2017 was a banner year for horror games
It is the end of the year. You know what that means? End Of Year Content.
This is when we look back at games and we group them, unnaturally, by a unifying value in the date column. Yeah, it’s a bit unnatural, but instead of focusing on the arbitrary nature of this, join me in celebrating all of the great titles that this year brought to spook, startle, and scare us. Or, just in general make us feel weird about what we’re doing. This was just one helluva year for this kind of game.
The Evil Within 2
The first Evil Within didn’t really feel like it was going to be the first in a series. This “throw everything at the wall” approach to survival horror aimed to be a bit of nu-wave Resident Evil but wound up being a mish-mash of ideas all of which would have been a great basis for… something else. Evil Within 2 takes those elements and builds on them while also throwing in knowing nods to everything from Nightmare on Elm Street to Twin Peaks and a general lean-in for the b-level horror entertainment quadrant -- making it a fantastic spiritual successor to Deadly Premonition while also being just a shockingly high-quality game.
Sure, there’s a lot of winks to camera, but that also takes the burning blanket of seriousness off the player, unlike the first game. It’s fun, technically proficient, and keeps you at a frightening disadvantage from start to finish.
Another sequel that aimed to improve upon a first entry, Outlast 2 manages to hit a strange spread. The storyline offers a deeper dive for the player character and their relationships within the game world, but somehow the gameplay winds up taking several huge steps backwards. The original title (and its excellent DLC) were set within the cramped hallways of dangerous haunts; somehow, opening up the game world into gigantic sprawling fields replaces the careful game of cat and mouse with a game of guess and check.
Even on easier difficulty levels, the twisted guys pursuing you are much stronger than before, perhaps to offset the lack of planning or clever tricks. (Note: there has been a patch for difficulty apparently but I haven’t given it a try.) This is all to say that the game and its approach to difficult religious issues and improved storytelling are all incredible reasons to give it a spin, despite a few mechanics that will hopefully be fixed in the next installment in the series.
Bonus: the comic book tie-in between the original game and the new title is completely free and incredibly good. Grab it here.
Hands-down the best new non-sequel of the year, even though it borrows so liberally from Bioshock it might as well carry the banner. Trapped on a space station full of alien monsters that are trying to pretend to be coffee cups, Prey sees you take on the job of undoing your brother’s weird science and perhaps your own terrible history while hitting everything you see with wrenches (just to be safe). I found the game at first to be pretty but fine, and then after the first five hours it became my GOTY, and then in playthrough number three I knew I was in love. The extended world is so beautifully constructed, and the pay-off for seeing each side-quest through to the bitter end is always rewarding. Each moment is drenched in both terrible potential but also in fascinating forward-forcing push where you need to fight through fear to see what made this happen and what your part in being a murderer may have been. The Last of Us did dread in a way that forced me to walk away from the game after chapters; Prey propelled me forward and I think that’s more interesting. Fight me.
If "Hotline Miami-likes" are a genre now, Serial Cleaner does everything possible to spin that around on its axis. Given sprawling crime scenes, your job is to show up and try to dispose of bodies, blood, and evidence without the cops catching you. You’re protecting (maybe) the Zodiac Killer by taking on blue collar cleaning work and trying to get out without getting a red collar -- or getting collared. This weird mix of Party Hard and Viscera Cleanup Detail makes for a weirdly engaging experience with a surprising depth of story. While it has plenty of controller- throwing moments of defeat, there’s a dozen bonus levels based on the crime scenes from famous movies, including Suspiria and Alien. The bonus levels are better than the game itself, and the game itself is undeniably fun.
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus
2017 has been nine years in one, so it almost didn’t cross my mind that Wolfenstein is actually a horror game. God, that’s bleak, right? Anyway, Nazis are in charge and they have a lot of wild spacetech and you’ve got axes that can disconnect Nazis from their appendages. There’s also a lot of emotional abuse, racial politics, familial scarring, and a laser that can disintegrate boxes.
It’s just…. It’s just a really good game.
My pettiest problem is that the story elements in collectibles are buried in brutally esoteric locations throughout the map, and trying to discern Nazi gold from amber light reflecting off polluted water makes for a frustrating hang-up in the middle of taking back democracy by filling Bad Men with lead.
As a bonus, on the lower difficulty levels, you can melee murder your way through the game like is was DOOM (2016) all over again. I… I enjoyed that.
Can a music game be horror? Apparently yes.
This twitchy, nerve-wrecking runner-style game based on brain breaking electronic music sees you piloting a spaceship/insect/monster on a path towards Hellraiser god end-points, and the mix of sensory overload and scares makes for a terrifying videogame that also rocks? I hope to try out the PSVR version soon, because I hate emotional stability. Remember me as having done this to myself.
Resident Evil 7
Maybe the best game of the year? Resident Evil is a series that I have loved for so long and have hated for even longer; mostly thanks to the number of bad multiplayer games and weird tie-in CGI movies I have endured. And a stage musical.
Resident Evil 4 re-invented the game genre as something that would get ripped off just as much as the original RE title. Post Entry 4, the series went a weird action-adventure route that departed from the series routes and made fans question what brought them here in the first place.
Resident Evil 7 is a return to form and a reinvention of what is possible in fear in interactive storytelling. The mutated cannibal family who plays your hosts are just as terrifying as the narrative’s ability to jump into side stories where survival is no longer of concern. It’s a rollicking, genuine nightmare where the rules of existence are completely secondary to the rules of terror. If you can play this, you must play this.
SOMA Xbox One Edition
Yeah, this game is almost three years old at this point, but the new release featuring a Safe Mode for those unwilling to deal with getting murdered by humanoid digital Francis Bacon paintings is actually an improvement on the original game. Many of these creatures lose their power to scare you once they’ve murdered you for the first time, but having to endure their constant, inescapable presence as you attempt to solve emotionally loaded puzzles means that you are never distracted from being submerged in a painful science fiction narrative set at the end of humanity. Anyone who ever threw a cheat/trainer onto their Silent Hill 2 game so they could better appreciate all of the art in the town will understand just how much worse immortality can make a game like this.
Soon to be made into a television show by the Russo Brothers (for some reason and in some way??), Little Nightmares is my favorite magical fairy tale of 2017. You’re a small... thing, of some type? Stuck on a ship where giant monstrosities born from a mix of Scary Stories collections and Roald Dahl are apparently eating... children? It’s just a super unpleasant yet shocking deep dive into a steadily rocking back and forth limbo that plays out like the best parts of Limbo if life was of greater threat than death.
You wake up in an asylum with very few memories and something is weird. Yeah, this is how every third game opens. But Get Even is different because there’s a mix of first person puzzle and adventure game with actual shooting -- something that a lot of games seem to have dropped lately? The portions where you can fight back fall in line against the parts where you can’t and that keeps things lively in a manner that I hope more games in 2018 borrow.
Black: The Fall
Do you remember how much fun you had in the original side-scroller puzzle Oddworld games? Do you wish that that could be infused with an Inside level of dystopian monstrous bleakness? Well… what is wrong with you?
But if you’re into that sort of thing, Black: The Fall is a great way to experience just a million deaths while navigating a slave through a manufacturing world full of convoluted puzzles. This is a game that looks like it’s going to be mediocre from just about any screenshot you pull up, and a nondescript title of the level of Gray: The Rising is sure to scare people away from a game that is really…. Well, not fun per say, but still worth seeing through from start to finish.
Friday The 13th
So, this game had some technical issues that kept it from conquering the world right out of the gate, but the dev team has stayed on top of constant balancing and updates, which has yielded a really fantastic multiplayer title. Hunting campers as a super-powered unstoppable murder machine has never felt so good, and the dedication to pulling in every weird character and element of the franchise ensures that this game will only get better in 2018.
Doki Doki Literature Club
How does this dating sim make the cut? Doki Doki Literature Club breaks all the rules and veers off into territory that will make almost anyone uncomfortable.
The girls in the game, whom you are wooing, are very well aware that they are stuck in a videogame, and only your decision to keep interacting with them keeps them within the realm of existence. That’s why they love you. Because they need to. It’s a brutal, brutally funny series of choices and interactions set in a genre of game that doesn’t get enough love -- especially in the horror world.
Mega-Indie Darkhorse Entry:
This very small, very must-play title found its way into my life and I’ve been pushing it on people ever since. A delightful soundtrack accompanies you in your job as you might explain to various artificial intelligences, through ever-evolving dialogue chains, why they are going to be disconnected and erased from existence. If you wish that all the exploring and discovery in SOMA could be replaced with painfully talking through your problems, well, maybe don’t even get LOCALHOST and instead spend 2018 spending some time working on yourself. Go for a walk. You deserve a walk. It’s free and you can do it right now.