Bloody Disgusting’s Neil Bolt Selects the 10 Best Horror Games of 2021

Unfortunately, 2021 was still largely haunted by the ghost of 2020, and as such, escapism remained a vital component of day-to-day life. Luckily, there was plenty of it on offer.

2021 marked a huge year for perhaps the biggest name in horror games, Resident Evil. Not only did the series celebrate its 25th anniversary, but the eighth mainline game was also released and proved there was still plenty in the tank for the franchise’s future. Elsewhere, Silent Hill 2 turned 20 with rumblings of new entries in the franchise sadly still just that. Nostalgia was well rewarded in 2021, with ports and stellar remasters of revered classics such as Alan Wake, Quake, and Zombies Ate My Neighbors among the restored hits.

Whilst it’d be nice to just swim in a sea of hazy sentimentality, 2021 had plenty of new games to discover as well. One thing that struck me this year was the sheer variety of horror experiences on offer. So much so that I struggled to keep it at just ten. So first up, a few honorable mentions that, for various reasons, didn’t quite make the final ten.


Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood: Shallow as a puddle in so many ways, but let me tell you, I really enjoyed being a hulking eco-warrior who can turn into a regular wolf and a monstrous werewolf.

Deathloop: Look, Deathloop is fantastic. I love it a lot, and slapped the whole 5 skulls on it for this very website, but it would be a bit much to have it adorn a top 10 of the year for horror. Violent, bloody, and excellent it may be, but it leans further into sci-fi than horror.

The Last Stand: Aftermath: A solid apocalypse survival game that plays out like a serious take on Death Road to Canada.

Nix Umbra: A deceptively simple score attack game setup leads to an unsettling, visually-captivating folk horror experience

Jupiter Hell: Doom as a top-down, turn-based game? That’s essentially what Jupiter Hell is, and it pulls it off pretty well.

Christmas Massacre: Right at the death, Puppet Combo dropped a festive score attack game where you are a serial killer, racking up kills against the public whilst dressed as Santa. Exquisite.

Right then, onto the Best Horror (and yes, sometimes horror adjacent) Games of 2021. Obviously, these are my personal picks, and as such, if something isn’t here that you think should be, I didn’t play it or didn’t get on with it as much as the rest. As ever, your own personal picks for games of the year are more than welcome in the comments section below!

Tormented Souls (Developer: Dual Effect – Format: Multi)

A throwback survival horror with a PS2-era attitude, Tormented Souls is sincere enough with its schlocky melodramatic attempt to recreate the likes of Haunting Ground and Rule of Rose to be forgiven for some of its technical misgivings.

The work of a small studio is quite impressive here, especially in the detail of its creepy old private hospital setting. I doubt it will end up gaining anything like the cult status of the games it’s inspired from, but Tormented Souls invokes the spirit of them superbly.

Returnal (Developer: Housemarque – Format: PS5)

More sci-fi action than horror? Yes, you could indeed say that of Returnal. Yet my biggest takeaway from it was that of horror. From the Giger-esque environments of its alien world of Atropos, to the cosmic horror monstrosities that inhabit it, and in the strange occurrences that blight protagonist Selene, Returnal is all atmosphere and dread. 

What really sells it is the punishing arcade-inspired combat. Every movement feels important to Selene’s ongoing survival, and knowing the consequence of falling to the tendrils or energy blasts of one of Atropos’ nastier inhabitants is a trip back to the start that manages to be exhilarating where it could easily have been frustrating.

Back 4 Blood (Developer: Turtle Rock – Format: Multi)

To try and capture the lofty heights of Left 4 Dead is a bold choice, and this year alone, there have been a few attempts, but for Turtle Rock Studios, to do so was personal. Having its own storied history with Valve’s zombie shooter series, there was much expectation at hand when it announced Back 4 Blood.

Was it met? No, it never really could, but the effort to continue that legacy is sincere, and at its best, Back 4 Blood doles out explosive, nervy co-op action in spades.

Bloodwash (Developer: Black Eyed Priest, Henry Hoare – Format: PC)

Torture Star published this punchy, grimy slice of retro horror set almost entirely in an isolated laundromat in the dead of night. The remit of Torture Star is short sharp horror games with an unsettling throwback aesthetic and Bloodwash ticks those boxes whilst still managing to be its own thing.

What I especially enjoy about Bloodwash is how well it captures the feeling of existing in the mundane during the hours when everyone else is asleep or partying. Bloodwash’s 24/7 laundromat and neighboring stores exude a seedy, back of beyond atmosphere long before a killer shows up.

In Sound Mind (Developer: We Create Stuff – Format: Multi)

To make any kind of statement in first-person horror games these days, you either have to shake up the usual ideas or show a meticulous understanding of how to utilize them properly. Both together would be nice, though… 

In Sound Mind largely goes for the former, by carving its trippy story into several distinct sections, each informed by the mental issues of a particular patient of the psychiatrist protagonist, who is himself cursed with a supernatural entity forcing its way into his psyche.

Yes, there’s smatterings of the trope-laden stuff that makes you roll your eyes, but it’s used as cement for the more interesting bricks of ingenuity and vibrancy used to build the house of In Sound Mind’s often psychedelic journey into madness.

Sunshine Manor (Developer: Fossil Games – Format: Multi)

While Sunshine Manor takes more obvious inspiration from games such as Earthbound and Undertale, its spooky mansion setting, full of ghosts to bust, and secrets to uncover, brings to mind Luigi’s Mansion by way of Resident Evil’s Spencer Estate.

Key to the game’s appeal, however, is its dark humor placed next to its adorable 8-bit visual style. You certainly wouldn’t expect a game about a psychic child surviving a house of a possessed serial killer and spirits to look this cute.

Resident Evil Village (Developer: Capcom – Format: Multi)

Without doubt, Resident Evil Village is the biggest horror game of 2021, and such expectations hang heavy on it. So it’s quite a relief that Village doesn’t get too bogged down with that weight, and offers surprises among the familiarity.

Sure, going in expecting a whole heap of meme magnet Lady Dimitrescu would leave you disappointed, but I’d argue the game’s strengths lay away from the tall vamp. Village ends up getting the balance of absurd melodrama and gore-splattered nastiness that makes a great Resident Evil just about right. 

In the game’s second area I found one of the best things to come out of a Resi game in years, and it’s a departure from formula to boot. You know the place if you’ve played it. How could you forget?

Spookware (Developer: Beeswax Games – Format: PC)

The more observant (or just more invested) among you might look at Spookware in this list and go ‘hang on there for a minute, you put this in last year’s honorable mentions!’ and you’d be right in a way. This is still Spookware in the sense it has the same basic idea of a goofy horror version of Wario Ware, but it’s a whole other game that’s bigger and better. 

Now the Wario Ware-style micro-games are just an ingredient in a genuinely amusing RPG about a trio of skeleton brothers going on an afterlife-changing road trip that takes in high school graduation, cooking, and a murder mystery on a cruise ship.

Everything that made the relatively small iteration of Spookware from last year so endearing is present here, and boosted by a proper fleshing out of the world the micro-games inhabit.

Mundaun (Developer: Hidden Fields – Format: Multi)

I must admit, despite loving the pencil-drawn style of Mundaun, I found it a tough game to get into at first. Thankfully I got to a point where it all clicked and became one of the year’s most unique horror game setups.

Exploring a rural Swiss mountain town rife with cult activity is an enticing premise on its own, but throwing in Mundaun’s distinctive visual style elevates it into something otherworldly. You start with an investigation of your father’s death, but things take an increasingly weird and horrific turn that stands out when compared to its first-person horror contemporaries.

Inscryption (Developer: Daniel Mullins Games – Format: PC)

A card game you know nothing about played out in a candlelit cabin against a wild-eyed figure, cloaked in shadow. That’s how Inscryption begins, and for a little while, that’s all it seems to be. Then the strange things start happening. The cards begin to speak to you, and they offer a chance to escape; to give anything more away would spoil a deeply engrossing experience.

What I love about Inscryption is how it keeps hanging little morsels of a supposed truth in front of you, begging you to snaffle them up and fall deeper into the game’s mysteries. A quick round of its rather violent card game is out of the question as curiosity leads you elsewhere, and certainly not where you’d expect. The places this game goes are truly exciting because it never settles on one path, but manages to make a coherent whole by the time things wrap up.

Unnerving, unsettling, compelling, chaotic, and downright mind-boggling, Inscryption is an easy choice for my Game of the Year.