Gory, Chilling, & Silly – Joel’s Best Horror Games of 2020
2020 brought more than enough horror to our real lives. That said, I’ve enjoyed escaping to unsettling worlds where I could actually do something to handle those horrors. I prefer evil forces I can blast with a handgun or cut up with a sword than invisible viral ones. Surprising, I know.
I’ve drawn a lot of comfort from escaping the daily fears of a pandemic through horror. Some have really stuck out for me as super frightening (or incredibly goofy). Five examples leap to mind when I think of the best horror games of 2020, though.
It’s just a game about a retail job stocking shelves. How scary can it be?
Maybe it’s my years of life in retail. Well, it’s definitely that. Night of the Consumers captures the kind of dread most of us minimum wage slaves have felt at one point. In it, you have to keep the shelves filled with product while customers come rushing toward you with demands. They’re relentless if they catch sight of you, and seeing a customer barreling down a hall toward you is downright terrifying. Nemesis has got nothing on a toothless old lady. If the customer catches you, you’re stuck helping them with their problems, which means less time stocking shelves. And you’re fired if you don’t keep the shelves full. Good times.
It sounds like a regular day working at your average dumpy store, but it’s a frightening experience in juggling tasks and avoiding being seen. It captures the stress retail workers feel in knowing they have tasks to do, but also have to serve customers. You get yelled at or fired if you fail one or the other. Knowing you can find yourself without rent money just because some old lady got mad at you for not helping her find cat food? Or because you didn’t sweep the floor good enough because you helped that old lady? It’s a very real fear for thousands of people, which this game does a stunning job of conveying, easily making it one of the best horror games of 2020.
Not that you need to have worked in retail to appreciate it. Like I said, that old lady gives me the chills. These customers do not mess around when they chase you.
World of Horror takes you to a world teetering on the edge of a variety of cosmic-horror-fueled apocalypses. Things aren’t going too well for the folks that live here. However, you might be able to change that if you’re skilled (lucky).
This ruthless mix of adventure and RPG takes you through randomized mysteries, each loaded with sickening events. This game excels at describing some truly awful places and creatures, using the writing to call up some imagery that I still can’t scour from my mind. Spider-covered corpses, bloated bodies in pools, and more await you. It’s a kind of sickening treat to read each new chilling entry, especially so due to the randomization. The game’s 1-bit art style does an excellent job of bringing that writing to life as well. It makes everything feel stark and lifeless, but captures scary details with deeply unsettling clarity.
The monsters and situations are frightening through the writing and visuals, but also the play style. Die in this game and you’re dead for good. You need to start over. Not that this takes very long, but it makes every encounter and decision feel more frightening. If you mess up, the game will kill you for it. Even if you’re doing well, it will likely kill you because it’s brutally hard, too. Its atmosphere, writing, and look will keep you coming back no matter how many times it takes you down, though.
Gory, stupid, silly horror at its finest. The katana-wielding heroine gets stronger when she is doused with zombie blood, so she walks around in a bikini. That should basically give you an idea of the kind of experience you’re in for.
Onee Chanbara Origin revels in over-the-top horror action, heavily encouraging aggressive play. You have a few different characters with varied combat styles. You’ve got a few different dodges with varying levels of risk. It’s standard action fare, but with some twists to keep you on the offensive. For starters, killing zombies and getting covered with their blood charges a useful meter. Fill it enough and you go berserk, lowering your defense but increasing your damage. If you can fill the meter again in this state, your damage shoots through the roof, but you’re constantly losing health. The game’s always pushing you to throw yourself into its crowds of undead, sending blood and limbs flying as fast as you can so you can deal even more damage.
In this sea of crimson, you still need to keep a clear head. Your sword does less damage as it gets covered in blood, so you need to stop to clean it periodically. This just takes a quick swipe, but it’s not like the massive crowds of zombies will give you a second to do it. So, you have to juggle this constant offense, find a moment to clean your blade, then jump back without missing a beat. Balancing these concepts kept combat incredibly fresh and fun throughout.
Doing all this while basically playing through a bloody B horror movie made for one of the best horror games of 2020. If you love low-budget grindhouse stuff, you will enjoy this.
Working with four friends to find evidence of the paranormal is simultaneously terrifying and hilarious. It’s a magical experience that is as much fun to watch as it is to play.
You have an array of ghost-hunting tools to use to find your spectral proof, and it’s up to you and your team to find the best ways to use them. You’ll also need to use the evidence you’re collecting, and the horrifying sights you stumble across, to figure out how the ghosts operate. Each one is a unique mystery, and teamwork is the only way to unravel it.
If your friends are anything like mine, this will go poorly.
Phasmophobia relies on everyone working together, and that can be hard at the best of times. When they’re scared? Complete disaster. A funny disaster, though. Getting people to focus and look for the ghost brings out various play styles in players, usually resulting in chaos. Maybe everyone ditches you and hides in the van. Perhaps some players antagonize the ghost to cause trouble. Maybe you actually work together for a change. It feels like you never know what to expect, resulting in some scary surprises and laugh-out-loud moments. Always a good, memorable time.
In MOTHER, you’re not the person who’s in the most danger. Instead, you have to protect your kids from things that try to snatch them in the night. If you mess up, they die permanently. The only way to bring them back is to restart the game.
You’re in a little bit of danger, though. Some things that stalk the halls of your apartment want you dead, too. This puts you in a neat dilemma when you hear your child scream in the night. Do I rush out to save them, risking my own death? Do I hesitate to keep myself safe while risking their lives? The back-and-forth between these ideas made for a unique sense of terror I’d never felt in a game before now.
Saving others while trying to save yourself made for some incredible tension as I constantly struggled to decide what to do. Hurrying everywhere seems like what you’d decide to do, but you can’t help anyone if you die. You’re forced to wait, debating whether to risk your own safety to get to your screaming kids in time. All the while, you know that they could die if you’re too slow. You’ll panic often because of this, making mistakes and getting yourself hurt or killed.
This state of fear for yourself and your vulnerable kids makes for a special kind of horror in MOTHER. You’re always doing something that scares you because of this balance, making it impossible to take a moment to calm yourself. This endless dread easily made it one of best horror games of 2020, and an experience I will remember for some time.