To say that I am picky about my horror games is to make an egregious understatement. Horror games are meant to scare me, right? Then why is it that so many things rely on cheap jumpscares and overused plots that are predictable?
The criteria for this list is that the game actually scared me a few times, that it is fairly original in content and story, and that it is atmospheric and unique. Demos are acceptable for this list. To be fair, I have disqualified the Amnesia games, and may do a countdown about them at some other point, including spin-offs that I like.
Honorable Mention: Outlast
I WANTED to love Outlast. A creepy asylum, disturbing monsters, and the inability to physically defend yourself? AWESOME! A sudden and abrupt turn toward an explanation for the events that I wasn’t expecting? Not awesome. Nonetheless, I feel like Outlast belongs on this list for the sheer moments of terror within it. Also, Dr. Traeger is one of the best enemies I have seen in a game in a LONG time. It’s rare that disturbing and hilarious mesh so well.
I love, love, love this game. The graphics are unique, and the story is something that I have never seen before. You play as a strange little person called The Lodger, an obsessive compulsive individual who is a “Word-ologist”, meaning that they must record their life in a diary. The entire game takes place in the waking nightmares and mind of the Lodger, as their insomnia starts to materialize “Guests” to haunt them. So if I love this game, why is it so low? Well, to be honest, it is short on scares. Although I enjoyed it immensely, I was never truly “scared” by it. However, I do highly recommend it.
9: Devil’s Tuning Fork
Now here’s a unique little gem of a free game. Created by university students, the story centers around an epidemic that leaves many children in comas. As one of the children, you wake up in a strange world that can be navigated through sound waves. By “can be navigated”, I mean that the entire game is based on sound and the visualization of sound. You really have to pay attention to sound cues to solve the mystery. Although sound is an important in many horror games, it is absolutely crucial to listen to sounds generated by the tuning fork to navigate the all-consuming darkness. This is a really different game.
8: Fran Bow
Although I have only played the demo, this game has potential to be amazing. I have heard that the full game has been released now and will have to give it a go, since I enjoyed the demo. To make a long story short, you are Fran. Fran is a little girl who suffers from a horrifying mental disorder, and most of the game takes place within an institution. Your goal is to find your beloved cat, Mr. Midnight, and reunite with your aunt, however, an evil presence within your own mind is out to stop you at any cost. This game is very unique, with a nice art style and point-and-click format. It is a bit gory for my general tastes, but still deserves a spot here.
7: A Mother’s Inferno
This game is…weird. Good weird. It is based entirely around the primal fear of losing a child. It’s also based on Dante’s Inferno, so of course I love it. It also can be interpreted as a woman going through the many different stages of loss. I find that this game isn’t as well talked about as it should be. This is perhaps because it only takes about fifteen minutes to complete, however, the imagery and intensity of this game grants it a spot on my list.
6: The Cursed Forest
This is one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. And it’s FREE! It is a “collect-a-thon” game in the vein of Slender, although it manages to be a LOT scarier by virtue of disposing of many tacky stereotypes. Your goal is to reassemble a dismembered corpse in order to break a curse…or so I think, most of the game is in Russian. Still, this doesn’t take away from how good, (and scary) this game is. It features shadow creatures and a mysterious occult plot, which are both bonuses in my book.
5: The Cat Lady
One of my favorite Indie games EVER, the Cat Lady would be higher on this list if it were about “favorite indie games”. Heck, I might even put it at Number One! But this is about indie horror. While the Cat Lady has many themes, it isn’t quite as scary as the other games higher on this list. What I love about this game is its black and white color scheme, the realistic and tragic characters, and the rare moments of horror. Susan is one of my favorite female game protagonists and her journey is a dark and disturbing one. I highly recommend it!
One of the most unique demos I have ever played, Nevermind is a bio-feedback horror game. This means that based on your heart rate, the game can change and warp. The basic premise is similar to the movie The Cell, except WAY better executed. You travel into the mind of a patient and help them to overcome childhood traumas. The imagery is beautiful and it is a well-constructed game, even without the heart-rate monitor. I look forward to the full game at some point!
Indonesia is a goldmine of disturbing horror figures. Walking corpses still strapped up in burial shrouds, vampires that resemble floating heads with intestines hanging out of them, damned spirits and cannibalistic beasts. You can only defend yourself from these monsters using your phone’s camera in the vein of Fatal Frame. I LOVE Fatal Frame! Fatal Frame with Indonesian monsters is an amazing idea!
2: Among the Sleep
Oh my goodness gracious do I love this game. It really speaks to my childhood. As a child, I always managed to see faces in things such as blankets, and other objects looked monstrous to me. Even the wood paneling in my parents’ house could be a monster to me. As such, this game immediately drew me in. The story is deeper than it appears, and the environments are beautifully rendered. Among the Sleep is absolutely brilliant, and can really resurrect all of the fears you had when you were small.
And my favorite indie horror game is…
This may seem like an odd choice for Number 1, but the beautiful, somber, and disturbing imagery throughout made it a standout game for me. It does have some difficult puzzles, which may frustrate some gamers, but makes up for it in spades with subtle atmospheric changes, unique scares, and a lingering sense of dread. It’s one of the closest indie games that gives an experience similar to that of my favorite mainstream horror series; Silent Hill. There are very few jump scares here, but rather, things start slowly getting to you, as the many dark rituals in the seemingly idyllic cabin in the woods lead you down a path from which there may be no return…