When you first dive into a game, there may be no better indicator of what you should expect than the music. This holds especially true when it comes to scary games, where mood and tension are everything. Not every game is frightening in the same way, and music plays an essential role in helping each game tell a uniquely disturbing story. Since Halloween is just around the corner, I’ve hunted down the most memorable music from creepy games across the years.
15. Gone Home
Though by no means a traditional horror game, Gone Home works as well as it does because of its eerie set-up and its unusual tone which mixes sentimentality, loneliness, and anxiety. Composed by Chris Remo (who also composed the music for Thirty Flights of Loving), the score has some long-lingering notes that are just low and strange enough to be slightly unsettling. Its minimalist keyboards harken back to everyone’s childhood Casio, which is fitting for a game about nostalgia. Moving seamlessly between sadness and optimism, the soundtrack keeps the player uncertain about the truth of what’s happened in that empty house until the game’s conclusion.
14. Blank Dream
Blank Dream is an incredibly dark freeware horror game about a girl who commits suicide and finds herself in the Mirror World, where she must smash mirrors in order to have her wish that she had never existed at all granted. Developed by Kanawo of Teriyaki Tomato and made in RPG Maker, the game features music that is reminiscent of the early Silent Hill titles with its intense melancholy and dreamlike distant synth strings and piano. While it’s unclear who composed the songs (some seem to be taken from the RPG Maker music library, while others have completely mysterious origins), they are extremely effective at setting the tone for the emotional and psychological twists that lie ahead.
Despite the absence of combat or any active threat to the unnamed faceless protagonist of the game, Myst can be troubling in a way that only really dawns on you when you’re, say, standing there utterly alone in the Stoneship Age trying to figure out a puzzle. Other than the characters you speak to through books, you are utterly alone in these bizarre worlds and must piece together their mysteries on your own. Composed by Robyn Miller, the music in Myst reflects this isolation: it echoes a little bit, as if it’s coming from some hidden source in the world nearby, constantly reminding the player how empty and devoid of life each Age is. The spookiest track is probably the suspenseful main “Myst Theme” that plays at the game’s opening as you watch a man fall into a rip in space-time. It almost sounds like it belongs in The X Files.
Filled with film noir-inspired gloom, Limbo has a subtly creepy soundtrack that makes playing the puzzle-platformer without at least a slight feeling of dread nearly impossible. The haunting music is composed by Martin Stig Andersen, who won the Interactive Achievement Award for sound design from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences for this work. Filled with deep rumbling sounds, mechanical noises, and otherworldly notes that stretch on forever, the soundtrack stands somewhere between ambience and music. In an interview with IndieGames, Andersen discussed how the soundscape you hear in the game contains sounds that are triggered randomly, as well as some that are triggered by events in the game. This generative element makes for a subtly unique audio experience with each playthrough.
When a game drops you in the desolate snow-covered mountains of Russia with only the sounds of a forlorn piano and a lone voice singing wordlessly along in the background, you can be certain that it’s going to play with any fears of isolation or getting lost you might have. Kholat’s soundtrack is composed by Arkadiusz Reikowski and features the mournful vocals of Mary Elizabeth McGlynn of Silent Hill fame on one of its songs. Reikowski’s soundtrack also makes use of the talents of singer Penelopa Willmann-Szynalik and the Airis Quartet, with both adding a certain dramatic sorrow that really helps to tell the game’s tragic story about a group of hikers that died under mysterious circumstances.
Films and games alike use music cues to really drive home a jump scare. Occasionally Outlast also likes to use music to prepare you for a scare that doesn’t actually come, or comes only after you’ve finally let out a sigh of relief. Composed by Samuel Laflamme, the soundtrack does an excellent job of keeping you on edge with panic-inducing strings and, during chase scenes, startling percussion.
9. Until Dawn
Until Dawn has been called an interactive horror movie, and out of all the games on this list its soundtrack, performed by a full orchestra, is certainly the most cinematic. Jason Graves, who also composed the music for the Dead Space games, has created a score that manages to make the game’s stressful situations even more horrific. Since the game has quick time events, the soundtrack also makes it difficult to remain collected enough to execute them correctly as it’s constantly reminding you of how urgent the situation is.
8. Year Walk
Simogo’s adventure puzzle game Year Walk is set in rural Sweden during the late 1800s, and composer Daniel Olsen has created a soundtrack that is as chilling as the coldest Scandinavian night. Almost all scary games use nighttime to enhance their scares– the fear of the dark is as old as time itself– but if you consume a lot of horror-themed media, it’s easy to become numb to it. In great part because of its music, Year Walk succeeds in making the time between dusk and dawn terrifying again. The soundtrack is full of clanking bells and lonely melodies that Olsen says were inspired by electro acoustic and Swedish folk music.
7. Deadly Premonition
Heavily inspired by Twin Peaks, Deadly Premonition is one of those games that is almost impossible to describe properly other than by simply calling it “weird.” The soundtrack, composed by Riyou Kinugasa, Takuya Kobayashi, and Hiromi Mizutani, contains certain elements common to traditional horror games, but it’s been a little jazzed up. Then there are tracks that are so strange for a horror game – like “Life is Beautiful,” which is just cheerful whistling accompanied by acoustic guitar, tambourine, and kazoos – that you can’t help but wonder if the game is some kind of elaborate joke. Deadly Premonition and its music are perfect in their own bizarre way, and while it’s certainly not for everybody, it’s not hard to see why it has a cult following.
6. American McGee’s Alice
This action-adventure platformer takes Alice in Wonderland and twists it from a charming children’s story into a macabre nightmare. Composed by Chris Vrenna (who also used to be the drummer for Nine Inch Nails), the soundtrack for American McGee’s Alice juxtaposes notes from a music box with ominous bells, clockwork noises, and spectral synthesizer voices. To describe it succinctly, it sounds like childhood innocence being irreparably corrupted. The sequel, Alice: Madness Returns, also features whimsical tunes with sinister undertones, but was mainly composed by Jason Tai.
Like several of the other soundtracks on this list, Bioshock’s music inspires both dread and sorrow. Composer Garry Schyman uses dizzying violins to reflect the madness infecting the underwater city of Rapture, while the deep cello emphasize just how far beneath the water’s surface we are. The score also includes era-appropriate songs by artists such as The Ink Spots and The Andrews Sisters. The contrast between the chipper old-timey songs and the derelict city makes for a particularly unsettling experience.
4. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
The Dracula-inspired Castlevania series has delivered many memorable soundtracks over the years, but the most grandiose of them all is Symphony of the Night. It is packed with spiraling organs, melodramatic harpsichords, and theatrically gothic boss battle themes with some techno music thrown in. The most obviously creepy track in the game is “Abandoned Pit” which is mostly repetitive piano with the sound of creaking doors in the background. Michiru Yamane, who composed the music for many of the other Castlevania games in addition to this one, is also working on the soundtrack for the franchise’s spiritual successor, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
3. Resident Evil: Code Veronica
The soundtrack for Resident Evil – Code: Veronica sounds a lot like the score for an action-thriller film. Much of it is fast-paced and features driving percussion, while the suspenseful parts rely on minimalist piano and those building synth strings. As with most of the other Resident Evil games, the save room theme in Code: Veronica has a different tone from the other tracks. It’s calm, tragic, and slightly wistful, and since it only plays in the safe rooms where you can save your progress, you come to associate it with a feeling of relief, even though you know you can’t stay there forever. The soundtrack was composed by Takeshi Miura, Hijiri Anze, and Sanae Kasahara, who have not composed the music for any of the other games in the series.
The one thing Bloodborne’s soundtrack is not is subtle. With overwhelming boss fight themes that sound like they belong in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, Bloodborne’s soundtrack is the most epic one on this list. Because so many of the boss fights in the game require many repeated attempts, you’re probably intimately familiar with each one’s music by the time you’re victorious. Bloodborne’s enemies are notoriously brutal, and there’s nothing like alarming orchestral music to intimidate you when you’re already feeling vulnerable. The soundtrack has tracks composed by Ryan Amon, Tsukasa Saitoh, Yuka Kitamura, Nobuyoshi Suzuki, Cris Velasco, and Michael Wandmacher, and while all of the tracks work together to tell a cohesive story, each composer has a distinct style.
1. Silent Hill 2
When someone mentions scary games, the first thing that comes to many people’s minds is the Silent Hill franchise. Silent Hill games have been a major influence in the horror genre since their first title in 1999. It’s the series’ second game, however, that has a soundtrack nobody can forget. Many of the series’ most recognizable tracks come from Silent Hill 2, such as “Theme of Laura,” “Laura Plays the Piano,” and “Promise.” Composed by Akira Yamaoka who was also the series’ sound director for most of its existence, the soundtrack for Silent Hill 2 is littered with grating industrial sounds and surreal noises that sound half mechanical, half organic. With such a grim storyline, the game requires a soundtrack that can match its bleak world and miserable characters, and Yamaoka succeeds in creating an atmosphere that is profoundly unpleasant in the most satisfying way.