February was supposed to be a month for flowers and romance, but it produced an absolute avalanche of so many new horror games that you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s Halloween already. What are you waiting for? Load ‘em up and check ‘em out.
'Dawn of Fear'(PS4)
The first of several unashamed attempts to revive the classic 1990s survival horror genre, Dawn of Fear casts you as a young man returning to the sprawling family home after the suicide of your stepmother leaves you as the sole heir. Your task is to put the estate and family papers in order, but that soon takes a back seat to solving puzzles and escaping from monsters once you discover that step mommy had a thing for necromancy.
Unfortunately, the game is a technical disaster, plagued by bugs, glitches and crashes while in-game text is riddled with basic mistakes. If this were the only Resident Evil tribute act around, fans would have to make do with what was on offer, but it isn’t, and you don’t. From the bland title to the generic premise to the creaky execution, this misses the mark almost entirely. Look elsewhere.
Clanking around an abandoned installation, fixing systems while being stalked by a relentless monster, it’s clear that Alien Isolation was a big influence on this first-person horror adventure. There are two key differences, though: You’re at the bottom of the ocean, not in deep space, and the creature trying to take chunks out of you is a particularly persistent shark.
That’s a pretty good twist on a proven template but Submersed shows its low-budget indie roots in some rough edges and a truncated playing time (it runs shorter than most shark movies). Some of the scripted jump scares are a little underwhelming, too. Even so, shark games are a rarity and, while this could be improved in lots of ways, it does what it sets out to do.
'Nerved' (PS4, Switch)
Slender is the obvious source of inspiration for this, another third-person explore-a-thon. Playing as a paranormal investigator looking into the aptly named Bitterwood Forest, your case takes on a more personal urgency when your wife – and investigative partner – is taken by forces unknown. You know the drill from that point on: Stumble around the trees, creep around in derelict cabins and houses, pick up every scrap of paper to piece together the garbled backstory of the forest. The environmental details are actually pretty good, but what atmosphere they evoke gets immediately squashed by the clunky character animations and some truly awful voice acting, delivered with all the emotion of a shopping list. You can’t be a genre fan without appreciating the appeal of the generic, but Nerved is strictly for the undemanding horror player.
This isn’t a new release – it dropped in October last year – but it’s only just appeared on our radar and is interesting enough to warrant a late recommendation. For one thing, it costs only a few bucks. For another, it takes the well-worn creepy first-person exploration genre and gives it a strong J-Horror twist, as you poke around in an empty Japanese apartment looking for clues as to why nobody wants to live there. The whole thing plays out with a woozy lo-res video camera feel, and the location is realistic enough that you’ll genuinely feel like you’re intruding somewhere you shouldn’t be. The game is proof that the limitations of indie development can work in favor of horror, rather than against it.
OK, this one is a bit of a stretch. It’s not technically a horror game at all, more of a first-person drama in the vein of Gone Home and Firewatch. What it does do is riff on some classic horror tropes, so even if the supernatural flourishes never quite pay off the way Fango readers might hope, there’s still plenty for the genre-savvy player to appreciate along the way.
You’re playing as Nicole, a young woman returning to the hotel her parents used to own 10 years after an incident which split her family apart. Her father had an affair with Rachel Foster, a teenager the same age as Nicole, and got her pregnant. Rachel took her own life, and everything went to shit for everyone else. It’s up to you to piece together the details behind the tragedy and find some measure of closure.
For horror nuts, the obvious draw is the rather overt nods to The Shining, from the eerily empty hotel with its patterned carpets and lobby diorama, to your only contact with the outside world via an antique radio set which has Irving, a FEMA agent who may be more than he seems, on the other end.
More than Stephen King’s original novel and Kubrick’s chilly adaptation, The Suicide of Rachel Foster feels like a kindred spirit (no pun intended) to Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep and The Haunting of Hill House, in the way it uses a sense of isolation, sinister moods and the prospect of the supernatural to explore painfully real trauma. Recommended.
Could we return to ‘Silent Hill’ … twice?
Keep a giant-sized pinch of salt to hand as we’re firmly in rumor territory here, but after unceremoniously dumping Silent Hills, the continuation of the legendary horror franchise from Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro, in 2015, Konami may finally be getting back into the ash-and-slash business. The word is that two potential Silent Hill projects are under consideration, one that would be a “soft reboot” of the series and one that would be an episodic project in the style of Bandai Namco’s “Dark Pictures Anthology.” Konami responded to the rumor by commenting to games site Eurogamer that “we cannot share anything at this point, but we are listening to customer feedback and considering ways to provide the next title.”
Ninja Theory doubles down on psychological horror
British developer Ninja Theory, most recently known for the award-winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, has announced a new “experimental” game called Project: MARA. Just as Hellblade was praised for its depiction of mental illness, albeit through the eyes of a female Viking warrior, so this new game will continue to explore similar terrain. The exact nature of the game is still a mystery, but Ninja Theory promises “a real-world and grounded representation of mental terror” inspired by “real lived experience accounts and in-depth research,” which will hopefully result in a “new storytelling medium.” The teaser trailer doesn’t offer a whole lot more, but it looks promising.
Haunted PS1 project offers mini chunks of retro horror
It can’t have escaped your attention that lots of indie horror games are riffing on the 1990s right now, but few are doing it with the same eclectic glee as the Haunted PS1 community. This collective of home-brew coders has put together a virtual “demo disc” containing 17 horror experiences that look, sound and play as if they belong on a cursed version of Sony’s original PlayStation. It’s free to download, and half the fun is seeing what bizarre treats await inside. None of them are straight-forward Resident Evil tributes, so if you’re in the mood for a grab bag of oddball throwback weirdness, give it a shot.
Interactive Indonesian horror drives 'Pulang Insanity'
I’ll be honest – I’m not entirely sure I understand what’s happening in Indonesian horror game Pulsang Insanity. The story follows a man, Rudy, who escapes from poverty by performing the “Pesugihan” ritual that grants instant riches but requires a human soul every three months by way of payment. This bum deal seems to have something to do with the disappearance of Rudy’s daughter, which is where the demo currently available on Steam kicks in. Rudy’s ill-gotten mansion is nicely presented in the demo, and the way you must click on doors and drawers and push or pull them with the mouse suggests Amnesia-style physics puzzling will be involved. The fleeting glimpses of gray-faced specters are very welcome, too. Who knows where all this is leading, or when the finished game will be released, but it promises to be something different either way.
'Death of Rose' puts character first
Currently due for release later in March, Death of Rose takes a familiar horror gaming scenario and uses it to offer character-based adventuring. You’ll be playing as Scott, an amateur ghost hunter who heads into an abandoned school rumored to have been the site of occult practices. Along for the ride is his best friend, Beth. Apparently, what happens during the game will either “cultivate or destroy” their relationship, depending on your actions and choices. What’s particularly promising about this one is that it marks the first solo development project from Artur Łączkowski, formerly of Bloober Team, the studio behind Layers of Fear and Blair Witch. As you would expect with that pedigree, the game looks and sounds great, with the trailer offering glimpses of detailed environments, realistic animation and voice acting that sounds like two friends talking. Color us interested.
Horror gets strategic in 'Othercide'
It’s rare that a horror game breaks out of the expected forms, so news of a tactical strategy RPG involving demons and cosmic terror gets our attention. Othercide will see you managing a secret order of ass-kicking warriors known as the Daughters as they engage the forces of evil, represented by monstrous Others and something known only as The Suffering, in a series of battles. Think XCOM with sci-fi swapped for horror and you’re in the right ballpark. It’s due on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in the summer.
'Pony Island' creator returns with 'Inscryption'
Daniel Mullins is a game designer known for gleefully trampling boundaries. His Pony Island game starts as a retro platform game about cute horses and morphs into a nightmarish meta-textual ordeal in which Satan himself takes over your computer. So, who knows what the hell to expect from his upcoming title, Inscryption? All we know is that Mullins says it’s a “narrative focused, card-based odyssey that blends the deck-building rogue-like, escape-room style puzzles, and psychological horror into a blood-laced smoothie.” We’ll find out what all those words mean next year.
'Dark Souls' meets 'Dead Space' in 'Hellpoint'
It’s all gone a bit to shit on the Irid Novo space station. What was once billed as a beacon of human achievement is now a derelict husk, haunted by interdimensional monstrosities. As an artificial lifeform – “organically printed” according to the game lore – you get to try and put things right, either solo or with a friend. Hack, duck, block and slash gameplay married to esoteric science fiction and Lovecraft concepts, basically, and if that doesn’t get your juices boiling, then there’s a free sequel chapter to download and try right now. The full gamelaunches in April.
Czech horror 'Someday You’ll Return' is deeper than you think
So, you’re a father, searching for his missing daughter in a spooky forest and … hey, don’t keep scrolling! OK, that’s not the most original starting point for a horror game, but by all accounts, Someday You’ll Return offers more than the usual torchlit searching. For one thing, the location is based on a real Czech forest. For another, there’s crafting and alchemy, intricate inventory puzzles, and karma system, as well as simulated madness. It certainly doesn’t look like the work of just two people, but developers Jan Kavan and Lukas Medek have been polishing this thing for years and it shows. Look out for it on PC in April, with console versions to follow.
PS4 and Xbox wake up to 'Daymare'
One of the first – and best – tributes to classic Resident Evil games was indie hit Daymare in 1998, which came out last year on PC and helped to kick-start the current survival horror revival. Now, console players will get to see what the fuss was about as the game is confirmed for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with a late April release planned.
2012 horror 'Anna' spawns next-gen anthology series
Did you play the 2012 horror game Anna? Had you given up waiting for a sequel? Well, eight years later, Italian developer Dreampainters has announced that it’s returning to the series – or at least the world it takes place in – for an episodic gaming anthology called “Anna’s Songs,” launching later this year for PC and next gen consoles. The first title in the series will be called Nascence, and follows a man called Thomas who has been sent to find the ashes of a witch and eradicate the cult that has grown up around them. The trailer has none of that and mostly just shows off the admittedly lovely environments.
'Terror Squid': cool name, awesome trailer
Despite the name, Terror Squid is not a horror title. It seems to be more of a vector graphic bullet hell shooter with a neat gameplay twist. Cool, but not FANGORIA territory. The same can’t be said for this live-action trailer that is one of the freakiest short films we’ve seen, oily vomit and all. Enjoy.
One to Watch
What do you get when you cross top-down vehicular mayhem, in the original Grand Theft Auto style, with Lovecraftian tentacle monsters and the end of the world? We’ll find out later this year when Dead Static Drive launches for Xbox One and PC. For now, drink in the trailer.