of horror cinema mean you know what’s hiding in those air ducts and it really doesn’t like you.

2. Phasmophobia

Phasmophobia. Credit: Kinetic Games

If you’ve spent hours watching the kind of ghost hunting programme where scared people whisper “did you hear that?” at each other in increasingly panicked tones, Phasmophobia will be right up your night vision-lit street. The concept is beautifully simple; you screech up outside a haunted house with all manner of spectre hunting gear in a van, and work out the specific flavour of ghost that’s causing the trouble. That is, if the spook doesn’t murder you first. It’s important to say that while you can play Phasmophobia alone, it’s infinitely better to share the experience with friends and there are certain maps where an extra set of hands is nigh on essential. Just remember that some ghosts take great pleasure in separating your group Scooby Doo style. There’s nothing like realising you can’t get into a room and hearing a friend’s desperate howls for help on Discord as they watch the ghost writing book fill with words…

3. Layers of Fear

Layers Of Fear
Layers Of Fear. Credit: Bloober Team

  • Developer: Bloober Team
  • Playable on: PS5, Xbox Series, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch

Now with Blair Witch and The Medium under its belt, Bloober Team has cemented itself as a purveyor of solid horror experiences. But it’s the original Layers of Fear that remains resolutely the scariest of them all. This is a short but terrifyingly sweet journey as you explore a surreal and disturbing mansion on a quest to finish a painter’s magnum opus. At first, things only feel unnerving as the paintings on the walls gaze back at you with unblinking eyes but quickly the mansion starts warping and twisting, expertly pushing you forward on a unique ghost train. All the usual scary suspects are here – dolls anyone? – but Layers of Fear still manages to feel fresh and never overuses any of its tropes as it pursues the next exquisite scare.

4. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Credit: Capcom

  • Developer: Capcom
  • Playable on: PS5, Xbox Series, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch

Yes, this is about Resi 7 but let’s talk about the 9ft vampire-shaped elephant in the room first. The most recent Resident Evil Village is excellent and has one of the most terrifying horror set pieces in recent memory but, and this is a big but, it doesn’t deliver the same consistent sense of utter terror as the first two acts of Resident Evil 7. Arriving at the Baker house is a masterclass in gaming scares as Ethan Winters hunts for his girlfriend Mia amidst a Texas Chainsaw Massacre influenced world of grime. The Bakers are, quite frankly, a true nightmare and every moment within these walls feels like mental torture. Which is exactly why we love it so much. And a salute for those who have managed to play it all through in VR on PlayStation. You have a capacity for horror that others can only dream of.

5. Outlast

Outlast. Credit: Red Barrels

  • Developer: Red Barrels
  • Playable on: PS5, Xbox Series, PS4, Xbox One, PC

If you enjoy repeatedly saying “oh hell no” as you pull up outside an abandoned asylum with only a handful AA batteries to power a night vision camera, then Outlast is absolutely for you. Your first swear won’t even happen inside the dreaded Mount Massive Asylum. It’ll be when you realise that you’re using a smashed window that’s clearly been used as an exit as a way inside. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all… Outlast made brilliant YouTube fodder on release with its perfect blend of jump scares and painfully tense hide and seek sequences but don’t let that put you off taking the plunge. Red Barrels’ carefully constructed journey into hell and its additional DLC make for a truly horrific couple of sessions of gaming. The sequel is a little on the chase heavy side but you might even want to brave that too.

6. Dead by Daylight

Dead By Daylight
Dead By Daylight. Credit: Behaviour Interactive

Horror movies are cyclical. Some years we’ll be suffering a horde of undead shuffling zombies, while others will be full of a little more subtle psychological scares. And then there are slasher movies that, like certain iconic masked killers, always manage to resurrect in new and exciting ways. This is the reason that Dead by Daylight is still one of the most played horror games since its release in 2016. The basic premise of surviving alongside three others while a super-powered serial killer tries to hang you on hooks is simple enough but the official DLCs over the years that have added Michael Myers, Scream’s Ghost Face, and even Silent Hill’s monsters mean that the experience always feels fresh. Whether you’re playing as the killer and trying out all manner of gore-tastic powers or a survivor desperately trying to escape, the passion for the source material makes this a creepy treat.