What makes a good horror game?
The more jump scares, zombies, blood and gore, the better? Definitely not in my book. A good horror game creates a nightmarish atmosphere that has me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire thing; the occasional jump scare or a pinch of blood ‘n’ guts are alright if they fit the setting, but definitely secondary. Some games don’t even need them to be scary! (Also, fuck zombies. Is there anything more boring than zombies?)
Ever since I played Silent Hill 2, I’m very picky when it comes to horror games. Its unique, bizarre weirdness, great storytelling and disturbing existential meta-level horror makes it my absolute favorite horror game in the world and I have yet to find anything that even remotely competes with it.
I love exploration, riddles and puzzles, but my attention span is too short for horror games that are solely about running and hiding from monsters. Let me explore! Let me fight if necessary! But don’t let me get too powerful so I’m no longer scared! … Wow, I’d probably make a horrible client.
Either way, it’s hard to find a good horror game among the vast amounts of indie games out there, so here’s a list of some great indie horror games I’ve played over the past year and thoroughly enjoyed.
Pamali: Indonesian Folklore Horror
Year of release: 2018
Developer: StoryTale Studios
Publisher: StoryTale Studios, Maple Whispering Limited
A fantastically atmospheric walking simulator about ghosts and other entities from Indonesian folklore. There’s four different folklores to explore, and it holds a lot of replay value because there are so, so many endings you can get.
My personal favorite folkore was “The Tied Corpse”; it was the first chapter I played, and I was sitting alone in the dark and nearly 🦀’d my pants 24/7 throughout the whole experience. “The White Lady” and “The Little Devil” were fantastically spooky as well. I’m personally not much of a fan of the newest chapter, “The Hungry Witch” because it’s extremely railroad-y, but it did have its moments.
I think what I love most about this game is that I, a European potato, am being confronted with unfamiliar customs, myths and horrors, which adds a lot of fear-of-the-unknown for me personally. I love this game dearly and absolutely recommend it!
Year of release: 2019
Developer: Stanislaw Truchowski
A circa one-hour long and very well-made game about a haunted apartment with different endings. You’re a curious young man who set himself on a mission to create photographic proof of the existence of the apartment’s ghostly inhabitant.
BOY did I jump a few times! The atmosphere is amazingly spooky and strange, and the game sure had me at the edge of my seat throughout the whole thing. I re-played it at least twice, just to try and collect everything needed to get to the different endings.
If you love exploring, solving riddles, and slow-paced horror games that rely on atmosphere and the occasional jump scare like I do, this game is for you!
No One Lives Under the Lighthouse
Year of release: 2020
Developer: Sowoke Entertainment Bureau
Publisher: Sowoke Entertainment Bureau
After the previous lighthouse keeper has gone missing, you take over his duties and watch after the light. A short and beautifully-made, super atmospheric horror game in retro-style PlayStation graphics.
The graphics and mechanics were such an awesome blast from the past! The developers succeeded at creating a wonderfully bleak and unsettling atmosphere that felt way more lovecraftian than most other Lovecraft-inspired games I’ve played so far.
This game is a beautiful example of how to make a game actually feel “lovecraftian”: Namely that it’s not about packing it with as many different Lovecraft monsters as possible and having the player fight them, but to actually make it slow-paced, atmospheric, bizarre, and only reveal as much information as needed in order to play with the player’s fear of the unknown.
A Place, Forbidden
Year of release: 2020
Developer: A Team Forbidden
Publisher: A Team Forbidden
A Place, Forbidden is a first-person, lo-fi horror-puzzle game set in the Library of Ouroboros, a seemingly innocuous library that, rumor has it, contains knowledge not meant for the eyes of mortal man. After reading a Steam user’s comment stating that this game basically plays in the same league as No One Lives Under the Lighthouse, I knew I had to play this!
It’s a short and beautifully made, very atmospheric game that gets weirder and weirder, relying on environmental storytelling and (non-obnoxious) puzzles and riddles in order to progress. The puzzles as well as some of the sounds gave me slight Silent Hill 1–2 vibes, which is just *chef’s kiss*
A Place, Forbidden is yet another beautiful example of a game that truly understands the meaning of “lovecraftian” and executes it well. The game is free on Steam, but if you’d like to donate, you can buy it for a price of your choice on itch.io!
Year of release: 2021
Developer: Stanislaw Truchowski
Depth 6 is the newest game from the maker of Suite 776, so I immediately knew I had to buy it! It’s about an hour long, is beautifully immersive and, like its predecessor, comes with several puzzles in order to achieve different endings and hence lots of replay value (if you dare).
You’re exploring an old mine that’s supposed to be cemented the next day in order to uncover the secrets within before they’re buried forever. There are six depths to descend, and once again you’re on a mission to take photos of anything unusual you encounter.
The underground tunnels didn’t feel as spooky to me as Suite 776, but boy did it make up for it by making me jump at least twice as much (much to the amusement of my husband)! Bonus: In case you have claustrophobia, you will probably love (and hate) this game even more. Once again, Truchowski made a fantastically goosebump-inducing choice of sounds and atmospheric soundscapes, and from now on I will never not have a shiver run down my spine if I hear a certain noise…
I hope you enjoyed this little ride through the lesser known ranks of Steam’s horror section and maybe found something that’s up your alley. Thanks for reading and have fun!