Every year in the time leading up to Halloween, I let my scaredy cat guard down and like to explore what scary movies, shows, and games are out there. Just like how during Thanksgiving calories don’t count (true fact), during the creepiest time of year, horror feels a little less scary and a little more fun. And one area I’ve been dipping into lately is indie video games.
I’m a big fan of indie video games, especially. The creative freedom their studios have often makes them beautifully artistic, unique, and, in the case of horror games, utterly, disturbingly horrifying. Here are 11 creepy indie games to check out, broken down into three levels: Level 1: Tolerably Creepy, Level 2: Creepiness Intensifies, and Level 3: NOPE.
Enjoy, kids! (Unless you’re actually a kid…then get out of here, this stuff is scary af).
. . .
LVL 1: Tolerably Creepy (and kinda cute)
This game looks adorable, but don’t be fooled – underneath that cutesy surface is surprisingly creepy darkness. You play the adorable little hero Zee Tee, whose mission is to save the Princess from the evil Ghulibas…but all is not what it appears in the Flower Kingdom.
The game kinda looks – and sounds – like a Mario game you’d play on your Gameboy in the ’90s. But if you want a horror game without Amnesia-level nightmares, Eversion is a good one.
A short game that will keep you comfortably unsettled (plus, you get to play an adorable pixellated diver). In Reveal The Deep, you’re a diver exploring the wreckage of a 19th century steamship, trying to figure out its story. The game has no continuous music – just the sound of the diver moving through the dimly lit steamship and mysterious creaking throughout the ship. In certain areas, turning off your light reveals secret environments, and shadowy entities lurk in the ship’s cracks.
Nope, I didn’t forget an ‘e’. Organ Trail is a game made by our fellow Chicagoans (and Artist Shop owners!) Hats Productions, that is done in almost exactly the same format as the ever-nostalgic Oregon Trail boasted, except with zombies and a station wagon instead of a covered wagon (heh).
Okay so, this game isn’t actually out until February of 2017 (sorry!), but it’s a cool one to have on your radar! I mean, any game called a “cultist management simulator” demands some attention.
In Shrouded Isle you’re in a cult whose goal is to keep the ‘Old Gods’ asleep – as well as managing the cult members to keep them happy. How do you keep the Old Gods satisfied, you ask? Well, you have to choose someone to be sacrificed…including cult members’ family members. So far, the game sounds a bit like the end of Cabin in the Woods meets H.P Lovecraftian lore, and will deal with a mix of horror as well as interpersonal relationships between the cult members.
LVL 2: Creepiness Intensifies
One of my favorite parts of horror games is when they don’t rely so much on dialogue, music, or blatant jump scares to freak you out. And Year Walk fits that mold, relying on disturbing imagery, WTF moments, an overwhelmingly quiet atmosphere, and unsettling journal entries to create a creepy vibe.
This stunningly artistic psychological thriller borrows from Swedish folklore that you explore throughout the game as your protagonist, Daniel, prepares for his year walk – “an ancient divination that allows you to see the future.” The journey has you encounter multiple supernatural beings and puzzles that will leave you feeling like you’re going mad. Excellent artistic and horrific journey.
THIS GAME. If you liked Stranger Things or the vibe (and music) of It Follows, here’s your savior. In Oxenfree, you play Alex – a girl who brings her new step-brother to an overnight island party. The night goes pretty much as planned – campfires, teen drama, opening up a mysterious rift in a cave that starts causing time jumps, among other things…your typical weekend.
Playing this game once through is rad and a whole mix of crazy and creepy…but playing it a second time is kind of like staying at a movie until after the credits to get that bonus clip – there’s so much more.
If you liked X-Files, Fringe, and the whole part of E.T where the scientists capture E.T then chase after him in the forest, y’might dig this game.
In Inside, you play a boy running through the woods from masked guards. This chase takes you through the woods where you encounter everything from psycho pigs who are being controlled by brain parasites, to zombie people, to human experimentation and freaky water creatures that aren’t quite as glamorous as mermaids.
This artistic puzzle game is straight up stressful, will keep you scratching your head long after it’s over, and has a ton of horror elements that are creepy enough on their own, but when combined are just super dark and disturbing.
LVL 3: NOPE.
THIS GAME. I’ll be honest, I noped right on outta this one. This jump-scare game freaked me too much to even think about playing myself…so I figured, it’d be perfect for this part of the list. It involves creepy ghost (but are they?) children in the woods, a.k.a peace yo, I’m out.
This freakin’ game. Armed with only a candle for light, you explore a creepy, why-would-you-ever-go-in-there type forest where, legend has it, children go missing (and become straight up nightmares). You explore the forest by yourself when your friends leave you there, and try to solve the mystery behind this urban legend.
This survival horror game is especially creepy because it’s inspired by the true events of the “Dyatlov Pass incident” in 1959, where a group of nine ski hikers died under mysterious circumstances, something having made them tear out of their tents and try to flee with none of their cold wear gear. If the story isn’t creepy enough by itself, the video game it inspired might sway you otherwise. In Kholat, you start in the area where the tragedy took place, years later, trying to discover what really happened. A tense, slow burn of a survival game, Kholat is a cool game to explore with an equally interesting (and terrifying) backstory.
I know I keep saying it, but THIS. GAME. Five Nights at Freddy’s is the game that got me interested in the indie gaming world and a game so scary that it made me and a friend I barely knew into best friends after we discovered it together (true story).
If you haven’t experienced the first Five Nights at Freddy’s, it’s worth starting with that one first. The first game was a simple horror survival game, where you have to live through five nights of six hour shifts at a pizza parlor trying not to get murdered by psychotic animatronic robots roaming the place (like Chuck E. Cheese after dark, or so I’ve always imagined). But I recommend the fourth game in particular, because it’s in this game that you learn the backstory of why these killer robots are, well, killer robots. It’s the saddest, darkest story told in an amazingly effective yet simple way, and it blew my mind.
And in the last few weeks, Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Sister Location was just dropped, which is apparently even darker and more disturbing, while still delivering the FNAF scares.
Super similar gameplay to Five Nights at Freddy’s, but uniquely terrifying in its own right. FNAF was scary, but this game had me sleeping with the lights on. In Boogeyman, you play a little boy who just moved into a new house. You’re staying in what used to be a little girl’s room and find a note from her – instructions on how to survive from the creature that tries to get into your room in the darkness from the door, window, closet, or ceiling vent. The only thing that will keep it away? Your constant attention and the light from your flashlight…which you have to keep putting batteries in. If you can’t get enough of FNAF, Boogeyman is a nice next step.
Have some favorite indie horror games of your own that we left out? Let’s geek out about it in the comments!
Featured image is “The Pipe” by Nacho Diaz