2021 brought some of the best in horror that we’ve seen in years. From co-op paranormal investigations threading the height of virtual reality to throwbacks to the 90s survival horror formula, there’s a little something for everyone. And for those that scare easily, there are even a few games that take it easy on the player. Well, at least for a little while.
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We gathered the must-have horror games on both console and PC for the horror-aficionado in your life. Get them the gift they really want; pick up one of these today!
During the height of the pandemic, an unsuspecting indie project popped up on Steam’s Early Access platform, essentially offering games that are still a work-in-progress. YouTube influencers like Markiplier quickly picked up on the game’s extraordinary rendition of the paranormal investigation. Up to four players join up to investigate a haunted location using video cameras, EVP recorders, spirit boxes, and more. Among the context-sensitive goals is the main one: figuring out what kind of ghost haunts the location’s halls. The various scares are almost always different and always catch you off guard; if you happen to play the game in VR, the scares are quadrupled.
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This is one of those indie games that could easily slip by without even a second’s notice. Tormented Souls is a classic throwback to the old-school survival horror formula popularized by games like Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil, and Silent Hill. This means obtuse puzzles, fixed perspective camera, limited ammunition, and a feeling of hopelessness. The game has it all. In every way, it's a celebration of what we grew up on, complete with a mansion-like hospital as its setting. On the story end, you play as Caroline Walker—called to that heinous hospital by way of a strange letter. When she arrives, she is attacked and stripped of any means of escape. The rest, you could say, is demonic and a memorable disaster narrative.
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For fans of the Stalker and Metro series, Chernobylite utilizes a lot of the same gameplay characteristics found in the aforementioned games. What makes Chernobylite a bit keener with its horror: it was built around story first, complete with a hyper-realistic scanning of Pripyat, ground zero of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. This game also deviates from the open-endedness from Stalker or Metro, trading it in for resource management and a base-building. Meanwhile, as you work on your base and try to survive, the story seeps through, managing to play itself out uniquely no matter how the player gathers their resources. This one’s for gamers who love to explore and get lost in a terrifyingly foreign expanse.
Now for something a little different. Corpse Party might look like something you could have played on the Game Boy—and you would be right. The game has been a cult favorite for years and it is only now that it’s finally made its way to online storefronts in a remastered and reworked version. Players join a group of classmates as they are locked in their school, Heavenly Host Elementary, after hours. Everything from cults to sacrifice rituals transpire as you play through a retro-style RPG with beautiful 16-bit graphics. It’s the perfect game for someone who cares most about story and atmosphere.
Resident Evil Village
Any new mainline entry to Resident Evil will trend across social media. When Village finally came out, it was all anyone was ever playing on Twitch, YouTube, etc. Unlike Resident Evil 7, Village bleeds in a lot more of what made Resident Evil 4 so popular: a mixture of highly diverse locales, a sense of impending doom, and a lot of action. Still, there is one particular section of the game that single-handedly acts as the reason Village makes it on this list. Approximately halfway through the game, you leave one castle for an unassuming house in the outskirts of time. Dubbed “House Beneviento,” players walk into a quiet house where nothing goes bump in the night. That is, until they venture into the basement—and things get remarkably horrifying. Village is worth playing for witnessing what waits for them in that house.
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The latest from Bloober Team, developer of the Layers of Fear games, The Medium stars Marianne, a medium who can see and interact with the dead. Her abilities allow gamers to see two versions of a single scene. In many cases, the gameplay cuts the screen in half, so you get to see what the human eye sees versus what exists on another plane of existence. The Medium succeeds in using next-generation SSD technology to make this possible. All the while, the game uses inventive puzzles, a haunting soundtrack (by Silent Hill composer, Akira Yamaoka), and a surprising story to create a perfect blend of survival horror’s past and the future of interactive horror.
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Much like The Medium, Returnal is a game that benefits from next-generation technological advancements. The graphics are remarkable and the single thread, zero loading, of the game itself is as brutal as it is impressive. Thanks to PlayStation 5’s internal SSD, players are tossed into a brutal rogue-like horror experience. Selene is an interstellar scout who crashed on a mysterious planet called Atropos, forced to relive the same day over and over. This is no Groundhog Day, though. As players get better at surviving waves of alien threat, Selene’s backstory bleeds into the environment, almost as if Atropos is mapping Selene’s psyche onto its surface. This game requires persistence—but if you keep with it, the challenge turns into adrenaline and the narrative payoff is so very worth it.
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Next to Corpse Party, Creaks is the other outlier in this list. At first glance, it’ll seem like a forgettable experience. That is, until you actually see it in action. Utilizing amazing hand-drawn animation, just odd enough that its as though the illustrator drew this up from some far corner of their subconscious. Players don the role of an unassuming—and unnamed—male protagonist as he ventures into a strange nether realm, complete with a massive labyrinthine mansion full of inventive and complex puzzles. The balance of its impressively rendered world and its eerie story makes it perfect for players looking for more chills without outright terror.
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Alan Wake Remastered
Back when Alan Wake was first released, it was the height of the Xbox 360 and gamers couldn’t get enough of first-person shooters. This game quickly became a popular title among both console and PC gamers, mostly due to its light-versus-dark gameplay mechanic and a refreshing story that feels like it was lifted right out of a Stephen King novel. Players become, who else, Alan Wake—bestselling horror author suffering from a debilitating writer’s block. He and his wife seek out a quiet cabin in the middle of nowhere in hopes that the quiet might help influence him. That’s when characters and apparitions from the fictional world begin attacking Wake, threatening to harm him. It’s surprisingly literary, but perhaps it made sense that Remedy, its developer, had previously found success with their Max Payne series of games. Now that Alan Wake has been remastered, it looks better than ever and is a must-play for those who never had a chance to do so during its initial release.
Back 4 Blood
One of the most intense co-op experiences of its era, Left 4 Dead was a zombie-swarm survival game that helped pioneer “asymmetric” gameplay, or rather, online combat. In other words, one player is randomly given the chance to play the enemy, complete with their overpowered abilities yet limited by mobility and health. It has been a long time coming, but the original developers of Left 4 Dead have released a spiritual successor to the game, Back 4 Blood. Many of its ingredients are the same: four player co-op, randomized zombies and threats—but now they’ve added more rogue-like mechanics, including RPG style upgrades and a card system. Where Left 4 Dead’s campaign could have been completed in a couple hours, Back 4 Blood’s campaign challenges players and often has them backs-against-the-wall as an intimidating amount of enemies flank them from all sides. This is a must have if you’re looking to sweat it out at the end of the world.