Six Spooky Indie Games to Get You in the Mood for Halloween
If your favourite facet of Halloween is getting into some spine-tingling horror, we've assemble a list of spooky indie games guaranteed to give you goosebumps.
October 24, 2023
Spooky season has returned, a time of ghosts and ghouls, flirting with lolly-based diabetes and getting into the spirit by bingeing all things horror. Generally the impulse is to line up a movie marathon of monsters and murderers, but why not mix a little interactivity into your goosebump-inducing genre consumption this year?
With horror being such a beloved creative territory there's a boundless wealth of frightening indie games around, but to help you dip your toe into the terrifying here's a list of six (aka 1/111th of the spookiest number possible) to try… if you dare.
Folk horror is not a genre that shows up much in the gaming world which seems to have an overwhelming preference for sci-fi scares and general supernatural gore. Swiss developers Hidden Fields decided to buck trends with Mundaun, a first-person exploration game rendered in hand-pencilled fashion.
You play as Curdin, a man visiting a small village in the alpine foothills to pay his post-funeral respects to his grandfather after the old man perished in a barn fire. Only problem is, grandpa's grave is empty.
As you delve into the mystery of what happened to gramps, you uncover a historical deal made under the duress of war that has cursed the village, and it's up to you to do something about it by poking around the town of Mundaun and its surrounds, speaking with its inhabitants, and indulging in some light puzzle solving. There's a pinch of survival horror mixed in too, so you'll need to manage limited ammo and weapons to deal with a variety of enemies, from animated straw men to undead soldiers.
The game's striking aesthetic lends an uneasy air that feeds excellently into the surreal, foreboding setting, steeped in a confluence of Christianity and Paganism. There's nothing else quite like it, so make sure you play with the lights off for the best experience.
Spookiness Rating: 7/10
If you've ever drawn a salary as a corporate wage slave, Yuppie Psycho is going to speak to you on another level. This survival horror game, developed by French/Spanish team Baroque Decay, puts you in the shoes of Brian Pasternack, a nervous young man on his first day at Sintracorp. His job? Kill the witch that has cursed the company for years.
You'll spend your time roaming the 10 floors of the company's headquarters, rendered in gloriously retro pixel art. Almost from the get-go, it's clear that something is deeply, deeply wrong. Most of your coworkers are slack jawed and dead eyed, responding with gibberish when you try to talk to them. Someone keeps painting messages on the wall in blood. There's a cemetery in the woods on the 8th floor, and a spider monster in the archives.
Alongside all of this standard horror, the game deftly mixes in the anxiety and imposter syndrome that accompanies starting a new job, as well as the existential despair that comes from mandatory motivational meetings, dealing with the spectrum of irritating co-workers and navigating the forced, two-faced jollity of a professional environment. With multiple endings based on choices you make, and even two vastly different paths to get to the end, it's a game you can pick up and play again and again.
Spookiness Rating: 6/10
WORLD OF HORROR
'A little bit of HP Lovecraft, a little bit of Junji Ito' is a great recipe for the vibe of a horror game. WORLD OF HORROR by Polish solo dev panstasz takes place at the cusp of the apocalypse. The Old Gods are awakening, panic and madness are spreading, and monsters are stalking the streets of Shiokawa, the small Japanese town where the action takes place.
The primary thrust of the game sees you investigating a series of strange occurrences. It's a roguelike, so the changing raft of cases means no two runs are exactly the same which gives the game great replayability. The turn-based combat leans towards the challenging side (hey, no one said the end of the world would be easy), but an RPG-esque upgrade system will help ease the stress of late-stage runs — provided you make smart choices. Plus it's primarily an adventure game, so if you fear fast-twitch gameplay there's nothing to worry about here... beyond everything else happening.
The Junji Ito inspiration comes through heavily in the lineup of monsters, mirroring the manga artist's off-putting creations in throwback 1-bit graphics that look like they came straight off the page. Fans of Japanese horror will definitely want to give this one a whirl.
Spookiness Rating: 9/10
Available on: PC/Mac, Console release coming October 26th
CRITTERS FOR SALE
Critters For Sale is weird, man. No other way to put it. Created by solo developer Sonoshee, this blend of point-and-click adventure and visual novel is a heady, paranoid time, as compelling as it is mildly repulsive.
Play through five nonlinear short stories linked by broad themes of good vs evil, time travel and black magic, with woozy, grainy 1-bit graphics that help to heighten the general feelings of discomfort and discombobulation.
Some feature multiple endings based on choices you make, which encourages multiple playthroughs supported by quality-of-life features that skip you to key story points so you don't have to start at the beginning every time. Others hide secrets that will only make sense once you've explored all the stories. Each tale comes from the perspective of a different character, so you're never quite able to find a stable narrative footing as you navigate between them, boosting your sense of unease.
It's a highly-advanced horror game that bucks the modern trend of blood and brutality for an ineffable surrealism, leaving an impression on you long after you've completed its twisted paths. The faint-of-heart need not apply.
Spookiness Rating: 9/10
Available on: PC
Oceans are terrifying. Out where the water is an almost-black blue, where anything could be lurking below... that's nightmare territory. This is the niche in which Dredge, by New Zealand's Black Salt Games, floats. You're a nameless fisherman, freshly arrived to the island town of Greater Marrow after a shipwreck left you with no memories. The mayor gives you a boat and a job as the community angler and off you go to complete missions for a variety of characters, some with more sinister motives than others.
The crux of the game is its day/night cycle. When the sun is up, you can roam the waves with relative impunity. Once the dark arrives your panic metre starts to fill, which can lead to reality-altering hallucinations and death if you push your luck. That's not to mention the sea monsters that inhabit the archipelagos you'll visit, which will have you navigating coastlines in frenzied fear, searching for escape.
Mix all the above with a raft of compelling gameplay mechanics, such as a variety of fishing mini-games, the Tetris-like cargo management system and 128 different types of fish to catch and catalogue, and you've got an experience will truly hook you in.
Spookiness Raiting: 6/10
LITTLE NIGHTMARES II
The decision to include a sequel over the original game took a lot of soul searching. But ultimately, since the focus here is spooks and scares, Little Nightmares II takes the cake (it's also technically a prequel, but let's not get bogged down in details here).
Developed by Swedish team Tarsier Studios, Little Nightmares II is a 2.5D puzzle platformer that is packed with peril. You're Mono, a young boy in a paper bag mask who, along with a mysterious young girl as a sidekick, must make your way through the decrepit, dank Pale City to uncover what lies inside the Signal Tower at its heart. Along the way you'll have a lot to deal with, such as the television-addicted inhabitants who fly into an incoherent rage if you sever their connection to the cathode ray tube.
The strength of the game lies in its set pieces, each of which is a polished jewel of terror. Talk to anyone who has played Little Nightmares II previously and they can wax lyrical about the School, the Hospital, or the end sequence, which features a twist that will slap a gasp out of you. The character design is also outstanding, with the adult inhabitants of the world represented as twisted grotesqueries, exactly what you'd expect from the point of view of a child.
With a gameplay loop centred on dying, learning and dying again, and an atmosphere that will keep your anxiety levels at a roiling boil, Little Nightmares II is a key addition to the game library of any horror fan.
Spookiness Rating: 8/10
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