Spooky season is here and while your first thought may be to marathon a bunch of scary movies, I would like to suggest you marathon the Resident Evil series of games instead!
While in recent years the RE series isn’t considered the scariest game series around it is still the most popular and most well produced franchise in the horror genre. But perhaps you don’t have time to marathon nine games in a single week. Well we got you covered! If you want to get straight to the thrills and chills, we ranked the mainline games from least scary to downright nightmare fuel! Starting off with…
Scare Factor: More Hollywood action than genuine horror.
Upon its release, Resident Evil 6 was critiqued for its deviation from the franchise’s survival-horror roots. Featuring four separate (but somewhat connected) campaigns, the game showcased an abundance of blockbuster action sequences. The overwhelming chaos, variety of bioweapons (fish-looking zombies and a Hulk wannabe), and relentless pace often overshadowed any attempt at true horror, pushing horror/fear to the backseat.
While it features impressive graphics that still hold up a decade later, and varied gameplay, RE6‘s prioritization of action over atmospheric dread makes it the least scary entry in the series as a whole. There is a reason you don’t see this weird entry on many top RE game lists. Over on the Temple Of Nerdom Facebook page, Faron Joesph said “RE6 was just trash”. Yeah, I agree with the spirit of that statement.
Scare Factor: Tense, but full of action-packed co-op moments.
Much like its successor, RE5 leaned heavily into the action. Set against the backdrop of the hot African Sun, the game did away with the signature dark corridors and ambiance, replacing them with bright outdoor environments. The cooperative gameplay, while engaging, often diluted moments that might have been scarier if dealt with solo.
Enemies like the Uroboros were grotesque and symbiote/Venom-like, but the constant presence of a partner reduced the isolation factor essential for peak horror. You don’t feel afraid because your partner (A.I. or human) can always bail you out. Only reason I would put this above RE6 is due to the better story and the horrifying Licker enemies, a classic enemy variant from the far scarier Resident Evil 2.
Scare Factor: Adrenaline-pumping chases more than constant fear.
Both the original and its visually-stunning remake place players in the shoes of S.T.A.R.S. member, Jill Valentine, frequently pursued by the relentless T-Nemesis. The game’s emphasis on evasion and direct combat detracted slightly from the pure horror elements.
That said, the unpredictable appearances of Nemesis certainly provided jump scares and a sense of tension similar to being pursued by a T-1000 Terminator covered in flesh. RE3’s enemy variety is more focused on cool and slick design over actual horror. The game’s short length (both original and Remake) also makes it an easier mental hurdle to overcome.
Scare Factor: Suspenseful with eerie settings, but combat-focused.
RE4 was an evolution point for the series with its over-the-shoulder camera and enhanced combat mechanics. For many RE enthusiasts this is the one that bridges the classic series and the more action/modern iterations. Leon S. Kennedy’s journey through a cult-driven European village was nothing short of thrilling. Locations like the village and castle, teeming with parasite-controlled villagers, provided a blend of suspense and action.
However, its increased emphasis on gunplay and inventory management often placed players in a combative mindset, somewhat diminishing the horror. Enemies that can swing axes at you and shoot crossbows are just less scary than brain-eating zombies. Speaking of, It’s also the first time we ditch zombies as an enemy type altogether, but it serves the story overall. I highly recommend the 2023 Remake as it does everything the original does but better and if you don’t believe me just check out it’s Metacritic score of 93 (at time of publishing).
Scare Factor: Classic horror mechanics with a dual-character twist.
Acting as a prequel, RE0 maintained the series’ early survival horror mechanics. Its standout feature was the dual-character system, allowing players to switch between Rebecca Chambers and Billy Coen. Having to manage your inventory and drop/pick-up items doesn’t sound like it would add to the tension, but having to backtrack and avoid enemies does add an extra level of dread here and there.
The early setting aboard the Ecliptic Express train filled us with dread, enhanced by grim visuals and unsettling enemy designs. Leeches, zombie monkeys, and other enemies are certainly more on the scary side, making this one of the more tense entries in the series.
Scare Factor: A smorgasbord of horror styles.
RE8 offered a diverse horror landscape, combining various sub-genres into one solid and expertly crafted experience. From the gothic horror of the opening castle, along with the uneasy presence of Lady Dimitrescu and her daughters, to the psychological terror experienced by the Beneviento house and it’s unnerving dolls. It echoes different shades of horror from across the franchise, most notably heavily influenced by RE4 and RE1.
Its unique environments, each distinct in their brand of fear, make it arguably one of the most terrifying mainline installments. Werewolves, a trio of seductive vampires, even a terrifying crying-fetus monster, RE8 has amazing enemy variety that will instill you with a feeling of constant anxiety.
Scare Factor: Personal, visceral, and deeply unsettling.
A triumphant return to form, RE7‘s switch to a first-person perspective created a new and immersive horror experience. The narrative-driven exploration of the Baker mansion in the Louisiana bayou oozed a sense of unease. Encounters with the mutant-like Baker family, combined with limited resources and eerie videotape sequences, brought back the series’ signature brand of horror. Bringing a new enemy type with the molded (creatures born of mold rather than a virus) made it feel fresh and different but still believable in the world of Resident Evil.
RE7 was a much-longed for return to horror after the disappointing RE6 and it made us feel truly isolated with its mixture of The Hills Have Eyes imagery and its creepy little-girl-has-evil-powers in the isolated swamp/bayou aesthetic.
Scare Factor: Claustrophobic and relentless pursuit.
Both renditions of RE2 have us keeping the lights on, but the Remake takes it up a notch. The Raccoon City Police Department became an iconic locale, its museum-like corridors filled with the undead and other nightmarish creatures in this hellish Raccoon City. The remake, with its modernized gameplay, introduced Mr. X as a constantly looming threat instead of just being a late-game enemy.
His heavy footsteps echoing in the distance added a layer of anxiety, making players feel perpetually hunted and causing them to make mistakes and get cornered. The disgusting Lickers make their famous debut here and the zombie dogs in the parking garage frustrate us with their small size and speed. RE2 Remake is one of the most terrifying games to come out in the last decade, and the best selling game in the entire franchise at over 12.6 million units sold, is worthy of its placement on this list.
Scare factor: The very essence of survival horror.
The game that birthed the survival horror genre, Resident Evil‘s Spencer Mansion was a masterclass in atmospheric dread. Nestled deep in the isolated forest of the Arklay mountains, the Spencer Mansion is a character in itself. Losing more and more of your rescue team S.T.A.R.S. members as the game progresses, it feels like your chances of survival continuously shrink. The gothic paintings and sculptures, the booby traps spread out across the game, and the tensely narrow hallways connecting it all makes it feel like the mansion itself, not the zombies, wants you dead.
The remake further kicked up the horror with its enhanced environments, improved audio design, and the nerve-wracking introduction of Crimson Head zombies (zombies that come back after you have killed them with improved speed and aggression). The environmental storytelling really shines here with blood splattered walls, hanging corpses, and tragic notes left by the deceased. Every creaking door and shadowed hallway promised potential danger, securing its place in gaming as a horror icon.
What do you guys think of our ranking? Would you have ranked it differently? Perhaps we could have fit in some of the spin offs like RE Outbreak or RE Revelations 1 and 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section. Want to have your input included in a future article/opinion piece? Be sure to follow and comment on our GNN Greats Facebook page here. For more lists, reviews, opinions and more about video games be sure to check out my author page here. As always, stay geeky out there folks!