The state of horror games in 2015
While other gaming genres are stagnating and in need of a serious shake-up, horror is innovating and finding new ways to be more effective. The recent pinnacle was probably last year as Among The Sleep and Alien: Isolation from 2014 showed how first person experiences can epitomize and legitimize terror.
Although not without flaws, those games made it clear that horror works best when you can't effectively fight back – a notion that's gone forward into 2015 with a bevy of absorbing titles, covering every platform and graphical style you can imagine. That's great for gamers in general, but can also be a problem for individual players, as many of the most intriguing titles didn't hit all platforms: if you want to experience them all, you'll need to bridge the divide between PC and multiple consoles.
Before checking out our look back on the state of the horror genre this year, don't forget to also read through our other articles analyzing the state of other genres in the 2015 gaming world:
Most Overhyped / Biggest Horror Disappointment Of 2015
There were a slew of high-quality and imminently frightening releases this year, but all is not well in the state of horror...
Until the upcoming reboot of FF7 was announced to be an episodic release without turn-based combat, there wasn't a bigger outcry from gamers that reverberated across the entire web than when Silent Hills was canceled and PT was pulled from the PlayStation Store.
Hideo Kojima's messy breakup with Konami led to this collateral damage that still has people in shock. We're all desperately holding out hope that someday this Guillermo Del Toro / Norman Reedus collaboration will return, but the stark reality staring us in the face is as bleak and horrific as the game would have been.
Five Nights At Freddy's 3 And 4
The gaming community is definitely split as to whether the infamous Five Nights At Freddy's series is a boon or a low point for horror. With simplistic gameplay (honestly, these could be mobile tapfest games rather than PC titles) and a string of games coming out in rapid succession, FNAF catapulted into the public consciousness mostly from the reaction videos. Frankly, watching those reaction videos is more fun than actually playing the games.
Two separate entries came out this year in the series, which didn't really shake up the formula much beyond a change in scenery and adding in some pixelated mini-games. The first 15 minutes playing any given FNAF game is scary, exhilarating fun, but then you're left with the endless repetition. It isn't long before the annoying realization sets in that it isn't actually all that enjoyable to check camera 1, check camera 2, check camera 3, re-check camera 1, close door, open door, check camera 1, ad nauseum into infinity.
Biggest And Best Horror Release Of 2015
Horror managed to sneak its way into plenty of major games solidly sitting in other genres, like the Lovecraftian influences in Bloodborne, while Black Ops III of course saw the return of zombie mode, this time going in an eldritch horror direction set in the 1940s.
For the full-fledged games that are meant to be horror through-and-through, there was no shortage of options in 2015, and some of them managed to reach the same heights of last year's crop. It should go without saying that these are games best experienced alone, with the lights out and headphones on, or you lose a lot of the impact.
Coming from the same folks responsible for the Penumbra and the Amnesia games, you know you're in for something really messed up and genuinely creepy with Soma. While there aren't as many direct scares this time around with monsters actively trying to kill you, there is an overall sense of dread – and some really disturbing psychological horror – that propels this one forward. It's also always nice to see horror take a sci-fi bend rather than another supernatural or modern day focus, and fans of System Shock will be right at home here.
Really delivering on the promise of open-world style horror that was hinted with past zombie titles, Dying Light puts the emphasis more on the “game” aspect in the genre of “horror games,” and is a ton of fast-paced fun once you get the controls down. That all changes when the sun drops below the horizon, though, as everything turns deadly and you have to carefully sneak your way back to safety, with the horror of the situation hitting home a little harder. Much like Dead Island, there are some issues with the gameplay, but overall this is a much better experience.
Going a very different direction from either Soma or Dying Light is the interactive movie Until Dawn. You've heard this one before: a bunch of attractive and horny 20-somethings are about to spend the weekend in a remote cabin when something starts picking them off one by one. You may have seen it a hundred times in a slew of movies with diminishing returns, but you've never played it quite like this. The choice system brings to mind Heavy Rain while the subject matter is classic slasher horror to the max.
Resident Evil: Revelations 2
After a spate of games that keep going further and further away from their roots, we did get another Resident Evil title this year, and that's usually a good thing for horror fans. While it's not Resident Evil 4 (and the series is probably never going to be that good again), the episodic Revelations 2 is still being received better than the last couple of entries. It's still more action-focused than fully survival horror, but switching between characters to use each of their skills is a fun mechanic, and you can now try the 1st episode for free on consoles.
Although not a big release by any stretch of the imagination, there was one indie game well worth mentioning in horror that saw release in October just in time for Halloween. Short and sweet, The Park isn't a lengthy experience, but it's an all-encompassing one that really draws you in and hits the psychological horror notes hard. Amusement parks are already pretty creepy, but abandoned ones at night are even more so, and this game will make you never want to go near another one again.
The advent of early access titles through platforms like Steam has made it difficult to classify what year a game is actually released. If a title has been available in early access for all of 2015 (and half of 2014 or earlier...) and has been played by thousands, but won't be feature complete until 2016, what year does the game actually come out? The issue becomes more complex when you consider that some developers are just leaving their games in early access mode indefinitely, using the money of new purchases to fund additional features over time.
There's some interesting ethical considerations in this style of funding, since fans are essentially paying for demos that may never get finished, and overall it's more dicey and prone to fail than straight crowdfunding. We'll avoid those titles that have been abandoned or look on the verge of failing and instead focus on three prominent games this year featuring fairly frequent updates that appear to be nearing completion.
The Forest has been in early access since May of 2014, and it shows a ton of potential; hopefully, the full and complete game is actually on the horizon. This one puts you as the only survivor of a plane crash in a huge forested area filled with seriously creepy cannibalistic creatures. It's basically a survival sim – you have to build shelter and craft objects – but with a horror theme. This one has the possibility to become great, if only it ever makes it out of alpha.
Layers Of Fear
Only having been in early access since August of this year, Layers Of Fear is already feeling more like a complete game, and it delivers the fear in spades. Putting you in the role of a painter who has just totally lost his mind, there is an amazing atmosphere and aura of menace to this whole game that's both unique and leans on classic tropes. If there's an early access horror game that seems destined for success in the near future, this one is it.
Having used the early access feature of Steam for more than a year now, Darkwood offers a completely different style than what you'd typically get from a horror game: it's a top-down, procedurally generated game. It sounds odd, but it works, and there are some truly creepy moments on display in what Darkwood has offered up so far.
Horror On The Wii U In 2015
Fatal Frame 5
Frequently an afterthought in this latest console generation, lately there have been a few reasons to dust off the not-so-old machine (most notably with the RPG Xenoblade Chronicles X just arriving). Horror fans actually have one very solid incentive to go the Nintendo route: Fatal Frame 5 finally landed in North America on the Wii U this year under the title Maiden Of Black Water.
If you aren't familiar with the series, those early Fatal Frame entries were terrifying before games really figured out they could be terrifying, and they are still worth playing today. Unfortunately, this one isn't getting nearly the love from fans as the earlier games (the Metacritic score is currently a very disappointing 67), but for Wii U gamers it's still worth giving a shot. Unfortunately, this is a digital-only title in North America, so don't expect to find it sitting on store shelves.
The Forecast For Horror In 2016
Horror isn't slowing down anytime soon, and in fact it's a good bet the genre is going to significantly ramp up as VR devices like the Oculus Rift finally arrive for large scale use. While that's still a ways off, the closer 2016 already has a ton of fright-based games that look amazing.
Games originally forecast to arrive this year – like the black and white, noir horror title Dollhouse or the Clocktower reboot Nightcry – are going to be coming early 2016 and should make some great early year material.
Asymmetrical or co-op is also getting a bigger focus coming up soon, with games like Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age or Friday the 13th covering the cooperative front. If you want something really unique, be on the lookout for Perception, a horror title along the lines of Outlast or Amnesia that changes the formula by making you play as a blind character.
For a full look at what's coming, check out our list of the 11 most anticipated horror titles slated to arrive in the coming months here, and be sure to let us know what you thought of 2015's scary offerings.