The Best Survival and Horror Games of 2021

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The artwork for the Dead by Daylight and Resident Evil crossover.

In 2021, survival and horror games have certainly done the rounds. Older games introduced fresh elements and attracted new players throughout the year, with new releases coming in slowly, but being impressive nonetheless. There was a new Resident Evil release, an iconic crossover with the likes of Dead by Daylight, various indies that made waves in survival and horror scenes, and some sweet, sweet updates.

Several titles stood out amongst the rest, some of them proving more personally appealing to myself than they might do for others, but deserving of recognition nonetheless. I’ve delved into a couple of survival and horror titles from 2021 that, simply put, impressed me for the most part.

Artwork from Dead by Daylight's Tome 9 event.
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Dead by Daylight

So, technically, Dead by Daylight released back in 2016. However, the asymmetrical horror title made waves during 2021 with its Resident Evil and Hellraiser chapters, achieving player base records during the highly-anticipated Resident Evil crossover and its fifth anniversary event not long after. The game has a large and loyal fanbase, and despite all the scares it offers, it’s primarily just a lot of fun (and sometimes, frustration) for those familiar with the game.

Sure, Dead by Daylight has had its moments; see the introduction of NFT’s, regular glitches, unappealing cosmetics, and complaints surrounding toxicity within trials. However, the team at Behaviour Interactive have seemingly worked relentlessly to fix the game for fans, finding ways to punish those who throw games, and ultimately, provide an enjoyable experience for both newbies and veterans.

Whether you’re playing as a survivor or taking on the role of the killer, there’s fun to be had both in multiplayer and solo with these roles. By introducing iconic horror and video game franchise chapters, characters, and legendary cosmetics, Dead by Daylight is increasing its appeal amongst the wider horror community and has continued to grow in 2021. There’s always excitement surrounding which series Behaviour Interactive might collaborate with next.

A player in the spiritual realm looking at a ghost and a living player in Phasmophobia.
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Phasmophobia

Phasmophobia arrived on Steam during late 2020, but only reached a portion of its potential this year. With updates introducing both new maps, equipment, and difficulties, this ghost-hunting game was a hit with many, including a wave of streamers who ramped up the games' popularity.

This spooky title sees yourself and others, either friends or strangers, go hunting for ghosts around various maps; which includes farmhouses, a prison, and a campsite that is definitely reminiscent of Camp Crystal Lake. Teamwork is necessary to decipher which ghost you’re dealing with, while collecting additional evidence, and also trying to not be hunted by the ghost yourself. However, angering said ghost is certainly a lot of fun.

Despite much of the game consisting of walking in circles and chanting the ghost's name or ‘give us a sign’, Phasmophobia has provided a wealth of fun for players. Whether it's being scared by the ghost, the screams (and cackles) of friends and nearby players as you deal with proximity chat, or throwing kitchen utensils at friends after being slain by the ghost; Phasmophobia is greatly amusing amongst the sheer terror of trying to hide when being hunted. With the game still in early access too, we can anticipate Kinetic Games likely have even more planned for the title.

Lady Dimitrescu of Resident Evil: Village.
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Resident Evil Village

This wouldn’t be a list of the top horror and survival games of 2021 without mentioning Resident Evil’s eighth instalment. In May, Resident Evil Village was released, toning down the horror and scares that Resident Evil 7: Biohazard presented us with in 2017, but provided an unnerving atmosphere nonetheless.

Prowling a village and taking on Mother Miranda and her counterparts was still scary, as Resident Evil games should be, but there were moments to relax amidst the constant rushes of adrenaline. The game itself proved to be stunning visually, with plenty to explore, and its connection to prior games in the series was a delight, too. For fans of Resident Evil, Village is a must-play, and you’ll be thinking about that plot as you ponder the events of Resident Evil 4 and 7. There’s also that one, horrific, giant baby boss fight that will likely be seared into your brain for a while after completion.

Better yet, even if you haven’t played a Resident Evil game before, Village is accessible enough to new players too, which I always appreciate in a game. The plot is still easy to follow, the customisation options when it comes to facing boss fights can make them as hard or as easy as you wish; and frankly, the architecture and scenery along the way is horrifying yet beautiful simultaneously. I’m sure Resident Evil Village reigns in at the top position for other franchise fans too. For me, however, as great as Village was, nothing has yet topped the horror experience that was Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.

Clarice and Rachel of The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes.
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House of Ashes

House of Ashes is the third, and most recent, instalment in The Dark Pictures Anthology. Released during November, the game is a cinematic, interactive tale that leaves all decisions, and every character's fate, in your hands.

You start in the middle of the Iraq War, before being plunged into a Mesopotamian temple with even more interesting architecture residing deeper within it, and monsters, too. There are five characters you need to look out for, four of them being US soldiers and one an Iraq soldier, which is dealt with surprisingly sensitively. Also, three of them happen to be in a love triangle that’ll pervade many scenarios, and well, all of them have their own issues and past to think about returning to. House of Ashes is incredibly centred on its story, so, I won’t spoil any more than that.

The characters will either capture your heart in unique ways, or they’ll annoy you to no end, and that’s where your decisions come in. Many will aim to have every character survive through to the end, but some of us might make efforts to kill off their least favourites. That’s part of the beauty of these decision driven games where you, the player, are essentially made to be the main character.

For an immersive and terrifying experience that is just short of six hours, House of Ashes is a great, extended cinema session to embark on over an evening or two. Just try not to get too tied up in the story and keep an eye out for those quick-time events; your decisions and reactions decide who lives and who dies!

A player in a snowy mountain biome in Valheim.
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Valheim

Off the horror wagon and jumping into some brutal survival, we have Valheim. Released in February, followed by the Hearth and Home update in September, this game made by a small team of Swedish developers was intriguing. A diverse landscape, multiple building options, and a mysterious crow advising you of what to do next - what more could a survival game need? Besides a threat to survival, of course.

Following the footsteps of fellow Swedish developers, Mojang, Iron Gate Studios created a visually stunning and greatly accessible game. Valheim removes the progression barriers employed by the likes of other survival games, such as Rust and The Forest, preventing players from being deterred by a never-ending grind or the regular waste of hard work. This is what sets Valheim apart from other survival games, making its only downfall the fact that it simply requires more content. Which, given Iron Gate’s roadmap for the game, we’re set to get sooner or later.

Players will take on the forms of deceased Vikings, handling the evil within Valheim’s beautiful biomes, trying to make their way to Valhalla. Valheim is packed with potential to be one of the top survival games out there. Iron Gate Studio's willingness to listen to community feedback while implementing their roadmap, means the future of the game looks promising for both fans and newcomers, too.

Honourable Mentions

These games all have their highs and lows but have predominantly stood out to me throughout 2021. However, there were a handful of releases during the year that didn’t resonate with me so much but remain deserving of an honourable mention: Back 4 Blood, Bloodwash, Little Nightmares II, Poppy Playtime, and Tormented Souls. Not to mention, we still have the likes of Dying Light 2, SCP: Pandemic, and The Outlast Trials to look forward to as we make our way through 2022.