The 2017 Horror Game of the Year

2017 was a scary year. To cope, many of us turned to games for escapism, to explore worlds of color and fantasy in contrast to the often overwhelming events of actual life. And some of us chose to play horror games, because after you have some of these experiences, real life feels like a cakewalk.

2017 saw an excellent and diverse selection of scary games, from smaller scale projects to huge AAA titles that explored profoundly different facets of psychological and visceral horror.

From those of us that like to scare the hell out of ourselves, these are our favorite horror games of the year.  

Honorable Mentions

Horror means different things to different people, but there was something out there for everyone in 2017.

The stealth based platformer Little Nightmares surprised us all with its excellent chase sequences, unique and disturbing aesthetic, and surprisingly fluid gameplay. It’s short, but there’s a lot of creativity and horror packed into this excellent little package.

Speaking of surprises, the smashingly successful anime dating simulator Doki Doki Literature Club certainly...turned some heads. What starts out as a charming, if simplistic, visual novel about a young man joining a school club with four cute anime girls slowly morphs into a fascinating commentary on mental illness, obsession, death, and the very nature of video games and reality. It starts off very slow, but the payoff is absolutely worth it and it’s free.

If VR is more your scene, the excellent underwater isolation simulator Narcosis is absolutely worth checking out. It’s a well written and slow paced psychological experience that explores loneliness and the fundamental human fear of the ocean. You can also play it without VR, but it’s very much improved if you have access to a headset.

Runner-Up: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Hellblade is not only a fascinating exploration of mental illness, but also a technical marvel. Ninja Theory managed to tell a heartbreaking and deeply disturbing tale about a young viking woman who is searching for her lost love using some of the best motion capture and animation ever put in a game, along with some remarkably immersive audio design. You hear the voices that Senua hears, the constant barrage of auditory hallucinations that plague her fractured mind, sometimes warning you, sometimes deriding you, but always present.

In Senua’s world it’s unclear what’s real and what isn’t. You fight against monstrous creatures, traverse incredible vistas and even solve puzzles, but you never get a real sense of what’s tangible, what’s real, and what’s simply a figment of Senua’s sick brain.

It’s a wonderfully compelling and deeply terrifying experience, because it asks us something that’s very difficult to comprehend- how do you know if you’re crazy? It does this with excellent writing, and some of the most captivating graphics ever seen.

It might not be the most traditionally scary game on this list, but there’s no question that Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice pushed the genre into new and immensely compelling territory.

Runner-Up: The Evil Within 2

Well, this was a surprise.

I wasn’t a big fan of the original The Evil Within. It had pacing problems, some obnoxious design choices, and underwhelming gameplay. The Evil Within 2 fixed everything that was wrong with the first game, while adding some interesting new features that hadn’t been seen in the genre before.

In The Evil Within 2, Sebastian Castellanos returns from the first game, though now he is entering the STEM machine of his own volition, to search for his daughter. Not exactly new territory for horror games, but The Evil Within 2 does an excellent job of fusing horror with genuinely entertaining and fun gameplay. The semi-open world allows for exploration and side quests, and the narrative, while still fairly over the top, explores some pretty high level concepts.

As we said in our review, “The Evil Within 2 is a remarkably cohesive fusion of eastern and western gameplay mechanics, and is far deeper than its predecessor in almost every respect.”

It’s a very creepy game, with some fascinating and beautiful environments, and I enjoyed it a great deal. It’s always neat when a sequel does something surprising, and in this case, The Evil Within 2 surprised us all by not only being good, but by being one of the best horror games of the year.

Runner-Up: Outlast II

As far as pure horror games go, Outlast II is difficult to top. It’s one of the most violent, disturbing, and all around stressful experiences in just about any medium, and is unapologetic about pushing pretty much everything to the limit.

The formula of not being able to fight back, of not being able to do anything but hide from the horrifying things that are trying to kill you is an effective one, though it does occasionally delve into repetition, which is a sure-fire way to kill fear.

Still though, it’s rare a game will push things this far, while simultaneously delivering such a good looking and polished gameplay experience.

In our review we said, “Outlast II doesn't pull any punches or shy away from any disturbing subjects, including rape, child abuse, and torture. Mind-boggling amounts of blood are spilled in certain sequences, and you'll see things you've probably never imagined seeing in a mainstream game.”

If that sounds up your alley, then Outlast II will probably scratch that itch better than just about any game this year.

Winner: Resident Evil 7

Resident Evil has been a mainstay of the horror genre for decades now, and by most accounts had grown a bit stale as it ventured further and further into action game territory and started collapsing under the weight of its own convoluted lore.

Resident Evil 7 stripped away everything that wasn’t working and brought the series back to what it was originally supposed to be: scary.   

And boy, is Resident Evil 7 scary. The first person perspective adds a level of immersion that was missing from previous titles, and the insanely good graphics mean exploring the unsettling environments was a terrifying treat.

Resident Evil 7, while not quite as over-the-top as Outlast II, is still a remarkably violent and disturbing game. The fact that you can play it in VR adds another level of terror for those of you that can stomach it.

As our review said, “RE7 has enough new in it to be polarizing for long-time fans of the franchise, and while it may not feel like a Resident Evil title to every fan, it's unquestionably a better and more frightening game than anything the series has produced recently.”

It’s good to have you back Resident Evil, we’re looking forward to what’s next.

Congratulations to Resident Evil 7, winner of GameCrate’s 2017 Horror Game of the Year!

Check out our full 2017 award list for more.