So what if it’s April? There’s never a bad time to indulge in spine-tingles. Thanks to the miracle of Steam for PC, you already have one of the best horror game libraries at your desktop (and disposal). Here is a rundown of a few truly exemplary, independently-made titles currently available, in no particular order.
Just don’t play them while you’re home alone at night.
Neverending Nightmares is an independent horror game created by Matt Gilgenbach. Visually told in a gorgeous black-and-white, 2D art style, the game puts you in control of Thomas, as he is awoken by a terrible dream. Deciding that living through his nightmare, in which he murders his sister, isn’t enough, Thomas sets out to explore this mysterious house, and the game’s quality quickly escalates from there.
The imagery in Neverending Nightmares is intense, to say the least. The game’s anxious and disturbing sequences were inspired by Gilgenbach’s personal battle with depression and OCD. As such, what you’ll often see are set pieces that don’t feel “designed” to scare. Rather they feel like organic nerves, things that are primal and sometimes presented without context.
Regardless, Neverending Nightmares is a beautifully told narrative about a very personal kind of horror, the internal kind you can’t escape.
Have you heard of Amnesia: The Dark Descent? Video personalities locked onto Amnesia upon its release, streaming their play-throughs and making YouTube stars like PewDiePie into household names. After the success of Amnesia, developers Frictional Games regrouped to craft their newest title, SOMA. Rather than give fans a direct sequel, or more of the same aesthetic, Frictional Games chose to use their newfound success and resources to build a bigger, and more intense experience. SOMA, as a result, is triumphant.
Completely forgoing the Gothic horror setting of Amnesia, SOMA takes place in a sci-fi, underwater lab in the near future. No Apple clean-lines and glowing interfaces here, though. The future according to SOMA is rugged and industrial; in some scenes it recalls the Nostromo from Alien.
The best thing about the whole experience? Frictional Games doesn’t rest on its laurels. While the same “no-weapons” rule holds true for both its games, SOMA tackles heady subjects and existential philosophies of A.I. But SOMA’s crowning achievement, the art and atmosphere, making it one of the most stressful, knuckle-whitening games on the market.
Fran Bow is visually reminiscent of early Tim Burton films and classic Alice in Wonderland concept art, but it does NOT resemble Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, if that makes any sense.
Fran is a recently orphaned girl placed in the custody of a mental institution. Naturally, as a resourceful young woman, Fran escapes and is greeted by the strange quest to find her way back to her family.
Fran Bow is a delirious adventure through the shifting landscapes of Fran’s medication. Fran herself is a charming protagonist who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the terrifying monsters she encounters. Don’t let some of the imagery fool you. Fran Bow is a gruesome little game with plenty of shock value. If you’re looking for a game that is as delightful to play as it is scary to witness, consider Fran Bow.
Year Walk will lure you in with its simple animation style and gorgeously unsettling soundtrack. Make no mistake: the Swedish developers Simogo have molded one truly harrowing experience.
Taking place in the wilds of Sweden, the premise is inspired by the old Swedish practice of Årsgång, or “Year Walk”. A sort of vision quest, the year walker is visited by all sorts of supernatural terrors, and this is what happens to the protagonist, Daniel. Swedish folklore has never been so terrifying as in this striking little game. With fantastic visuals, and lush orchestral scores, Year Walk will surprise many players with its deceptively black heart.
From a small team in South Africa comes Stasis, a game that looks better than most big-budget games. Funded by Kickstarter, Brotherhood Games set out to prove their horror chops by creating a sprawling, industrial nightmare.
On a sinister-looking, massive transport spaceship called “The Groomlake”, protagonist John wakes up wounded and afraid. With no memory of landing on this spaceship, or the location of his wife and daughter, John sets out to uncover the mystery of his family’s abduction.
This is a classic science-horror game. Mutants aboard a terrifying spaceship and devilish environmental puzzles that will kill you upon failure. Stasis is a throwback to a very old-school sort of horror game, one that appreciates the spectacle of a grisly death animation.
Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut
As far as survival-horror is concerned, the genre is built right into Lone Survivor’s name. Playing a character who might possibly be the last human on Earth, Lone Survivor pits you against an entire world of grotesque mutants. Think of it as 2D Silent Hill.
Lone Survivor features a purposefully clumsy shooting mechanic, limited resources, and the constant threat of hunger. The stress of trying to keep yourself nourished while trying to outrun monsters, both real and psychological, makes Lone Survivor a game for those who enjoy a good challenge. Be warned: the odds of survival are stacked against you.
Oxenfree is a charming indie game by Night School Studios. It follows a group of teenagers as they venture to a mysterious island. The protagonist, Alex is a down-to-earth girl trying to overcome the recent loss of her brother, on the island with her friends and new step-brother, Jonas.
More about the relationships between friends, Oxenfree is arguably the least traditionally horrific game on the list. However, a few innovative choices in the interactive design, and audio distortions through the radio makes Oxenfree quite unnerving. Oxenfree can easily serve as a fantastically eerie palate cleanser, for the gamer burnt out on gore and mayhem.