Humanity has a peculiar taste for fear. You’d think we’d prefer to avoid it — but in the right context, it becomes high-octane entertainment. And of course, new technologies bring new and better ways to scare ourselves. Virtual reality is no different. With the HMD strapped tight and headphones on, we become completely immersed in the experience. VR offers the sort of fear you can’t get anywhere else, the fear that comes from living out your worst nightmares.
Try not to get too spooked as we count down the top 5 best VR horror experiences.
Top 5 Best VR Horror Games
Let’s jump straight into the list with a look at #5.
5. The Forest
- Website: www.endnightgames.com
- Platform: Windows (Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift)
- Playstyle: Standing, Room-Scale
- Developer: Endnight Games Ltd
- Release: April 30th, 2018
The Forest begins with the player on a plane. For some, that’s all the horror they signed up for right there. But then the plane crashes — another nightmare made real — and you wake to find that you’re alone in the wreckage.
Or perhaps you’re playing co-op, in which case you’re slightly less alone. Surrounded by bodies and lost in a vast forest, the fight to survive begins.
The Forest is a survival game at root. You gather resources, craft weapons, and assemble a home from sticks and stones. It’s a familiar gameplay loop at this point. But The Forest takes it to the next level by leaning heavily into the isolation and fear of the unknown. You won’t only be contending with the elements and the wildlife — a tribe of cannibals and grotesque mutants also call the region home. It’s scary enough to watch the sun sink below the horizon and hear the howls of a wolf pack. But what do you do when you hear breathing outside your ramshackle hut at midnight? That’s the terror (and the genius) of The Forest. Taking advantage of the cooperative multiplayer strips away the isolation, but encountering cannibals in the dark is still just as terrifying.
4. Duck Season
- Website: www.stresslevelzero.com
- Platform: Windows (Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality)
- Playstyle: Seated, Standing, Room-Scale
- Developer: Stress Level Zero
- Release: September 14th, 2017
If you grew up in the 90s, you likely played the classic NES light gun showcase Duck Hunt. The team at Stress Level Zero obviously did, and apparently, they had some questions. Questions like: “why can’t we shoot the dog?” and “what would happen if we did?”
Duck Season seeks to answer these questions while raising some new ones as well. What indeed would happen if you shot the dog in the game? And what would you do if the dog then began stalking you in real life?
To say anything more would rob the story (thin as it may be) of its impact. Despite the name, Duck Season isn’t all about the duck hunting minigame, though it’s fun enough to spend some time with. Things really kick into gear when you engage with the dog and topple the first of many dominos. Then the fear and paranoia set in, as things take a turn for the dark back in the real world. The experience is short and more of an amusement park ride than anything else. But Duck Season makes up for the lack of depth with multiple endings, fun minigames, and tons of secrets for those who explore the environments. It may not be a VR game you revisit again and again, but it’s absolutely one you must experience at least once.
3. Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help Wanted
- Website: www.steelwoolstudios.com
- Platform: Windows (Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality)
- Playstyle: Seated, Standing
- Developer: Steel Wool Studios
- Release: May 28th, 2019
Five Nights at Freddy’s is a series that needs little introduction. The first game took the internet by storm when it released in 2014, spawning hundreds of Let’s Plays and six sequels (to date). But perhaps the idea of murderous animatronics seems silly to you. Sure it is, on paper.
But may find that it’s a lot less silly when your power is ticking down to 0%, and you hear the metallic clanking of something stalking down the hall toward your hiding spot.
The latest entry in the saga, Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help Wanted, brings the jumpscares to life in full-scale VR. I emphasize “full-scale,” because the original games don’t give you a strong sense of the size of these haunted animatronics. They’re much, much bigger than you’re likely to be comfortable with. And they’re looking in your window.
All the original games are present in this VR smorgasbord. Familiar mechanics like swapping cameras, winding up music boxes, and donning animatronic masks are bound to make series veterans smile. As will the introduction of more lore for them to spin up theories about. But you’re not hiding behind a monitor and a keyboard this time. The interactions feel great in VR, and as the tension mounts, the rhythm of managing the situation becomes naturally more challenging to execute. It’s great, scary fun for fans and newcomers alike.
Just remember, there’s no looking away from a jumpscare in a VR headset.
2. Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion: HD Renovation
Platform: Windows (Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift)
Playstyle: Seated, Standing
Developer: Albino Moose Games
Release: March 1st, 2017
Don’t let the visuals fool you — Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion is perhaps one of the scariest VR experiences you can have. It’s plenty spooky (sorry, couldn’t resist) on a flat-screen. But plumbing the depths of Spooky’s sprawling mansion in VR is a whole new world of fear.
Seemingly inspired by the SCP Foundation, Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion: HD Renovation drops otherworldly terrors into the bright and cheerful cel-shaded hallways. Despite the cognitive dissonance — or perhaps because of it — each encounter with one of the lurking horrors in the mansion is genuinely chilling. And though there are hundreds of floors (rooms) to explore, the game never grows stale. The oppressive atmosphere seeps into your skin. The tension of waiting for the next lurking creature to find you keeps you on your toes. There’s even some variety in the rooms as well, telling unique stories through the environment and playing tricks on your perceptions.
If this is your first journey into Spooky’s mansion, you’re in for a truly terrifying experience. But even if you’ve run the gauntlet before, diving back in with VR brings the estate to life in new and spine-chilling ways that you’d be remiss to pass up.
1. The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners
Platform: Windows (Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality)
Playstyle: Seated, Standing, Room-Scale
Developer: Skydance Interactive
Release: January 23rd, 2020
I was wounded from a gunfight with other survivors and exhausted from sprinting through post-apocalyptic New Orleans. My ammo was spent. All I had left to defend myself was a half-broken shiv, a bow, and a few hand-crafted arrows. Still taking stock, I turned the corner and found myself face-to-face with a walker. I yelled with surprise, lunging forward with the arrow in my right-hand aimed between the walker’s eyes. It plunged through the decayed skin and bone with a sickening squelch, and the walker dropped. But the damage was already done — my scream was the dinner bell for every walker on the block. I could hear their moans as they shuffled toward me, the only fast food left in the apocalypse. The fight with the walker had used up what little stamina I had remaining. So I turned toward the horde to face my fate. After wrapping my arm with bandages, I threw my empty gun at the lead walker, knocking him back momentarily. Then I nocked an arrow to the bowstring and aimed at the next closest target, which was already reaching out to take a bite from my arm.
Friends, that story is not an embellishment. The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners may be one of the most well-executed VR games on the market right now. Fortunately for fans of horror, it’s also one of the most viscerally terrifying.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has a long and well-written campaign that takes you through the ruins of New Orleans. You’ll fight and scavenge to survive, making friends (or enemies) with the bands of survivors in the city. Your decisions impact the quests you’ll undertake and determine whether you’ll end the game as a “saint” or a “sinner.” There’s also crafting and a loose progression system that makes every excursion an opportunity to improve your character.
While the visuals may look cartoony (though not to the degree of Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion), that’s the last thing on your mind when a walker wraps it’s cold, unfeeling fingers around your arm. And fighting them off requires some finesse, holding their head with one hand so you can plunge in your shiv with the other. This is where VR really shines, making you feel like you’re genuinely fighting for your life as you wrestle with the undead. Gunfights are equally scary, thanks to top-tier sound design and challenging but realistic physics.
For some, the experience may simply be “too scary.” The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners pulls no punches when it comes to the zombie apocalypse. It’s gritty, grim, and intense. But if you have the stomach for it, The Walking Dead may just be the best VR game around, and a killer horror game to boot.