10 Upcoming Horror Video Games We’ve Previewed on the Convention Circuit This Fall

Horror

2022 marked the tentative, occasionally unwise return of full physical attendance to the international convention circuit, with shows like the Penny Arcade Expo, Gamescom, the upcoming Dreamhack, and more.

Those shows, in turn, have turned into a series of showcases for the upcoming horror games of 2023, with big projects finally going public, new companies making their debut, and indie developers coming out of lockdown with something to show.

Here are some of the upcoming horror games we’ve seen on the con circuit this fall.


Dead Fury – Funder Games/Apogee Entertainment

I first saw Dead Fury last year, at Apogee’s booth at PAX West 2021, where it was barely more than a proof of concept. It’s an indie action/horror game from a New Zealand-based team where you’re meant to use traps, tricks, and the environment to even the odds against oncoming hordes of zombies; it’s deliberately meant to be a little bit of Resident Evil 4, mixed with a lot of Days Gone.

In Dead Fury, a prehistoric virus released by natural disasters has caused the zombie apocalypse and the attendant downfall of society. In New Zealand, what’s left of the local military has an effective monopoly on the medicines that keep the virus in check. You play as a survivor named Jaxon who’s forced to do the military holdouts’ dirty work in exchange for what he needs to keep his wife alive.

Notably, according to Funder’s creative director Paul Cousins, the military isn’t intended as an antagonistic faction in Dead Fury. In fact, in the final version of the game, you may be able to get on their good side to the point where you can call in targeted airstrikes.

Right now, Funder is in the process of polishing Dead Fury’s central mechanics. The final version is planned as a balance between a serious experience and zombie-smashing fun, with options that include co-op play, a timed “countdown” mode, and a survival mode. Dead Fury is tentatively scheduled to come out in Q2 2023.


Demonschool – Necrosoft/ybysd games

Brandon Sheffield, the director of the turn-based strategy game Demonschool, describes the game as an attempt to “cut down on clicking.” A lot of Demonschool‘s mechanics are accelerated, ignored, or abandoned, in ways that can be hard to wrap your head around if you, like me, have played a lot of strategy games.

You’re given a finite pool of action points at the start of every round, and spend them freely on attacks or movement. Characters don’t get individual turns. They also attack or heal by moving directly into their targets, and every action you set up gets resolved consecutively when you end your round. You don’t laboriously go through your entire crew’s actions in Demonschool; instead, you set up a series of Rube Goldberg violence machines and watch them roll out.

Demonschool is set roughly in the mid-90s, before the Internet really took off, at an isolated island college. As a team of four borderline-delinquent college students, you set out to investigate a series of occult crimes. Despite that description, it turns out the island is very much haunted, and more to the point, the team’s leader Faye has a whole family legacy of demon hunting that she is not really capable of avoiding.

Playing Demonschool‘s two demos at PAX, both on the show floor and behind closed doors at ybysd’s booth, led me to having an interesting case of complete tonal whiplash. The exploratory/team-building phases are basically Persona by way of “Scooby-Doo,” but the boss fight put four teenagers up against an endless number of demons, being spat out by a giant skeletal Dario Argento nightmare.


Exophobia – Zarc Attack/PM Studios

There were a lot of games on this year’s convention circuit that felt like somebody finally got around to making their own personal dream project, and that’s basically Exophobia: a tricky pixel-art first-person shooter that puts at least as much emphasis on movement as it does blowing things up.

You’re one of the last humans standing on a spaceship that’s been invaded by hostile aliens, and must shoot your way through it Metroidvania-style. Your gun can be charged up to deliver single powerful blasts, but you’ve also got a slide kick and the ability to place teleport beacons at range. You can circumvent obstacles, dodge gunfire, or simply bail out of a bad situation with a well-timed teleport.

In an unusual move, Exophobia‘s convention demo, which debuted at PAX West in Seattle, was a short tutorial followed by a multi-stage boss fight, which forced you to use every one of your newly-learned movement skills to slowly strip away its armor, evade its attacks, and punt its explosive drones back into its face.

Exophobia is the work of a single first-time developer from Portugal, José Castanheira, who handled everything about it but the music. It’s due out later this year via PM Studios.


The Last Case of Benedict Fox – Plot Twist/Rogue

Also known, exclusively by me, as Randolph Carter’s No Good, Very Bad Day, The Last Case of Benedict Fox was playable by appointment at both PAX West and Gamescom this year.

If you saw someone playing Benedict Fox badly on the last day of PAX West, it might very well have been me. It’s harder than I figured it’d be, with low player health, limited recovery options, and a travel mechanic involving a sort of tentacular grappling hook that takes a bit of getting used to.

Benedict Fox, if you haven’t heard of it before, is a Metroidvania with a bit of Soulslike flavor, where the title character is a second-generation paranormal investigator trying to solve his father’s last case. This is done by physically delving into his father’s memories, trying to unravel crucial details by delving into a surreal, nightmarish sort of dungeon.

Even in my limited time with it, it was one of the most atmospheric games at the show. The memory dungeons are an evocative, colorful, constantly shifting landscape, but Benedict’s family house is only slightly less so. It’s like the difference between a Tim Burton movie and a nightmare Tim Burton is having.


Lifeless Moon – Stage 2 Studios/Serenity Forge

Its developer David Board describes Lifeless Moon as a “5-year passion project,” inspired by classic science fiction and the scenery in Alaska. It’s a standalone, sort-of prequel to his previous game, 2014’s Lifeless Planet, and features a roughly similar hook.

You play as one of two astronauts, anonymous inside their bulky spacesuits, who are on a lunar expedition in the 1970s when they abruptly find themselves on what appears to be a deserted version of Earth. They set out to explore to figure out what’s happened, and why, only for the world around them to become increasingly more bizarre.

Lifeless Moon is meant to be more surreal and strange than an all-out horror experience, with light platforming and the occasional puzzle. It’s currently planned for release in the first quarter of 2023, with a virtual reality version planned for release at some point afterward.


Mirror Forge – MystiveDev/DreadXP

A number of developers seem to have gotten tired of waiting for a new Silent Hill and have just gone ahead and made their own. Two games, Humble Games’s Signalis and DreadXP’s Mirror Forge, strike me as leading that particular charge. Mirror Forge, in its own marketing materials, claims to be drawing on Silent Hill‘s environmental design and psychological horror.

You play as Thomas Jackson, a man trying to put his life back together after a personal tragedy. When he hears that his ex-girlfriend has disappeared under strange circumstances, there’s nothing keeping Thomas from trying to find her. The town where Jill vanished is the site of a recent disaster, where the streets are slowly warping into something alien, with an unknown cause. It might be experiments at the military base that’s just over the next hill, or it could be something else that the military is doing a very poor job of keeping under wraps.

Mirror Forge doesn’t feature combat, but you do have a health bar, so you don’t have that one-mistake-and-you’re-meat problem that I had with Outlast. It’s also got stealth gameplay, some surreal puzzles, some interesting detection mechanics like an artifact that lets you see the recent past, and a weird sense of dark humor. It’s due out later this year.


My Friendly Neighborhood – John & Evan Szymanski/DreadXP

This might’ve been the hardest sell on my list, because there’s no way to describe its concept that doesn’t sound ridiculous. “Imagine The Happytime Murders, but horror” might actually be the world’s worst elevator pitch.

My Friendly Neighborhood is a first-person shooter/survival horror game from indie developers John and Evan Szymanski, who previously collaborated on the 2015 brawler Sumo Revise. If the name “Szymanski” sounds familiar to you, it’s likely because their other brother David was the designer on 2018’s DUSK.

In MFN, you play as a handyman who’s been sent by the city to track down a phantom broadcast coming from an abandoned children’s theater. What you quickly learn is that all the old puppet performers are still there, but have gone entirely insane.

If MFN reminds me of anything in particular, it’s a demented combination of the 2002 remake of Resident Evil and BioShock. You’ve got an arsenal of crazy improvised weapons, although ammo for them is scarce, and the theater is full of back tunnels, maintenance shafts, and strange puzzles. When you have to fight, puppets don’t stay down permanently unless you use up a roll of duct tape to immobilize them. Every fight ends up feeling tense, because you never know if you’re using up resources you can’t afford to lose.


System Shock – Nightdive Studios/Prime Matter

This is a case of a snake eating its own tail. Nightdive is remaking System Shock, the 1994 first-person dungeon crawler, to be more like its sequel, the 1999 open-ended first-person shooter that’s been a huge influence on everything that came after it.

I got to play System Shock 2022 for about half an hour. It’s been rebuilt from the ground up in the Unreal Engine, but it’s still very much the future that 1994 thought we’d get. Citadel Station in full 3D is dark and oppressive, full of CRT monitors and brutalist design, with ventilation shafts you could drive a forklift through.

It’s also murderously difficult by design. You’ve got limited resources and insufficient weapons to deal with forcibly-cyborg’d station personnel, attack droids, and in the PAX demo, a surgical droid with a laser that can cut you in half from across the room. Direct confrontation is tricky, but there are multiple ways around or through every obstacle in your way.

If you aren’t familiar with the original: you play System Shock as an unnamed hacker, who wakes up aboard a research station in Saturn’s orbit to discover almost everyone else is dead. Your last job involved tweaking the ethical restraints on the station’s security AI, and now that AI, SHODAN, has turned everything on board Citadel into either a murderer or a murder victim. Your job is to take out the station before SHODAN can weaponize it against Earth.


Terror: Endless Night – Unseen Silence/Feardemic

This isn’t quite what I expected from the title. Terror is a semi-realistic, historical survival sim based on the 1845 Franklin expedition, when the HMS Erebus and Terror both disappeared on an exploratory voyage to the Canadian Antarctic. The shipwrecks wouldn’t be found until 2014 and 2016, respectively. What happened to their crews is still a mystery.

Terror: Endless Night begins with a tutorial mission set aboard the Erebus, where you as Captain Franklin must balance your fuel supply, remaining rations, and crew’s health against one another. Following that, you step into the role of the commander of a fictional rescue operation, sent out to find Erebus and Terror shortly after their disappearance in 1845.

Like them, your ship subsequently becomes stuck in the Antarctic “ice desert.” You’re given a limited number of days and resources to keep your crew alive, potentially escape, and maybe find out what happened to the Franklin expedition. You have to keep crew members healthy, assign the right people to the right jobs, make tough decisions like how to deal with sailors who’ve gone mad, and conserve your limited resources.


Zombies Noir – Synodic Arc

Currently available as an Early Access game on the Meta Quest 2, Zombies Noir is a largely plotless mixed-reality game about fighting gangster zombies. At the start of the game, you put down two doors and a shop desk in your environment, then try to withstand waves of the undead as they punch their way in through the mixed-reality doors.

The game started to take off for me, playing it at PAX, when I stopped treating it like a rail shooter. Zombies Noir lets you duck and dodge around the incoming zombies, rather than forcing you to stand still. It’s still like fighting a small army of ’40s-style undead mobsters in what amounts to a phone booth, but it adds an element of twitch reflexes and creativity that other VR-style shooting galleries don’t have.

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