Virtual reality (VR) horror takes away the one degree of separation that lets you feel safe.
You’re no longer watching jump-scares happen to characters on the other side of a TV screen.
You are hunted, isolated and alone, and you can’t look away; all you can do is run or die.
But, not all VR horror is created equal.
Out of the hundreds of games available on marketplaces like Steam, you’ll find indie and 4K graphics, psychological dread versus straight-up gore, and, if you know where to look, some spine-chilling gems amid more average fare.
Look through our picks for the best horror VR games around, and decide for yourself just what level of claustrophobic terror you think you can handle.
Oculus Rift / HTC Vive / Gear VR, $10
A great low-budget starting point for gauging your tolerance for VR horror, Dreadhalls doesn't give you the crutch of a weapon to defend yourself. For each new game you must navigate randomly generated dungeons, never knowing which monsters or traps will pop up to thwart you. Worst of all, you're armed with nothing but a lantern that burns out if you waste too much time hiding.
(For more low-budget haunted house jump scares, try Affected: The Manor)
Until Dawn: Rush of Blood
Playstation VR (PSVR), $15
While the original, non-VR Until Dawn had a compelling story that played cleverly off of horror movie tropes, the VR edition is much more straightforward: what if you were attacked by a horde killer clowns on a roller coaster?
You’ll have to learn to watch your peripheral vision as more and more terrifying monsters pop up in later levels. A great starting place for PS VR owners to get used to shooting mechanics and toughen up for the scarier games down the list.
(Also consider a more narrative-driven VR game from Until Dawn's developers: The Inpatient)
The Forest VR
Rift / Vive, $20
You're trapped in a mysterious, endless wilderness. You've built a shelter to defend yourself, scavenged food, crafted tools – and now that night as fallen, you know the monsters will be coming soon.
No, I'm not talking about Minecraft. But Forest VR, an open-world survival horror game with single-player and multiplayer support, shows how terrifying a game like Minecraft can be given realistic graphics. The tension as you defend yourself against mutant cannibals will keep bringing you back for more.
This first person shooter, rogue-like. sci-fi/horror game fully expects players to die again and again. Each time you do, you'll be 3D-printed back into existence with upgraded skills; unfortunately, the world itself will have been rearranged too, with new monsters ready to slay you all over again.
It's essentially Dead Space in VR, except that it's better to stealth around your creepy mutant enemies than try to cut their limbs off; at least until you've survived long enough in this tense, claustrophobic setting to craft better weapons.
(For another creepy shooter you'll play and replay to find every ending, try Duck Season).
The Brookhaven Experiment and/or Arizona Sunshine
Brookhaven: Oculus / PSVR / Vive, $20; Arizona: Oculus / PSVR / Vive, $40
Two zombie shooter games, two very different approaches. You should pick whichever sounds more appealing.
The Brookhaven Experiment plops players into the middle of a horde of zombies and has them mow them down in waves, frantically trying to conserve enough ammunition and upgrade weapons to survive to the end. You can't move, so you'll have to spin around in place to spot them as they silently approach through the dark.
In Arizona Sunshine you'll run around mowing down waves of zombies while dual-wielding weapons in the full light of day. While it really isn't that scary, you do have mobility, actual campaign missions, co-op horde more and more that add to its replay-ability.
This list has a lot of jumpscares, guns and zombies. But, for true Silent Hill-esque psychological terror and trickery, your only option is Wilson's Heart. Cast in black and white, this game places you in the unfortunate shoes of a man trapped in a disturbing hospital, his heart literally missing, hoping to understand his predicament and find a way out.
(For mobile VR users and X-Files fans, consider Dark Days.)
Resident Evil VII VR
An easy choice for the best VR horror experience you can buy. Others might scare you more in small chunks, but this first-person game, originally made for consoles, clocks in at dozens of hours of content, with incredible graphics and a surprisingly compelling story outside of the usual zombies and mutations.
(For a more action-heavy console-to-VR port that still has plenty of creepiness, try blowing up demons in Doom VFR.)
Bonus entry: Alien Isolation
Rift/ Vive, $40
In VR space, everyone will hear you scream. This harrowing cat-and-mouse marathon between Ellen Ripley’s daughter and the Xenomorphs from Aliens doesn’t actually have a VR port. However, if you own the PC version of Alien: Isolation, you can use this mod to update the game files and make it VR-compatible.
With motion control support recently added, you’ll truly feel like you’ve been fully inserted into the nightmare. And as with RE7, you’ll get dozens of hours of playtime out of this game (if you can last that long!).
Upcoming: Face Your Fears 2
The original Oculus-exclusive Face Your Fears forced you to do what it says on the tin, placing you in horrifying situations and then futilely asking you to bravely face them without flinching. Trust us, you will flinch.
While the first game had you confront snakes, spiders, demon children and other monstrous scenarios, the upcoming sequel, due to launch on the Oculus Quest next spring, will probably up the fear factor, along with the graphics.
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