Halloween is just around the corner and what better way to celebrate it than with some spooky horror games? I've been a big fan of Halloween since a kid and have been playing a variety of horror games on Twitch the last couple of years, with a heavy focus on them during October. Thus I wanted to share with you my 5 top pick of indie horror games! However, I will not add some great well-known titles such as Layers of Fear, Amnesia or Outlast due to them already being classic horror games and the goal of this article is to introduce something new to the table. Also, I haven't played every single horror game out there and some are not included because of that (such as Devotion and Home Sweet Home).
When I compiled this list I took several things into consideration and will add ratings reflecting these aspects:
- Scare factor - This one is given, I think. This is my biased opinion and they are rated in comparison with what I've experienced so far.
- Gameplay - How smooth the gameplay is
- Story - Is there any deeper story or just something to justify all them scares?
More aspects could definitely be considered, but don't want to write a long, tedious, novel! Without further ado, here are my top picks for indie horror games:
Publisher: SKH Apps
Release date: 29th of February 2019
Genre: Co-op puzzle haunted house fun times?
Price: 3.99€ Steam
On fifth place comes the only multiplayer game on this list, which might also be part of the reason why it's actually on the list too! You can choose to play solo or together with up to 3 other unforunate souls, in either co-op mode or PVP. If you play solo, which is most of my personal experience of the game, it will be a whole LOT more difficult and scary... So beware!
The game takes place in a house which you and your comrades, for some reason, are set to investigate. This is not just any house though, but one of those happy houses haunted by a happy little not-at-all-creepy ghost girl! After a short time in the house it becomes clear that it was a very bad idea to enter and the goal is set to simply escape. But, it's not as easy as just running towards the exit and pray to any eventual diety that you get out safe and sound. You have to solve puzzles, with tools such as dolls, matches and keys... And keep a constant eye out for that happy little girl, because if she detects you she will politely ask you to join her games and you will politely not want to participate in that. One advice, do read the notes you find... It will make everything much easier!
What I really like with this game is that it is a scary game to play with friends, but it's not like many other scarier multiplayer games such as Dead by Daylight which is basically a hide-and-seek game set on a pretty big map. Sure, there is a bit of hide-and-seek in Pacify too, but how you get out is a bit different (and pretty hard to nail, especially solo) and the map is not very big... It's just a house after all. It is also really fricking scary, much more so than Dead by Daylight. I'm pretty sure I browned my pants at one point while playing... It's also not a very expensive games and considering how many hours you can spend with it (it's quite replayable) I really think it is the game with the best price vs play hours on this list! If you and your friends enjoy some spooks, preferably as a team, I can warmly recommend giving this gem a spin.
Score: Scare factor - 8/10, Gameplay 8/10, Story 5/10
Publisher: Honor Code, Inc
Release date: 28th of March 2017
Genre: First person survival, horror
Price: 12.49€ Steam
You are an industrial diver about to do everyday work on the bottom of the sea... And about to experience the absolute worst work day of your life. You put on your dive suit, doing your normal routine... Only this time something goes awfully wrong and you are left alone in your half-ton, high-tech dive suit described as a "walking coffin", trying to get back to your base and figure out what exactly happened. And whether anyone else survived. All this while carefully monitoring your oxygen level and defending yourself against hostile creatures. The sea hides many beautiful beings, but also lethal dangers. Navigation is slow in that heavy suit, your tools are few and the depth is very, very dark... You need to be clever in order to survive and return to the surface.
Narcosis features many familiar horror game concepts, such as the oxygen/sanity level which can be somewhat compared to the light source mechanism in games like Amnesia. The oxygen level will naturally deplete with time and you will need to find refills in order to not suffocate and die. Additionally, if you encounter hostiles or experience horrors it will start depleting more rapidly due to the protagnist breathing more rapidly (as you might expect a stressed person to do). I personally think this is a nice and realistic detail and makes the game feel more real. There are a couple of jump scares, but not that many, and some horrifying events that will increase that spook factor with quite a few notches. It's about as scary as SOMA, mostly relying on atmosphere and sounds to provide the horror elements (but not only). The suit is really clunky to steer, which bothered me at times, but also added to the overall claustrophobic atmosphere of the game. Yes, you do a whole lot of exploration in the deep vast sea and yet you feel trapped and smothered due to this suit. I did read that some people found the graphics outdated, but I didn't think so myself and thought the game was realistic and at times really beautiful. Fantastic soundtrack to increase that abyssal ambiance too!
The whole concept of Narcosis is to get a glimpse into how traumatic it would be to be put into a situation like the one the protagonist experiences. How he reacts to the events and surroundings feel realistic, most of the time. His desperation to find someone, anyone, increases the sense of despair and loneliness... And the constant fear of what lurks in the dark, but also in his own mind. The fight for survival is not just to survive foes but also to keep sane and not fall into utter despair. It also features some really nice plot twists that left me bamboozled for days! I really do hope that the protagonist got a BIG glass of some good whisky after his adventure. I definitely enjoyed my play through of the game and want to thank the developers who kindly offered a key to it!
Score: Scare factor - 6.5/10, Gameplay 7/10, Story 8/10
3. Apsulov: End of Gods
Publisher: Angry Demon Studio
Release date: 8th of August 2019
Genre: Future viking horror
Price: 16.79€ Steam
When I first saw a trailer of Apsulov I thought it looked a little bit like Alien:Isolation, and me being a huge fan of the latter just had to check it up some more. It is described as a first person dark adventure/horror game where Norse mythology is mixed with sci-fi! At least I thought that sounded pretty cool, not that I had any idea whatsoever just how these developers planned to intertwine these concepts.
Just like a lot of other games, especially horror focused ones, you wake up without having a slightest idea as of who you are, where you are or when you are... However, it really does sound like you are in deep need of some water and perhaps a mint! Unlike Pacify where you choose to investigate a haunted house (bad idea), in Apsulov you for some reason wake up in the middle of this nightmare and thus we cannot really blame her for having bad survival instincts by entering obviously bad places! At first it looks like the game takes place in some sort of space station, hence the Alien: Isolation vibes, but is actually some kind of underground science center. Humanity was digging deep into the ground on a quest to find Norse artifacts, but something went wrong and the result was chaos and suffering. The protagonist's personal quest is to explore this underground facility and figure out her place in all of this. But, her surroundings are very dark and in the darkness lurks less friendly entities...
There has been quite the evolution since the studio's previous titles, Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn. The graphics are fantastic, including the human models, and the gameplay is really smooth even though it introduces more complex elements versus the older game. Just like in Unforgiving, there is voice acting and I suspect they have the same voice actors for the Swedish and English language options... Partly due to the pretty obvious Swedish accent for some of the characters. One thing that I did miss in Apsulov is the choice of having one spoken language and another as subtitles. It's a very minor thing though.
What is scary in Apsulov is, mostly, the atmosphere, the plentiful amount of hostiles, and the overall darkness of the environment... There aren't that many jump scares and the ones I encountered did make me almost fly off the chair! Pretty good ones! The environment is pretty dang dark, but you do have a kind of special vision that will make navigation possible in dark places (and find hidden things!). Some cut scenes are pretty creepy and/or gory, so do keep that in mind if you decide to try this game out! I don't think this game is near as scary as Alien: Isolation, would put it on a similar level as Dead Space, but it doesn't make the experience any less enjoyable. In fact, I had a hard time putting this game down and started it right after finishing Blair Witch! There are plenty of puzzles, some more complex than others and the mythological lore is brilliantly woven into the story line. As you may have noticed there are many familiar concepts from other horror games in here, but the developers have also included their own unique twists and turns of things! Once again I feel like I could write so much about my experience of this game, but this article is not supposed to go in depth about the games mentioned and thus I have to stop! Seriously, if you're into horror games, JUST PLAY THIS!
I truly enjoyed this game, not just as a horror game but as a game in general, and am proud of what the studio has achieved! Well done and thank you for providing me with keys for your games
Score: Scare factor - 7/10, Gameplay 9/10, Story 8/10
Publisher: Frictional Games
Release date: 22nd of September 2015
Genre: Sci-fi horror
Price: 27.99€ Steam (heavily discounted during sales)
On second place is my favourite horror game of all time, SOMA. I played it for the first time a few months after it's release and despite this being a couple of years ago by now and having played many horror games since, it is still my absolute favourite. Not because of the horror factor, it might be the least scary one on the list, but because of the amazing story! That's right, a horror game featuring a deep and thought provoking story! How odd! While Narcosis explores how a traumatic event can affect a human, SOMA explores what it means to actually BE human. Also, the game tackles this topic in an absolutely brilliant fashion!
The game was developed by Frictional Games, also known for their masterpieces Penumbra and Amnesia (which in a way made horror games popular again). There are some elements to the game which are very similar to their previous titles, such as monster chasing scenes and the mechanics of the hostiles. A huge difference is the focus on figuring out what has happened to you and the location you are currently on, instead of focusing on scaring the living crap of you (there are some occurrences of that too, of course, but not that many in my opinion). I sincerely wish the worst to a certain Akers.
It is still really scary, with many dark areas and terrifying sound effects! The areas you discover are also vastly different from those of Amnesia, parts are inside of a science center (ish?) and parts are taking place in the deep sea, while in Amnesia you are stuck in a big mansion. I have to mention that I found the sea levels absolutely gorgeous while playing, really beautifully done! While playing Narcosis and Subnautica I did get flashbacks to the sea parts of SOMA, which makes me think that these games took some inspiration from SOMA for their own sea levels. Might be wrong though! Still, fantastically done. The soundtrack to SOMA is also absolutely amazing and have been adding my favourite tracks to my "work mode" Spotify-list, game music is fantastic in the background while coding.
As previously mentioned, I do think that the story is what makes SOMA unique and where it's absolutely brilliant. The journey that the protagonist makes, the characters he encounters (and the fates of various people in the world) and the difficult choices he has to make are all so fantastically well done that it left me slightly traumatized. But, just slightly. It's amazing how real the characters feel, partly due to excellent voice acting and how affected I got by the events. In order to progress in the game you have to solve puzzles and use stealth to avoid threats, in classical Frictional Games manners, but you also have to make choices that will affect those you've encountered. Some of these choices left a very bitter taste in my mouth and some might have also produced a tear or two. It is a very heavy game and as such might night be suitable for all, it is also a pretty scary game even though it's not on the same level as Outlast or Amnesia. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic experience to get through and might pick up again in the future!
Ps. I really want something new from the studio! It's been 4 years, please give us some new horror game Frictional!
Score: Scare factor - 6/10, Gameplay 9/10, Story 10/10
1. Visage (Early Access)
Publisher: SadSquare Studio
Release date: 2nd of October 2018 (first EA chapter)
Genre: Psychological horror
Price: 20.99€ Visage on Steam
On the first place is what I personally think is a spiritual successor of the infamous PT and despite it being still in early access, with just two chapters released, it is one of the scariest gaming experiences you can get! Oh boy, how I screamed while playing this masterpiece! Thus, make sure you bring extra pants if you decide to give this game a try and remember that it is not for the faint-hearted. Also, keep in mind that it is still in early access and you might detect a few pesky bugs along the ride!
Visage is a PT-inspired horror game taking place in a very old, seemingly haunted, house. Many families have lived here in the past and while many families lived there in peace, some faced a horrible fate. You are Dwayne (a little unclear so might be false) and for some unknown reason you decide to live in this, ill-rumored, house. Maybe Dwayne is there to investigate paranormal activities? Maybe he got a secret death wish? Who knows?! At least I would never even set a foot inside a house like this, because I very much enjoy living. Dwayne will quickly discover that there is definitely something, or someone, haunting the house and some of the inhabitants of the past will pay him a visit...
In some ways, Visage reminds me of another PT-inspired indie game - Layers of Fear. Just like Layers of Fear, it features a super realistic looking house that will sometimes change appearance as the stories progress. There will be some jump scare scripted scenes, but they are few and far in between. It's a bit more focused on puzzle solving compared to Layers of Fear and we are not investigating the fate of just one family, but several, and they are split up in chapters that you unlock in different ways. The chapters themselves differentiate quite a bit from each other as well. For example, Lucy's chapter is following a rather linear path, classic horror game style, while Dolores's is less so and much more focused on puzzles.
What is unique with Visage is the random events that will occur throughout the game, they can be things such as suddenly switching off the lights or a little peek-a-bo of a previous inhabitant... During one play through you will not experience all of these events and thus every play through will be a bit unique. This in combination with the fantastically eerie music and sound effects, the realism of the environment and the super creepy stories are what really made utterly terrified as I was playing through the 2 released chapters. I can't even described in words just how scary I found this! If you're looking for a game that might scare you beyond imagination, then this game is certainly for you!
Score: Scare factor - 9.5/10, Gameplay 7/10, Story 7/10