If you think narrative-driven horror game, your mind might jump straight to the upcoming Resident Evil 3 remake — and then feel a bit uncomfortable about it. While the Umbrella Corporation’s story is gripping horror stuff, the gameplay can sometimes be a bit too overwhelming. Fortunately, it’s not the only horror game with a great story. We’ve put together a list of the seven best narrative-driven horror games on PC to help give you some alternatives. As an added bonus, they aren’t exceptionally scary either. Almost anyone with an interest in horror can enjoy them.
Blair Witch? You say with a disbelieving chuckle. Yes, the Blair Witch Project film spawned countless jokes. If it released today, the flood of memes would probably break the internet. This isn’t that Blair Witch.
The Blair Witch PC game is based on the film, but it goes further and expands on the lore. That’s one of its biggest strengths, partly because the story is better and also because you’re automatically much more immersed in the game’s story than the film’s. You take control of Ellis as he explores the woods, searching for a missing child. Of course, it’s much more involved than that. Your own fears might be the biggest nightmare stalking you through the woods.
Blair Witch might not be perfect, but it’s still an excellent exercise in narrative-driven psychological horror. Plus, not only are you paired with Bullet the German Shepherd, but how you treat him directly affects the game. Head pats = victory (sort of), and it doesn’t get much better than that.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
“Unique” is a pretty good way to describe Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. You take control of a high school student at Hope’s Peak Academy, a school for the best of the best. Something strange happens one day, though — and by “strange” we mean “a demented teddy bear traps a handful of students inside and forces them to play a murder game.” The deal is you can either stay there forever or murder one of your fellow classmates and get away with it. As the protagonist, you choose the former option. Others don’t, though, and it’s up to you to piece together what happened and find the killer before it’s too late.
Danganronpa plays out as part adventure game, part visual novel, and part Phoenix Wright court-style game. Paying attention is absolutely paramount if you want to catch the real killer. If this sounds a bit too dull for a horror game, though, the grisly execution scenes should change your mind and drive home the fact that one way or the other, you’re responsible for your classmates’ deaths. The first game’s PC port was handled well, too.
Yomawari: Night Alone
Yomawari: Night Alone is more of a traditional horror game, with jump scares, dark nights, and monsters. It doesn’t come up short with what makes a narrative-driven horror game great, though. There’s still a spine-tingling story to uncover. You take control of a young girl as she tries to find her sister one evening. The problem is, their familiar town has changed in the dark. Oh, the streets are (mostly) the same, and the buildings look familiar, sure. It’s the terrifying monsters from Japanese folklore stalking her that cause the issues.
Yomawari is fraught with encounters with evil spirits out for your blood and something that’s always behind you. It gets fairly intense at times, as you navigate the dark streets, solve puzzles, and avoid your doom. Fortunately, it’s never too much. That’s down to the cutesy chibi aesthetic, which both buffers the more disturbing parts and helps draw you in. Unlike, say, Resident Evil, this is obviously a fairytale story. And if you like it, the very good sequel — Yomawari: Midnight Shadows — is also on Steam.
Layers of Fear 2
Layers of Fear 2 is probably one of the most interesting narrative-driven horror games. If you played the first, you might think you’ve got an inkling about what the sequel is all about — and you’d be pretty wrong for that. Sure, it borrows some ideas about art and artists, along with indirect commentary about the madness of the artistic process. But it’s all wrapped up in so many more… well, layers. Sometimes, there’s a real danger you’ll miss some of the references, but the journey itself is s till too good to miss.
Everything unfolds on board a deserted and, naturally, terrifying ship. Like Blair Witch, a lot of the horror stems from isolation and the ever-growing sense of dread that gnaws at your soul. The other part is from not knowing. You don’t know who you are or what’s going on. You don’t know what’s going to happen, obviously, but you also don’t know what already happened — and whether not knowing will be your undoing. Fortunately, all this only gets interrupted sporadically with jump scares and more traditional horror elements, so you can keep your focus firmly on the narrative.
Corpse Party is definitely one of the more immersive narrative-driven horror games you can find, during lockdown or any other time. It’s technically the title of the first game and the series itself. While the original game available on Steam is admittedly a bit rough, it’s a ghoulish tale worth looking past the iffy gameplay for.
Like Danganronpa, Corpse Party focuses on a school, but that’s where the similarities end. A group of students performs an occult ritual without regard for the consequences and ends up trapped in the decaying halls of Heavenly Host Elementary School. Trapped is how they’ll stay — at least, until the vengeful ghosts of dead children finish with them — unless the group manages to uncover the dark secrets of what happened in Heavenly Host long ago. Any more would be a spoiler, so we’ll leave it at that. Just be aware that Corpse Party is a bit disturbing, and the visual novel aspect of its storytelling emphasizes that even more.
Among the Sleep
Among the Sleep is an indie horror title from Norwegian developer Krillbite Studio. It’s also built around one of the most interesting concepts in horror gaming: Among the Sleep is a first-person adventure game where you play as a two-year-old. Strange noises wake you in the night, and you need to find your mother. That’s where Krillbite is able to do something completely different. Because you’re a two-year-old in the dark, your imagination starts playing tricks on you. Normally safe, mundane objects turn into something dangerous, and very little is as it seems (especially your creepy teddy bear). You’ll venture into frightening dreamscapes, solve puzzles, and overcome obstacles all from the toddler’s perspective.
That means you can’t solve them like you’d normally do, and it’s surprising how this simple change in perspective introduces a completely new layer of fear and anxiety. We experience most stories from an adult’s — or at least teenager’s — perspective; it’s pretty rare to witness a narrative unfold as a toddler, which is what makes Among the Sleep so intriguing as a narrative-driven horror game. If you’re not sure whether this sounds like your thing, though, Steam offers a free demo to test it out.
SOMA gets you pretty close to Resident Evil-style storytelling and subject matter without going over the edge with the fear factor. In fact, SOMA is at its absolute best when it doesn’t try to scare you with monsters and things following you around. It’s all about a person who wakes up in a research station under the sea. The station’s machines all think they’re human, and there’s very little chance of surviving for long. You’re entirely alone — except for those deeply unsettling sounds you hear and the twisted versions of people you come across.
As much as SOMA wants to be about outsmarting your enemies, it’s main focus is something else. While you escape your foes, you’re also exploring the nature of identity and the dangers of replacing humanity with machines. It’s something many horror games, Resident Evil included, don’t quite try to accomplish. Beyond the creeping dread and isolation, this exploration of life itself is what will stick with you.
If you find Resident Evil a bit too intense and full of jump scares, these less scary, narrative-driven horror games should be a perfect alternative for you. Which titles do you plan on picking up?