2022 has been an incredible year for horror games. Whether it’s humble indie games like Iron Lung or the upcoming The Callisto Protocol, the games industry continues to showcase why horror is such a reliable and artistic genre. Over time, what makes people feel fear has been refined.
It’s no longer just zombies or jumpscares of old (though they indeed still exist). Now, there’s a focus on atmospheric horror, something that’s been spreading throughout the horror genre even outside of video games. Those who want a few scares this Halloween season shouldn’t ignore these games.
10/10 The Death | Thần Trùng
The Death | Thần Trùng is a first-person psychological horror game set in the city of Hanoi. The player controls an ordinary man walking the city streets when strange things suddenly start to happen. Visions of his past suddenly come to life, and he has to figure out a way to parse delusion from reality.
The Death | Thần Trùng is a solid first effort from a Vietnamese indie studio with a clear passion for their culture and its nuances. Vietnamese folklore and traditions surrounding death are prevalent in the game. Plus, the game is rendered in a photorealistic style reminiscent of modern Hanoi adds a lot of authenticity to the experience.
The Complex: Found Footage is a first-person exploration horror game set in the eponymous “Backrooms.” The framing device is a mysterious individual who has gathered tapes with strange content within. Upon inserting the tape, the player takes on the role of the camera holder, as they explore the seemingly infinite space that is the backrooms.
The Complex: Found Footage is a master class in capturing the liminal feelings that the backroom evokes. The grainy filter, 4:3 aspect ratio, and photorealistic environments lend an uncanny realism to the whole game. No one playthrough is alike, and with the game being totally free on Steam, there is no reason not to try out this effective indie title.
8/10 Fears to Fathom: Norwood Hitchhike
Fears to Fathom: Norwood Hitchhike is the second entry in the Fears to Fathom series. This time around, instead of being home alone, the player is a 19-year-old college student named Holly Gardner driving back home from a gaming convention. On the way, however, her car breaks down and she has to stay in a rather shady motel.
Inspired by real stories from social media, Fears to Fathom banks on the natural fears of human beings caught in realistically horrifying situations. Ghosts might not be real, but having to stay in a shady motel with creepy guys leering at them is something everybody doesn’t want to experience. Norwood Hitchhike captures those feelings perfectly with its VHS aesthetic.
7/10 Ravenous Devils
Ravenous Devils is a business tycoon simulator game ala Diner Dash with a macabre twist. The player takes control of Percival, a man running a humble tailor shop. His wife, Hildred, also runs a successful pub a few floors beneath him. However, the pub has a dark secret: its ingredients are Percival’s unfortunate customers.
There’s no use ignoring it, Ravenous Devils might as well be Sweeney Todd: The Game. From its Victorian Gothic aesthetic to its cannibalistic premise, Ravenous Devils is a send-up to one of the most classic horror stories of all time. The dark sense of humor as well as the fast-paced gameplay make it a refreshing change of pace from typical horror games.
6/10 Night At the Gates of Hell
Night at the Gates of Hell is a first-person retro survival horror game with the classic PS1/VHS aesthetic prevalent in Puppet Combo’s games. This time around, the developers stray from their tried-and-true slasher formula and instead put the player in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Specifically, a zombie apocalypse more akin to campier B-horror movies than The Walking Dead.
Night at the Gates of Hell is very over-the-top as a result. Satanic cultist necromancers, zombie ballerinas, and an insane apocalyptic priest make for a campy experience. Of course, that doesn’t lessen the scares, as many of the zombies are still incredibly unsettling, as well as the slow realization that perhaps there is no escaping the end of all things.
5/10 The Closing Shift
The Closing Shift is a first-person Japanese horror game with a unique setting for its scares: a trendy coffee shop. The player takes on the role of an unnamed young woman who is working the night shift at this cafe. As the night grows darker, the customers start to seem more sinister and strange, and the woman begins to suspect that one of them is stalking her.
The Closing Shift has no supernatural scares. There are no frills about conspiracies or cults. It is a game deadset on making the player feel like the life of a young woman terrorized by a man who she’s never seen yet knows is stalking her at every turn. The “found footage” feel only adds to the horror, as it makes the player feel like they are simply looking at someone’s predetermined doom.
The recently released Scorn is a first-person survival horror game set in a nightmarish H.R. Giger-inspired world, akin to Alien. The player is thrown into a world of living tissue and muscle and must find a way out with only their wits. Most critics like to use the word “a truly living world” to praise sandbox games, but Scorn takes that statement quite literally.
The walls pulse with lesions and boils. The floor squelches with every step the player takes. The inhabitants are barely recognizable from the structures themselves, drabbed in a sickening brownish-green hue. This biopunk world is beautiful in the most macabre way and is well worth it for that alone.
3/10 Iron Lung
Iron Lung is an indie sci-fi exploration horror game that defies convention. The player takes the role of a prisoner who has been put on a barely functional submarine called the “Iron Lung.” With minimal training, they are forced to explore the deepest depths of an ocean of blood on a distant moon.
The only place the player will ever see with their own eyes is the submarine as there are no windows to look out of. Their only form of sight is an unreliable radar and a camera that can only take still pictures. The eldritch horror of not knowing what lies beneath the bloody tides is enough to put even the most veteran horror gamers on edge.
2/10 The Mortuary Assistant
The Mortuary Assistant is a first-person horror game that puts the player in the shoes of a mortician-in-training. Rebecca Owens is tasked to handle the graveyard shift for her mortuary internship. Unfortunately, the reasons are far from related to her thesis study. The mortician has tasked her with exorcising a demon that threatens to destroy their lives.
The Mortuary Assistant is a very claustrophobic game and the dark halls of the mortuary are hardly comforting. Most of the puzzles involve graphically performing the duties expected of a mortician, so that means getting up close and personal with the recently deceased. Add a demon to the mix that will attack the player if they make a misstep, and The Mortuary Assistant becomes one of the tensest horror games of the year.
1/10 SCP: Secret Files
SCP: Secret Files is a horror anthology game that spans different genres in its brief but memorable runtime. The player takes on the role of Karl, a rookie researcher at the Foundation who has been tasked with compiling some of the Foundation’s most important files. However, doing this causes Karl’s perceptions of the world to change, and it’s unknown how much of it is real.
The game doesn’t follow the typical formula that Containment Breach set, i.e., run away from a monster. Instead, SCP: Secret Files focuses on the more fascinating and surreal aspects of the lore, such as Here Be Dragons, I Am a Toaster, and The Witch Child. SCP: Secret Files showcases just how vast SCP lore can truly be.