In this article:
- Often working with a shoestring budget, indie horror games pull us in by carefully and meticulously luring us into a digital nightmare.
- Because great horror is built on great storytelling and atmosphere (rather than showy graphics or elaborate action), the creativity and innovation that indie developers use to stretch their limited budget mean some of the best games in the genre are indie horror games.
- These incredibly creepy indie horror games are some of the best examples of what indie developers can do with horror.
Horror is an amazingly accessible genre.
Okay, maybe not if you’re afraid of things that go bump in the night. But the lower production costs for media in the horror genre allow indie developers to produce high-quality games on a shoestring budget.
This phenomenon isn’t restricted to games either.
Horror movies can easily make several times what they spent in production. Just think of the original Paranormal Activity, filmed with home video cameras on a mere $15,000 budget and grossing a whopping $193.4 million in box office ticket sales.
So, what makes indie horror games so different from other genres? It largely comes down to the atmosphere. Few other genres rely as heavily on the environment and storytelling the way horror games do.
Fans of horror know the best horror isn’t the flashy stuff that waves bloody beheaded corpses in your face right off the bat. Great horror games take their time, luring you deeper and deeper into a digital nightmare that’s both stressful and exhilarating to experience.
Creepy is the name of the game and these indie horror games are some of the creepiest and most unique that you can play right now.
The Creepiest Indie Horror Games
Devotion is an indie horror game produced by Red Candle Games, a Taiwanese studio that you might recognize as the indie developer whose game got banned after players found an in-game asset that called Chinese President Xi Jinping a “Winnie the Pooh moron.”
The game takes inspiration from Hideo Kojima’s Silent Hill P.T.
Like many other horror games that came in the wake of P.T’s canceled release, Devotion is set entirely in a small indoor space. This time, it’s a small apartment in 1980s Taipei.
You play the role of Du Feng Yu, a screenplay writer down on his luck who struggles to support his ex-actress wife and ailing daughter. As you progress through the hallway of the Du family home, ending up at the front door once again to repeat it, the horrific tale of what truly happened to the Du family unravels.
Devotion relies on various objects in the apartment to tell its story, a lot like What Remains of Edith Finch and Gone Home.
It’s a tragic tale that, at its core, is a family drama with horror elements, largely in the form of a mysterious cult. For players of Asian descent, Devotion might be uncomfortably realistic. Honestly, that’s where most of the horror in this game lies.
Omori takes its name from “ひきこもり” or hikikomori.
If you’re not familiar with the term, a hikikomori is a person, often a man, who has withdrawn completely from society. Many hikikomori live in their rooms as eternal hermits and refuse to have contact with real people in the flesh.
Unsurprisingly, many hikikomori have serious mental health problems like anxiety, depression, or even schizophrenia.
As you might expect, Omori is an indie horror game inspired by the hikikomori phenomenon. In Omori, our player character has lived in a small white room for what he can only describe as “for as long as I can remember.”
The room, referred to as “White Space,” is a dull world of loneliness, making the world of “Headspace” more preferable. The game focuses on its psychological horror elements and comes complete with a less than reliable lead character and an unexpected double twist.
If you’ve seen Ano Hana: The Flower We Saw That Day, think of Omori as something like that if it were a full-blown horror movie.
3. The Open House
What’s so scary about real estate?
For one, there are rising real estate costs that make it near impossible to buy property unless you’re loaded or have rich parents. This makes it crucial to carefully consider your finances, particularly income flow and existing debt, before trying to buy a home.
Have you also thought about whether the house you’re looking at has a demonic entity trapped in it? No? Well, how do you plan to get rid of the bloodstains?
The Open House is a virtual tour of a regular suburban house located in 15615 Hollow Oak Lane. This normal house likely has a suspiciously cheap price tag. But who cares? This could be your ticket to homeownership.
Just sign for a 20-year lease plus the eternal servitude of your soul here and this cozy suburban home could be yours.
The indie horror game lets you explore the interior of your future home in the comfort of your current one. Navigate the hallways of The Open House with its 3D virtual walkthrough tour that shows you everything this beauty has to offer, from marble countertops to bloodstains on the bathroom mirror.
When playing this game, it’s best to keep your eyes peeled for the details.
4. The Missing Parts of Maria Gwozdek
Did your parents teach you the importance of not talking to strangers who are offering suspicious deals that will make your wish come true? How about being cautious around fae-like entities that only seem friendly?
If they didn’t, they weren’t superstitious enough.
Maria Gwozdek of The Missing Parts of Maria Gwozdek is just one of many poor adults who weren’t taught to fear the fae when they were children.
The titular character is a desperate woman down on her luck who meets a stranger that offers to fulfill any wish of hers in exchange for one of her organs. It’s less subtle than traditional fae tropes but at least you know what you’re signing up for.
The game comes in a visual novel format and plays out like a traditional folklore story.
Maria and the player both learn the dark side of ambition, the importance of maintaining social relationships with loved ones and being careful about what you wish for. Its striking visuals and gradual build-up over a 48-hour run time make the game a high-quality option for people looking to get a quick horror fix.
This indie horror game produced by u/xlomid as an entry for the Asylum Jam challenge, a gathering of game makers looking to make horror games that retain the eerie nature of older classics without reverting to harmful stereotypes about mental health.
The horror genre is (in)famous for portraying people with mental health problems as dangerous, blood-thirsty killers and mental health professionals as little more than torturers. The Missing Parts of Maria Gwozdek is free of both and ranked eighth in Innovation during the 2016 Asylum Jam Challenge.
You can learn more about the Asylum Jam challenge here. The game is available for download here.
Detention is another great indie horror game from Red Candle. Like Devotion, the game explores Taiwanese themes, only this time, it’s on a larger societal scale.
Unlike Devotion though, this atmospheric horror game is a 2D side scroller that has you explore Greenwood High School as Wei Chung-ting, a junior high school student who falls asleep in class and wakes up to see that the entire school has been abandoned due to a typhoon warning.
As he explores the school, Wei runs into Fand Ray-xin, a senior student, at the auditorium. It’s here where the horror really kicks off.
The game mixes fantastical elements of Taiwanese supernatural folklore with history to deliver a unique survival horror experience. Set in 1960s Taiwan, the game is as much about the White Terror period as it is about the spirits and monsters themselves.
The White Terror period is the name of a series of crackdowns on political dissent in Taiwan that involved 38 years of martial law during which the Kuomintang imprisoned Taiwanese intellectuals (including professors and students) who were accused of being communist spies or sympathizers.
There’s no good ending in Detention and the soldiers in the game are just as terrifying, if not more so than the ghosts.
When you hear a door creak in the middle of the night, do you ever wonder if it might be an intruder living in your house?
No? Well, it’s time to change that.
Hatch is a Japanese indie horror game where you’re forced to play cat and mouse with home invaders who want to kill you. The game uses a first-person perspective for exploring the house which adds an extra layer of tension and fear to the fact that the killer is literally in your house.
The game starts with you waking up in the morning to find that there’s a strange hatch in the middle of your room and you’re now completely cut off from the outside world. Escape isn’t an option and neither is fighting.
The game is made even more nerve-wracking by its survival horror approach that restricts you to hiding and setting up distraction tactics that let you lure the killers away and explore other areas of the house.
If you loved the original Outlast game or Amnesia: The Dark Descent, then Hatch is the P.T like game for you.
Hatch is available on itch.io through this link.
7. Therapy with Dr. Albert Krueger
Therapy with Dr. Albert Krueger is a neon pink and blue hellscape set in a therapist’s office.
You start the game as the protagonist, Taylor Lee. Lee is a 19-year-old college student attending dream therapy sessions with Dr. Albert Krueger, the CEO of Krueger Health Solutions Corporation. The company offers a new and highly effective mental health intervention for the psychologically troubled.
Taylor Lee’s rebellious personality has the game giving you two options: you can either cooperate with Dr. Krueger or you can start rebelling against him.
The dream therapy sessions in this indie horror game have you sit in Dr. Krueger’s office while he delivers a series of psychological tests to try and understand you better.
The psychological tests range from simple math problems to finding an object hidden under one of three red plastic cups. If you don’t have the patience to do basic arithmetic, this game isn’t for you.
While the tests are designed to give Dr. Krueger better insight into your mental state, they also give you clues for figuring out what’s wrong with the good doctor. It also has word choice mechanics reminiscent of Doki Doki Literature Club.
That said, the game can’t be any more different from DDLC. This indie horror game hardly has any of DDLC‘s explicitly gory visuals, making it the perfect game for people who like their games unsettling rather than horrifying.
The game can be downloaded here via itch.io.
It’s time to leave. This house hates you.
ANATOMY is an indie horror game developed by Kitty Horrorshow who’s best known for her atmospheric horror games that stretch the limits of the terrifying. Like the rest of Kitty Horrorshow’s games, ANATOMY leans into the rough visuals of early 3D horror video games.
ANATOMY gives you no characters to interact with, not even the one you play as.
You’re more of a body-less camera floating through the gloomy ether of this strange house as you collect voice tapes while your once familiar house twists into something more Lovecraftian than home.
ANATOMY makes home horrifying in a way that other horror games don’t. The house itself is the looming shadow that haunts the player.
With each new tape you find and no sign of life in sight, you’re left to wonder exactly who or what is talking to you through the tapes.
You can buy ANATOMY directly through Kitty Horrorshow’s site. If you enjoy ANATOMY, her other games, especially the Haunted Cities series, are worth checking out.
Having said that, ANATOMY and the rest of Kitty Horrorshow’s games are not for everyone and might not be to your tastes if you’re looking for a more traditional indie horror game experience.
If you love indie horror games, then there’s no way you haven’t played Doki Doki Literature Club. Why not pick it up again with fresh mods created by DDLC‘s fanbase? Check out these happy ending mods that let you save Sayori.