If there’s one game genre that fell off after the early 2000s, it’s horror. We get the occasional Resident Evil and a couple of semi-decent indie horror games on Steam each year. But nothing like the consistent supply of genuinely spooky games that DOS gamers enjoyed some 30 years ago.
And it’s a real shame because modern technology allows developers to do things they could only have dreamed of in the DOS era. Thankfully, you can still play old horror games using emulators such as DOSBox. To help you on your horror journey, here are the 30 best DOS horror games of all time.
Alone In The Dark
The original survivor horror game, this series predates Resident Evil and inspired many of the elements you see in nearly every modern game of the same genre. And while Resident Evil revels in its 1990s B movie majesty, Alone In The Dark takes inspiration from the works of HP Lovecraft. The series contains half a dozen mainline games with a few spinoffs and promotional releases.
In the first game, you’re introduced to the series protagonist Edward Camby. A private investigator with a penchant for exploring haunted houses and cursed towns that are full of horrors. The original Alone In The Dark is also considered the first 3D survival horror game, and it was released in 1992- nearly 4 years before Resident Evil on PS1.
Not only is Transylvania a real place in central Romania, but it also has a Gothic fortress called the Bran Castle. This castle is related to the legend of Dracula and has been the inspiration for dozens of vampire movies based on Bram Stoker’s original novel from 1897. And that’s why Transylvania (the game) is something you should play if you’re a fan of old-school graphic adventures that explore the occult side of things.
Vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, goblins- this game has it all. Your goal in the game is to rescue Princess Sabrina who’s trapped in a coffin inside a castle tower. It was originally released for the Apple II in 1982, followed by ports to other platforms like Atari 8-bit and MS-DOS.
As we progress through the early 1990s, survival horror as a genre gradually begins to take shape. Evolving into its ultimate form with titles like Resident Evil and Dino Island. However, the foundation was laid by Alone In The Dark and Ecstatica.
If you liked the 3rd-person perspective and fixed camera angles from PS1 Resident Evil games, Ecstatica did it first. Plus, it let you choose between a male and a female character. While Resident Evil has guns and zombies, Ecstatica has martial arts and demons.
This is unlike anything you’ve ever played, or will ever play. System Shock is the original space sci-fi horror game in which you fight a rogue AI called SHODAN who has taken control of a derelict space station. You’re a lone security engineer, on the run from new and devious plots hatched by this AI in its attempt to stop you.
As the game progresses, you begin to understand what happened at the station and why everyone is missing. You unravel corporate espionage secrets, ethically questionable conspiracies, and various other secrets on this space station. The gameplay is a mix of action-adventure and roleplaying.
Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark
An adaptation of the second Elvira movie, this game was released in 1990 and features the original actress Cassandra Peterson as Elvira. It’s a horror movie with some comedic elements, which makes it a very unique experience. Elvira’s uncle has died and she is now the sole inheritor of his castle, which she promptly turns into a tourist attraction.
But during the renovation process, she accidentally awakens an evil witch who turns out to be her ancestor. Monsters emerge from a portal and imprison Elvira within her castle, using her as a sacrifice to summon the evil sorceress Emelda. As the player, you must free Elvira and prevent Emelda from taking over the world.
Steve Mason is an 18-year-old who suddenly finds himself in a midwestern town ruled by a cult. This cult calls itself The Order of the Harvest Moon and forces Steve to carry out seemingly harmless tasks that ultimately have violent and gruesome outcomes for everyone involved. As the player, you have no memory of how you got into this town or what these cultists are after.
However, you can’t escape either- forced to commit one heinous crime after another to learn more about your past and who you are. Harvester is eerie, with a tense and brooding atmosphere that makes you question your integrity. It’s a genuinely unsettling horror game, with a surrealistic portrayal of violence.
A graphic adventure made by Lucasfilm Games; Maniac Mansion isn’t so much a horror game as it is an action game with spooky elements. You play teenager Dave Miller, a heroic character who’s on a quest to rescue his girlfriend. She has been kidnapped by an evil scientist who intends to use her for various experiments.
But that’s not all, the scientist is being mind-controlled by a sentient alien meteor. Maniac Mansion is a comedy horror that is inspired by 1980s B movies of the same type. It features teenage characters and stereotypically evil villains who want to take over the world.
Dracula In London
It turns out that Dracula is getting bored of his quiet little hometown in the Romanian countryside and wants some fresh blood. So to get some real action he arrives in London, where he sucks the blood out of dozens in a killing spree. Eventually, he gets one of the 7 main characters- Lucy.
After she turns into a vampire, the remaining characters are forced to destroy her. You take control of the survivors and track down Dracula so you can put a stop to his menace.
A Nightmare On Elm Street
A slasher horror based on Wes Craven’s 1984 movie of the same name; you take the role of a teenage protagonist. And you must save your friends from being killed by Freddy Krueger, by beating up anything that gets in your way. Yes, this is a beat ”em-up horror game based in the same universe as A Nightmare On Elm Street.
If that wasn’t weird enough, your enemies include cats, dogs, rats, spiders, and zombies. Yeah, I have no clue either- but the game is a lot of fun to play through. It may not scare you, but it will entertain you.
The 7th Guest
It’s one of those games that was released during the transitional period when everyone switched from DOS to Windows, The 7th Guest has some amazing levels and a genuinely spooky narrative. It was also released exclusively on CD-ROM because the game contains plenty of live-action video clips and prerendered 3D assets.
It’s not a proper 3D game, as there are several 2D backgrounds and objects scattered across each level. But it has this uncanny valley look to it, especially when combined with all the live-action characters who are overlaid on top of the game world.
Originally, Phantasmagoria was a unique type of horror theatre in which performers would use specially designed lamps to project images onto walls, smoke screens, etc. The result would be a sequence of images that felt as though you were in a dream or rather a nightmare. Phantasmagoria (the video game) tries to recreate this experience, of the viewer finding themselves in an unsettling dream-like world filled with unexplainable horrors.
It’s based on a 550-page script written by Roberta Williams (for reference, that’s about 4 times longer than the average Hollywood screenplay). Phantasmagoria plays like an interactive movie, it’s a point-and-click adventure game in which you explore various parts of a haunted mansion. The game combines live-action footage with prerendered 3D environments.
Isle Of The Dead
It’s like Wolfenstein but instead of a Nazi fortress, you’re stranded on an island that’s infested by zombies. A mad scientist created these horrifying creatures and he also has the power to control them. The protagonist Jake is your typical 1980s action-movie hero, armed with an endless supply of weapons and machismo.
Jake shoots, stabs, and punches his way through hordes of undead enemies. Yes, this is more of an action game than a horror game. But it has got that spooky survival horror feel to it, similar to Dino Crisis.
Dangerous Dave In The Haunted Mansion
An action platformer, that takes place inside a haunted mansion. This time, you take Dangerous Dave on another adventure (but with a spooky twist). One that will push him to his limits, as he guns down countless waves of undead creatures that throw themselves in his way.
Escape From Hell
You may not know this but Escape From Hell uses the same engine as Wasteland, the first post-apocalyptic RPG (this setting would later inspire the Fallout series). Released 2 years after Wasteland, Escape From Hell replaces the radiated plains and destroyed cities with a trip to the underworld. Your player character is teleported into Hell, and must now find a way to escape this realm.
Blood wings: Pumpkinhead’s Revenge
It’s a promotional game for the second Pumpkinhead movie and uses live-action clips taken from the movie. As you move through the hellish realm of Pumpkinhead you collect special crystals to play movie clips. From these clips, you must grab specific items to progress the story.
A 3D horror game from back in the day when we still used floppy disks, Nitemare was released for both DOS and Windows 3.1x. It is based on the world of Hugo (a graphic adventure game series) and features FPS gameplay similar to Wolfenstein 3D. However, the pacing of Nitemare 3D is slower than Wolfenstein and it features puzzles that you must solve to advance through each level.
Plague Of The Moon
You play a sorceress who’s on a quest to avenge her mother. A few hundred years ago, the protagonist’s mother made a deal with a devil-worshipping pagan cult in exchange for great power. However, she was also cursed to die a horrific death.
At the start of the game, you only have the natural talents inherited from your mother. But you’re still quite weak compared to all the demons you’ll face and must explore the environment to find items that develop your innate abilities.
You play an undead wild west gunslinger on his quest for revenge against the dark lord. Blood is dark, gritty, and filled to the brim with occult themes. There is plenty of gore and the enemies are bizarre in both their looks and behavior.
If you want a scary first-person shooter, you should give Blood a try. Some weapons even have a secondary attack mode, which was very rare back in those days. This game even has a powerup called “Guns Akimbo” that lets you dual-wield certain types of weapons.
Alone In The Dark 2
Compared to its predecessor, Alone In The Dark 2 feels is a lesser horror game. However, it cranks up the action element with pirates and mobsters. Sure, there are still supernatural creatures and voodoo rituals but these take a backseat in favor of the mortal enemy types.
Zombies are back, but they aren’t just rotting corpses aimlessly shambling toward you with open arms. In this game, zombies are armed with guns and will shoot at you. They even talk and act like people, which reminds me of the Ganados from Resident Evil 4.
Alone In The Dark 3
After solving various supernatural mysteries in the first two games, Edward has cultivated a certain reputation for himself. This time, he is hired for a case that involves a missing film crew who were shooting in an abandoned ghost town. Upon arriving at the town, Edward finds out that it’s cursed and infested with undead cowboys.
The Beast Within- A Gabriel Knight Mystery
A point-and-click horror adventure featuring everyone’s favorite mystery novelist-turned-supernatural detective. This game is a sequel to Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers and features a healthy dose of action in conjunction with conspiracies. You play an investigator who’s the descendant of an ancient family that specializes in fighting supernatural evil.
Many of the horror games I listed thus use visually jarring characters, gore, and haunted mansions to scare you. However, Sanitarium is an entirely different breed of horror- it slowly bores into your mind and makes you question your sanity. You never know if you’re in the real world, or the imaginary world created by the protagonist’s nightmares.
Shadow Of The Comet
Created by the same team that worked on Alone In The Dark, this is a Lovecraftian horror game that will haunt you for quite a while after you’ve finished it. Based on the Cthulhu mythos, Shadow of the Comet is a pastiche made from parts of various HP Lovecraft books. It is an adventure game in which you explore the New England town of Illsmouth.
Set in 1910, the game follows a young photographer who’s tracking Halley’s Comet as it is expected to pass over this town. However, the last time this happened (1834) the person observing the comet went insane and was admitted into a mental asylum.
An adventure game with a menu-based interface in which you give commands to move your character based on the compass. You’re in a town that’s been cursed by the devil and must fight citizens who have been possessed by him. A witch and a vampire are in charge of the invasion from hell, and you must defeat them to face the devil himself at the end.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A corporation experimenting with an ancient artifact on Mars accidentally opens a portal to another dimension, causing an invasion of demonic alien creatures who kill everyone. Yeah, definitely not the plot for Doom.
By the way, Corridor 7 uses the Wolfenstein 3D engine. A predecessor to the Doom engine. And it’s a first-person shooter, released just one year after Doom.
A love a good psychological horror game that relies on narrative and atmosphere to terrify its player rather than cheap tricks like jump scares. And Dark Seed is exactly the kind of psychological horror you don’t want to miss if you’re a fan of retro games from the MS-DOS era. It is a point-and-click adventure in which you explore a mysterious mansion, finding out that it’s the gateway to a parallel dark world existing alongside ours.
Doom improved on the formula of Wolfenstein 3D by making the gunplay faster and more violent. Quake improved on Doom by doing more of the same thing but with a slight twist to the atmosphere. Instead of the metal action-oriented music of Doom, Quake’s soundtrack has got a more grungy and dark overtone.
The hellish realm of Doom has been replaced with a gothic world that blends sci-fi and horror. Quake is also the first arena shooter, and features local + online multiplayer.
Doom is one of the earliest 3D first-person shooters and the successor to Wolfenstein 3D. An id-software masterpiece, its legacy lives on even to this day. It’s not exactly scary since your main character is probably more terrifying to the demons than they are to you.
However, Doom is a game steeped in both supernatural and sci-fi elements. It mixes hellfire, metal music, and occult themes with plasma rifles and chain guns. The final result is pure awesome.
Released the same year as Doom (1993), In Extremis is a first-person shooter with horror themes. However, it doesn’t do anything innovative and merely copies the Doom formula by applying a different skin on top. This is why this game is often referred to as a “Doom clone” (it just replaces the demons with aliens).
The Legacy: Realm Of Terror
Horror games come in many shapes, ranging from platformers to shooters. Yet, you’ve probably never heard of a roleplaying horror game (other than System Shock). Even System Shock is more of an action-adventure than a full-scale RPG.
That’s where The Legacy: Realm of Terror comes in. It’s a proper RPG, but instead of a party, you have just one character exploring a haunted mansion. This is done to create the feeling of isolation and make every encounter with enemies a lot more challenging.
Whether you want survival horror, psychological horror, or body horror- this list has it all. Some horror games like Elvira are adaptations of movies, while others are based on books (Dracula in London). Then, you have games such as Doom and Quake that aren’t traditional horror experiences.
But they do feature an otherworldly, hellish theme that permeates through everything from weapon to enemy design. Fun fact- the soundtrack for Quake was composed by Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails. This dark and brooding music when combined with the gothic-inspired level design creates a sensation of dread and uncertainty, unlike any other arena shooter.
If you found this article useful, you may want to save this pin below to your Gaming board.