Monday, December 25, 2023

Best of 2023: The 9 Scariest Enemies in This Year’s Horror Video Games

There’s no shortage of memorable adversaries in the horror gaming space, with the Silent Hill and Resident Evil franchises alone doing plenty of heavy lifting.

Nevertheless, it mustn’t go unnoticed that developers have been stepping things up lately in this department. Indeed, the past year has seen us going toe to toe with some rather goosebump-inducing opponents that we thought deserved a little more appreciation.

From deep sea terrors to troglomorphic behemoths and literary constructs that have taken on lives of their very own, there’s been a fair bit of variety to these pixelated antagonists as well. So, let’s take a look at those select few that managed to stand out from the crowd.

Here are the best horror game enemies from 2023.

Killer Frequency – The Whistling Man

Kept at a distance for the vast majority of your playthrough, “The Whistling Man” is a presence that looms large over Killer Frequency all the same. A provincial boogeyman of sorts, he is said to be utterly without compassion, remorse or even an identifiable motive for why he does the heinous things he does.

Yet just like with all good campfire tales, the rest of the specifics are up for debate and his origin varies with each new telling. In fact, the only detail that anyone in Gallows Creek can seem to agree upon is that this slasher will always herald his own arrival by whistling a haunting tune and that, if you the unmistakable portent, it means you’re next in his crosshairs.

When it turns out that this urban legend is more truth than fiction — or that, at the very least, somebody in the town is appropriating the stories to spice up their own murder spree — it’s your job to minimise the death toll by any means necessary. As a late-night radio host, you’ll be spinning a number of plates, simultaneously acting as: news broadcaster; researcher; de facto emergency responder; medical advice line and amateur sleuth. Depending on how well you perform each of these overlapping duties, you may well be able to save the lives of a few callers and potentially even get to the bottom of a decades-long mystery.

Despite his reign of terror largely taking place out of sight (or maybe because of that very fact), The Whistling Man emerges as one of 2023’s most frightening antagonists. Whether he is taking the form of as a chilling spectre over the airways, a disembodied voice echoing just outside your station window, or the subject of an intriguing, Scream-esque whodunit, he manages to make a huge impression with scarcely any screen time.

The Outlast Trials – (Naked) Big Grunts

I’ve always appreciated the Outlast series for grasping a certain universal truth. This being that the only thing creepier than a freakishly-strong homicidal maniac — fixated on ripping out your spinal column — is a freakishly-strong homicidal maniac (harbouring more or less the same intentions) who also happens to be stark naked. You see, a serial killer is an undeniably scary prospect, but a serial killer with his genitals on proud display is a different ball game altogether. If you’ll excuse the pun!

Hardly known for its subtlety or restraint, the Outlast franchise has always capitalised on this particular phenomenon. In the original you’ve got those vaguely incestuous twins — who could probably stand to establish some fraternal boundaries if we’re being brutally honest— and then the sequel has you being chased around by a cult of immodest heretics with a very lax dress code (to put it delicately).

Keeping this disconcerting tradition alive, The Outlast Trials puts you at the mercy of so-called “Big Grunts,” some of whom are admittedly shrinking violets (chivalrously keeping it in their pants no matter how excited they get) while others aren’t afraid to show off a little skin. Although it shouldn’t really matter which one of these lunatics is on your tail — given that their attire, or lack thereof, makes no appreciable difference when it comes to measuring their lethality with an axe— I’ll still take the one in pants every time.

It might be a me issue, but there’s just something deeply upsetting about a large, grunting, nudist chasing after you, threatening to do NSFW things to your various orifices. Who knows? Maybe I’m a prude.

Dredge – The Night Angler

In our review of Dredge, we commended its development team for pulling off an audacious — and seemingly impossible — tightrope act.

On the one hand, Black Salt pitched their debut as an archetypal cosy game, boasting tranquil exploration, a lush watercolour aesthetic, gentle piano music and an emphasis on that most soothing of pastimes: fishing. Yet on the flip side, they also had clear designs on the throne of H.P. Lovecraft and aimed to evoke his works by chucking in a few eldritch sea beasties, themes of psychological deterioration, and imagery guaranteed to resonate with the thalassophobe in us all.

And, against all odds, they somehow knitted these mismatched halves together into one cohesive whole. By day, Dredge is indeed a relaxing fishing simulator! You sail around picturesque archipelagos, idyllic inlets and quaint little coastal towns, combing the seabed for valuable trinkets and elusive marine life that can, in turn, be hawked to local dockworkers for a tidy profit.

When the sun goes down, however, the game turns into something else entirely! You see, alongside reduced visibility and tempestuous weather conditions, nightfall also happens to coax out terrible monsters that are eager to reduce your plucky trawler into nothing more than a heap of splintered driftwood.

One of the worst offenders in this regard is surely “The Night Angler,” a tricksy leviathan that beckons mariners into ideal biting range with a rather clever adaptation. In place of the usual bioluminescence favoured by its real-world counterpart, this jumbo-sized angler fish has a lure that is specifically intended for deceiving gullible voyagers like yourself.

Resembling another boat out on the waves, the decoy looks and sounds exactly like the real thing (it can even parrot a fog-horn noise). Yet should you fall for its ruse and subsequently venture too close, then you’ll discover that this welcoming façade sits atop a gaping maw. One that is lined with razor-sharp teeth.

Granted, you’ll probably only be duped by this mimic once — and will quickly learn to steer clear of fellow sailors at night — but it’s still a neat role reversal for a fishing game like this, as suddenly you’re the one being reeled in by lethal bait. Not to mention, it also makes for a really fun jump scare that will catch you totally off guard!

Resident Evil 4 – Regenerators

Featuring the Regenerators (or “Regeneradores” if you’d prefer to integrate with the locals) on this list of 2023 enemies feels a bit like cheating to be honest. After all, they have been lurking around for almost two decades now and have hardly changed in the intervening years.

But, come on, these are the Regenerators we’re talking about! How could we snub them?

With their twitchy mannerisms, beady red eyes, laboured breathing, and self-repairing attributes, these gnarly mutants have always been held up as one of Resident Evil’s most daunting foes. Doubly so when you consider their prickly “Iron Maiden” variant, which can be a real pain in the ass to put down if you’ve not got the right gear at hand.

As aforementioned, the new remake doesn’t shake up the formula too much here (aside from increasing the erraticism of their movements and making the curious decision to equip them with thicker, jigglier booties) but that’s precisely the point. The Regenerators don’t need updating because their creep factor is utterly timeless, even for those of us who have faced them on countless occasions before. No matter how many times I complete RE4, I’ll never become desensitised to that horrible panting sound they make, nor would I ever want to be.

Resident Evil 4: Separate Ways – The Black Robe

Conversely, we have The Black Robe (aka UIII); a villain who barely made a dent in the original Resident Evil 4, but who was given a considerably beefed-up role for the second go around.

While this cloaked bodyguard used to do little more than stand around menacingly behind Ramón Salazar’s shoulder — and then later fused with its master to become some kind of weird plant monster — it is no longer a mere afterthought. On the contrary, it now upstages its red-robed counterpart, thanks to the addition of a few pulse-pounding boss fights.

A recurring antagonist throughout the remake’s Separate Ways DLC, UIII stalks the player with an almost Terminator-like relentlessness, growing stronger with each successive encounter and often draining you of ammo in the process.

More than just a darker-hued reskin of the earlier Verdugo battle, it comes with its own ferocious attack patterns and devious abilities. Among other things, it can lob explosive pods your way, impale you with devastating claws and disorient you completely by conjuring illusory clones of itself.

Your survival is therefore dependent on you mastering those dodge and parrying mechanics — as well as learning to spot The Black Robe’s unique tells — in a way that recalls the very best of Dark Souls. On that note, if you decide to crank up the difficulty here to either its Hardcore or Professional settings, then you will be in for a crushingly difficult experience but also some of the most exhilarating duels found in any game.

Alan Wake 2 – Taken Divers

Compared to, say, the Resident Evil series — which has been able to flit between Romero-esque zombies, fedora-sporting bioweapons, cave trolls emigrated from Middle Earth, vampire giantesses and even werewolves — Alan Wake has always imposed stricter limitations on the forms that its big bad can take. The Dark Presence cannot invent new threats from scratch, and must instead make do with what’s already available to it in the municipality of Bright Falls, corrupting the town’s residents and turning them into foul puppets that will do its bidding.

As a result, the enemy roster in these games tends to be rather slim. Across the entire franchise, your opponents will be restricted to The Taken (ordinary people who are acting under The Dark Presence’s malignant influence), poltergeist objects (affording you the opportunity to do thrilling battle with industrial pipes and floating wheelbarrows), mangy wolves, and the occasional flock of possessed birds. If the developers want to get really crazy, then they might throw in a stronger breed of Taken with a wobblier shadow covering its face, but it never escalates beyond that.

That is until you reach “Return, Chapter 5” in Alan Wake 2, whereupon Remedy suddenly pulls the rug out from under you and introduces a hitherto undreamt-of abomination. Exceedingly difficult to describe in words, the Taken Diver is an insectoid being, comprised of two identical upper-torsos (one of which is inverted) that are conjoined at the waist.

The basic idea behind this nightmare creation is that it’s supposed to resemble a drowned body that’s been half submerged in water and then its distorted reflection gazing back up at you. Which ties in perfectly with Alan Wake 2’s alliterative motifs of death, duality, doppelgangers and dexter dimensions. The fact that each of the Diver’s autonomous halves also comes with an extra pair of arms (adding up to 8 spindly limbs in total) just enhances the eeriness.

Dead Space – Divider

Okay, I am going to bend the rules again and sneak in one last remake. Because it would feel plain wrong to leave Dead Space out of this list when it so obviously has one of gaming’s GOAT monsters.

Indeed, as an umbrella category of enemy, the necromorphs belong in the pantheon of all-time greats as far as I am concerned. They’re startlingly grotesque, vicious and have a really interesting weakness. Speaking of which, my personal favourite thing about these interstellar aberrations is the way that they literally come apart at the seams once you start using your mining tools to dismember them.

It’s good, gory fun, but also serves as a queasy reminder that we’re all just bags of meat and sinew beneath our personable exteriors, held together by flimsy tissue that can’t withstand much in the way of damage. As such, whenever you crush a necromorph’s head under the weight of Isaac’s astro-boots, it’s hard not to squirm because you realise it could have easily been a human limb instead.

Nowhere is this body-horror exploited more graphically than with the Dividers. The reanimated corpses of high-ranking Ishimura officers, these lanky freaks have been stretched to their absolute breaking point, with icky tendrils acting as the only form of musculature that stops them from falling to pieces the second they begin moving. By all laws of nature, they shouldn’t even be able to stand upright, let alone charge at you with alarming haste. Yet the necromorphs don’t adhere to the laws of nature and when one of these creatures is making a beeline in your direction — emitting a bloodcurdling howl as it does so — you won’t be too concerned with how it’s closing the gap on you, only that it is.

To make matters worse, if you manage to follow standard Dead Space procedure and tear it limb for limb, then you’re in for another nasty surprise. You see, those dismembered appendages will promptly spring into action and swarm Isaac like a horde of bugs, trying to infect him as their new host. It’s a cringe-inducing sight.

Lords of the Fallen – Scarlet Shadow

Nowadays, every aspirant soulslike needs a decent gimmick in order to save itself from getting lost in the shuffle. It’s no longer enough to merely recycle all of the tropes pioneered by FromSoftware and developers must instead carve out a niche for themselves.

In the case of 2023’s Lords of the Fallen reboot, this USP takes the form of a creative dual-world mechanic, whereby players can traverse two (overlapping) planes of existence. One of these is the bog-standard domain of the living, while the other is a stygian underworld of death, decay and darkness, known as “Umbral.”

Similar to the Upside Down, the latter is a considerably more hostile version of the normal realm — populated by crazed zombie-like husks in this instance — but it does boast a few perks of its own. For example, treasures can be found in far greater abundance in Umbral, while you can also explore it to reach previously inaccessible areas and benefit from a generous XP multiplier.

Reading all of that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this hell dimension doesn’t sound too bad. You might even consider taking up a permanent residence in the neighbourhood (maybe somewhere near that giant, ossified demon god). To dissuade you of any such notion, however, the developers at Hexworks have put a shrewd deterrent in place. One that makes loitering in Umbral an unthinkable prospect for all but the most committed sadomasochists.

In a nutshell, the system works a lot like the GTA wanted meter, with you attracting heat from waves of increasingly tough enemies. At the lower levels of said bounty, the game will just spawn in more of the regular enemies, but if you allow it to fill all the way to the top, then they eventually bring out the dreaded “Scarlet Shadow.”

Kind of like the Umbral equivalent of John Wick, this hooded wraith is a sheer force-of-will that won’t stop until it has eliminated its target. Indeed, once the ethereal hunter has got your scent, it will be hot on your heels and pursue you across the entire map.

If you want to shake it, then you only have two viable options. Either you can try and leave the land of the dead by activating a specific totem, or you can stand your ground and fight. Suffice it to say, the second course of action is pretty daunting, given that the Scarlet Shadow has an intimidatingly chunky life bar, unpredictable attack patterns and the ability to teleport over short distances. Not to mention, it will disable your Sanguinarix crucifix (i.e. your main healing supply), leaving you with very little margin for error during the fight. Every encounter with this phantom is therefore incredibly high-stakes and unbearably intense.

Amnesia: The Bunker – The Beast

Of all the harrowing ghouls and unhinged serial killers 2023 chucked our way, it is arguable that none of them burrowed under our skin quite as effectively as this one.

Taking cues from Alien: Isolation’s Xenomorph, The Beast is an ever-present threat in Amnesia: The Bunker and stalks you from minute one of the campaign right up until the sweet relief of hitting the end credits. And take our word for it, you will be a quivering wreck for every last nanosecond of this pursuit.

The anguish stems from the fact that your hunter can appear at any given moment, thanks to its roaming A.I. and dynamic behaviours that leave you constantly unsure of its whereabouts. It could breathing down your neck the whole time or it could be taking a lengthy absence, but you’ll never be certain. And that means that you can never feel truly safe either.

Like a particularly tetchy roommate, The Beast is sensitive to even the faintest of noises and will pounce if you so much as exhale too loudly. You’re thus left in a constant state of paranoia, obsessively monitoring your decibel output and agonising over decisions like: “Should I use a grenade to blow open the door over there, or should I venture over into that darkened corridor and prey I can find a key?”

If you do slip up and attract the creature’s attention (an occurrence that’s bound to happen sooner or later) then it will stop at nothing to get you: breaking down any obstacles in its path; searching your favourite hidey holes; and following blood trails that you leave behind. The only way to buy yourself a little time is by warding it off with a well-judged shotgun blast but, even then, it will simply come back moments later; severely pissed off and more determined than ever to catch its prey.

The subsequent cat-and-mouse dynamic is unrivalled by any of the other entries on our list, because the relationship you end up developing with The Beast is oddly personal. It feels very specific to you as a player and to the encounters that you’ve had with a nemesis that has you frankly outmatched.

The post Best of 2023: The 9 Scariest Enemies in This Year’s Horror Video Games appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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