In those games, Claustrophobia and Isolation rule the day as you navigate the metallic guts of a vessel overtaken by an inhuman and malignant consciousness. But the black vein running through both games is the theme of autonomy and what happens when it’s taken away. That theme is at its most palpable in System Shock 2. That brilliant sequel asks players to navigate the churning metallic guts of a starship twisted by the cruel designs of a malignant intelligence. Your enemies, while formidable, are also victims whose very bodies have been turned into tools of their own enslavement. All of these horrors are done in the name of a war between twisted gods of Metal and flesh for dominion over a man-made hell. Oh, and there are psychic monkeys. You know, in case you need another reason to play this masterpiece.
Influenced by early 20th-century playwrights like Albert Camus, Pathologic allows players to select one of three characters with distinct backgrounds and storylines before throwing them into a small village rife with supernatural phenomena, mysterious cults, and a deadly plague that threatens to swallow the community.
This game lacks traditional horrors like killers in the dark or waves of flesh-eating zombies. Instead, the horror here comes from the desperate struggle to survive in a terrible situation. You’ll need to scavenge for supplies like food, water, and medicine in a diminishing community where everybody is just as desperate as you are. Slowly, dread begins to build as the world around the player is overtaken by poverty, decay, and disease. The subject matter may hit just a little too close to home, and, like Camus, the storytelling can be a bit abstract. Each character is only given a piece of the story during a playthrough, requiring multiple plays to fully grasp the mystery of the plague. The experience that’s well worth the trouble, though.
4. Darkest Dungeon
After watching a cannibal witch boil a crusader alive, your highwayman has begun drinking to forget. The drink has affected his aim, and each missed shot earns him derision from your vestal maiden who has become abusive to cope with nearly dying to a cultist’s blade. Food is dwindling, and the torch is burning low. Welcome to Darkest Dungeon.
Darkest Dungeon is a roguelike RPG where permanent death and disfigurement can come from any direction. Surviving a trip through even the game’s lesser dungeons requires perfect strategy, the right items, and more than little luck. Indeed, here is a game not only about facing horror, but enduring the lasting damage that true horror inflicts. The result is an inky-black masterpiece made even more delightfully dark by narrator Wayne June’s icy baritone voice informing you of just how hopeless everything is.
Darkwood begins with a dog being killed shortly before the player character is tied to a chair and beaten half to death. From there, things get progressively worse.