(This post was first live on Madness Heart Press in 2020)
I sat down to write a best of 2020 list. I did. I was going to talk about the best horror books of 2020, I was going to go on and on about how much I read. But I got into it, and I realized, that most of the books I read, I read to provide blurbs, or I read submissions. Or I read to prepare for an interview. Long story short, I read a lot fewer of 2020’s books than I intended to. I was also going to write a Women of Horror list, and I will do that, there are so many incredible authors that I want to highlight, but as it’s currently the last day of 2020 I wanted to do a best-of list today.
So instead, let’s talk about games! I love games. I love games that are filled with horror and eldritch dread. I love games that are in fact spooky. But honestly? I hate horror games, that might be a bit strong, I don’t hate horror games, I hate frustrating games, games that punish me for playing them. I LOVE games that put the spooky on blast using unsettling imagery as opposed to jump scares or “hahaha you died again” gameplay. One last disclaimer before we dive in, all of the games listed below are on STEAM, and that is how I played them.
- STONE SHARD: (February 6th 2020) – Stone Shard is a sort of old school dungeon crawling d&d. It’s a bit harder than I really want my games to be, making it harder to really relax while I play. But it has that grimdark, everything sucks and you could die from a splinter feel. You have to manage your body and health and you get attacked by vampires and there is disease, all sorts of things I enjoy dealing with. The horror of Stone Shard really lies in the grim dark hopelessness of the setting where everything just sorta sucks.
- URTUK, THE DESOLATION: (February 14th 2020) – Urtuk is the first in what you are going to see as a pattern. A weird grimdark tactics game. I adore tactics games. And this one has a great art style that reminds me of Darkest Dungeon. It’s a game where you have to move around you’re weird horrible men on a hex map to fight other weird horrible men, monsters and critters. You have classes and you can inject yourself with mutagens that you harvest from the weird diseased monsters. Oh and you yourself are diseased and dying a slow, painful death.
- CURSE OF THE DEAD GODS: (March 3rd 2020) – This is still in early release, which means they are still making it. Some games are spooky in premise, some are spooky in atmosphere, and some are spooky in mechanics, the best games of course pull all this together. Curse of the Dead Gods is not that game. It’s fine, it’s an action Hack n Slash like diablo, but set in the crumbling ruins of a temple. What I do like about this game is the roguelike quality of it. I enjoy the idea that by going through this dungeon you are becoming more corrupt. You get debuffs that effect game play and often have choose between getting stronger or preserving your sanity.
- ALDER’S BLOOD: (April 10th, 2020) – Another eldritch horror tactics game! Dude, Alder’s Blood pulls no punches. It starts off with someone getting murdered by dark magic by some weird eldritch monoliths, and it swiftly goes downhill from there. Every moment of this game is tense, with werewolves that are vastly more powerful than you closing in at every moment. Play Alder’s blood if you want to have that nail biting tactical gameplay experience.
- IRATUS: (April 23rd, 2020) – Iratus is a Darkest Dungeon clone. I wish I could be kinder than that, but I can’t. However, it is a LOT of fun. You play as an evil necromancer raising the dead to escape your tomb and destroy the living world. Saying it’s a clone seems mean, but it’s well worth playing. You can attack your foes bodies or their sanity, and with a large variety of undead to raise you always have an interesting toolbox to choose from. Of all the games on this list I think Iratus has the most interesting gameplay choices to offer.
- NO MAN’S SKY: DESOLATION UPDATE: (July 16th, 2020) – Yeah, this is an update not a new game. But I had to bring it. NMS genuinely brings me joy. It brought me joy when I first got it and it was a meditative experience of flying around aimlessly and exploring dumb planets. It brought my joy when they started adding quest stuff and story things to do. And it brings me joy now, when you can explore the desiccated husks of massive star ships to discover the horrible fate that befell them. The ships often have weird gravity, strange growths, alien life all existing in a lonely tense and horrifying backdrop. A truly beautiful bite of horror in a my Zen game.
- CARRION: (July 23rd 2020) – Carrion is a game about an alien life form constructed of fleshy worms and tendrils that murders and rips its way through a base. It spreads and grows and is a horrifying unstoppable menace. Oh it’s also the protagonist. Much like Iratus, in this game you are the horrifying thing. Being able to play the Lovecraftian horror in a game that meanders through puzzle and action is a delight. You’re mere appearance causes humans to run screaming, a hopeless gesture as you rip them apart and devour them to fuel your growth.
- CONTROL: (August 27th, 2020) Control is an interesting jumble of things. It does a decent job with story telling, it allows you some cool powers, and it whispers madness in your ear. Everywhere you go, there are the floating corpses of those who failed to protect themselves. They constantly whisper maddening horrible things, and the only way to stop them is to shoot their corpses down. Often these corpses will become possessed by the eldritch power that is attacking simply called The Noise. You get to discover the full sordid past of the Agency and try to survive the onslaught of the Noise.
- PHASMAPHOBIA: (September 18th 2020) – I just started playing this with Lucas Mangum the other day, we stream it occasionally, and it teeters between extremely frustrating and extremely fun. The gist is you use various tools to find, investigate and eventually identify the sort of ghost you are dealing with. It has a lot of great jump scares and seeing as the ghosts will eventually drive you insane, and murder you (a possibility that goes way up after 5 minutes) there is a intensity that exists that is a lot of fun.
- PERFECT VERMIN: (November 6th 2020) – This game is free, it is about 5-10 minutes long. You have to find the imposters and destroy them before they kill you. I will not spoil it more than this, it is extremely good.
And the Winner of the Best Unexpectedly Spooky Game of 2020 is: CARRION! It’s just too much fun to be the horrible creature that has been unleashed by science. Fantastic atmosphere.
There are a lot of games that aren’t on this list, it’s been a crazy year, I could have mentioned more, but I haven’t played them, or they wouldn’t play, or they are too frustrating. I would love to write little reviews of these games and talk more at length of the cool horror stuff, especially that coming out of indie studios, if that’s something you would like, please share this link around and let me know, or let me know directly on Twitter.