Horrors are some of the most popular genres of fiction in video games, and often quite versatile both in settings and in gameplay. From fantasy to science fiction, and from survival to card game, horror games comes in all shapes and size, especially in the indie sphere, where it’s just the developers’ ideas that dictate the shape of the game.
Below you’ll find 15 horror games either fully indie, or nominally helped along by an external publisher. Either way, you’re in for a spooky ride through creative scares, imaginative solutions, and just plain unsettling weirdness. Gaze upon the nightmares of…
|Lone Survivor The Directors Cut||2012-04-23||Adventure||Jasper Byrne||22%|
|Slender The Arrival||2013-10-28||Adventure||Blue Isle Studios||18%|
|Amnesia The Dark Descent||2010-09-08||Adventure||Frictional Games||71%|
|The Forest||2018-04-30||Adventure||Endnight Games Ltd|
|Little Nightmares||2017-04-27||Adventure||Tarsier Studios||80%|
|Little Nightmares II||2021-02-11||Puzzle||Tarsier Studios||70%|
|Darkwood||2017-07-17||Adventure||Acid Wizard Studio||81%|
|Outlast - Whistleblower||2014-05-06||Adventure||Red Barrels||68%|
|Outlast 2||2017-04-25||Adventure||Red Barrels||88%|
|Observer||2017-08-15||Adventure||Bloober Team SA||93%|
|Inscryption||2021-10-19||Horror||Daniel Mullins Games||33%|
|Layers Of Fear||2016-02-15||Adventure||Bloober Team SA||87%|
|Layers of Fear: Inheritance||2016-08-02||Adventure||Bloober Team SA||7%|
|Layers Of Fear 2||2019-05-28||Adventure||Bloober Team SA||24%|
|Bendy and the Ink Machine||2017-04-27||Indie||Kindly Beast||29%|
Created by one developer, Jasper Byrne, Lone Survivor is a game of post-apocalyptic survival and hallucinatory horror. The game takes place in the aftermath of a plague which turned most of the population into zombies and follows a lone man struggling to keep his sanity and gather supplies necessary for survival. There are even multiple endings based on your in-game choices.
The main character’s descent into madness is a leading theme in the game, but there’s also no shortage of monster encounters you’ll need to get through somehow. Despite its age (the Director’s Cut came out in 2012) it remains a very interesting, well-written, tense story about sanity and surviving against all odds.
Slender: The Arrival
|Developer:||Blue Isle Studios|
Inspired by the famous, creepy creation of the SomethingAwful forums, Slender: The Arrival pits you, helpless mortal, against a tall, slim, shady figure with no face. You are trying to figure out what happened at the house of your childhood friend, but on your path to knowledge stand supernatural phenomena, most of them quite eager to stop you dead in your tracks.
You can’t even count on a weapon to save you, the only defenses you have are a flashlight and certain monsters’ distaste for light. There are several large locations, usually expecting the play to complete an environmental puzzle or discover a clue, while chased and pestered by a monstrous presence. Slender: The Arrival uses the famous cryptid to a great effect.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Amnesia: The Dark Descent, despite it being over a decade old, it remains one of the best first-person perspective horrors. The game takes place in the 19th century and follows an amnesiac young man inexplicably finding himself in the shadowy halls of a Prussian castle. Unfortunately, there’s no sightseeing involved, since the castle is haunted by a shadowy, sanity-threatening presence.
Sanity is a crucial element of the game, and it decreased if you spend too much time in darkness. The story itself involves archaeology, weird magic, and other dimensions, mixing a measure of science fiction with Gothic horror in interesting proportions. Amnesia grew beyond The Dark Descent with conceptual successors, such as Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and Amnesia: Rebirth.
|Developer:||Endnight Games Ltd|
Taking a detour from Gothic castles and remnants of society, The Forest is a horror story set in a jungle. As Eric Leblanc, a survivor of a plane crash, you’ll have to not only survive in a hostile environment, but also defend against mutated cultists, and find your kidnapped son. There’s a lot on Eric’s plate and the game does a great job creating an oppressive atmosphere.
The Forest also puts a new spin on the „survival” part of survival horror genre, featuring a robust crafting system, as well as features such as hunger and thirst you need to manage in addition to trying to follow the storyline. There are also two different endings, decided by a choice made late in the story, defining the kind of person you want Eric to be.
Little Nightmares is a game a giant ship controlled by grotesque adults who are like giants compared to Six, the game’s protagonist. The 9-year-old girl has to not only escape from the weird ship catering to cannibalistic taste of its guests, but also use the environment to hide from the hungry, violent grownups. But there’s more to be worried about than just the adults, Six has some problem of her own…
Little Nightmare is a 2.5D puzzle-platform game focused mostly on stealth and using the environment to hide from and, occasionally, to actively defend against the adults. Little Nightmares looks gorgeous, with excellent location and character design, presenting a caricatural, exaggerated world, and a horror presented from a child’s perspective is interesting and properly spooky.
|Developer:||Acid Wizard Studio|
Darkwood is a top-down horror game with lo-fi graphics, following mostly a man who seeks a way out of a mysterious forest which appeared somewhere in the Soviet Bloc in the 1980s. Thanks to clever use of lines of sight, darkness, and sound design Darkwood manages to create an incredible atmosphere and an immersive semi-open world filled with intriguing NPCs and mortifying monsters.
Darkwood uses a day/night cycle to a great effect, forcing the player to keep going and prepare for the night, when monsters tend to come out in greater, and hungrier, numbers. The good side is that surviving has more benefits than just your continuing existence, the bad side is that there are monsters coming for you, and you might not be ready to deal with them.
Mike Upshur, a journalist, receives an anonymous tip about weird things taking place in a local private psychiatric hospital and goes to investigate. It doesn’t take long before he becomes aware of a horrific invisible presence stalking the place, as well as very visible, and very violent people affected by the mysterious creature and whatever experiments were done on them.
Outlast’s most distinguishing feature is the use of a camcorder as a vital element of gameplay. Especially the night vision is going to come in handy, as long as you have the batteries to spare. Unfortunately, you’re a journalist not a fighter, so your only defense is to run or hide, because you can do nothing when a violent cannibal or an invisible force finds you.
If you’re keener on Asian horror traditions, you might want to give Detention a look. Set in the 1960s’ Taiwan, the game’s story takes place in a high school stalked by dangerous supernatural creatures. It won’t take long before you start uncovering the dark secrets of the school, assuming you live long enough.
Detention is a 2D point and click side-scrolling game benefitting from a great art style truly selling the grim, horrific reality of the haunted school. Set in a troubled period of Taiwan’s history and in a school which had its own share of interpersonal issues, Detention is an excellent ghost story and a great horror-adventure game.
The motif of investigating a strange, gloomy house in the middle of nowhere will never stop producing immersive, engaging horror stories. Visage fully embraces the idea, and, taking it’s inspirations from the famous demo of P.T. puts you in a spatially confusing house plagued by supernatural phenomena.
In Visage we’re playing as a man called Dwayne Anderson, who’s locked in his house and has to investigate the tragedies which happened there in the past, including his own. Murders, betrayals, and addiction riddle the house’s story, and you need to get to the bottom of this, despite the nightmares still haunting the place, eager to prevent you from finding the clues.
Featuring a child protagonist, a monochromatic aesthetic, and based on puzzles and platforming, Inside might strike you as cute. But it’s not cute. It’s a dark, violent game and you’ll the child you’re controlling die more times than you’d be willing to admit, and things get worse for the kid the further you get in. However,’ it’s also a very good, engaging, tense experience worth giving a shot.
The game relies a lot on environmental puzzles, often with the backdrop of a weird, dystopian world. Mind-controlled masses, scientists doing bizarre experiments, and armed soldiers are common sights. There are also weird creatures which defy classification but would very much like to eat you. Inside relies a lot on minimalist storytelling, based mostly on evocative scenes and locations.
|Developer:||Bloober Team SA|
Observer is set in a grim future of 2084 after the world was ravaged by a nanotechnological plague. The game takes place in Kraków of 2084, after a deadly nanoplague and a war ravaged the world a d Chiron corporation took over Polish government. You play as Daniel Lazarski, an investigator able to plug into people brains to solve crimes and maintain control of the populace.
The story kicks off when Daniel gets a tin from a family member, pointing him towards a headless corpse in a tenement building. What follows is a first-person cyberpunk murder mystery revolving around conversations, searching for clues, and using Daniel’s augmented vision to see beyond what’s immediately visible. There are no active threats, but the atmosphere is enough to make you afraid.
|Developer:||Daniel Mullins Games|
A surprise spooky hit of 2021, Inscription mixes a card game with a rogue-like and an escape room. It’s quite a mix, but it works exceptionally well, and the story told is good enough and surprising enough not to be spoiled here. There is a reason Inscryption was widely hailed as one of the best games of the year.
The genre-bending, 4th wall-breaking nature of Inscryption shouldn’t be surprising, given the fact that it was made by the creator of Pony Island, a game where nothing is what it seems. The nature of Inscryption’s gameplay changes from act to act as you get deeper into the story, so even discussing that is a spoiler. Just know that someone is always watching, baiting you with hope.
A different science fiction horror, this time taking place deep beneath the ocean in a research facility. As Simon Janett, a man who had his mind scanned in 2015 you’ll have to figure out what you’re doing in year 2104 and what happened in the weirdly deserted underwater complex. The themes of isolation and being a fish-out-of-water build a lot of Soma’s claustrophobic atmosphere.
Soma also touches on transhumanism, not only through the player character’s mind transference, but also certain elements of the story you’ll be better off discovering yourself. Soma is dark, tense, and the mystery of what happened to the staff of this place is as fascinating as it is unsettling, contributing greatly to the game’s psychological horror nature.
Layers of Fear
|Developer:||Bloober Team SA|
Layers of Fear is an exploration of a Victorian mansion, viewed through the eyes of a mentally unwell artist. It’s never clear whether the warping environment is real, or just a reflection of the painter’s mental state affected by his own traumas and the dark history he shares with the mansion. Over time you’ll begin to piece together the true story and make choices which affect the artist ultimate fate.
The painter’s story from the base game is further expanded by the Inheritance DLC, which follows his daughter. She comes back to the mansion after many years to face her family’s past. The complete story of the family is dark, unsettling, and tragic. Layers of Fear masterfully creates a disturbing atmosphere where you can never 100% trust your senses.
Bendy and the Ink Machine
Bendy and the Ink Machine takes place in the 1960s and puts you in the shoes of an ex-animator Henry Stein who returns to his old workplace, summoned by a mysterious letter. Once there, he finds that things have gone very wrong, and old-timey cartoon creatures not only gained 3D bodies, but also malevolent sentience thanks to the titular Ink Machine.
The game has an episodic nature, with five parts of the story exploring what occult machinations happened at Henry’s old workplace. Unlike many other games on this list, in Bendy and the Ink Machine you have some means of defending yourself, but much of the game is based on solving puzzles. The game has a very distinctive aesthetic, inspired by old cartoons, which creates a unique atmosphere.
Stay out of the dark
This concludes our list of indie horror games you should absolutely put on your radar if you’ve already beaten all big horrors like Resident Evil and seek something else. From forest to cyberpunk cities, horrors and nightmares lurk in every shadow.
Hopefully you’ve found something that sparked your interest and you’re ready to get scared.