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Much like just about every gamer out there, I’m as susceptible to good marketing and the bellowing of a conductor asking me to promptly board the hype train.
This means that I play as many AAA games as the next person, but primarily I like to dedicate most of my gaming hours to indie titles, and that is no different when referring to the horror genre.
For the best part of a decade there, up until about Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, AAA horrors had died a death, and indie horror titles were about the only thing keeping the genre alive.
Thankfully that isn’t so much the case anymore, but even with this burden lifted from plucky developers, the indie scene is still a hotbed for interesting and terrifying horror titles. So much so that I bet you’ve let a few slip right past you.
Well, don’t worry about that, because that’s what I’m here for. I have a list of some of the best indie horror offerings of recent memory, mixing some pretty prominent indie horrors with some real deep cuts for the true horror aficionados. So strap in; this is Ready Game Survive’s Indie Horror Gems You Need To Try!
Before we begin, time to lay down some ground rules. We’ll create some hoops to jump through, ensuring that our picks are the best fit for this indie horror showcase. Here are the criteria we went with:
- All games must be indie titles (duh)
- All games must have received an aggregate Metacritic score of 65% or higher
- All games must be in the horror, or survival horror genre
- We will do our best to avoid low-hanging fruit and show off some real hidden gems
- We will be working from entry-level horror, right up to straight-up nightmare fuel, ensuring there is something for everyone.
Okay, on with the show. Hidden horror gems, reveal yourself!
#1 – Killer Frequency
- Developer: Team17
- Metacritic Score: 75% (Based on available reviews)
Let’s kick things off with a pretty recent one that plays homage to old cheesy slasher movies from the eighties.
Killer Frequency sees you step into the shoes of a big-time radio DJ that has lost his role of a lifetime in Chicago and is now slumming it in some backwater town in middle America.
It all seems pretty chill as you work the graveyard shift until you receive a call on the air from the local sheriff.
It turns out a masked assailant is at large, and their partner has been killed, so they need to drive to the nearest town to get back up. The only problem is they need someone to man the 911 phone line, and you’re the most qualified person to do that in this tiny little town.
This leads to a night of crazy calls where you must help the townsfolk evade the serial killer, keep your composure in the eerie radio station, and eventually find a way to evade the clutches of The Whistling Man.
I’ll admit, it’s a little bit cheesy and slapstick by horror standards, but for someone looking for entry-level horror, this is a great option.
#2 – Bramble: The Mountain King
- Developer: Dimfrost
- Metacritic Score: 88% (Based on User score)
I could have easily stuck LIMBO, INSIDE, or Little Nightmares in here, but pretty much everyone knows of those games by now.
So what about a game that follows this same format but uses the mythology within Grimm’s fairytales to tell a very dark and sinister story indeed.
Bramble: The Mountain King is a 3D puzzle platformer that offers a handful of famous fairytales with a dark and horrifying twist.
You’ll begin your adventure strolling through luscious fields of sunkissed foliage, but before long, the facade will drop, and you’ll be knee-deep in guts and entrails, avoiding terrifying beasts, and watching as your innocent player character becomes a monster just like those before you.
It’s the wonderfully paced descent into madness, and the killer set pieces are incredible, making this game an underrated horror epic. So if you missed this one, I would highly recommend it!
#3 – Dredge
- Developer: Black Salt Games
- Metacritic Score: 81%
If you play a lot of indie games, you’ll probably know about the common practice of developers wedging in a fishing mini-game into every game, regardless of if it makes sense or not.
But what if the whole game was comprised of fishing mini-games? Well, mix that up with some Eldritch horror, and you have the formula for Dredge.
Dredge is a title where you play as a fisherman who takes a job at a far-off coastal town, but everything is not as it seems in this place.
By day, it’s your typical coastal fishing town, but by night, it’s a place where madness ensues, and horrifying creatures of the deep come out to play.
The horror comes through the mysterious characters you encounter, the hostile locales you visit, and most of all, the sanity system that will play tricks on the player, creating rocks where there were none previously, hearing noises in the dead of night, and occasionally having to race to port because a tentacled monster is taking chunks out of your hull.
It’s an eerie, mysterious, and dark adventure, that marries horror and resource management together seamlessly. So give this a try, you won’t regret it.
#4 – Escape the Backrooms
- Developer: Fancy Games
- Metacritic Score: 67% (based on user score)
If you’re on the hunt for a co-op horror experience, then look no further than Escape the Backrooms.
This game sees the player begin in the enigmatic Backrooms, which are essentially a series of labyrinthian rooms, and players must work together to navigate these areas, and find a way to escape.
The cookie-cutter environments and the environmental puzzles within are tough enough to navigate as it is.
But when you also consider that a horrifying creature known as ‘The Entity’ is constantly lurking in the shadows, waiting for you to slip up, this only adds to the intensity of each room, meaning you’ll need to work together to find the exit as quickly as possible.
I will concede that a lot of the enjoyment comes through group sessions, as the panic and crazy scenarios are only heightened with the addition of more screaming individuals.
But nonetheless, Escape The Backrooms is a modern take on the Slender Man formula that is well worth checking out!
#5 – Inscryption
- Developer: Daniel Mullin
- Metacritic Score: 87%
We now move onto a card-based roguelike with grainy, unsettling visuals, and an equally mysterious and unsettling story to tell.
Inscrpytion places you in the shoes of a kidnap victim who is forced to play a roguelike card game against their will, and each game is a matter of life and death.
Inscryption plays quite similarly to Slay The Spire, but instead of RPG-style wizards and magic, this title ups the fear factor, leading to situations where you might opt to gauge out your eye with a spoon for an extra point, or mutilate your creatures to creature some sort of demon deformity.
While Inscryption won’t catch you off guard with jump scares, it achieves the tag of ‘horror game’ through its creepy atmosphere, mysterious storyline, and the escape room format that blends seamlessly with the card-based gameplay.
I will admit that the second half of the game really let me down, as the game inexplicably changes the format to a top-down RPG, but based on the quality of the first half alone, this is well worth checking out.
#6 – Oxenfree
- Developer: Night School Studios
- Metacritic Score: 80%
Teen-bop drama has always had its place in horror, whether it be in movies like Friday The 13th or games like Until Dawn.
However, many would argue that Netflix nailed this sub-genre when they created Stranger Things. Well, seeing as Night School Studios, the developer that made Oxenfree is a Netflix-owned studio, you can see why Oxenfree is often referred to as gaming’s Stranger Things counterpart.
This game sees you play as Alex as she attends an overnight beach party on Edward Island with her friends.
However, after messing around with some radio signals, the group inadvertently opens up a portal to another realm, tearing a hole in the time-space continuum, and inviting the horrors from beyond the grave to come out and play.
It’s a surprisingly creeping and chilling story that blends teen drama with a mysterious and eerie setting, culminating in one of the best narrative-driven horror adventures I’ve ever witnessed.
It’s a little light on gameplay, but I promise, it’s so good you won’t mind. Do yourself a favor and seek this one out yourself.
#7 – SOMA
- Developer: Frictional Games
- Metacritic Score: 84%
Before games like Alien: Isolation and Outlast, there were games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent that walked so they could run; it was thanks to those developers that we have had so many games where we run through claustrophobic halls and scour rooms in search of batteries. And it is also because of them, that we have SOMA.
SOMA is a game from the creators that places you in a world where AI is becoming sentient, and you must forge a way through the chaos to make sense of what it means to truly exist, and what is really worth saving in the wreckage of this old world.
It’s a game that creates a terrifying setting, makes the player feel vulnerable and completely powerless, and only through careful planning and cunning will you be able to evade the hostile AI lurking in the dark halls, and most importantly, asks some probing questions surrounding the true definition of reality.
Plus, if you want to take out the combat aspect of this game, you can even toggle this out for an eerie, but less stressful affair. Up to you, of course, but I’d always opt for 100% spookiness.
#8 – Iron Lung
- Developer: David Szymanski
- Metacritic Score: 65% (Based On User Reviews)
This might feel a little soon considering what happened aboard the Titanic Sub not too long ago, but ironically, that event is what brought this game to prominence in the horror scene.
It had a cult following before, but that tragedy saw this game shoot up the Steam charts. I’m not saying it’s right, but at least this indie gem is getting time in the spotlight.
Iron Lung is a horror title that sees you play the role of an intergalactic submarine operator that is tasked with exploring the depths of an alien planet with seas of blood. The fact that anyone commissioned this expedition is beyond me.
It’s a game that plays on themes of claustrophobia and a fear of the unknown, as you can only direct your sub through a control panel and a map, along with a very grainy camera allowing you to take snapshots of the environment outside your sub.
Suffice it to say, cartography is not going to be the only hurdle for you to overcome in this game, as unsurprisingly, you’ll need to make a few on-the-job repairs, and chances are, you won’t be all alone in the sea of blood either.
I’ll admit, due to the limited gameplay, this won’t be for everyone, but for someone looking for a completely unique horror experience, Iron Lung is definitely that.
#9 – Phasmophobia
- Developer: Kinetic Games
- Metacritic Score: TBA (Early Access)
We move onto a game that is effectively Ghostbusters meets Scooby-Doo with the paranormal activity spookiness turned up to eleven.
Phasmophobia is a title that has you explore distinct levels in search of paranormal activity, where you, along with a group of up to four players, will need to collect evidence to learn how to capture the spirits within each stage.
The good news is that you won’t have to use a vacuum cleaner to suck them up, Instead, you’ll need to rely on things like Spirit boxes and EMF Readers to locate cursed items, uncover the secrets left behind by ghosts, and eventually come face to face with each ethereal being, each with their own unique skills and traits.
The game has a great sanity feature, amazing audio design for an authentic feel, and thanks to the continued support of the developers; this game continues to offer new content for players on a weekly basis.
Not to mention it’s coming to consoles very soon, so now is the time to jump into this ethereal affair.
#10 – Sirenhead
- Developer: Modus Interactive
- Metacritic Score: N/A (Fan-Made Game)
This is a bit of a weird entry because it’s not so much a full-fledged horror game as it is a viral fan game akin to the likes of slender-man. In fact, this game effectively is Slenderman if you look at gameplay alone. However, I feel like it deserves a mention due to this game’s backstory, and its PS1 Demake visuals.
Speaking first on the visuals, this game scales back on polygons in favor of pixels, offering a grainy PS1 setting that isn’t too far removed from the first-ever Silent Hill.
I can’t quite say why, but this artistic approach just makes the affair so much more unsettling and creepy.
Then the titular Sirenhead is a creature from the mind of Trevor Henderson, which is a mutilated humanoid metallic skeleton with air raid sirens for a head.
This being is practically invulnerable and uses its sirens to play ARG sounds, luring humans in, only to come close, and produce deafening sound to perforate their eardrums and sinuses, before consuming them. If Sirenhead isn’t a top-tier monster, then I don’t know what is.
I would urge you to check out the lore on Sirenhead, and equally, I would urge you to check out this game!
#11 – Pathologic 2
- Developer: Ice-Pick Lodge
- Metacritic Score: 70%
Next, we have a game that I would classify as one of my all-time favorites despite the fact that I can practically guarantee that you will have an awful time playing.
But you see, that’s part of the charm of Pathologic 2. This is a survival horror game that sees you return to a small town during a period when a plague is rolling into town, and seeing as you are the only doctor, your job is to save everyone.
The problem is that saving everyone and staying alive yourself is a near-impossible task.
The game constantly works against you to flip the script and force you to make impossible decisions, meaning people will die, the plague will tear through the town, and the psychological horror weaved through the narrative will leave your head spinning as you choose whether to buy bullets or bread with what little you have.
It’s a harrowing game, but a work of art at the same time. So give it a try and experience this brutal survival sim for yourself.
#12 – The Suffering
- Developer: Surreal Software
- Metacritic Score: 77%
Our penultimate entry is a little hard to label as an indie game per-se, as it was published by Midway Games all the way back in 2004, but considering it’s a very underrated old horror title, I’m making an allowance here.
The Suffering is a game heavily inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining that sees you play as Torque, an inmate waiting for his fate on Death Row on Carnate Island.
However, in a freak supernatural incident, entities known as Malefactors kill all the inmates but Torque, and he must navigate the prison and kill these manifestations of executions like lethal injection and hanging to find a means of escape.
The game has a surprisingly cohesive story; it employs a rather unique morality system for the time; the combat and visuals, while dated, still hold up today, meaning this relic isn’t a chore to play, and overall, it’s a really compelling tale revolving around the death penalty, morality, and whether to accept the monster within.
It’s a little tricky to get your hands on a copy of this today. I still have my old PS2 copy, if anyone was wondering. But if you do get a chance, play this retro horror.
#13 – Lost in Vivo
- Developer: KIRA
- Metacritic Score: 80% (Based on User Score)
Then we finish up with what I would classify as probably one of the most terrifying horror indies that I have ever played.
Lost In Vivo is essentially a game where your dog runs away whilst you’re taking it for a walk, and you need to navigate the sewers to find him. Already a pretty bad scenario, but it turns out your player character has a fear of enclosed spaces.
So what does the game do? Well, naturally, it places you in a series of tight spaces, narrow hallways, and throws plenty of curveballs at you to shock and terrify at every opportunity.
To the point where you’ll be checking your six every chance you get and praying that your doggo appears so you can get the hell out of there.
The game is short, but this allows the action to remain at a ten throughout, leaving you in a constant state of panic and peril. It’s one you’ve probably never heard of, but one you need to try!
Before we sign off, here is a quick list of games that just fell short of the mark in terms of overall quality, or we felt were a little too well known to be listed on a ‘hidden gems’ list:
- Layers of Fear
- Forbidden Siren
- Fatal Frame
- Martha Is Dead
- The Mortuary Assistant
- Five Nights At Freddy’s
- Bendy and the Ink Machine
- The Medium
Uncovering New Fears
So there you have it, an unlucky thirteen of incredible horror indie gems to try out.
As I mentioned, indies are a big part of the reason why the horror genre is still alive and kicking today. So you should pay your respects and play these plucky horror titles for yourself. I’ve been Cal, and thanks for reading RGS!
Best Indie Horror Games: FAQs
Question: Do Netflix Make Games?
Answer: Yes, Netflix has its own gaming section for subscribers that generally only relates to mobile gaming. However, as mentioned above, they do own Night School Studio, which made the Oxenfree series, and this can be played via mobile if you are a Netflix customer. Pretty neat, right?
Question: Are There Horror Gaming Sub-Genres
Answer: Yes, there are quite a few if you want to get into the nitty-gritty about it, but to give a few examples, there are psychological horror games, survival horror games, action horror games, and many more.
Question: Do Horror Games Need Jump Scares?
Answer: It’s a matter of preference, but in my opinion, they feel cheap. I prefer games that create a creepy atmosphere and get in your head. However, if you are someone that needs that jolt of adrenaline to enjoy horror, then jump scares are a must.