Generations of Horror: The Best of Modern-Day Horror 2013-2020
With the next-gen console releases finally confirmed for this November, we now know when the current generation will technically come to an end. With this in mind, I thought now would be a good time to look back at the last seven years and how the console horror genre has fared in the 2010s.
With the release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in 2013, we saw a pretty substantial leap in graphical fidelity as well as the size and scope of games increasing in many ways. More importantly, however, we saw a boom in the indie horror space that allowed us to experience all kinds of smaller horror games from across the world at the touch of our fingertips.
This will be slightly different from the other Generations of Horror articles since only time will tell if some of these games will hold up and be historically significant many years down the road. Despite this difference, it felt appropriate to take one final look at this generation, and as always with these articles, instead of this being a simple “best of” list by personal standards, this is more along the lines of thinking of the most important, pioneering, or influential games we can play on our current consoles.
These are the games that have stood apart from the crowd of horror titles we’ve had access to for the last 7 years, and there will be some additional suggestions from the rest of the Rely On Horror staff towards the end.
*All photos by the author from personal collection
**Release info will be for the first console release only, even if later ported to other platforms
Dead Rising 3
Xbox One, released November 2013
Starting off the new generation with a bang, Dead Rising 3 was a launch title for the Xbox One when it launched in November 2013, and despite plenty of negative press (mostly regarding the console itself) around that time, it has stood the test of time and is arguably the best title in the series to date. DR3 updated and expanded on just about everything a series’s fan could ask for from the previous Dead Rising games, while also adding more real horror to the mix.
DR3 doubled down on its George Romero-inspired story with more finesse than ever while also bringing back almost every character from the series’s past, and featuring more zombies on-screen than ever, more complex lighting, and a much bigger world to explore. This all made for a much more robust and satisfying experience than its predecessors and it was at least on-par with the legendary first Dead Rising game from 2006 for me.
Many more people have come around to this title since it was released on PC a year later and it was a great way to start the generation off. Unfortunately, Dead Rising 4 took things a little too far a few years later, regressing on some of the great progress that was made with 3, but DR3 still stands the test of time as the apex of what the series has achieved.
PS4, released February 2014
When Outlast was first released on PC in 2013, it became a bit of a phenomenon in the still-new streamer culture, but also in horror gaming culture as a whole. While the game has plenty of rough edges and has a few problems with execution on some levels, so many of its elements were the best and freshest in the business at the time.
The gameplay has essentially spawned countless imitators in the 7 years that have followed and is still spawning them today, but Outlast was the one that seemed to handle these mechanics most impressively. First-person perspective while using a video camera as your only source for visibility in most areas (including the now-infamous battery replacement mechanic) full audio-based stealth gameplay, no combat, extremely effective sound design, as well as some of the most terrifying encounter scenarios in modern horror gaming at the time really set this apart from its countless imitators since.
It could be argued that Outlast was the most influential horror game of the 2010s just based on the sheer amount of copycats the industry has seen since its release. While its sequel was also a very competent but flawed game, just like the first Outlast, it hasn’t attained the necessary power to spawn nearly as many imposters as its predecessor did.
Corpse Party: Blood Drive
PS Vita, released July 2014
Japan has always had a unique sense of horror when compared to the Western world, and it often goes beyond the typical ghost stories and haunted apartment buildings you’ll see in their most-exported horror properties like The Ring, The Grudge, and many others. Japan’s horror is often very cultural and has more to do with aspects of society and social interaction, and the Corpse Party series in general is one of the strongest examples of this I’ve come across.
While most of the other Corpse Party games were 2D, RPG Maker style games or visual novels, Blood Drive really kicked things up a notch, with full 3D exploration and gameplay, making it more akin to the survival horror classics of yesterday like Silent Hill or Resident Evil in some ways. It still has plenty of visual novel scenes to tell the story, but they’re also some of the best and most engaging of their kind that I’ve seen. While the plot can be a little difficult to understand without some knowledge of the previous games in the series, it manages to pull things together in a serviceable way by the end.
As far as the story and the types of horror featured here, it’s very diverse, with its otherwise cutesy anime visual style being frequently mixed with body horror, curses, ghosts, suicide, torture, possession, poltergeists, extreme gore, and out-of-body experiences, making for a very unsettling adventure through time and space. Despite a few small technical problems on the PS Vita, it still works well on a handheld platform and still manages to be frightening and unnerving, standing as one of the best examples of handheld horror to date.
PS4/PS Vita, released September 2014
Neverending Nightmares was a pretty unique title for the early 2010s in being one of the first that was completely up-front about the fact that it was inspired by its creator’s struggles with mental illness, especially obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. The creator, Matt Gilgenbach, said he attempted to convey the same feelings of bleakness and hopelessness that he often suffered from his illnesses.
Not only did Matt and his team accomplish this goal to make the player feel uncomfortable in all sorts of ways, (including a few bad endings that essentially result in suicide) but he made one of the most effective, gorgeous, and visually striking 2D horror games of all time. The visual style is based on pen-and-ink art from artists like Edward Gorey, with the animation all being smooth and fleshed-out in this style, and also implemented terrifying lighting effects, selective use of color, oppressive sound design, and cryptic storytelling.
This game seemed to open the floodgates for other game creators to use the medium of video games as an expression of suffering or illness that real people experience, and this has helped bring a deluge of important games to the world which shed more light onto these subjects that have long been considered taboo in most world cultures for centuries.
Fatal Frame 5: Maiden of the Black Water
Wii U, released September 2014
While the Fatal Frame series was one of the most cherished horror franchises in the PS2 era with its absolutely gorgeous mix of traditional Japanese art and aesthetics with modern sensibilities, it suffered a hiatus of 6 years after the release of Fatal Frame 4 in 2008. Technically, as far as the West is concerned, the hiatus was actually about 10 years, since there was never any Western release of Fatal Frame 4 in any format.
While the 2012 Fatal Frame spin-off game Spirit Camera did release for Nintendo’s 3DS in 2012, it had almost nothing to do with the main FF series and was instead more like a cheap AR-based smartphone game with little substance and little connection to the other games, even if the combat did work pretty well. However, as much of a failure as Spirit Camera was, they were actually onto something that wouldn’t be fully realized until Fatal Frame 5 released in 2014.
FF5 managed to bring the gyroscope-based camera combat that was featured in Spirit Camera into a full-fledged Fatal Frame game, improving the combat immensely from the earlier games and making the visuals more gorgeous than ever. This seemed like a logical addition to the series from the beginning, but the technology was never quite there to be able to do something this ambitious until the 2010s.
Unfortunately, this release is still stuck on the relatively failed Wii U console as of 2020 and never got a physical release in the US, either. Despite the creator publicly expressing interest to bring it to other platforms, we’re still waiting for that day to come.
The Evil Within
Xbox One/PS4, released October 2014
After legendary horror director/producer Shinji Mikami left Capcom and the Resident Evil series as a whole after Resident Evil 4, many people wondered when he would truly return to the horror genre, since he was, essentially, the modern godfather of the genre. While he did have a hand in some other great games afterward, like Vanquish and Shadows of the Damned, neither of them quite dived deep enough into horror territory for his fans.
That was until 2014 when Mikami and his new team at Tango Gameworks dropped the bomb that was The Evil Within. Mikami managed to capture everything that Resident Evil 4 did right all those years ago and updated it with modern graphics, new gameplay technology, and even more types of extreme horror, making it feel like he never really left us. The difficulty was extreme, the visuals were fantastically cinematic, the gameplay was extremely precise, and it brought me right back to the feeling of excitement I had when I started RE4 in 2005.
TEW also focused on never letting the player feel safe or comfortable for very long, and almost always aiming to cause disorientation or discomfort in some way, and it’s an extremely effective way to make a horror game. It’s not just a bunch of cheap shots either; it actually felt like all the tumbling and turning made sense, since the world you inhabited was coming apart at the seams. The Evil Within embraces the chaos at every turn, with an obvious love for grisly horror tropes and history consistently showing through.
Even though the sequel missed far too many marks to be a worthy successor to this one, I still recommend any horror fan who hasn’t experienced this game to go back and check it out for yourself, as it’s still one of the strongest horror titles of the generation. One of our contributors did a pretty great retrospective of The Evil Within recently that’s worth checking out if you haven’t seen it yet.
PS4/PS Vita, released November 2014
Home is a unique little game that has the distinction of being the most effective 2D pixel-art horror game I’ve played to date. In the current market where these 2D pixel horror games are becoming much more common, there are many imitators, but Home was the first one that did this style right and kept it simple.
Featuring surprisingly good sound design, simple gameplay, eerie storytelling, and creepy pixel environments, Home is a story of amnesia and desolation. After waking up one rainy night, unable to remember what happened before, you start to explore a desolate town, where it feels like there’s no other person alive, and soon you start to stumble upon dead bodies, mysteries, and clues to piece together what happened.
The game used its primitive technology to make a genuinely unsettling game that left a big impression after its initial playthrough and kept me coming back for more. The creator even made a meta-site for the game, with strange images as clues, and a forum to post your theories on what really happened, which is an appreciated level of detail and effort for a game made by just one guy as a solo developer.
PS4, released August 2015
Being the first real exclusive horror title to PS4, Until Dawn‘s release in 2015 had a pretty big build-up and definitely did not disappoint. Vaguely following in the footsteps of other cinematic interactive drama games like Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain, but with ten times more emphasis on horror, Until Dawn broke some new boundaries on just how cinematic games could be.
In 2015, no other game had reached such advanced levels in terms of showing real-time graphics with such an insane amount of real-time lighting technology, facial mapping and capture, big-name Hollywood actors, and overall immersion in the world. The developers set out to make the video game equivalent of a slasher movie, but with sleek modern production values and visuals, and the interactivity that movies obviously lack. To say they succeeded in their goal is an understatement.
The fact that characters can die at any moment if you make the wrong decisions or fail at a certain event really drives this feeling of bleakness home and the fact that each character’s death will greatly affect how the rest of the story unfolds is just icing on the cake. Until Dawn pushed the boundaries on visuals and immersion in horror enough that it spawned a few spinoff games like Rush of Blood and The Inpatient. Nowadays, Supermassive Games continues to push those boundaries and try new things with their newer interactive movie games in the Dark Pictures series, like Man of Medan and Little Hope.
Resident Evil series
Xbox One/PS4, varied dates starting February 2015
After having a fairly long period where the series was swaying back and forth in quality during the period after Resident Evil 4, Capcom finally seemed to hit a solid stride with the series again in the mid-2010s, releasing hit after hit within the franchise, while also trying out some new gameplay styles.
Starting with Revelations 2 in 2015, where they finally brought back Claire Redfield and Barry Burton in a full-fledged Resident Evil game for the first time in 15 years (since CODE Veronica and RE3, respectively.) Revelations 2 fixed a lot of the glaring issues the first Revelations had and also added a co-op campaign along with Raid Mode.
Next, Capcom took a risk and decided to make a main series Resident Evil game in the first-person perspective, and also aimed to make it the first full-length survival horror game that was fully playable in VR, so out came Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Despite the confusing naming convention that mixed up the US and Japanese titles for the game, RE7 was a hit with the mainstream gaming audience and many series fans alike, recently becoming its highest-selling title of all time.
Next, in early 2019, Capcom decided to lean back on their legacy and bit and answer the fans’ callings that had been swirling around since the mid-2000s by remaking Resident Evil 2 with their new and powerful RE Engine that was developed for RE7. RE2 remake was a huge hit and is already on the fast track to being Capcom’s highest selling game of all time, nearly eclipsing Monster Hunter, RE5, RE6, and RE7 alike in just a short amount of time.
In early 2020, barely one year after the RE2 remake, Capcom decided to take it one step further and also remake Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, using a lot of the same assets from RE2 (since both games take place in some of the same areas, around the same time.) Similar to the RE2 remake, they weren’t interested in making a beat-for-beat remake of the original, but decided to change the entire flow and progression of the game, only keeping some of the basic elements of the original there.
This led to a hugely polarizing reception from rabid fans who were more interested in a visuals-only remake of the original RE3, but it’s still sold decently well, despite being released (ironically) during a worldwide viral pandemic/economic recession and while having a negative gaming zeitgeist and fanbase trying to tear it down.
RE3‘s remake also includes an asymmetrical online mode called RE: Resistance, which continues to be played and updated some six months later, despite the initial backlash, marking another first for the series in having a continued asymmetrical online versus community.
Friday the 13th: The Game
Xbox One/PS4, released May 2017
Almost 30 years after the original Friday the 13th game released for the NES back in the 80s, fans finally got another taste of what it would be like to take part in an interactive version of the Friday world, when the new game was announced in 2016. The developers brought a long list of alumni from the dormant film series into the fray early on to make sure things were done right, and not only did they accurately capture the horror and tension aspects of the Friday franchise, but it also made what is easily the most engaging asymmetrical multiplayer game to date (sorry not sorry, Dead by Daylight.)
The balance of fun and cooperation during play while also keeping the extremely high levels of tension and fear going was a very delicate balance to hit, but this game exemplifies that balance almost perfectly. Even though it launched in a pretty rough state at first, after a few patches, it rounded off the edges and started to make itself into a game you couldn’t put down, especially with some of your real-life friends on your team.
Several months after launch, they even added several single-player modes for fans to explore, including a virtual museum of the Friday series that plays like a an adventure game with puzzles to solve, and a mode to play as Jason against AI counselors and kill to your heart’s delight. This rounded out the package to make it one of the best games of this generation for Friday fans and horror fans in general.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
PS4, released August 2017
Hellblade is another game that follows in the previously mentioned uptick of games that feature characters that are plagued by mental illnesses, making for an absolutely gripping and beautiful adventure, with just as much or more of a dark side. The titular character, Senua, is a character plagued by deep symptoms of psychosis, which manifest in ways that can manipulate and disorient the player in disturbing ways. This makes for a hell of a ride that can make you want to break down and cry or cower in fear at the macabre and often painful, dark imagery throughout.
Hellblade mixes all of its emotional trauma and horror in with a competent and responsive combat system that manages to stay exciting and tense the whole way through as well as some unique puzzles that can bend your mind in several ways. The use of actual darkness here is also a factor, with several dark areas that leave you literally blind in the dark with horrific enemies nearby, which you must navigate past using only sound.
Being able to mix all these things into a well-rounded package with some of the most breathtaking visuals and emotional facial capture performance to date made Senua’s Sacrifice a huge commercial hit and one of the most praised games with horror elements of the last few years. A sequel is due out in the near future on the Xbox Series X, and I can’t wait to see where they can take the series from here.
Remothered: Tormented Fathers
Xbox One/PS4, released July 2018
We talk about the Remothered series a lot here at Rely On Horror, and there’s a really good reason for it. With a development process that spanned almost 10 years, starting as a passion project for Italian creator Chris Darril, Remothered: Tormented Fathers turned out to be one of the best surprises anyone could have hoped for back in 2018.
Bringing back the type of horror that was largely found in the Clock Tower series, Darril’s team revived the third-person cat-and-mouse gameplay that the world had been missing for so long, and brought with it many upgraded gameplay mechanics and a ton of cinematic style, inspired by Italian Giallo films as well as classics like Rosemary’s Baby and Silence of the Lambs.
The sound design is top-notch in every way, from the terrifying soundtrack to the unhinged, psychopathic pursuers who consistently taunt you from afar even when they can’t see you. The storytelling is complex and esoteric, and the visuals nail the 1970s cinematic horror look like no other game has before or since, making it a true return to form for a long-forgotten style of horror game.
Home Sweet Home
Xbox One/PS4, released October 2018
While the horror film industry from Thailand has been making a name for itself over the last 15 years or so, there really hasn’t been much representation of their unique brand of horror in the medium of video games over the years. That started to change a bit when Home Sweet Home released in the late 2010s, showing that there’s plenty of territory to be explored within the medium from the Thai culture.
HSH takes the form of a first-person survival horror game with some complex puzzles and several absolutely terrifying antagonists who you must hide from or face certain death. The storytelling and imagery is where HGH really makes its mark, being full of very cultural horror and religious iconography from its homeland.
Similar to some other Asian countries, there are certainly ghosts here and there, but tales of curses, unrequited love, vengeful spirits, zombies, and afterlife repercussions for bad deeds in life are heavily present here, in a way that feels unique to Thailand’s mythology and culture. Thankfully, this game has inspired several other Thai horror developers to hit the scene and release their own games in the last few years, and hopefully, we continue to see games of this caliber come out of their industry for years to come.
Back In 1995
Xbox One/PS4/PS Vita/Switch, released May 2019
Back in 1995 is a game whose goal is identical to its title, where this solo developer and lover of PS1-era horror games seeks to take you back to how you felt when you first booted up your favorite 90s horror games and had those experiences so many years ago. More than any other classic game, you’ll feel the Silent Hill vibes like a wave washing over you, but yet it also feels like its own experience at the same time.
Back in 1995 re-creates the look, feel, and sound of this era of games, but doesn’t only do so superficially, as the game is also effective on its own as a horror game that has several truly unsettling and compelling moments to push you through its relatively short story mode. After you finish the story mode, there’s a harder and more disturbing alternate version of the game to play through, and ultimately a third, shorter playthrough that also acts as a director’s commentary, where Ichijo lays out his intentions and thoughts behind everything you experienced in the game.
When it launched on PC back in 2016, it started what has become a massive renaissance for PS1-era aesthetics in horror games that continues today, and I couldn’t be more thankful, since the low-poly indie horror scene is one of the richest “back-to-basics” movements we’ve seen in the horror genre in some years.
Xbox One, released August 2019
With a trailer that shocked everyone at E3 2019, a new Blair Witch game seemed to hit at a great time when there weren’t any other bigger-budget horror titles on the horizon. The fact that the game would be out just a few short months later was even more exciting, not having to wait several years to see what it was all about, and it certainly scratched that itch of horror gaming in late 2019.
Using first-person perspective and creating one of the most truly oppressive and terrifying environments in modern horror, Bloober Team managed to bring the heart-sinking feeling of being lost and alone in a dark forest, which so heavily permeates the film series, to the player.
The extremely limited light mechanics, use of the camcorder to change events and navigate through darkness, intense flashlight-based combat, some of the most intensely frightening sound design of all time, and interaction with a canine companion all struck a good balance that was enough to keep most players enraptured until the conclusion and made some others walk away from the game in fright.
Blair Witch showed that Bloober Team could really excel in the horror genre in ways that were deeper than the jumpscare-filled Layers of Fear that came before it, and truly brought psychological horror, PTSD, and hopelessness into the fold.
With their new, heavily Silent Hill-influenced title, The Medium, launching on Xbox Series X this November, I’m as optimistic as can be to see what they’ll be able to accomplish with extra-dimensional third-person horror.
Aside from all the titles above, all of the following recent games also got recommended by one or more of our staff here at Rely On Horror, but weren’t quite in the same boat as the games featured above:
Maid of Sker, The Missing: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories, Call of Cthulhu (2018), Colina: Legacy, Dead Secret, Chain Man, A Plague Tale: Innocence, Inside, Dying Light, Dead by Daylight, Alien: Isolation, Days Gone, Soma, Observer, Kona, Vampyr, Layers of Fear, The Sinking City, Bloodborne, World War Z, State of Decay 2, P.T., Control, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Blasphemous, and Death Stranding.
Looking back, this has been a pretty incredible generation for horror games, even though we also hit an unprecedented period of chaff as well, but once you sort through the sea of excess that’s out there nowadays, there are some real gems to be found.
With the next generation of console horror already looking to be very promising with games like The Medium, Scorn, Resident Evil 8, and many more on the way, I don’t think we’ll have any shortage of things to talk about over the next 7-10 years.
As always, hopefully you learned or found something new to play while taking this journey with us, and keep an eye out for more Generations of Horror, with the PS2/Xbox/Dreamcast/GameCube era coming soon!