2017 has been one of the best years for horror games in a while. There’s been a great showing across the entire industry, from triple A to indie titles. There’s also been a surge of innovation this year, with a ton of variety in the types and complexity of horror shown. So we’ve put together a list of 11 of best horror games released this year.
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1. Resident Evil 7 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
One of the biggest horror games to come out this year, Resident Evil 7 really brought the series back to its horror roots. Instead of the overly convoluted, bloated plot-lines we were getting used to by the fifth and sixth instalments, 7 shrinks the narrative back down to just one creepy house.
Unlike more recent entries where you’re armed enough to mow down hoards of zombies, here limited resources mean that you have to carefully strategise. Whether to use your precious ammunition or not becomes a nerve-wracking decision as you don’t know if you’ll find more any time soon.
Though the series has famously stuck to third-person, 7 uses a first-person perspective and has also been highly praised as a VR experience. This fully immerses you in the world, allowing you to see those small, scuttling movements out of the corner of your eye or hear something creep up behind you.
2. Little Nightmares (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
The bad dreams you had as a child are given life in this puzzle platformer. You are a small child travelling through the Maw, an underwater facility. The game sees you solving the puzzles of the oversized world as you avoid capture by its giant, misshapen inhabitants.
The world’s design is charmingly grim. The ever present swaying is oppressive and even a little nauseating to play through, creating an overall seasick feeling. The question of exactly where you are is slowly revealed as you play through and uncover hidden secrets. The art style in this game is dark yet whimsical, with amazing use of colour and dimension. Little Nightmares recreates a childish sense of horror, as you’re aware terrible things are happening around you but don’t understand what or why.
3. Prey (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
In this sci-fi horror, which draws heavy inspiration from System Shock, you find yourself trapped on a space station with an escaped species of hostile aliens. While these smokey, spidery aliens certainly look creepy, the real fear comes from the creatures’ ability to shape-shift into everyday objects. While you’ll find yourself frequently backtracking through the semi-open world, you’ll never be able to relax. You’ll always have to keep an eye out for the random disguises, which makes for paranoia-inducing stuff.
The claustrophobic effect of being stranded in space really hammers home that you can’t just run away from the danger. There are plenty of scares to keep you on your toes and the story takes a few unexpected turns as you pry further into the station’s history.
4. The Evil Within 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
This deranged psychological horror sequel ups the scare factor as you descend into the corrupted virtual world of Union. The unstable simulation appears as an idyllic American suburb that folds in on itself and crawls with Cronenburg-inspired creatures.
The maps have been expanded and feel organically tied together, allowing you to fully explore the multi-layered worlds and find disturbing nooks which tell you more about the horrors of Union.
Boss fights are enjoyable and very memorable, and each one has a brilliantly hideous design.
There’s a more adventurous feel to this game, with more items, crafting and a large supporting cast, but it doesn’t negate the tones of maddening horror, instead lending a real, concrete feel to the nightmarish world.
5. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (PS4, PC)
This is not your standard horror game by any means, thanks to its unusual setting in the Viking Age.
The horror of the game is psychological in nature, depicting Senua’s battle with mental illness in a time before it was medically understood. Senua is tormented by her own mind, which manifests as a the dark entity and voices which plague her, as she seeks to rid herself of her “curse”.
The acting is superb, with Melina Juergens giving a powerful performance in her first acting role. The capture technology used allows her performance to come through raw and undiluted.
What’s impressive is how much care the developers have taken to portray the subject matter accurately, bringing an expert on Scandinavian history onto the writing team and consulting with neuroscientists and mental health specialists.
6. Darkwood (PC, Mac, Linux)
While it’s lingered in Early Access for years, the unique top-down survival horror Darkwood was finally released this year. You play as a speechless man lost in a spooky forest somewhere in the Soviet Bloc, trying to stay alive long enough to find your way home.
You might think the top-down perspective would make the game less scary, letting you see enemies coming more easily, but instead it creates this huge sense of vulnerability as you navigate through the dark with only the slim light of your torch to illuminate the threats that lurk in the forest. The day/night cycle leaves you relatively safe, if creeped out, in the daytime, giving you time to prepare for the onslaught of darkness. Once the sun goes down the barren forest plays host a multitude of otherworldly beings.
7. Outlast 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Outlast 2 continues on from its predecessor in showing us just how frightening ordinary humans can be, as you creep through a cult-like village with a rabid belief that apocalypse is looming. As a journalist investigating the mysterious murder of a pregnant woman, you find yourself separated from your wife following a plane crash and must venture through the village to search for her. The game puts a few different spins on the religious cult sub-genre, as there are several elements of the plot you wouldn’t expect.
Unlike many horror games, Outlast 2 gives you no way to defend yourself and is strictly about stealth, outwitting and outrunning your enemies. Armed with nought but a night vision camera, you feel decidedly vulnerable as you inexorably push through enemy territory.
8. Detention (PS4, PC, Mac, Linux)
Set in 1960s Taiwan during the long period of martial law known as the White Terror, two students become trapped in their high school. There they must confront literal and personal demons in their attempt to escape and uncover the curse surrounding their school. Detention blends real historical events with elements of Taiwanese mythology, and the “lingered” (malevolent wandering ghosts) take a number of sinister forms from a variety of Asian cultures.
This side-scrolling survival horror uses puzzles instead of combat, but that doesn’t make it any less engaging, as you have to adapt to a twisted kind of logic to think your way around the different ghost encounters.
The game is incredibly atmospheric. The papery, hand-drawn animation clashes unsettlingly with the heavy mood. The outstanding soundtrack enhances the growing feeling of dread and upholds the game through its emotionally weighty story.
9. Observer (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux)
Set in a dystopian, futuristic Poland, Observer is a cyberpunk horror game where you play as a detective hacks into the minds of suspects and explore their fears. The game is rich in both mental horror and body horror as most people are physically and mentally augmented.
The environment is the star of this game. The everyday world features an oppressive skyline and drizzly streets, evoking a neon noir vibe reminiscent of Blade Runner. The mental environments you brutally hack into are weird and often nightmarish. These worlds distort and shift, and you’ll find you can’t rely on the perception of others, or yourself.
10. Narcosis (PC, Mac)
Not since Bioshock has being trapped at the bottom of the sea been so frightening. As an industrial diver you are stranded on the seabed of the Pacific Ocean and need to find an escape before your suit’s oxygen runs out. The eerie, alien feel of many deep sea environments is the perfect complement to your isolation as you struggle to retain your sanity in the ceaseless darkness.
This is such an unusual take on video game horror, opting for a surreal, narrative-driven experience. There are no monsters or struggle between good and evil at the heart of this story, instead focusing on very real human fears.
11. Doki Doki Literature Club! (PC, Mac)
This is definitely an odd one but bear with us. It may not look like a horror game at all on the surface but it’s surprisingly scary. Created by indie developer Team Salvato, Doki Doki is an anime-style dating sim. You’ve probably spotted the inexplicable “psychological horror” tag on Steam’s more cutesy games, but for once it’s actually deserved.
In the game you are an apathetic teenage boy who gets roped into joining the after school literature club. The club is full of cute girls with wildly different personalities, of which you choose who to woo through poetry. Aside from that, it’s difficult to talk about the game and why it’s scary without giving away the twists of the story. You should definitely play it to see for yourself, especially as it’s free on Steam. We recommend going in blind for the best experience.