It’s odd that a genre like science fiction would have so much trouble capturing our imaginations, when its imaginative by its nature. It covers some objectively awesome topics, from our always evolving technology to space travel and impossible encounters with extraterrestrial beings. Its fascinating, mind-bending stuff.
Sci-fi has always struggled to deliver hit franchises at the same frantic pace as the competition, with their apocalyptic wastelands populated by hordes of the undead, isolated mansions haunted by restless spirits and elaborate traps built by clever sociopaths. And yet, the genre has only managed to produce a handful of short-lived hits in series like Doom and Dead Space — their relative rarity offset by the disproportionately greater impact these games often have on the rest of the horror genre.
This woefully underappreciated genre has enjoyed a small resurgence in the last few years — particularly among indie developers — led by Alien: Isolation, SOMA, Stasis, Duskers and the ongoing revival of System Shock that have been working to pave the way for a new wave of exceptional-looking sci-fi horror games like the these.
Phantaruk is likely to be the first game on this list to come out. Or it might not, since none of the following titles have been given firm release dates as I write this. Polish developer Polyslash has spent more than two years building the game and the gargantuan spaceship in which it takes place.
Why We’re Excited: There’s real potential in its narrative and the themes it boldly tackles, like transhumanism and existentialism.
Release Date: August 2016 (PC, Mac, Linux)
NYVYE Studios’ beautiful horror game P.A.M.E.L.A. may be the most visually stunning game on this list, in part, because of its bold use of color. The environments remind me of the splashes of color that made the environments in Mirror’s Edge so delightful to look at, only the city of Eden appears to take place much further into the future. That name is horribly misleading, by the way, as the word ‘Eden’ is rarely conjures images of failed dystopian worlds infested by humanoid creatures.
Did I mention the Halo-inspired plasma sword, because P.A.M.E.L.A. has that too.
Why We’re Excited: The enemies we’ve seen (so far) haven’t looked particularly original, but the vivid world they inhabit more than makes up for that. Eden is neon nightmare eye candy, and I’m itching to spend some time in it.
Release Date: Fall 2016 (PC)
The Brotherhood is expanding on the frightening world they first realized in the isometric horror game Stasis, which also happens to serve as the foundation for its latest standalone chapter, Cayne. The game revolves around Hadley, a new mother who wakes up in a seemingly abandoned medical facility that’s been turned into a crime scene. It’ll take about as long as a feature-length film to finish, and it benefits from the Unity 5 engine — Stasis used Unity 4 — so fans can expect an even prettier old-school adventure game when it releases later this year.
Why We’re Excited: It’s reminiscent of Dead Space, which its developer has confirmed to be a source of inspiration for it, and it’s a standalone expansion, so you don’t need to own Stasis to play it.
Release Date: Fall 2016 (PC, Mac)
Aliens haven’t been very scary for a long time, and that’s just wrong. It’s also why I’m thrilled that The Hum: Abductions — one of our most anticipated VR horror games — is a game that’ll eventually exist, because those wee grey bastards and their goofy jellyfish ships are going DOWN. Start sneezing into loaded squirt guns, just in case movies got something right about their weakness, and keep a close eye on your loved ones. No one is who they seem…
Why We’re Excited: It stars classic “grey man” aliens, big heads and all. I can’t even remember the last game about the horrors of an extraterrestrial invasion… Prey, maybe?
Release Date: Fall 2016 (PC, Mac, PS4)
A lack of updates on a game that was announced years ago can mean just about anything, but it’s rarely a good thing. And yet, just when I’m ready to give up on Lunar Software, they usually resurface with another look at their ridiculously scary-looking first-person horror game Routine. It’s been in development for a long time, and though absolutely normal for a team of three to have some difficulties overcoming the myriad obstacles of first-time games development, when it is ready to release, I hope the studio will be able to build up the hype this promising game has lost since its initial unveiling four years ago.
Why We’re Excited: Routine is heavily influenced by the roguelike genre, which can be seen in Lunar Software’s decision to get rid of the HUD, make death permanent, and offer no way to heal yourself should you happen to encounter of the horrors that lurks in that abandoned moon base.
Release Date: TBA 2016 (PC)
Bloober Team could’ve pursued an array of projects after the surprise success of their psychedelic horror game Layers of Fear, but they’ve decided to return to our favorite genre with the cerebral thriller Observer. The game was only revealed at E3 a few weeks ago, so details are scarce, but its first trailer had enough style and unease in its scant 36-second running-time to make a lasting impression.
Why We’re Excited: As much as I enjoyed Layers of Fear, it’s clear Bloober is a developer that’s willing to do something different. They’re experimental and different, and we could always use more horror games that favor strong storytelling over buckets of core.
Release Date: TBA 2016 (PC)
I am deeply impressed with how Night Dive Studios has handled the rights to the System Shock franchise. In just three years, the company has been strategic in their efforts to revive the beloved series. They eased into it with the well-made remaster System Shock: Enhanced Edition that renewed interest in the somewhat obscure survival horror series and laid the foundation for a more comprehensive remake of in next year’s System Shock reboot.
Night Dive turned to Kickstarter yesterday, seeking $900,000 — a third of which it’s managed to raise in its first 24 hours.
Why We’re Excited: Horror classics get remastered all the time. Remakes like System Shock are exceedingly rare things that deserve our support. And more importantly, there’s an entire generation of gamers who never got to experience this thrilling series, and this remake aims to remedy that.
Release Date: Late 2017 (PC, XBO – Possibly Mac, Linux)
The System Shock reboot is a lot for a relatively modest-sized studio like Night Dive to handle, so it’s up to their partners at Underworld Ascendant developer Otherside Entertainment to take the reins on the first real sequel the series has seen in nearly two decades. Voice actress Terri Brosius will return to reprise her role as the rogue AI SHODAN, as will key members of the teams behind the first two games, including concept artist Robb Waters, who’s responsible for the villain’s new look (in the banner above).
Why We’re Excited: It’s a sequel to one of gaming’s most influential franchises that’s been co-developed by several of the developers of the first two System Shock games.
Release Date: TBA (TBA)
We haven’t learned much of anything since Death Stranding was unveiled at E3 earlier this month, but we know it originated from Kojima’s canned concept for Silent Hills and that it’ll star Norman Reedus.
Why We’re Excited: It has Hideo Kojima, Norman Reedus, and one of the strangest trailers I’ve ever seen. Excited doesn’t accurately describe how I feel about it — I’m curious more than anything.
Release Date: TBA (PS4, PC)
So, which of these sci-fi horror games are you most looking forward to?