Just as the best horror movies are often low-budget films with great ideas and shoestring budgets, so, too, do the best horror videogames come from the indie scene. These games are often more experimental, thought-provoking and downright terrifying (many reviews have people saying they stopped playing because they got too scared) than a lot of what you see from mainstream publishers, and they make for an unforgettable digital feast for the Halloween season. Here are a list of some of the favorite in the genre to keep you up at night.
After surviving a plane crash, the last thing you want to deal with are mutant cannibals, but that’s what you have to do in The Forest as the user must hunt, gather, explore and defend his or her home to survive. The most exciting part of the game is how much freedom it gives you to explore its beautiful environment, allowing for multiple approaches at what is a very complex game that’s easy to lose hours and even days playing.
Darkness and sound are the main components of this game. The main character has auditory awareness that allows him to navigate his surroundings (kind of like how I would imagine Daredevil would). But while the sound and movement give the character a sense of what’s around him, it’s also pretty disorienting and downright terrifying at times. The most scary part is that the game uses the computer's microphone, allowing the characters who are looking for you to actually hear you, so if you say anything (or even breathe loud) expect them to suddenly turn their heads and start coming after you. Breaking the fourth wall, Lurking provides a fresh take on the horror genre by venturing out of the screen to the individual playing the game. Just remember ... it's just a game.
Probably the first videogame that many of us played was Oregon Trail, and this is a fun, scary sidekick. Instead of a wagon train, you and your friends all go in a station wagon (with some nice wood panels attached) and scavenge for supplies as you fight the undead. It’s definitely retro in its environment, so don’t expect Resident Evil-quality graphics (think your school’s Apple 2G). For added fun, make sure to name all the people in the group after friends of yours and see who make it.
This is the story of a young boy who goes to school in the dead of night to drop off some chocolates at the desk of a girl he likes for the following day’s White Day celebration (much like Valentine’s Day in South Korea). Unexpectedly, though, he gets locked in school and now has to fight his way out against ghosts and some pretty insane janitors with baseball bats. The game was originally released in 2001 and is still available to play due to fan patches that have been released. It's frequently called the scariest game of all time by horror enthusiasts, and the very fact that the developers had to eliminate difficulties due to scared play testers tells you something.
A classic in the indie horror genre, Amnesia has continued to expand through fan-made expansions. The main character of the game, Daniel, must manage his sanity as he solves complex puzzles and basically run as fast as he can or hide from monsters (the game is first-person but doesn’t allow you to hold weapons). Amnesia has multiple stories that branch depending upon Daniel’s actions and reviewers frequently note this game as one of the most frightening games of all time. If you decide to download only one game on this list, let it be this one.
Mad Father is a 2D, free game developed by a Japanese developer who goes by the name of Sen. The game follows Aya Drevis as she tries to protect her father from devilish creatures around their mansion while learning more about his true nature, and that of her deceased mother. Yet Aya is a daughter that seems ok with a lot as she encounters animal and human screaming from the basement her father is working in and doesn’t mind at all. This is a horror tale with a skewed sense of morality but, then again, what else can you expect from such a close family bond.
Originally a modification of Half-Life, this first person shooter takes place in Sweden, where Simon fights off humanoid creatures and solves puzzles to progress in what is a psychological mind trip of a game. It’s difficult to describe most of this story without giving away any spoilers but the reviews for the game (which reached an 8 on metacritic) speak for themselves as the game has a very choose your own adventure feel to it that gives the player an opportunity for multiple play-throughs.
If zombies and vampires don’t make you jump, how about the disintegration of a relationship. Will Love Tear Us Apart is a video game adaption of the famous Joy Division song, Love with Tear Us Apart."Love Will Tear Us Apart." The game highlights the frustrating aspects of a relationship by putting the player through a crumbling relationship in disturbing black and white images that look a lot like the album cover for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. Each level represents a corresponding verse of the song, and deals with miscommunication and heartache in what seems to be an emotional endgame.
Starting right where its predecessor, Penumbra: Requiem, left off, Necrologue is a total conversion for the game Amnesia: The Dark Descent. This game has excellent graphics combined with a really spooky atmosphere. If you haven’t played the Penumbra series, you’re missing out on one of the best indie horror games around. There are clever puzzles combined with heart stopping action. Released on Halloween 2014, this is the latest in the series and definitely worthy of carrying the name.
Possibly the most beautiful horror game on this list, Kraven Manor is set in a gorgeous mansion where you determine the layout as you play. This is done through a model of the house that the player gets to attach rooms and therefore create doors to rooms where you would like. The style of play is point and click as the user goes through the dark and eerie atmosphere of the mansion.
Available to play on the Xbox One and PS4, Outlast is a first-person horror game in which you take the role of an independent journalist who breaks into a Mount Massive Asylum only to find….well, I’ll let you find out. The game is definitely one to break out on a dark night as more than a few things change you around the facility. This game uses every horror trope in the book to make you jump and scream frequently. Much like Amnesia, this game won’t allow you to hold any weapons, so your only course of action is to run and hide. Also, this game really utilizes the night vision mode of the camcorder to see things in the dark, a great and terrifying trick that’s certainly to keep you up at night.