For those that look at horror games and ask themselves, ‘Why the hell would someone intentionally play something terrifying.’ You simply don’t get it, and quite frankly, I feel for you.
Horror games are a joy to behold due to the incredible sound design, their ability to build tension, and the rush of adrenaline that comes with a fright is unlike anything else in gaming, and I would argue that indie horror titles are the cream of the crop.
They can’t rely on big-budget showpieces, and, instead, tell killer stories, focus on meticulous sound and world design, and usually, take big swings that top developers wouldn’t even dare to try, which often lead to some of the most iconic horror moments ever created.
But don’t just take my word for it. In this list, we aim to show you the best games that the indie scene has to offer within the horror genre, showcasing some iconic titles, and maybe even a few hidden gems too.
So sit back, relax, and prepare for that inevitable jump scare. This is Indie Game Culture’s Best Indie Horror Games in 2023. Enjoy!
Let’s talk about what qualifies for this list. We will be using set criteria to make sure that only the most appropriate spooky games will be popping up on the list below. Here are the rules we set in place:
- All games listed must be indie games. No big publishers with deep pockets
- The game must have a Metacritic score of 65 percent or higher or a user score of 65 percent or higher.
- All games must be horror titles, survival horror titles, or have a distinct horror element.
Did you hear that? Wonder what it was. I guess we should go investigate.
#1 – Dredge
- Developer: Black Salt Studios
- Genre: Horror/Resource Management
- Metacritic Score: 81%
If you are looking for an Eldritch Horror that incorporates an indie game staple, the fishing minigame. Then you can’t really go wrong with Dredge.
Dredge is a title that sees you play as a fisherman with a mysterious past who takes a job at a coastal fishing town. It all seems pretty chill, but something is off about the place. When night rolls around, things start to get pretty spooky indeed.
As your mania increases, you’ll begin to hallucinate, but unluckily for you, these hallucinations are all too real. Meaning you’ll have to sail away from murderous crows, sea serpents, Kraken-like beasts, and much more.
The horror of Dredge comes from the fear of the unknown and the sheer unpredictability of what lurks below the water line. But it’s also a really cathartic fishing-based resource management game that you should definitely check out for yourself!
#2 – Gylt
- Developer: Tequilla Works
- Genre: Survival Horror
- Metacritic Score: 72%
Now we have another recent horror title in the form of Gylt. A title that is more geared toward horror newbies looking for a jumping-in point. After all, our own Melika Jeddi labeled this one ‘horror for cowards.’
Gylt places you in the shoes of Sally, a troubled kid living in an old mining town in Maine, who is struggling with the recent disappearance of her cousin Emily. Not to mention bullies who are pestering her at every turn. This eventually leads to Sally entering an alternate version of her town, where monsters roam, and nothing is as it once was.
In this topsy-turvy version of the town, you see Emily in the local school, and you must navigate the empty school in the dead of night to find out what has happened to her, and why monsters have infested the school.
It’s a game with a powerful message, great survival horror mechanics, and superb visuals and audio, culminating in a truly immersive horror experience. So if you are looking for some entry-level horror, GYLT could be the game for you.
#3 – Murder House
- Developer: Puppet Combo, Vague Scenario LLC
- Genre: Adventure-Horror
- Metacritic Score: User Score 86
While the horror purists out there will claim that only guts and gore will quench their thirst for horror, I know that deep down, every horror fan loves the occasional cheesy 80’s slasher movie.
Well, if you are willing to admit to this guilty pleasure, then you might just get a kick out of Murder House, a title that is clearly inspired by retro horror flicks, complete with a VHS tape filter to really add an extra layer of authenticity.
The controls, graphics, and voice acting make this game feel like a PS1 Classic, and I, for one, am always down for a game that tries to create a ‘demake.’
With the addition of awkward tank controls, fixed camera angles, and a terrifying pixellated and maniacal Easter Bunny lurking around every corner, this game truly captures the essence of both retro horror movies, and classic 90’s gaming horror.
So if you want a game that provides that claustrophobic and frantic retro feel that the original Silent Hill and Resident Evil once did, Murder House is a great option.
#4 – Detention
- Developer: Red Candle Games
- Genre: Survival Horror
- Metacritic Score: 83
I was always getting in trouble in school, and detention was a pretty common occurrence week to week. But I reckon if I would have had to hang around Greenwood High after hours, I would have been a model student.
Detention is a side-scrolling puzzle horror title that traps the player in a haunted school, and the only way to escape is to delve deeper into this ominous setting, find a way to avoid the terrifying monsters that lurk the halls, and uncover the secrets of this strange mountaintop school.
It’s a horror that takes a lot of notes from Japanese classics like Silent Hill, Forbidden Siren and, Project Zero. But not only that, as it also serves as a window into Taiwanese culture and folklore, crafting a truly surreal story well worth checking out.
#5 – Darkwood
- Developer: Acid Wizard Studio
- Genre: Survival Horror
- Metacritic Score: 80%
Horror games tend to rely on a third or first-person camera to guide the player through the game and immerse them in the action on screen. So when you have a horror that can do that, but with a top-down perspective, then you know that the game in question is a little bit special.
Darkwood is a title that places the player in a forest within the Russian Bloc, and simply tasks you with one thing. Survive.
In this harrowing survival experience, you will have to constantly be on guard, gathering resources that will help you battle against those that aim to do you harm, and when night comes, you’ll need to find a place to hold your ground and hope that you live to see another day.
It’s a game that relies on its terrifying setting and its unsettling atmosphere to keep players constantly checking corners and fearing those little bumps in the night. It’s probably one of the best survival games ever made, and if that’s not a reason to try it out, then I don’t know what is.
#6 – Little Nightmares
- Developer: Tarsler Studios
- Genre: Horror/Platformer
- Metacritic Score: 79%
We have seen quite a few side-scrolling platformers try their hand at horror. Whether that be the mac-daddy of them all, LIMBO. Or perhaps others that followed suit like INSIDE or Bramble: The Mountain King. However, of all these offerings, it’s hard to look past the sheer brilliance of Little Nightmares.
This title places you in the shoes of a tiny boy in a world filled with grotesque and horrifying monsters who are hellbent on mutilating you any chance they get, in visceral and violent ways. This means you’ll have to use a blend of stealth and cunning to evade these nightmarish creatures and escape.
The game succeeds due to its tight platforming, and its incredible enemy and level design. But above all, being this little vulnerable kid in this world of glutinous monsters is a wonderfully wicked experience.
If you somehow haven’t played this indie classic, then take the time to do this real soon!
#7 – Visage
- Developer: SadSquare Studio
- Genre: Horror
- Metacritic Score: 80
I don’t know about you guys, but as a big Silent Hill fan, I was pretty devastated when P.T. pulled from digital stores, and Silent Hills was effectively canceled there and then. I thought I would never get to play the fully-fledged game that P.T. teased back then, but thankfully, its spiritual successor Visage would come along and allow me to do just that.
Visage has the player explore a typical family home, as P.T had us do, and as you explore this home, you will uncover snippets of the story that will reveal your dark past and the horrible events tied to this home.
Not to mention, as you explore this house, the environment will constantly change and shift, creating surreal scenarios and mind-bending events that will have you questioning your own sanity.
This game will have you question whether you are the monster, or if there is more to this story than meets the eye. But that is up to you to uncover, if you dare.
#8 – World of Horror
- Developer: Panstasz
- Genre: RPG-Horror
- Metacritic Score: 80
This is an early-access game, so you have to bear that in mind when considering this as an indie horror great. However, It has a great look to it so far that is a little reminiscent of No One Lives Under The Lighthouse.
World of Horror aesthetically models itself after old 8-bit video games prominent in the 80s. Yet it also reminds me of horror manga—especially the Tomi stories or similar manga from the 80s and 90s.
In this game, you’ll have to make sense of the surreal and solve a series of mysteries. There are a total of ten mysteries available at the time of writing. Including one about a missing classmate who seems to have been lured away by a strange woman.
This is like the Japanese legend of the Slit-mouthed woman who is a vengeful spirit. Similar to the movie Ju-on and The Ring.
It’s scaled back in terms of visual offerings, but this only seems to heighten the fear factor and the sheer bizarreness of the stories told on screen. It’s quintessential Japanese horror, and even through this game remains in early access, it’s well worth a look.
#9 – Kholat
- Developer: IMGN PRO
- Genre: Narrative-driven Horror
- Metacritic Score: 65%
Does the line ‘based on a true story’ get you excited? Well, what about a narrative-horror game that is narrated by beloved British actor Sean Bean? I can see I have your attention.
Kholat is a narrative-driven exploration game that has the player navigate the Dyatlov Pass in Russia, an area where nine Russian Alpinists would tragically and mysteriously lose their lives. Which would lead to a number of strange and otherworldly theories surrounding their deaths.
Khloat does an incredible job taking this true tale and masterfully tweaking it to create a harrowing and unnerving horror setting. I can honestly say that Kholat provides a horror atmosphere that most other games would kill her, and delivers a story that will stay with you after the credits roll, for better or worse.
Will you discover what this ‘compelling unknown force’ in the Ural Mountains is? For your sake, you better hope not.
#10 – Carrion
- Developer: Phobia Game Studio
- Genre: Horror
- Metacritic Score: 75
If you are a fan of horror, you are probably all too aware of the common narrative device involving a secret military lab and an experiment that gets out of control, turning on its creator and going on a homicidal rampage. Heck, it was even used as the central plot for the first-ever Pokemon movie.
You might think that this concept has been milked dry, but Carrion is proof that this concept can still be used to form excellent, and viscerally violent video games. Carrion essentially allows you to play as the abomination, beginning as a small sentient blob, and allowing you to kill every scientist that stands in your way.
It’s like playing as Carnage from Spiderman as they tear through the underground military facility and become an unstoppable force of nature.
One could argue that it’s not really a horror, as you are the monster in this story, but hey, it’s always nice to flip the script and see how it feels to be the source of the horror for a change.
- Developer: Pillow Castle
#11 – Lamentum
- Developer: Obscure Tales
- Genre: Adventure-Horror
- Metacritic Score: 74
While H.P. Lovecraft was a bit of an asshole (and that’s being kind), you can’t deny that Lovecraftian horror is truly one of the best horror approaches out there. Something which Lamentum showcases beautifully.
In this title, you play as Victor Hartwell, a man who is desperate to find a cure for his wife’s rare disease, and his last roll of the dice lies in the bowels of Grau Hill Mansion, a New England estate that may hold the key to her survival, but also houses terrifying creatures, and horrors beyond your wildest imagination.
It’s a title that plays a lot like titles such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, albeit with a Cthulu-themed twist. The combat is tense and gripping, the puzzles are consistently clever, and the setting is chilling. All culminating in a classic horror game that you need to check out when you get the chance.
#12 – The Park
- Developer: Funcom
- Genre: Narrative-Driven Horror
- Metacritic Score: 67%
We probably all have read an article about a local funfair or amusement park being the scene of disaster as a ride malfunctions, leading to a tragic event, and the park being abandoned forevermore.
Well, what if the park just kept its doors open regardless of these horrific events, and you happened to lose your son as night falls?
This is the central premise of the intense narrative adventure The Park, as you play as Lorraine as she frantically searches the horrifying park after hours in search of her lost son.
The only problem is that the park seems to have a mind of its own, and you might just find that you, too, will become another casualty to add to the list on this park’s insurance claim.
This game has a tonne of incredible set pieces, a truly frightening setting, and a focus on psychological horror that will probably mean you’ll never look at a fairground ride the same way again. In short, The Park is a game you need to check out.
#13 – Mundaun
- Developer: Hidden Fields
- Genre: Survival-Horror
- Metacritic Score: 72
Then we close off our list with an unsettling title set in the Alps that is completely made up of pencil drawings. This sounds odd, but it really does make this peculiar setting all the more peculiar, not to mention creepy.
This game will see you return home after the death of your grandfather, and you must explore the land to put the pieces together and decipher what really went on in your absence.
It’s a slow burn, but this game slowly builds to offer one of the richest horror experiences you’ll likely ever encounter, featuring a cause-and-effect system that has you move slower the more scared your character is, and a wealth of incredible puzzles to solve.
Mundaun may be a bit of an alienating title due to the particular art-style and intrusive mechanics, but I would urge you to stick with it, as these very same hindrances prove to be some of the best parts of this horror epic.
Best of the Rest
I wish I could have added more to this because there are some great horror games out there. Unfortunately, I had to cut it off at some point. Here are the games that didn’t make the list of our best Indie horror games.
- Layers of Fear
- The Beast Inside
- Fatum Betula
- The Convenience Store
- We Went Back
- At Eve’s Wake
- Lunacy: Saint Rhodes
- Imposter Factory
- Killer Frequency
- Unforgiving: A Northern Hymn
- Stories Untold
- Lovecraft’s Untold Stories
Question: What are Some Upcoming Indie Horror Games for 2022?
Answer: Here is a shortlist of the games I could find. I’m sure more will be announced as the year goes on. It seems like there are always games that sneak up on me.
• Scorn (October 2022) – This one has been delayed a few times. It might be out in October this year, from what I can find.
• Sorry We’re Closed
• Janitor Bleeds
• Post Trauma (Demo is available on Steam)
Question: What is a Good Horror Game to Start With?
Answer: It depends on what you’re looking for in a game. If you want something closer to Minecraft, I would start with 7 Days to Die. If you just want to explore and be scared, I would start with Layers of Fear. If you like Japanese horror films, I suggest starting with Detention or World of Horror.
Question: Are Any of These Games Based on a True Story?
Answer: Detention was inspired by an incident in 1947 at Keelung High School.
Horror games have always been some of my favorite games. I like being scared, and I like seeing how indie game developers try to scare people. Each of these games brings something different to the horror genre.
I’m looking forward to seeing what is in store for 2022. There is something here for everyone, and I think you’ll find a game you can enjoy.