Horror games and other fright-inducers are not the biggest, most populated genre, but it’s a sturdy one and a year rarely goes by without a few relevant titles popping up. Zombies, slimy mutations, ghost, demons, and other people, monsters abound, and these games tend to put you on the back foot, defending against insurmountable numbers and incomprehensible powers.
In celebration of Halloween season we’re bringing attention to 9 scary and spooky games which came out (or are coming out soon) in 2020 and one that is looming over us from the distance of 2021. Let’s get spooked!
The Most Scary and Spooky Games of 2020
By all accounts Amnesia: The Dark Descent was a pretty influential game, helping to bring in the popularity of first-person perspective horror games. It had an expansion, and a semi-sequel from another developer, but time has come for a proper follow-up. It’s a good thing, then, that Amnesia: Rebirth is here, with a new protagonist, a new location, and new nightmares to confront.
In „Rebirth” you awaken on the Algerian desert as Tasi Trianon, who has no immediate memory of how she ended up there, and where other people are. All the while, some creature seems to always be on her trail, and she has way more to worry about than just being stranded in a hostile environment. If you crave another horror from Fractional Games, that’s your best best.
|Developer||Phobia Game Studio|
Carrion is different from typical horror games, in that you’re not playing as an unlucky victim of a monster. You are the monster itself. In Carrion’s case: a tangle of mutated worms of the Tubifex variety (Google it at your own risk). Your task is to escape a research facility which tried to contain you, and along the way you’ll find gruesome abilities extracted from your DNA by the pesky scientists.
It’s immensely fun to be a red writhing swarm crawling through vents, turning your body into grasping tentacles, destructive blades, or webs to catch humans in or play puppet master with them. It’s all jolly gruesome, deeply unsettling fun, presented in a very good-looking, pixelated 2D which lends Carrion a bit of an old-school vibe. If you’re looking for a “reverse horror”, try Carrion.
Maid of Sker
Maid of Sker is, possibly obviously to some, strongly inspired by The 19th century novel The Maid of Sker, and, by extension, the original Welsh folk tale of the same name. Fortunately, knowing the source material wouldn’t spoil the game for you, because there are quite a few new ideas of its own, in addition to the familiar setup of a young woman trapped in the Sker House.
The protagonist of Wales Interactive’s Maid of Sker is a young composer, who was hired to create (and deliver) a musical piece for a woman called Elizabeth Williams. The problem is, the location is full of roaming twisted humans called The Quite Ones, and you absolutely should watch out for them. As you explore and learn the history of the Sker Hotel, you’ll discover many troubling secrets.
|Genre:||Survival horror, VR|
Phasmophobia is what would happen if Ghostbusters were made by people who created paranormal Activity. The game has you collect evidence of spectral interference, otherwise knowns as “freaking ghosts!” in abandoned houses, hospitals etc. The ghosts are very real and are quickly getting annoyed by your team of investigators snooping around. Can you get the necessary proof and run to safety?
There’s a dozen of different ghost types, with randomly assigned characteristics like gender or favourite room. Each ghost type also requires a different approach, like being alone not to spook a shy spook, and has a different default behaviour. They will also go differently about removing pesky mortals interrupting their leisurely haunt. Add VR to this mix, and you get a properly scary horror game.
Resident Evil 3
Recent remakes are serving the Resident Evil series pretty well. 2019’s Resident Evil 2 Remake was accepted with open arms, and when the time came for the new version of RE3, many people were eagerly awaiting the launch. Luckily, it turned out that the story of Jill Valentine surviving in a city swarming with zombies and a Nemesis trying to kill her. It’s not a good week for Jill.
The remake ditches the original’s tank controls in favour of third-person perspective, and thanks to the RE Engine you can admire the rotting flesh of the zombies and the horrific mutations affecting Nemesis in more detail than you’d be comfortable with. There are also Umbrella secrets to uncover and deal with, as per usual. By all accounts, it’s a great remake of a true classic from the late nineties.
System Shock 2020
The original System Shock tells a tale set in 2072, and on a space station controlled by a powerful corporation. The player step into the boots of a hacker who got caught digging where he shouldn’t and was given a way out. Unfortunately, that included letting loose the AI control the station. Thus, SHODAN as we know was born.
Remaking a legend such as System Shock is no small task. Looking Glass Studios’ hugely influential game many later titles, including System Shock 2 which was possibly even more ground-breaking than its predecessor. With modern graphics, the original voice actress for SHODAN, Terri Brosius, the System Shock remake aims to bring new quality to a ever-fondly remembered classic.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
|Genre:||Interactive drama, survival horror|
Little Hope is the second, after 2019’s Man of Medan, game released for Supermassive Games’ The Dark Pictures Anthology series of interactive horror stories. There are several people you can control on your own, or play with friends in two multiplayer modes: “Shared story”, a two-player co-op, or Movie Night, for up to five players swapping controllers when a scene call for a change of active cast.
The Curator asks for your help again, after you helped him complete the Man of Medan. This time the story is about a few college students and a professor stranded in an abandoned (or IS IT??) town of Little Hope. Unfortunately, the place is haunted by visions of the place’ dark past, involving witch trials. Solving the secrets of Little Hope is the only way the students and the professor can escape.
The Last of Us Part II
The second instalment of Naughty Dog’s The last of us series digs deep into the “true horror is other people” theme, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any moment more in line with traditional horror, notably: the fungus zombies are still doing better than humanity is. This time we’re mostly following the story of Ellie, rather than Joel, like in the original TLoU. It might be the harshest game on this list.
Discussing the game’s story would undermine the storytelling, so let’s settle for saying that the game’s initial sequences set up what follows later quite well, and let’s leave it at that. Even if you got spoiled about this or another plot point, the game is closer to a movie in how it builds tension and relations between characters… in the middle of a fungal zombie apocalypse.
The first thing you need to know about Bloober Team’s The Medium is that much of its aesthetic was inspired by a famous Polish painter, Zdzisław Beksiński. Another thing you should know, is that the story plays out on two layers of reality: the physical, regular world, and the spirit world, and usually you see and both at the same time, and it isn’t certain which one is more horrific.
Scheduled for a December 2020 release, The Medium is set in Poland, and the protagonist Marianne is investigating odd events happening at the Niwa holiday resort. The ability to see into the spirit world is going to help but will also put her in mortal danger. Oh, and the game musical score was composed with the assistance of Akira Yamaoka, of Silent Hill fame.
Resident Evil Village
|Release year:||2021 (moved from 2020)|
Ethan Winters, the protagonist of Resident Evil VII is a fellow with poor luck in life. Even a few years after his misadventure in Louisiana problems come knocking on his door with the heavy knuckles of Chris Redfield. The series’ mainstay kicks off the game’s story and sends Ethan on a chase that will lead Winters to a European village. A village where weird things happen, of course.
The game is going to keep the first-person perspective which worked wonders for the sense of dread and immersion in RE7, and will make the most out of the RE Engine. Trailers have teased Chris Redfield in an adversarial position, and the village itself seems to be like a character in its own right, with secrets, stories, and inhabitants not at all happy to entertain Ethan snooping around.
Relax, the monsters are gone
Thus concludes our list of recommended scare-inducing games of 2020 (and 2021), full of beast and apparitions, some with an odd affinity for jump scares. Of course, there are more horror games launched and still brewing, but going with any of the above is a good start.