Multiplayer Horror Is Bigger Than Ever: Here’s Why, and What You Should Play

The Resident Evil characters introduced into Dead by Daylight.

The horror genre of video games is prospering more than ever. With Capcom returning the beloved Resident Evil franchise back to its horror origins, more players than ever are willing to try out - and fall in love with - horror games. That being said, multiplayer horror games appear to be thriving much more than their single-player counterparts.

Across genres, seeking the next adrenaline rush is always more fun when achieving it alongside friends. Yet, with multiplayer horror, it is arguably the act of playing alongside others that helps with softening scares while still maintaining that rush; thus, opening the horror genre up to even more players than ever before. So, why exactly does multiplayer horror have such a big appeal, and what should you try playing?

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Why Play Multiplayer Horror?

A ghost in its physical form in Phasmophobia.
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The state of suspense created in single-player horror games is often scarier than facing elements of horror head-on. When developing a game, it is the suspense that deserves the most attention when it comes to creating an immersive and terrifying experience for players. It is this elevated level of suspense and the anticipation of scares that will often produce real anxiety for some players, forcing those who don’t enjoy horror to avoid it completely.

Multiplayer horror still has this state of suspense but the act of playing alongside others helps to eliminate it. Put it this way, if you were (for whatever reason) going ghost hunting at a dilapidated prison, you’d certainly feel more comfortable knowing you had fellow ghost hunters with you, right? That’s exactly why multiplayer horror games have such a strong appeal, even for those whose main genre isn’t remotely horror.

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This opens up multiplayer horror to an even wider audience, involving people who don’t necessarily enjoy being scared but still want to experience the horror adrenaline rush nonetheless. It’s hard to be truly scared by swarms of zombies in Left 4 Dead 2 when your friend is running around carrying a gnome of all things. Similarly, the scares of being hunted by a ghost in Phasmophobia are soon eliminated with the humour that proximity chat provides.

The appeals of multiplayer horror games have never been higher for this exact reason. Back in 2018, DayZ was at the peak of its popularity and with this, we saw how multiplayer horror games drastically differed from the likes of Silent Hill and Resident Evil. The solo experience often involves struggling to stay alive and hiding at every opportunity, but the multiplayer experience involves much less hiding and anxiety, knowing that your friends are playing alongside you. Multiplayer horror certainly has a larger reach than singleplayer does, solely because scaring yourself senseless becomes a much more fun experience with others, rather than one that may genuinely give you nightmares.

DayZ has since dropped off in terms of its popularity. However, the demand and love for multiplayer horror games are very much flourishing in 2021. With the likes of Dead by Daylight, Phasmophobia and Back 4 Blood incorporating aspects for those wanting cheap thrills with friends while still being able to sleep at night, games playing out horrific scenes have never been more appealing. Now, what exactly should you be playing and why?

Zombies and Guns: Back 4 Blood

The playable characters in Back 4 Blood.
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Back 4 Blood is a zombie co-op game that follows the legacy of Left 4 Dead 2. You’ll find that this multiplayer horror game feels more like an action game at times than a horror game, provided that you ignore the Retch and Exploder zombies who will do everything in their power to cover you in their vomit and guts. The zombie-shooter has got its issues in terms of its solo campaign, but the multiplayer mode is ideal for those who want to run and gun hordes of the undead with friends.

There’s little suspense in this one, making it ideal for those who really want to avoid a terrifying atmosphere or jump scares. Specific Acts (levels, essentially) feel more like a scene from the comedy-horror film Shaun of the Dead (which the game also makes reference to), than that of something like the apocalyptic zombie-horror film 28 Days Later. As friends get taken down, or you find and power the jukebox in Act 1, you’ll discover yourself definitely experiencing more fun than fear while playing Back 4 Blood.

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Asymmetrical Horror: Dead by Daylight

Four survivors in front of The Trapper killer from Dead by Daylight.
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Dead by Daylight is a staple for many horror fans, with the game having characters from prolific horror franchises and films such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Hellraiser. Yet, there is a huge appeal for those who aren’t so familiar with horror too. The asymmetrical horror game sees four survivors trying to escape from one killer in each trial, and unless you’re playing against the likes of The Shape (Halloween’s Michael Myers), then you’re safe from most scares.

This game is arguably most fun when playing the survivor role with three friends, and you’ll find yourself focusing more on trying to power generators and avoid the killer than being scared. Additionally, if there are five of you willing to play, playing custom games with the freedom of using any perks, items and offerings you wish can be a great deal of fun without any random players involved. This mode of play is also ideal for beginners who want to familiarise themselves with the gameplay and the 180+ perks available first. For those who don’t want a particularly scary experience, but want to delve into the horror genre, Dead by Daylight is one of the best games to start with.

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Ghosts and Ghouls: Phasmophobia

A ghost in its physical form during a hunt in Phasmophobia, with another player standing behind them.
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Phasmophobia sees you and your friends take on the role of paranormal investigators. Your main objective is to gather evidence of spiritual activity and identify what sort of ghost you’re all facing. However, it’s not that simple. At any point, the ghost can turn the table and begin to hunt you and your friends instead. If they catch you, you’re then one of them. Sadly, you can’t quite haunt your friends like the ghost does, but you can throw things at them for the sake of it. This game is certainly one of the scarier ones to play multiplayer, considering there is a great level of suspense as you roam various maps trying to seek evidence and lure the ghost out of hiding. When the ghost begins to hunt, you’ll attempt to scramble to safety as proximity and radio voice chat begin to malfunction.

This one can genuinely cause a few jump scares, especially when facing the nefarious demon ghost, but the chaos of proximity chat and the antics that some players get up to in Phasmophobia aids you from succumbing to any fear. I recommend Phasmophobia for those who don’t mind feeling a little scared, however, the game does offer lower difficulties and smaller maps for those who really want to try and avoid encountering the ghost in its physical form. If all else fails, just set up some video cameras and sit in the van pretending to be useful; that’s what I do when it all becomes a little too tumultuous.

With any luck, the success and expansion of the horror genre of video games should be here to stay. What began as a solo-driven genre involving scrambling for health items and ammo while avoiding abhorrent entities has evolved massively. You can now share a little bit of the fear and anxiety that these games provoke with your friends, and have plenty of fun while achieving that adrenaline rush that most game consumers get a kick out of. Not that horror games aren’t fun - they really are - they’re just not for everyone, and that’s okay. However, with this boom in multiplayer horror, there now is something within the genre to suit every type of player. And hopefully, you will still have a blissful night of rest free of any nightmares afterwards!