The State of Horror Games In 2017
If you're one of those depraved folks like myself who demand that the scares come hard and fast, then 2017 was likely a very satisfying year for you.
We've had a knockout trip around the sun on the horror front, with indie excursions like The Void proving small-time production companies can release killer movies, and of course, the Stephen King It adaptation taking the world by storm and being a box office smash hit.
We didn't lose out on the video game front, either, and somehow managed to go a whole year without a new Five Nights At Freddy's (did I just hear a collective cheer echoing out from the horror fanbase?).
From the vampire-themed Crimson Court DLC for Darkest Dungeon to some absolutely massive entries in the biggest series, horror fans got absolutely spoiled in recent months. Sadly, it wasn't all gray skies and bloody lollipops, as there were some notable flops in the horror genre this past year as well. Let's take a look back at what was worth playing and what's destined to hit the bargain bin.
Biggest Horror Disappointments Of 2017
You might be tempted to look at this year's roster of games and muse that with Resident Evil returning to proper horror form, and new entries landing in the Outlast and Evil Within series, perhaps there was nothing to complain about. Unfortunately that wasn't quite the case, as a few games failed to bring the fright factor.
Freddy Krueger... or Freddy Got Fingered?
I was absolutely in love with Dead By Daylight when it first landed way ahead of Friday The 13th or The Last Year, although over time, as changes have been made, the fanbase has become pretty surly about nerfs to the monsters.
Playing as Freddy Krueger is something many a horror fan has wanted for decades, but now that it's here, the reality is more tepid dream than blistering nightmare. Krueger is probably the weakest and least fun of the all the slashers to play, managing to even land below the Wraith, and that takes some serious effort.
Swing and a Miss at Blind Horror
Perception was an indie title I was eagerly looking forward to, and I closely watched its development after that Kickstarter success. The little dogs have been bringing some big treats to the table lately thanks to crowd funding, and it seemed that would be the case here.
When a developer doesn't have to deal with publishers who won't risk money on new concepts, you can get some truly amazing games. Perception had the intriguing concept part down, but it just doesn't quite deliver on the execution.
It's a shame, too, because there are some really interesting elements utilized here in playing as a blind character, such as using a smart phone's descriptive text service to see what something looks like. And honestly, what game wouldn't be made better with killer dolls? Although it seemed like it would revolutionize first-person horror gaming, the end result is surprisingly "meh."
Horror Shooter Mess
The exceedingly atmospheric Inner Chains managed to land on our most anticipated horror and FPS game lists last year based off the strength of its unsettling aesthetics and interesting designs, but it seriously failed to deliver on either the horror or the shooter front.
Although pretty to look at (when it isn't glitching out), the gameplay is quite tepid, and the fact that this isn't a AAA offering really shows. Inner Chains currently sits at an abysmal 40% rating at Metacritic, with Steam reviews decidedly on the "mixed" front.
It may be worth checking out at this point for new players, however, as the game has received some upgrades since release, including key bindings, more environmental sounds, and additional animations. Hopefully we get a much better overall horror experience with the upcoming Agony, which is set directly in hell and lands next year.
An Uncertain Development
Whether this one is a "disappointment" or a "cautiously optimistic" scenario is up for any given reader to decided, but I'm landing solidly on the former when it comes to Scorn's very uncertain future.
You might remember that killer first trailer (available below) that strongly evoked feelings of H.R. Giger, Alien, and Cronenberg with its disturbing fleshy technology.
Hype was high, but there was a big crash not long afterward with a Kickstarter failure and an announcement that the game would be split into two segments, which is never a good sign. Things seemed to be back on the upswing with the announcement of a publisher, but then immediately took a dive again when the developers announced another Kickstarter campaign.
To me, it doesn't speak of a stable product on the way to completion when additional money beyond what was provided by the publisher is still needed to make the first half of the game polished enough for release.
Granted, I would love to be proved wrong here -- this is a game that I legitimately want to succeed -- but I just don't envision the full two-part game ever seeing the light of day, or the first half being a finished and polished experience.
Indie Horror Triumphs 2017
If you want to know where horror absolutely thrives, you have to look beyond the big-name releases. That's true of the movie and publishing industries, and it's equally true in the gaming world. Smaller developers with a project they are truly passionate about can often trump big name companies restrained by bureaucracy and skittish publishers.
Featuring the star power of Rutger Hauer, Observer flew under the radar for a lot of gamers, as it wasn't hugely advertised, but if you love psychological head games or disturbing visions of the future, you want to play this game.
Although not without some flaws, the game sees Bloober Team take the concepts from Layers Of Fear and catapult them to the next level, translating that style of game into a very different experience featuring a detective in a dystopian cyberpunk future.
Hacking into the brains of the deceased is a harrowing experience, and there were times when I legitimately wanted to rush as quickly as I could to the end of a segment to get out of someone's mind hellscape.
You can always rely on the little developers to give you a completely new vision of something that's become standard. Distrust is basically The Thing the game, but it's a very different experience than the actual game based on that movie.
The atmosphere of cold and paranoia is on full blast here, and the top-down style brings to mind something like Dead State but in a much more polished rendition with better controls.
After Among The Sleep showed that you can play a harrowing game as a toddler, it was only a matter of time before we saw kids play a more prominent role in creepy games.
Little Nightmares goes for the platformer style instead of a first-person experience, but it's still incredibly creepy and atmospheric. When you're a little kid, everything bigger than you is scary in the dark -- and the disturbing David Firth-style designs don't make things any better.
The gameplay is incredibly solid, and the sound effects are utterly spot-on. Even if you don't normally dig horror, you should still give this one a shot, as it was probably one of the best games to come out this year in any genre.
Home Sweet Home
There have been some killer horror titles from smaller developers based around Korean and Chinese myths, and now we've got a Thai entry to expand your horizons even further.
Although a shorter entry that's only the first episode of a larger experience to come, Home Sweet Home is absolutely drenched in dread, and this is the sort of game that can have you literally screaming while playing alone in the dark.
I think "whoa" might be an appropriate response for this totally unexpected collection of four adventures. Stories Untold very strongly showcases how indie developers can do something really interesting by going off the beaten path.
You wouldn't think a text game colliding with a point-and-click adventure could be this engrossing, but trust me, this is one you want to experience first-hand.
There's strong echoes of series like Black Mirror or even Stranger Things as the game focuses on narrative above all else. The 80s-themed synthwave soundtrack is a nice bonus as well.
Early Access Horror 2017
As the Early Access phenomena becomes more commonplace in gaming, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that horror games have gotten on the bandwagon as well. There are three this year that stand out and are nearing full release worth paying attention to.
I'm digging the non-traditional setting on P.A.M.E.L.A. and am glad to see gamer feedback from the early access edition getting filtered to the developers, but there's one nagging question I can't let go of.
Considering the intense similarities in location, mechanics, and tone, can this indie offering have any chance of beating out Arkane's Prey? Hopefully we'll have something along the lines of a new classic System Shock experience, but only time will tell.
We Happy Few
Oh boy, things have gotten ugly between this game and its fan base in recent months. After a very successful Kickstarter and more funds coming in from early access, the developers made a rather controversial decision to team up with publisher Gearbox at the 11th hour.
Backers and Early Access buyers (perhaps rightfully) feel a little betrayed there, and new players aren't happy either, since the price got jacked up after the publisher deal. It's a good bet we can expect game elements to be taken out and delivered piecemeal back to us as DLC.
Despite that whole unfortunate debacle, when it comes to the actual gameplay and visuals, I'm personally still greatly looking forward to We Happy Few's finished version coming in April.
We're only weeks away now from the retail version of Hello Neighbor, and I'm eagerly awaiting what the final product will look like after several fun alpha tests.
The game isn't precisely "horror" per se but definitely has an element of mystery and the unknown. In the alpha builds I've played so far, there are hints at odd and unsettling things going on down in that basement -- and some truly weird and ethereal in-between segments when you unlock certain doors -- but overall the early versions were more bubbly and colorful than scary.
The tension is in not getting caught, although that's diffused somewhat by the fact that the bad guy throws jars of glue at you, and nothing really happens when you get caught except for some heavy breathing. Maybe we'll get something really dark next month in the full release?
Biggest Horror Releases Of 2017
We've covered the small fish, so now let's take a look at the gigantic whales that made the biggest splashes this year in franchises that have become household names.
Resident Evil 7
It was very welcome news indeed when the Resident Evil 7 crew realized that the defenseless horror style had vastly overtaken the action-horror genre. RE7 gave us something completely out of the ordinary for the series, and it was exactly what was needed to revitalize this faltering franchise.
My hope is that there's yet another jump in gameplay to something completely different in the next installment so that we don't fall back into stagnant territory again.
The Evil Within 2
Surpassing the original game in nearly every single way, oddly enough The Evil Within 2 basically gave us the classic Resident Evil experience that we didn't get with RE7. If you find yourself longing for that classic third-person survival horror experience, Evil Within 2 delivers it and then some!
After being blown away by the first entry in the series, this was my most anticipated game of 2017 by a mile. Taking the claustrophobic style of Outlast and putting it out in the backwoods with a group of hillbilly cultists seemed a recipe for some major scares.
While the game was good overall -- even great in parts -- Outlast 2 didn't necessarily get better even though it was made bigger. Some of the fright factor was reduced with the bigger outdoor areas, and the main villain Marta just didn't have the same visceral terror as the bad guy from the first game.
I wouldn't go so far as to put it in the "biggest disappointments" category, but this sequel did definitely lose something from the first game. Maybe third time will be the charm?
Friday the 13th
This latest entry in the many vs. one style got off to a rocky start with non-functional achievements and server problems galore over that first week. If you didn't have those issues though, Friday the 13th is a ton of fun and a fine example of the asymmetric gaming style.
There are some quibbles about how the maps are very similar and how they really need to get Space Jason in there from Jason X, but otherwise, this one really surprised me and managed to easily match or exceed the Dead By Daylight experience.
Forecast for Horror in 2018
If this year was good for horror, it's really 2018 that's shaping up to be phenomenal, especially for you Lovecraft fans out there. With no less than three Mythos-focused games coming, there is a lot to look forward to next year.
Tentacled Madness From The Depths
Getting to a new Call Of Cthulhu game was an appropriately winding and tentacled path, starting off with Sherlock Holmes developer Frogwares announcing the game and then going curiously silent.
Considering the focus on investigation and clues in their previous games, Frogwares seemed like the perfect fit. Development unexpectedly shifted over to Cyanide, however, and the game's style shifted significantly, with a 2018 release date now expected.
Curiously, Frogwares then announced The Sinking City, revolving around a 1920s private investigator in New England, which sure seems like a Cthulhu mythos game to me. . . . Honestly, I'm perfectly fine with getting two games instead of one. I just wish things had been more transparent and come together more quickly.
Although more of an RPG than a horror game in the traditional sense, easily the game I'm most looking forward to arriving next year is Stygian: Reign Of The Old Ones. Take the Baldur's Gate style of travel and conversation, mix it with the turn-based strategic combat of Heroes Of Might and Magic, and then coat it all in an apocalyptic 1920s Earth where the Old Ones rose and destroyed humanity, and you've got Stygian.
For those who prefer the walking dead over sanity-blasting madness from the stars, there's no shortage of titles coming soon. Days Gone has got to be the most anticipated at this point, with its outlaw biker protagonist trying to survive in a post-apocalytpic world.
Don't discount State Of Decay 2, however, which also promises a third-person, open-world experience. Supposedly that Walking Dead VR game is also coming, but we hear that every year, so who knows.
Get ready to face the shambling hordes!
That about wraps up our whirlwind tour of all things that went bump in the night throughout 2017 -- what did you think of this year's lineup of horror titles, and what are you most looking forward to playing in 2018 horror games?