2018 was sadly only an okay year for horror games. Releases from AAA studios were fairly scanty, seemingly having a cool-down after the fantastic year 2017 was for horror. In fact, many a lover of horror games had no option but to turn to the indie scene and a lot of the best horror games this year came from smaller studios.
Thankfully, with bigger releases like the Resident Evil 2 remake, Days Gone and The Sinking City set to come out later this year, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2019.
In the meantime, let’s look back at some of the best horror games last year had to offer.
Call of Cthulhu
Still in the midst of the Lovecraft trend that pervaded 2018, Call of Cthulhu is the official game adaptation of one of his most famous stories. Saying that, the game is more closely based on the tabletop roleplaying game than the story itself.
The game is full of investigation, stealth and the type of mind-breaking horror typical of Lovecraft’s work. You play as the dissolute and grizzled detective Edward Pierce, tasked with investigating the mysterious death of the Hawkins family. The story is immersive and has buckets of atmosphere, as you’ll explore labyrinthine areas and reconstruct events from clues at crime scenes.
If you’re a fan of cosmic horror, you’ll love the game’s more trippy sequences. It asks just as many questions as it answers, but knowledge is not necessarily a good thing – the more answers you find to your questions, the greater their impact on Edward’s mind.
Vampyr is unusual for a horror game in that it stresses the importance of who you kill and why. Set in 1918 London at the height of the Spanish Flu epidemic, you play as Jonathan Reid, a doctor who has recently become a vampire. Still new to his fangs, Jonathan struggles to honour the Hippocratic Oath while wrestling with the urge to satisfying his need to feed on the blood of the living.
The game has a unique approach to the act of taking a life. Where in other games you probably wouldn’t spare a second thought on killing numerous nameless NPCs, in Vampyr, every single NPC is a concrete character with a life, routine, relationships and links to the community.
Through talking to locals, and the use of your new vampiric powers, you can learn their secrets and decide who to eat and who to spare. Whoever you decide, you’ll feel their absence in the community. Anyone can be a target, so choose your mark carefully. You can even make it through the game without killing anybody, but it’s not easy.
In many ways, The Forest is your typical open-world first-person survival game: you inexplicably find yourself alone in the middle of the wilderness, helpless and unarmed. You have to forage, build shelter, and lay traps for animals in order to survive as you look for clues in the hopes of finding your lost son in the forest peninsula.
It’s what’s in this particular forest that’s unusual – a mutated, cannibalistic tribe lurks within. They only come out at night and look just like the creature that took your son. The constant threat of their presence and their intelligence will keep you right on the edge of paranoia as you explore deeper into the forest.
Their behaviour is unpredictable. Sometimes, they’ll flank you and go in for the kill. Other times, you’ll catch them observing you curiously from afar, making you wonder who exactly is hunting who.
Bendy and the Ink Machine
The popularity of Bendy and the Ink Machine came as a surprise even to its creators, one of which dubbed the episodic survival horror an “accidental success”.
The game follows a retired animator as he’s invited by his boss back to his old studio, only to find the titular Ink Machine and the studio’s mascot Bendy brought to life. With rogue inky foes running amok, exploring the studio is packed with scares. To make your way through, you must use a mixture of exploration, combat and puzzle solving.
The creepiest thing about this game by far is how the animation style offsets its creepy story. Like last year’s Cuphead, it’s visually reminiscent of the classic rubber hose animations of the ’20s and ’30s.
Transference is a hallucinogenic psychological thriller that embraces the VR format as a storytelling tool, as your character themselves is hooked up to a simulator. Step into the simulated world of disturbed scientist Raymond Hayes, a virtual recreation of an apartment made from the combined minds of himself, his wife and you, their child.
As you explore the apartment, collect items and solve puzzles, you soon find that there’s something else in the simulation with you, and it’s definitely not friendly. Despite its domestic setting, Transference is not afraid to go dark in a very real way and centres largely around themes of abuse.
As you explore, your world flicks between two different versions of the same apartment – one bright and comfortable, one gloomy and chaotic – to represent your family torn apart.
A prequel to 2015’s Until Dawn, The Inpatient is a survival horror set 60 years before the events of its predecessor.
Set in the same Blackwood Sanatorium from Until Dawn, you play as a patient suffering from amnesia. Your days are filled with monotony, while by night, you’re plagued by violent nightmares. It’s not long, however, before a horrific incident shatters your dull routine, leaving you to roam the hospital while trying to recapture your lost memories.
The game caught some flack from players for its slow pacing but more than makes up for it with amazingly detailed design and the overwhelming sense of building dread it manages to foster. Think of it as an atmospheric slow-burner compared to its jump-scare-laden predecessor.
Pamali: Indonesian Folklore Horror
After a successful summer Kickstarter, Pamali just managed to squeeze into 2018, releasing its first chapter, The White Lady, at the end of December. From Indonesian developers StoryTale Studios, Pamali is an exploration of how a culture’s history and values impact what is considered horror.
With a focus on cultural taboo and mythology, the game is based around creatures from Indonesian folk tales, like the baby-stealing Kuntilanak and the Tuyul, a child-sized spirit obsessed with wealth.
In this first chapter, you play as a young man who has returned to his hometown to sell the abandoned family house. It’s not long before bizarre and unexplainable events let him know he’s not the only one in the building. The impact of your choices are vital to the story, and how you confront the mythical creature within the house is important as you uncover the secret within its walls.
Despite the minuscule length of this game (five minutes and thirty seconds exactly) September 1999 has definitely earned a place on the list.
The VHS-style found footage horror plays with putting you in the same position of helplessness as someone watching a videotape. The whole game takes place in one corridor and you have just a few minutes to sit back and watch the as the horror escalates, after which it closes itself.
It’s free to play and worth checking out if you’re a fan of ’90s or vintage-style games, or games heavier on flavour than narrative. Thanks to its encouraging reception, creator 98DEMAKE is now working on a project similar to September 1999 bigger, more in-depth and fleshed out.
This Romanian indie is a walking simulator and psychological thriller steeped in heavy religious themes. Set in 1920 on Christmas Eve, you are a priest investigating the disappearance of an altar boy, whose murder you’ve been accused of.
Your quest to prove your innocence will have you wandering through a massive world of interiors and exteriors, with puzzles that change according to the seasons. You collect unique items to progress the story while you fall prey to fear-induced trances. Are the beautiful and disturbing visions you experience a symptom of guilt or madness?
The game plays with the contrast between stunning religious iconography and horror elements, that border on Giger-esque at points, as your priest finds himself torn between the demonic and divine.
Remothered: Tormented Fathers
Designed as a spiritual successor to the Japanese Clock Tower series, Remothered: Tormented Fathers is a survival horror game that aims to blur the line between good and evil.
The story revolves around 35-year-old Rosemary Reed, as she investigates the disappearance of a young girl. Her findings take to the crumbling Felton House. Denied access by the elderly homeowner, Rosemary breaks in. Here’s where the horror starts to escalate, dragging you into a terrifying game of cat and mouse through the manor.
This is another game that goes hard on the religious imagery, but also has strong psychological approach and a narrative with plenty of twists.