2023 May Go Down As The Best Year Ever For Horror Games

2023 May Go Down As The Best Year Ever For Horror Games

  22 Dec 2023

As 2023 winds to a close, one of the most common refrains from those in and around the video game industry is how this year was one for the history books, and gave us one of the very best game release calendars we’ve ever seen. While this is true regardless of genre, with highly anticipated sequels like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur’s Gate 3, and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 being some of this year’s best-reviewed games on Metacritic, it’s especially true for horror games.

It wasn’t that long ago that horror fans didn’t have a lot to get excited about–I recall the Xbox 360/PS3 era being particularly barren, with only a few notable exceptions. But as major studios learn to make the age of high-fidelity gaming work for the genre and indie studios continue to innovate in haunting new ways, 2023 will go down as perhaps the best calendar year for horror video games we’ve ever seen.

Now Playing: Every GameSpot 10/10 Reviewed Game (Up to 2023)

Don’t believe me? Just crunch the numbers. Looking at the top of Metacritic’s aggregate scores for 2023, three horror games boast 90+ scores, with nine total games garnering scores of 73 or higher. I’ve tried to find a year that competes with that and I came up empty. That’s because not only were this year’s horror games really good, but there were also many of them. Horror is not a tentpole genre the way shooters, action-adventure games, and sports are. It’s more of a dressing for some major genres, which usually means only a handful of horror games rise to the middle or top each year. Yes, Steam is loaded with new horror games every single month, but many of those are games churning through early access and often aren’t ready to be enjoyed yet, if ever.

But 2023 was different. The early portion of the year set the tone when it gave us two standout remakes in Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space, each of which managed to faithfully recreate two of the genre’s all-time milestones while still tweaking some things like level design and story structure in a way players appreciated–and some have argued these changes even improved those already-classic games.

Later on in the year, a pair of younger horror titans, Amnesia and Outlast, had their series reimagined with risky new visions that paid off. Amnesia: The Bunker brought more unpredictability to the iconic defenseless first-person horror series by dropping players in a World War I bunker with a vicious monster that roamed the tunnels, while also changing elements from one run to the next to keep it feeling fresh. The Outlast Trials, meanwhile, added co-op to its classic blend of sadistic villains and protagonists hiding in dark corners, desperate not to be spotted. While the co-op element does remove some tension, it makes up for it with new ways to survive in the world of Outlast, like class-based skills and options to bail out your allies when they’re in danger. And for those who want the classic Outlast experience, the game is totally playable in solo mode, too.

There was also The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which, like those aforementioned games, took a known commodity and reshaped it to create something as enjoyable as it is bloody. In the case of TCM, the goal was to pay respect to one of the greatest horror films ever made, and to do that in the competitive arena of asymmetrical horror multiplayer games. It achieves that vision in spades. I’ve played the game for over 60 hours since it launched in August, and it remains so nerve-racking that I often can’t play it for long, or else I’d have many more hours logged by now.

These games are indeed all based on existing IP, be they sequels, adaptations, or remakes, but that’s true of the industry as a whole lately, and horror games have not easily garnered universal acclaim before, making the several games that did do so this year stand out even more. Alongside these big and familiar names also came a slew of indie games, sometimes made by just a single person, focused on novel ideas that continued to prove horror in 2023 was on another level.

From aliens and zombies to cosmic nightmares and slashers, 2023 horror games covered all bases.

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Dredge, Slay The Princess, Paranormasight, World of Horror, and Incident at Grove Lake provided an eclectic mix of creepy experiences, ranging from subversive black-and-white adventure games and an anime visual novel to a Lovecraftian fishing experience and an unnerving alien abduction story. 2023 provided not just a great quantity of high-quality horror games, but a wide range of horror stories for fans of any subgenre under the horror umbrella. And none of this praise is yet to touch on memorable horror-adjacent games like Lies of P and Dead Island 2. Even now, as the year comes to a close, a new co-op horror game is gaining viral attention. Lethal Company might prove to be the first big hit of 2024 if it can maintain its momentum through the holidays. From games big and small, made by hundreds or made by just one person, video game horror in 2023 feels like it’s achieved new heights.

Though Resident Evil surely has the biggest historical footprint of the games here, it’s Alan Wake 2 that may go down as the most influential in years to come. The uniquely meta multimedia horror masterpiece served as something of a cap to this incredible year in horror games, telling a story that feels as ambitious as any story I’ve ever seen in video games. Leaning into survival-horror was a wise move for Remedy, and the team did it in such a way only it likely could’ve, even as the game’s visual flair may well inspire more games to come. I’d go so far as to say Alan Wake 2 isn’t just the best horror game that came out this year, but the best game from 2023, period.

There are some genres in which fans are constantly being fed new material. Stuff like third-person action-adventure games and first-person shooters are the lifeblood of the industry, and fans of some series like sports or live-service games can reliably expect the particular cadence at which their favorite games will get major new updates or sequels. But horror games have never been as consistent, and even when horror fans can see something exciting coming down the road, it’s rare–perhaps never before seen–for it to be accompanied by so many more standout examples of the genre like this year has shown. As great as 2023 has been for video games, it was even better for horror games.

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