The horror games seem to be forever doomed to be a niche. It’s not only because a lot of people don’t enjoy being scared—there are also an ungodly amount of agonizingly terrible horror games on the market that are either uninspired or poorly made. Aside from household names like “Resident Evil” and “Amnesia,” good horror games are just hard to find. So I’d like to introduce you to a few gems. If you like any of these games but don’t feel like playing, worry not! You can also experience them vicariously through Youtubers whom I’d recommend.
Developed by “Kitty Horroshow,” “Anatomy” is a deceptively simple game that masterfully generates tension by manipulating the player. You take first-person view of an unnamed avatar and listen to cassette recordings scattered around the house. You might think that the gameplay is rudimentary, but the game does such a good job creating tension with the recordings. They plant these unnerving ideas, like a parasite that lurks in the back of your mind. As you uncover each recording, they quickly mature into feelings of anxiety and dread. You start to suspect malice in your surroundings. You are left anticipating that something will happen, and the thought of not knowing what that something is only accelerates the intensity of the horror. The game is deeply psychological, in other words, as it doesn’t scare you as much as it convinces you to scare yourself. “Anatomy” is available on “itch.io” for only $2.99 on P.C. Alternatively, you can watch the Youtube playthrough of it by John Wolfe, who is I think the most prolific horror Youtuber working today. He’s pretty tough to scare, so when he describes a game as “scary,” which he does for “Anatomy,” you know it’s the real deal.
Whereas “Anatomy” is all about psychological horror through passive experience, “Phobia 1.5” feels like your traditional first-person “Amnesia”-esque horror game. It’s a lot of picking up items and running away from the monster. Most games that try to be like “Amnesia” fail spectacularly, but “Phobia 1.5,” from developer Jonez Games, is a compact and superbly made “Amnesia” style experience. The story doesn’t really matter though: you play as some guy whose car ran out of gas. You decide to stay in some abandoned house in search for more fuel, and, of course, it turns out that the house isn’t really abandoned. The pacing is tight and well thought-out. The possibility of a threat inside the house reveals itself gradually but efficiently, injecting tension which culminates into a harrowing dream sequence. After that, the player is primed and ready for the monster to finally show up. It always seems to be able to catch you by surprise despite your constant vigilance, and a heart-pounding chase sequence quickly ensues. But the monster doesn’t appear too frequently as to be irritating and the hide-and-seek doesn’t drag itself out as to out-stay its welcome. The music and sound design is also excellent. The creaking of the wooden floor as you walk each step and the intimidating piano drop in the background add to the mounting tension and insecurity as you try to avoid the monster. “Phobia 1.5” is available on “Indie DB” for free (the value!) on P.C. You can also watch Mr. John Wolfe play it and witness one of the very few times he freaked out and fear-quit the game.
“The Fear,” developed by “Digital Frontiers,” is a point-and-click horror adventure using full motion video (FMV), meaning that everything in-game is pre-recorded footage of real locations and actors, which is rarely used in video games nowadays. You play as a cameraman, in first person view of his camera, who films the cast of a TV program in which they attempt to spend the night in an abandoned mansion (I sense a trope here). Obviously everything goes horribly wrong, and it’s up to you to save the day. Although I wouldn’t describe the game as super scary, it is nevertheless extremely engrossing. The story itself is engaging with a few twists and turns. You get to familiarize yourself with a surprisingly large cast of characters, each featuring a multitude of dialogue and dialogue options. The acting is dramatic, but it actually enhances the immersion. The puzzle challenges, along with the mansion backdrop as a whole, are meticulously crafted and intriguing. And the game is still pretty scary, especially given that it’s in first-person. Plus, the narrow field of view of the camera means that things often feel uncomfortably close. All in all, “The Fear” is an all-around highly entertaining horror experience. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the PS2 and is entirely in Japanese, so I recommend you watch it on Gab Smolder’s channel. She specializes in Japanese horror games and provides translations in her playthroughs. Her series on “The Fear” is perfect for binge-watching.