Phasmophobia came out at the right place at the right time. Indie developers have been dominating 2020, grabbing the headlines and dominating Twitch. While Phasmophobia isn’t quite pulling in major streamers like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez yet, the game has proven to be a major hit among a starved horror fanbase looking for something fresh and new.
Its immersive game mechanics – including the ghost AI listening in on your voice chat – bring a level of horror that hasn’t been seen since Alien: Isolation. While most horror games are tales of survival, Phasmophobia has you volunteering your life to discover the presence of ghosts.
With all that in mind, we venture to discuss whether Phasmophobia can take the claim of being the scariest game of 2020.
Scariest game of 2020 competition
It’s tough to look at this year’s roster without considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It has slowed the industry down, forcing studios to push back release dates and deliver some weak releases for deadlines’ sake. Fortunately for horror games, their uniqueness tends to give them a longer shelf life. Most horror games don’t churn out yearly sequels like the Call of Duty franchise, or recycle the same iteration on new generation consoles like Skyrim or GTA V.
That said, you can’t crown Phasmophobia as the scariest game of 2020 without looking at the competition. Aside from the re-releases of games like Resident Evil, some of the bigger horror releases this year include The Last of Us 2, Amnesia: Rebirth, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope, Maid of Sker, and the not-exactly-horror-but-pretty-scary-still Half Life: Alyx.
Half of these games arrived in the first half of 2020, before the major disruptions of COVID-19. While the competition is scarce, there are some quality horror games that have been released. But looking at each and every game, they provide a different type of horror from what Phasmophobia offers. It’s all purely survival. On top of that, a lot of these villains and monsters have been seen and dealt with in video games before: demons, infected, head crabs. Pregnancy might be the relatively original exception in this case, for Amnesia: Rebirth.
How is Phasmophobia scarier?
As mentioned earlier, Phasmophobia isn’t just about survival. You’re a willing participant in the discovery and documentation of ghosts. The scariest part about Phasmophobia is that the risk of life has a cost: $10 for each discovery.
But in all seriousness, the mystery of the ghost type and their behavior keep the player in a constant state of tension. There’s a non-existent sense of safety, as Phasmophobia requires you to poke and prod the ghost in order to get a reaction. What can you really do? Light a smudge stick and chuck a crucifix at the ghost? The variety of tools available also require you to interact with the ghost in different ways – none of them reassuring – always putting you at serious risk of being banished to the shadow realm.
There aren’t any statistical bonuses, defenses, or boons that you equip to tackle these ghosts. Your slow movement keeps you feeling in a constant state of vulnerability. The ghost constantly monitoring you and your voice chat adds to the feeling of unease. Phasmophobia’s ghost can manifest itself at any moment, and the many signs of its impending arrival don’t so much help you prepare, as they ratchet up your stress levels. You are at the ghost’s mercy, and it unfortunately has zero mercy to give.
The co-op aspect of Phasmophobia also has you fearing for more than your life. You have three other teammates to worry about as well. If the ghost isn’t breathing in your ear or talking to you, your ghost hunting teammates are sobbing in voice chat fighting over who gets to sit in the truck. It’s a multi-tiered level of horror, never giving you a moment of calm and serenity.
Phasmophobia has the potential to be scarier
You have to give props to an Early Access game like Phasmophobia being arguably the scariest offering of 2020. With time, Kinetic Games should iron out all its bugs and kinks, and add content that’ll keep the ghost unpredictable and horrifying. The studio also takes feedback from the community seriously, as players can contribute on the official Phasmophobia Discord channel. There’s a specific section that highlights the best received feedback, which they’ll consider implementing in the future.
Some of the suggestions on there show the sick desires these horror fans want to experience. Climbing on walls, possession of portraits, and jump scares for the people hiding in the van. If Kinetic Games took even 1/10th of the suggestions on that Discord section, Phasmophobia could be the scariest game of all time.
It would be naïve to think that this game didn’t have the longevity of Dead By Daylight. Phasmophobia is here to stay.