A Horror Game A Year for the Last Decade – Ten years of terror

Nightmares for years

Horror games will never go away. Whilst at times they may seem to fade into the background as more popular genres take centre stage, there will always be a sizeable audience for fear. And no matter how many big publishers tell us that fear isn’t financially viable enough, you’ll continue to find an underground of macabre indie delights. I’ve been playing video games for many a year, with many a terrifying title in my time, but I’ve decided to look back at the last ten years, rather than further. Possibly because my ever-advancing age dulls the memory somewhat. Possibly because I’ve repressed the terrors. 

Regardless, here you will find a horror game a year for the past decade, along with the occasional honourable mention. You’ll find fewer major releases here, as I’m much keener to shine my torch on something you may have missed, forgotten, or never even heard of. Onwards, into the darkness.

Best Horror Game of 2014Among the Sleep

An interesting starting point, with a horror game in which you play a toddler exploring their house at night, avoiding the monsters within. Being small, you’ll struggle to navigate the rooms, often needing to drag objects around to climb up to reach a door handle or light switch. All the while you are stalked by a creepy, long-limbed monster that seeks to do you harm. Your goal is simply to find safety, and where you find that safety is quite touching.

Among the Sleep - Horror Games
Teddy is your best friend throughout the adventure, acting as something of a narrator and guide.

I think Among the Sleep spoke to me more then than it might now, being as this was released not long after I had become a father. Regardless of that fact though, the idea of a small child trying to navigate a gradually more terrifying environment as the house twists and corrupts is frightening in itself. The jump scares are there, yes, but also tension as you try to sneak around just out of sight of the monstrosity that stalks you. The one benefit of your size. 

What’s interesting here too, is the house’s increasingly distressing design could arguably be due to the young mind creating imagery because of the fear they are experiencing being out, alone, in the darkness. What child would venture forth without their teddy though? A teddy who you can hug to act as a torch in the darkness/ It’s another nice touch to how a child copes with fear. This isn’t the most frightening game you’ll ever find, but it’s likely something you’ll have missed from ten years ago.

Best Horror Game of 2015 – White Night

A hard decision for this year, with plenty of interesting choices. I’ve settled on White Night as I rarely hear it mentioned these days. There’s a really neat story to discover even though it starts with the cliche of having a car accident and finding your way into an abandoned mansion for shelter. You quickly find that the darkness of the manor is more dangerous than the car crash you just survived, and only in light can you find safety.

White Night
The visual style is incredibly striking. Much like the matches…

Whilst it’s certainly not up to the same standards as the genre classic, White Night reminds me a lot of the original Alone in the Dark. The fixed camera angles, esoteric puzzles, and arcane mysteries surrounding Vesper Mansion certainly elicit memories from that legendary title. The striking art style does an excellent job of not only drawing your attention but also creating a wonderfully creepy atmosphere as well as highlighting areas where you are safe from harm. Venturing into darkness is almost always a death sentence if you can’t reach light again quickly, and the few matches you have on hand won’t keep the ghosts at bay for long. The checkpoint system where you need to save in specific places can be a little irritating late in the game as they become fewer and farther between, and a few of the puzzles are made trickier due to the camera angles, but this is very much an overlooked horror game that will stick with you once completed.

Honourable Mentions

Yes, there’s SOMA, the exceptional horror narrative game, but I feel that that has been talked about at length. Spooky’s Jumpscare Mansion starts as a cutesy series of, well, jump scares but becomes increasingly horrifying over time. The original is still free too. Creepy adventure Fran Bow is also worth a look.

Best Horror Game of 2016 – Layers of Fear

A tricky year for me as I don’t seem to have played many horror games from 2016. I’ve gone with one of my favourite horrors, but one that I know isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Layers of Fear recently had a rerelease including the DLC and sequel, but I’m solely looking at the original, which you can still acquire. You play as a troubled painter, returning to his previous home to find it haunted, twisted, and seemingly bent on his torment. Throughout you’ll find out what happened to his family and possibly even make amends for past transgressions.

It’s aged quite well in the visual department, but the remake certainly has it beat.

As I say, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea as it’s a walking simulator for the most part, with multiple endings but little in the way of indicating when you’ve made a choice. A Bloober Team staple. What’s also familiar in Bloober Team games is the atmosphere, visual style, and sound design. This is an impressive visual spectacle that constantly plays with your expectations. It arguably popularised the “world changed when you weren’t looking” trick that so many other games introduced. There are better games of this style now, but looking back at one of the earliest P.T. clones is quite a treat.

Best Horror Game of 2017 – ECHO

A bumper year for big names here, with the likes of Hellblade, The Evil Within 2, and Little Nightmares being released, amongst a slew of others. I’m going with the much more interesting ECHO though. Perhaps not the most terrifying game here, but certainly one of the most tense. You play as En, a woman travelling to a mysterious structure called The Palace to find out who she is, and why she exists. And mysterious is an excellent way to describe The Palace as it has some odd effects. It’s filled with clones of En, all of whom want to kill her. That in itself isn’t the clever part, as En is capable enough of defending herself, although she won’t survive long when attacked. 

Echo - Horror Games
You’re your own worst enemy.

The clever thing is that The Palace watches what you do, and every minute or so, the lights go out for a few seconds before coming back on again. Now, all of En’s clones know the behaviours you just used. Did you go in guns blazing? Now everyone’s packing a gun. Snuck around for stealth kills? You should expect to get pounced on by sneaky enemies. You can use The Palace against itself though. If you only walk around, your enemies can only do the same. It’s a genuinely fascinating system that uses your strengths against you, constantly keeping you on your toes. Plus, when the room goes dark and you’re being attacked from multiple sides with nothing but your torch to see with, it can be terrifying. The final act is a bit weaker, with super powerful foes, although the story goes to some enjoyably dark places. A strong recommendation for a game I rarely see talked about.

Honourable Mentions

Doki Doki Literature Club came out this year, which received a lot of interest and still holds up for those who haven’t played it. There was also the release of chapter 1 of the horrifying Faith and the VR insanity of Duck Season.

Best Horror Game of 2018 – Paratopic

Again going for a less well-known title that I played a few years after its release, Paratopic is the hardest-to-define game I’ve chosen here. It’s certainly a horror game, but in a subtle way thanks to a Lynchian world and narrative filled with things that simply shouldn’t fit but in a way do. Paratopic is a hard one to talk about without spoiling everything, but in a nutshell, you play a couple of unconnected characters tied up in a narrative of illicit videotapes that seemingly have power over people. To say much more would ruin a lot of the enjoyment of this, so I’ll say no more.

You spend a lot of time driving, but the radio is certainly…engaging.

There’s limited interaction, although conversations can be driven in different directions by your choices, revealing more of the world on repeated play-throughs. That might put some people off, which is fine, as Paratopic is absolutely not for everyone. The unsettling visuals, soundscape, and narrative though, will drive the curious on through a bizarre story that you won’t soon forget. Terrifying? Not as such, but this will get under your skin.

Honourable Mentions

Dusk is an amazing horror FPS in the mould of Quake and Blood with a delightful Eldritch twist. Night of the Nun is part of Puppet Combos insane 80s-inspired VHS horror series that’s practically heart-attack-inducing. Then there’s Lost in Vivo, which is pretty close to a first-person Silent Hill game in the PS1 style. 2017 and 2018 were great years for horror games.

Best Horror Game of 2019 – The Beast Inside

I was once again torn in a couple of directions, but I took the game that I once again hear little of these days. I actually backed The Beast Inside on Kickstarter during the post P.T. “realistic horror” wave that still seems to persist. Split across two centuries, you play a pair of characters both going through something of a torrid time in a countryside mansion. Initial protagonist Adam discovers a diary in the attic of his new abode, and the contents spill out, gradually infecting the world around him. Meanwhile, you’ll take control of Nicolas a hundred years ago, whose story reveals the origins of the cursed diary. The two tales clash throughout the eight-or-so-hour game, and it’s a pretty solid horror story. The ending does drag a little bit, as you’ll put the pieces together before the characters, but I can’t complain about the majority of the journey.

The Beast Inside
Everything’s fine here. Move along.

You’ll spend a lot of time exploring the mansion and the grounds around it, both in Adam’s and Nicolas’ era. The chapters present something of an open-ended approach, giving you the space to explore as much as you want, finding new information to flesh out the backstory. This does mean you can spend time wandering around not able to find the next story element, but I didn’t find this happened too often. 

Puzzles are mostly pretty solid too. The scares are excellent though. You’ll find very little in terms of jump scares here, instead facing a ratcheting of tension over time before your character comes face to face with some ghostly terror at the culmination of a chapter. It’s well done, and the gorgeous environment that still holds up well helps a lot in this regard. The boss battles I could do without though, as they feel a little out of place in an otherwise more survival-focused game.

Honourable Mentions

Another solid year, and I was torn between choosing The Beast Inside or the bonkers Yuppie Psycho that recently had a console release. It reminded me of a more colourful but no less violent Corpse Party. Then there’s a favourite of mine in The Sinking City, an investigation game wrapped in the Cthulhu mythos. The ending’s a bit weak, but the journey is great fun.

Best Horror Game of 2020 – Visage

A no-brainer for me, as Visage is one of the few modern horror games that genuinely scares me to the point of not wanting to play. Another Kickstarter FPS I backed that followed the P.T. mould, your character is shown shooting his family before turning the gun on himself, only to wake up in his house. The story is yours to uncover at your own pace as you explore the rooms and find new worlds that tell tales of others who have lived there, filling in the blanks as to quite why you did what you did. All the while you’re haunted by ghosts, monsters, and the darkness itself.

Visage is a difficult game, with esoteric puzzles that you’ll need to experiment to solve if you intend to reach the ending. All this time you’re under threat too, there’s very little in the way of safety aside from the odd save room. If you spend time in the dark, your sanity lowers, resulting in you seeing more horrors and strange events as well as making you more vulnerable to attack from the ghosts that stalk you. 

The P.T. Influences are unmistakeable, but it’s still a gorgeous looking game.

The main tale is really quite good too, but it’s the house that sells this game. Aside from being utterly gorgeous, it evokes genuine haunted house vibes. You’ll return to areas where you’re sure you left the lights on, only for it to be in darkness. Videotapes you discover and watch alter the makeup of the rooms. Spirits flit in and out of view. Over time the threat increases, leaving you running from place to place, desperately trying to solve puzzles before the lights inevitably go out again and panic sets in. Probably the most frightening game in a long time.

Honourable Mentions

A couple of neat ones here, including Maid of Sker which is more of a stealth horror as you sneak around a Welsh mansion to solve a mystery. The breath-holding mechanic here is used really well against the blind hunters. Carrion is more of a reverse horror metroidvania which is a hell of a sentence. Lots of body horror on show here. Then there’s Omori, which is a trip and a half.

Best Horror Game of 2021 – In Sound Mind

It was between this and Inscryption but the fact that no one talks about In Sound Mind is frankly a crime. You play as Desmond Wales, a therapist who is in a bit of a pickle. He’s stuck in his apartment building that seems to have twisted beyond its usual form. The interior is now home to new rooms, toxic sludge, and a talking cat. He would escape, but the city outside appears to be flooded. Meanwhile, he’s tormented by phone calls from someone who wants him dead. He finds that by listening to recordings of sessions with his old patients he can affect change in reality, giving him access to new places, new equipment, and maybe a way out.

In Sound Mind
The boss designs are really a highlight. The design team clearly had a good time coming up with them.

In Sound Mind is so enjoyable from a narrative and experience point of view. Each tape takes you to the same town but in a completely different way based on the needs of the patient, you’re listening to. You need to face their demons whilst you’re hunted by shadow monsters to escape and progress. 

Combat is the weakest element here, but shouldn’t be your focus. The puzzles, environments, and story are all excellent. Even the bosses are puzzles themselves, as you work out how to help your patient overcome this monster. The finale is disappointing compared to the rest of it, but getting there is well worth it. There are a lot of horror elements in the tapes, especially early on as you don’t know how to deal with the creature until you learn more, and even the apartment block hub becomes more unpleasant as features from those tapes start to slip into your reality. If there’s one game on this list that you haven’t tried and should, it’s In Sound Mind.

Best Horror Game of 2022 – Faith

I only played Faith at the start of this year, and I’m glad I finally did. The first chapter was released back in 2017 and it wasn’t until 2022 that the full trilogy of chapters was available. Playing as a priest returning to the home of the previously failed exorcism, you’ll discover that there are plans afoot to bring about the apocalypse by releasing a demonic entity. The story here is great, often necessitating the finding of notes to fill in the blanks, but you’ll learn of cults, demons, and friends who are now in peril. I particularly liked that each chapter has multiple endings depending on not just the decisions you make, but also who you help to survive. Some of the endings are…dark.

Few colours, lots of spook. - Horror Games
May god protect me!

The gameplay is rudimentary, but how it’s used is clever. In reality, all you can do is move in four directions and hold up your cross to ward off monsters and exorcise objects, but you’ll need to learn very quickly when to defend and when you run. Death comes very quickly in Faith. Reaching the end of a chapter is as much about puzzles as it is about fighting and fleeing. 

Those notes you find will hint at what to do, but you’ll need to put yourself in constant danger to work out and complete your exact task. And there are a lot of dangers. It’s uncommon to come across the same enemy more than once, and they’re regularly introduced through incredibly impressive and equally unsettling animations. The old-fashioned graphical style is used throughout, and quite how it’s used to elicit horrifying imagery is nothing short of magic. You may struggle to succeed, but this is a pilgrimage worth undertaking.

Honourable Mentions

Another bumper year! Madison and Oxide: Room 104 were in real contention for this spot, being truly frightening first-person horror titles. The visuals, puzzles, and world are so well done. Somerville isn’t perfect but has roots in the likes of Limbo and Inside for its horror hit. There’s Signalis too, a much more traditional survival horror with a great art direction.

Best Horror Game of 2023 – World of Horror

And so we reach now. Well, nearly now. And what better representation of reality is there than another retro-style horror experience? World of Horror is different. You’ve not played something like this before. You’re trying to prevent the arrival of an ancient god, bent on bringing chaos to the world. To do this, you need to investigate odd happenings in the local town that take the form of mini choose-your-own-adventure stories. As you complete these, you’ll gain keys to access the old one’s lair to end their plans. 

The journey is hard though, and your chosen character will be physically and mentally tested throughout the challenges, and there’s a very real chance they won’t survive the rogue-like playthroughs.

World of Horror
The first run you will likely do explains very little of how the main game works, which can be a little frustrating once you start proper.

Dealing with the old one isn’t the interesting part. Those stories you investigate along the way are all fascinating, many of which are based on Eastern ghost stories. You’ll see tales more than once, but depending on your choices, equipment, and stats, you may reach very different conclusions. Sometimes you’ll escape, leaving the victim to a terrible fate, but others you’ll fight some Eldritch abomination in the hopes of saving more people or gaining better equipment for future runs. It’s a very well-put-together game, but it’s the visuals that bring it all together. The monochrome art style is unique, and the fact that they’re all made using MS Paint suggests the developers made their deal with an elder god. Impressive in itself, but being able to make so many creative monsters in that style is impressive. Well worth a look.

Honourable Mention

I’m breaking my own rule of focusing on games I’ve played myself here, but Slay the Princess looks very interesting and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. It’s on my to-play list.

And that’s ten years of horror games! Lots there to play through if you’ve missed any, and everything here is worth your time. I’m looking forward to the likes of Alone in the Dark having a remake this year, but I’m sure there will be plenty more terror to come.

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