I never like to call a genre dead or dying. The industry usually has its ebbs and flows, and genres fade in and out of popularity over time. They never go away, but it may take some time for them to find the limelight again. There were platformers, which gave way to first-person shooters, and now the hot topic is battle royale and the competitive multiplayer boom. League of Legends, DOTA 2, Overwatch, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and more dominate sales. It’s what’s a la mode right now. However, horror games have recently returned as a solid genre this year!
Horror really hit its major stride in the 90s. These years saw the emergence of titans such as Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil, and Silent Hill. While never a centrally-focused genre like those mentioned above, horror usually ended up being pretty popular. The early 2000s brought us another wave of scary series, such as Fatal Frame and Siren. Even smaller indie efforts such as ObsCure had their chance during this time, alongside strange classics like Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem.
However, like the industry always does, a change happened. Focus went more toward action-packed shooters in the industry, and horror became less of a focus. This isn’t to say we didn’t get great horror games ever again, of course. It was just that there were far fewer of them during this time.
Once or twice a year, we’d get a decently scary game … maybe. From the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s we saw great games like Amnesia, Outlast, Shadows of the Damned, Condemned, and more. The issue wasn’t that the genre was dead, it was that these releases were spread out over nearly a decade.
It wasn’t until 2014 that things started to look better for the genre. Alien: Isolation was an incredible game that washed the stench of Colonial Marines away with ease. The Evil Within brought the talents of Shinji Mikami to a new IP, showing that the master still had it despite the game’s flaws. Five Nights at Freddy’s introduced us to what would become the next lucrative YouTube craze.
After that, the genre faded out a bit again. Things were active on the indie front for the most part, but it wasn’t until three years later that horror came back in a big way. AAA and indie both pushed forward with the genre and, man, did they bring their AAA-game this time. Here are some of the horror highlights from 2017.
Resident Evil 7: biohazard
January 24, 2017 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)“Welcome to the family, son.”
Ever since 2005’s landmark entry in the franchise, Resident Evil suffered an identity crisis. With Resident Evil 4 proving to be one of the best action-horror games out there, Capcom found themselves invigorated to continue down that path. Resident Evil 5 and 6 were, in my opinion, good games, but not because they were scary. They’re just really fun action games.
Sensing the series needed to retain its horror fans, the company also released two Revelations titles, which went more in line with the action-horror style of Resident Evil 4. Notice what phrase I haven’t said yet? Despite the commercial success of these games, Capcom realized they needed to garner back the goodwill of the survival horror fans before it was too late.
For years, everyone derided Capcom for “losing their touch” when it came to the series. Clearly they couldn’t make a horror game anymore. Obviously, they just wanted to make more action games. Resident Evil would never be survival horror again outside of rereleases of older titles and a mythical Resident Evil 2 remake that hasn’t been seen since its announcement. Capcom, quite simply, couldn’t make a scary game. At least, that’s what everyone thought.
Enter Resident Evil 7. Almost immediately, the game draws you in with its first-person perspective. At first, I relented. First-person had no place in Resident Evil! However, I continued onward, curious to see how everything would play out now. What I ended up playing was one of my favorite horror games in years.
The atmosphere of the Baker estate is dusty, old, and creepy. You never know when Jack Baker might show up around a corner or smashing through a wall if you’re really unlucky. The puzzles, while mostly basic, are a nice throwback to the strange puzzles in the Spencer mansion. The game trickles ammo down to you, giving you just enough to survive if you play your cards right. Run out, and you have to rely on your crappy knife or your ability to run like hell.
It’s a return to form that nobody saw coming. Hopefully, we see a lot more like this in the future!
You can read our review of Resident Evil 7: biohazard here.
February 27, 2017 (PC)"Someone is in the house. They should not be here."
This is the first entry on the list that isn’t specifically a horror game. It’s more of an interactive narrative but with interesting gameplay elements that screw with the player in various ways. The short stories are interesting little gameplay puzzles that are slightly different with each episode, and they all culminate in a fantastic way. It brings the entire story together and reveals the horrifying tale untold.
The game’s horror elements come from the various ways the gameplay and story blend together. I don’t want to ruin it, but what starts as a neat little adventure soon devolves into something much more intense and creepy. At only $3.50 or so on Steam during the sale, it’s worth picking up for the few hours it takes these stories to be told.
April 25, 2017 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Switch version in 2018)"God doesn't love you. Not like I do."
Following the success of the original Outlast, developers Red Barrels Studio knew they needed to make lightning strike twice. As one of the standout examples of the “run and hide” style of horror that seems to be synonymous with indie horror games, they had a lot to prove.
Outlast II manages to continue this style of horror, and it's heart-poundingly effective. Instead of being trapped in tight corridors, oftentimes you’re being hunted through slightly more open village streets. You have more freedom in how you sneak around and hide, but this time enemies are smarter. They’ll look for you relentlessly, so you have to be on your toes at all times!
There’s a lot of hot debate on whether the original or sequel is the better game, but the truth is that Outlast II is still great. Whether it’s better or not is debatable, but that doesn’t make it not a terrifying romp all its own.
You can read our review of Outlast II here.
May 5th, 2017 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)"To make this right... someone has to die."
While people were initially bummed out to hear the new Prey wasn’t a continuation of the cult classic original, Bethesda assured everyone that the game would still be fun. Thankfully, it wasn’t just a publisher trying to assuage its fans. Arkane Studios already had a good reputation by this point, so it should come as no surprise that Prey was a fun game.
Though it’s more action-horror, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of scares. Prey managed to instill an impressive sense of paranoia within me while I played it. When you walk into a room, you should always be on edge. After all, anything could attack you at any moment. Mimics are a fantastic enemy idea in a horror game, as Prey proves. That coffee cup? It could kill you if you’re not careful.
Combined with satisfying weapons like the interestingly unique GLOO Gun, you can find a lot to enjoy in Prey. Just… watch out. I think that printer is trying to bite your leg off.
You can read our review of Prey here.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
August 8, 2017 (PlayStation 4, PC)"Here they lie, rotting in the field and river of Hel. But the dead don't always lie still here. This is not a place of rest."
Ninja Theory is perhaps best-known for their take on the Devil May Cry series with the infamous DmC reboot. The series has made games with a range to their quality, with some of their best work being Enslaved: Odyssey to the West in my opinion. However, their most recent outing is a very different kind of game. Hellblade tells a compelling story with stellar acting and tackles themes of mental illness with an unexpected grace when I thought I would be playing just another action game.
This isn’t a full-on horror game, but the themes are hard to ignore. It’s got atmosphere in spades, and constantly being assaulted by voices in your head kept me a bit on edge a lot of the time. Combine that with impressive AAA-level graphics on a self-published indie budget, decent combat, and some good puzzles, and Hellblade all comes together in a hauntingly good package.
You can read our review of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice here.
August 18, 2017 (PC)"There is no way out of here, I am stuck with them. With their unending calling, pleading cries and muttering prayers."
It was actually a Polish friend of mine that first introduced me to Darkwood several years ago. I mention it because the developers, Acid Wizard Studio, are based in Poland, and I don’t know if I’d have looked at this without his recommendation. Lucky me! It’s been in early access since 2014, but I said I’d wait for the full release. Finally this year it happened, and I must say I’m glad I waited. This game is awesome!
This top-down game is full of atmosphere. By day, you run around randomly-generated woods to gather materials, talk to the shopkeep, and more. By night, you’d better have traps and shelter, because you’re going to have to defend yourself from horrible creatures all night long. It’s a nice dynamic that we’ve seen in several games but never to the level of intensity of Darkwood.
The artstyle is great, drawing you in with its dreary visuals. Every night I found myself pretty on-edge. You have to be really smart with your materials so you don’t waste them, and the game can be stringent at times with them. It’s a nice balance that enhances that horror aspect of the survival horror genre. Give this one a shot if you like games such as Don’t Starve.
Doki Doki Literature Club!
September 22, 2017 (PC)"Nothing happened to me, I've always been like this. You're just seeing it for the first time."
As the indie horror scene continues to evolve, so too do the methods with which these games surprise you. I don’t want to talk too much about this game because I don’t want to spoil the excellent subversion within. All I really want to say is that Doki Doki Literature Club! is on the list for a reason. What seems like a completely normal, bubbly visual novel takes its time before showing you what lies beneath. It’s totally free, so I highly recommend you check it out for yourself!
The Evil Within 2
October 13, 2017 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)"This is like Beacon all over again... Kidman, what the fuck did you get me into?"
Back when Shinji Mikami first revealed his new horror IP Psycho Break, people were stoked. When it released in America as The Evil Within, people realized it was a flawed game. It was fun, and in my opinion I absolutely adore it. However, there were some technical issues and other problems at launch, as TechRaptor’s own Shaun Joy mentioned in his review.
However, the game still sold modestly well and Bethesda announced a sequel at E3 earlier this year. Any issues I had with the first game were ironed out completely smooth by The Evil Within 2! The game builds on the gameplay of the first title, where stealth isn’t necessary but encouraged nevertheless. It has great atmosphere, taking place in the abandoned, crumbling town of Union. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it starts off great and only gets better from there.
Any of the clunky mechanics from the first game were totally fixed. The sprinting system is reworked, they kept the ability to put bottles in your inventory that was only present in the DLC of the first game, and overall they revamped the progression system to great effect, splitting up weapon and physical attribute upgrades to use two separate pools of resources unlike the original.
The game is still action-horror like the first, but make no mistake: this game is scary at times. The world is unnerving, the enemies are grotesque, and the antagonist Stefano is chilling with his attitude toward murder as an art. It’s just a great game, and I don’t want to say more than that. Definitely go give this one some love!
You can read our review of The Evil Within 2 here.
Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria Simulator
December 4, 2017 (PC)"All of those little souls in one place. Just for us. A gift."
In a surprise to absolutely nobody, Scott Cawthon continues to be as Scott Cawthon as humanly possible. After a rapid-fire set of entries in the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise, he announced this summer that he wanted to take a break and canceled the in-development Five Nights at Freddy’s 6. Fast-forward a few months and a random free Steam game popped up on the store: Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria Simulator.
Much like Doki Doki Literature Club! above, this is much more than you think it is. The advertising, screenshots, and videos on the page have you believe it’s an arcade-style 8-bit game where you fling pizzas to feed kids. It’s also supposedly a restaurant manager sim, where you try to build a nice restaurant to entice customers and make money.
It’s all of those things, so why is it on this list? Simple: if you’ve played a Five Nights at Freddy’s game, you know that nothing is ever as simple as it originally seems. Without going into much detail, all I’ll say is that this is almost assuredly the Five Nights at Freddy’s 6 Cawthon was talking about.
Surprisingly, there’s a great amount of gameplay variety here. It’s a neat little manager simulator, mixed with another interesting variation of the FNAF gameplay style you already know. There’s also the salvage segment of gameplay, creating a dynamic between the chipper management segments and the other two, much more sinister gameplay segments. It’s a fun dynamic that sets it apart from the rest of the series.
It’s also free, as I said before. There’s really no downside to checking it out, so by all means, please do!
What a great year for scares!As you can see, 2017 has gifted us with all types of horror games. Whether indie or AAA, the variety within the genre has been staggering. There’s more traditional survival horror, there’s action horror, there’s psychological horror, chase-style horror … hell, even extremely effective subversive horror.
With the genre being one of my favorites, I’m glad to be able to write this article. It makes me really happy that we were able to get such a great selection of scary games this year, and I hope in the future we can get more. I want to be writing another great list next year, so make it happen 2018! Or else ...