Nobody does unconventional and unexpected quite like indie devs, which is why they do horror so well. Here are our picks for the 14 best indie horror games ever.
Major AAA game studios, with their big budgets and ever-looming corporate overseers, don’t often make the types of games that are out to really scare you. They’ll throw all kinds of horrendous enemies at you, sure, but they’ll also make sure you have a rocket launcher to fight them off with.
Developers of indie horror games aren’t afraid to alienate the broader gaming audience, as long as they can capture those die-hard horror fanatics who live for the fight-or-flight adrenalin rush that only disempowerment, desperation, and isolation can provide.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
No worthy list of indie horror games would be complete without a place for Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
This game does Horror with a capital H. Alone, without even your memories for company, you must traverse the darkest catacombs of Brennenburg Castle. Fighting is not an option, only fleeing and hiding. Even cowering for too long in the darkness will deplete your most precious resource – your sanity.
Check it out before you play its sequel Amnesia: Rebirth.
Inscryption is a wildly inventive indie horror game that crams multiple mini games together to create something that is hip, clever and surprisingly chilling. The game was first conceived during a game jam in 2018, where creator Daniel Mullins became interested in how horror themes could be used to add flavour to a relatively simple deck-building game.
The result of this combination is a third-wall breaking experience that forces you into playing a high-stakes game of cards with a demonic entity…while being held against your will in a ghastly cabin in the woods. Sounds like a great time, right?
Iron Lung is a short, atmospheric indie horror game that should be completed in one dread-soaked session. The game’s setup is relatively simple: all the planets and stars in the universe, along with the life on them, have mysteriously vanished, bar those who were on spaceships and space stations at the time of the event.
All that remains are uninhabitable moons and asteroids. Oh, and before I forget, there are now ominous seas of blood on some of these moons.
You are a prisoner, who has unfortunately been volunteered to explore one of these seas of blood. You will do this in a rickety old submarine, stitched together with debris, where the one porthole has been sealed up shut. Iron Lung is claustrophobic, tense, and not above a well-timed jump scare.
Doki Doki Literature Club
If you’re a fan of indie horror games, skip ahead. Doki Doki Literature Club is best played unspoiled, and even the knowledge that it’s a horror game is spoiler enough. Developer Team Salvato goes out of their way to make the game appear as innocent as possible, warning only that “this game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed”.
Doki Doki Literature Club plays with its medium masterfully, twisting the well-trodden genre of the dating sim (complete with cute anime girls) to create a product that seeks to unsettle the player on a surprisingly personal level.
While retro aesthetics are common amongst some of the best indie horror games, adding eerie distortion effects while also helping with limited budgetary constraints, Airdorf Games’ FAITH is truly unique. It borrows its look from early Atari or Apple II games, using a limited colour palette and low-resolution sprites to great effect.
The player takes the role of a priest who must revisit a derelict house in the woods to correct an exorcism gone awry. FAITH sells its atmosphere with off-putting synthesised dialogue, and it scares with its marvellous rotoscoped animations.
Five Nights at Freddy’s
As Amnesia: The Dark Descent benefited from viral marketing created by reaction videos, Five Nights at Freddy’s revealed the extraordinary influence wielded by popular streamers. Audiences of millions tuned in to watch the likes of PewDiePie and Markiplier get the pants jump-scared off them, transforming Five Nights at Freddy’s into a gaming phenomenon.
As security guard covering the night shift at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, it’s your job to monitor the cameras and control the doors to protect yourself from a cast of animatronic horrors, all of whom have become just a bit murder-y now that business hours are over.
Scarlet Hollow is a choose-your-own-adventure style game that takes its creative inspiration from modern indie comic books. It has an unmistakable hipster energy to the whole thing that, if it weren’t for the substantial talent of creator Abby Howard, would probably feel a tad cloying.
It doesn’t, however, and the indie horror game’s narrative really starts to gather momentum as you near the end of the first episode. Oh, and before I forget: be sure to pick the ‘Talks to Animals’ perk at the start of the game. As soon as you meet Gretchen you’ll thank me.
IMSCARED, created by Ivan Zanotti’s MyMadnessWorks, is another indie horror game that loves to play with the video game medium to create its effect. In fact, IMSCARED being a game is part of its own story, and even invites the player to manipulate its files to proceed.
The extremely short view distance gives the game a natural horror ambience, making the player hesitant to charge ahead for fear of running head-first into whatever might be lurking in the blackness.
Arbitrary Metric’s Paratopic leans hard on the weird to achieve its horror, accurately described on its Steam store page as “a journey through a cruel fever dream world”. If you like indie horror games with the power to disturb, this one is for you.
Everything in Paratopic is crafted to convey a sense of wrongness, from the off-key soundtrack to textures that don’t properly stick to characters’ faces. The narrative is intentionally fragmented and disjointed, inviting the player to progress through its brief story multiple times in order to better grasp its meaning.
2020 seems to be the year for a chain of social games to become the latest big trend, with Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, Among Us, and now Phasmophobia, brought to us by Kinetic Games. This VR-compatible game invites you to assemble a crew to go ghost-hunting in a range of spooky locations.
While having the company of friends or allies might undermine an indie horror title’s unnerving atmosphere, Phasmophobia has a trick up its sleeve – listening to players’ microphones and responding to their communications.
Slender: The Eight Pages
Another indie title that achieved widespread recognition thanks largely to streamers and YouTubers. Slender: The Eight Pages is certainly spooky in its own right, borrowing from and contributing to the popular Slender Man mythos.
The treasure-hunt gameplay works perfectly with the horror atmosphere, building tension and danger with every precious page located. The game’s masterstroke is a mechanic that makes Slender Man himself is more likely to attack if he’s being looked at directly, meaning that you’re never sure exactly where he is – unless that place is right behind you.
Mixing Slavic folklore, challenging survival mechanics, Lynchian surrealism and horrifying imagery, Darkwood leaves a powerful impression on those brave enough to play it.
You awake to find yourself in mysterious, overgrown forest surrounded by beastly characters with unclear motives. As you explore and try to find a way back to civilisation it becomes clear that all is not as it seems, and a bad situation develops into a full-blown nightmare. One of the best indie horror games I’ve ever played, and undoubtedly one of the most frightening.
Created by popular game critic, developer, and author ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw (best known for his review series Zero Punctuation), Trilby’s Notes is a stand-out title in his excellent Chzo Mythos series.
The game follows cat-burglar-cum-paranormal-investigator Trilby as he traces the origin of a dangerous wooden relic to a hotel in Wales, where he slips back and forth between the real world and a demon-infested nightmare version of it. Trilby’s Notes borrows its gameplay style from older parser games, requiring the players to type out text-based commands to interact with the game’s world.
You are Jeff Bezos
“When you wake up this morning from unsettling dreams, you find yourself changed in your bed into a monstrous vermin. You are Jeff Bezos.” That’s the opening line from text-adventure game You are Jeff Bezos.
In a list of games that seek to thrill you while you’re playing or leave you feeling perturbed for a while afterward, here’s a game that’s designed to leave you with a deep, pervading horror of the real world. Placing you in the shoes of the world’s richest parasite, You Are Jeff Bezos achieves its effect by helping you appreciate the amount of good that his hoarded wealth could, but will never, achieve.
After playing through this, you could be forgiven for wanting to escape into one of the vastly more comforting worlds offered by the other nine games on this list.