5. Doom 3 (2004)
The original Doom (1993) popularised the first person shooter, now the single most successful game genre, currently dominated by the ever-decreasing Call of Duty series. Developer id went back to Mars a decade later and remade their classic (itself recently remastered in anticipation of Doom 4) using a souped-up game engine. Released against another long-awaited sequel (Half-Life 2, often considered to be the greatest game of all time), Doom 3 was a rather disappointing experience, full of repetitive cut-and-paste corridors and monsters that would irritatingly spawn behind you in a room that you’d just spent some time methodically clearing. But that didn’t stop it being a deeply uncomfortable experience to play. A combination of state-of-the-art lighting and tremendous sound design made creeping around the Martian base a nailbiting affair; particularly as – controversially – you had to choose between holding your gun or a torch but not both at the same time (a dilemma now solved in Doom 3 BFG Edition).
4. Dead Space (2008)
As Isaac Clarke (see what they did there?), you must battle through a derelict spaceship infested with ‘Necromorphs’. Clearly influenced by the Doom series, Dead Space distinguished itself by employing a third person perspective and forcing you to dismember enemies rather than just pumping them with bullets. It’s a difficult game, particularly when played with an imprecise controller, and the lack of direct control makes it a stressful experience. Although the novelty dulls with repetition, there’s no escaping the sense of dread as you open a door into a vast cavernous room. You just know it’ll soon be swarming with evil.
3. Silent Hill 2 (2002)
By far the best entry in the ongoing series, Silent Hill 2 featured the introduction of series stalwart Pyramid Head, one of the most iconic nasties in gaming history. Add to the mix the Bubble Head Nurses (pictured) and an atonal, clanging soundtrack and you have a delicious recipe for terror. When the town periodically transforms into the metallic, bloodstained industrial Otherworld, signified by the wail of an air-raid, the sense of disquiet becomes outright fear as the areas you thought you’d made safe take on a macabre twist.
2. Thief III: Deadly Shadows (2004)
Not the whole game for inclusion on this list – just one level. Thief 3 is a steampunk stealth adventure where you’re tasked with breaking into various buildings around a fantasy medieval town (similar to the recently-released Dishonored which pays fond homage). The penultimate level, known as Shalebridge Cradle, involves breaking into a large cathedral-like building which, it transpires, had been a madhouse and an orphanage at the same time. The game patiently builds up suspense over an agonisingly long time as you creep around the Cradle, before unleashing the game’s most memorable horrors within. Often lauded as the single greatest game level of all time, no one forgets their journey into the Cradle.
1. Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010)
After waking up in a seemingly deserted castle you wander around, collecting notes, trying to remember who and where you are. Using the sparse tinderboxes to light torches as you go, you attempt to banish the darkness in order to slow your descent into insanity. And then, just as you begin to get to grips with your labyrinthine surroundings, something horrifying appears. The soundtrack signifies the being’s presence by screaming at you, with the repetitive thud of a heartbeat getting louder and louder, underscoring the cacophony. Without any weapons throughout the entire game, your only course of action is to run away and hide; and that’s what makes Amnesia so terrifying – you can only glimpse the horrors and you’re impotent to confront them. If you keep looking at the creature then it becomes aware of you and you can’t escape. So instead you crouch in a corner with your back to it as you pray that it won’t see you. From start to finish, Amnesia is utterly petrifying. Try playing as the developer intended, with headphones on and all the lights off, for an experience you’ll never forget.
Honourable mention - Slender: The Eight Pages(2012)
Created by experimental developer Mark J Hadley, this very short (and free) game drops you in a small, dark forest. You’re tasked with searching for eight notes scattered around, while avoiding a tall, thin entity, inspired by the Slender Man mythos. As you make progress the Slender Man gets closer and closer until you’re frantically running around with him right behind you, aware that by turning around and facing him you’ll be caught in his fatal grip.