2020 in Review – Looking back on a year of horror (in video games)

Well, 2020 has certainly been a year that has happened, and given everything that has been going on, we’ve all been looking to escape into virtual worlds of one kind or another.

While feel-good entertainment has certainly been high on the list for those looking for a bit of escapism, there are many of us who relish in the feeling of being scared (within the safe environment of a game). It’s therefore no surprise that 2020 has been a great year for horror fans, with standout titles across various formats and subgenres.

A real standout area that the genre has continued to explore has been VR. While not strictly part of the horror genre, Half-Life: Alyx will give you plenty of creeps with its zombies and head crabs that have never felt more threatening, while The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners matched it as one of the very best VR games full stop. Offering multiple approaches from action to stealth, and really capturing the feeling of being in an apocalypse, this feels like the most 2020 game possible. Supermarket shopping afterwards always has an element of internal roleplaying involved.

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It’s really Phasmaphobia that was the breakout horror hit of the year though, and you can play it either on a screen or in VR. There’s the perfect blend of horror and fun here, as you explore a haunted house in a group and try to survive. Sure, it needs refinement and there’s plenty of bugs, but they can arguably add to the creepy vibes!

Sticking with co-op gaming, there was the schlock and gore of Zombie Army 4: Dead War. It won’t be the most horrifying of experiences and is on the campier end of the scale, but it takes plenty of cues from classic horror films for its visual styles (and is a low-key favourite series of mine to boot).

That was far from the only series continuation and genre stalwart, though. While not quite hitting the same highs as the Resident Evil 2 remake, Resident Evil 3 took the building blocks of last year’s sublime revival and used it to bring Jill Valentine’s journey back to our screens in an explosive and action-packed remake. Speedrunning is definitely encouraged here.

Then there was the second Dark Pictures Anthology game, Little Hope. Supermassive continued their impressive run of form with the deliciously spooky game, this Salem witch trial inspired chiller being full of twists and turns. Amnesia: Rebirth, on the other hand, turned some parts of the original ‘run and hide’ series on its head, stepping out of the darkness at times and featuring a surprisingly moving and emotional story alongside its trademark mechanics.

We obviously can’t forget The Last of Us Part II, which features more than a few survival horror elements and sections to go with the stealth action and gripping story.

As with Phasmaphobia above, indie efforts in the horror genre were plentiful, from Maid of Sker and Remothered: Broken Porcelain, to Someday You’ll Return and Follia: Dear Father.

Some of the standouts here were Song of Horror, an episodic series which reached its climax at the start of this year and remains one of my all-time favourites. The multiple characters, challenging puzzles and continuous feeling of dread all make for a truly memorable experience. It might return in a similar feature at the end of 2021, as it’s coming to consoles soon as well.

Then there was Visage, which emerged from its lengthy time in Early Access. One of the many attempts to capture PT’s tone, its focus on an unsettling mood and frequent effective jump scares make it a game that seems tailor-made for streaming and playing with friends.

On the lower-fi end of the scale, World of Horror used its aesthetic to hide a mind-bending and effective fusion of genres that blend together to create a unique experience. Inspired by the brilliant manga of Junji Ito this is perhaps the most indie game possible, in look and feel.

Carrion then flipped the horror genre on its head. Here you were a fleshy Thing-inspired alien breaking free from imprisonment and taking revenge on the humans now trapped in the complex with you. The sheer visceral feel of the game makes it an essential play.

The reverse horror genre has been bustling in recent times, though typically in a multiplayer form. In Silence takes the format popularised by Dead by Daylight or Friday the 13th: The Game, and has you either playing as the monstrous Rake or one of a group of survivors, The Rake is nearly blind but can hear with extreme precision so survivors must beware when communicating or acting as they play.

As you can see, the horror genre was a very broad church in 2020, with so many corners of it being explored by different games, or its tropes being integrated into more action-packed adventures.

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Written by
Just your average old gamer with a doctorate in Renaissance literature. I can mostly be found playing RPGs, horror games, and oodles of indie titles. Just don't ask me to play a driving game.