Creepy Indie Games That Will Definitely Get Under Your Skin
I think we can all agree that video games don’t always do Lovecraftian horror right. Maybe they fail to grasp the sense of horrifying scale that renders all human knowledge and power totally insignificant. Maybe they fail to properly convey the fact that we cannot hope to truly understand our own universe, let alone things outside of it. Maybe they just aren’t scary. Whatever the case, it’s become kind of a talking point over that last decade that games can’t do Cthulhu justice. Well, I can’t speak for big-budget games or for Cthulhu himself, but I’ve definitely found the themes and overall skin-crawling vibe of Lovecraftian horror coming through loud and clear in the indie market. If you crave some eldritch abominations, body horror, and impending threats you can barely comprehend, then I’ve got your back.
Here are eight indie games we can think of that brought Lovecraftian horror to your PC (or console) and did it well, ranked loosely by the overall time commitment required to get your spook on. Some of these games will get to the creepy part in minutes, while others will leave you hanging in a horrifying limbo for hours. Either way, it’ll be a nightmarishly fun trip. Be warned: here be spoilers!
Let’s start off with something simple: a short, 15-30 minute-long horror game about a girl trapped in her apartment. Her appliances have stopped working. She can’t find her phone. Something terrible may or may not be happening outside. But she doesn’t care about any of that–at least, not right now. She has something more important to worry about: her beloved plants are thirsty. This snack-sized game combines beautiful pixel art, a soft and cute aesthetic, and the slowly-building certainty that something is terribly wrong to great effect. PINK is not a particularly grand or ambitious title, and its horror comes mostly through text and implication, but it gave me the creeps. If you’re looking to dip your toe into Lovecraftian horror games but don’t want a huge time commitment, then this is a good place to start. Besides, it’s free.
Content warnings: body horror, isolation, slow loss of sanity, bad ending, the apocalypse–the absolute baseline for what you can expect going forward.
Another very short but very effective title, Something’s in the Sea comes from Yahtzee Croshaw, long-time Lovecraftian horror fan, and the pedigree is apparent. This tense and tightly-woven nightmare is his tenth game, and the experience really shows. The game focuses on the lone survivor of a plane crash who now finds themself stranded in the ocean with nothing but a boat and the pieces of an artifact they are being compelled to reunite. Unfortunately, you won’t just be fighting your limited lung capacity to bring the pieces back from the sunken depths–you’ll also be trying to escape a massive undersea creature that doesn’t appreciate your efforts. There’s very little text in this game and what is there contributes beautifully to the uneasy atmosphere. Yahtzee’s come a long way since the Chzo Series (which didn’t make this list because two of the four games did not scare me and Trilby’s Notes would be lonely if I put it up all alone), and I can’t recommend this game enough. Better yet, this game is free.
Content warnings: sea monsters, tentacles, drowning, too many eyes, body horror, bad ending. Also some screen shaking and flashing lights. No apocalypse this time, but trust me, that does not make it better.
Do you need more Junji Ito in your life? Do you enjoy retro adventure/survival games? Do you like anime, but only when someone is bleeding? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then World of Horror is for you. This 1-bit roguelike takes inspiration from the early days of gaming, featuring elaborate monochrome pixel art graphics, turn-based combat, and unforgiving choices. Sacrifices must be made if you are to advance. In the early access version, you play as one of five unique characters and work to solve over ten mysteries. The Old Gods are awakening in Shiokawa, Japan, and their presence is having a terrible impact on the city. The end is nigh. Can you do anything to stop the coming apocalypse, or will you simply watch it all burn? World of Horror’s main storyline contains about two hours of gameplay, but there are plenty of random events and multiple endings to keep your interest. It’s $17.49 CDN.
Content warnings: body horror, desecration of the dead, suicide, loss of sanity, cults, eldritch abominations, lots and lots of bad endings, the apocalypse can totally happen.
Another creepy game from Yahtzee Croshaw; this one a bit longer and a lot more complicated. The Consuming Shadow tasks the player with stopping a shadow that is trying to enter our world. If this Ancient is permitted to enter our reality, then it will change the world irrevocably, tearing the very logic of existence asunder. You don’t want that to happen, so you grab a shotgun or a book of spells, get into your car, and start looking for clues on which eldritch being is trying to pull a fast one. Gather enough information, save towns from corruption, and kill enough monstrous servants of the Ancient and you’ll find a way to seal it. Just be careful. You literally cannot kill this thing, and the game’s sanity meter means that if you slip up, you could end up taking your own life in a fit of madness. This game is part retro dungeon crawler, part adventure game, part roguelite, and its horrific atmosphere and writing are excellent. The graphics, much like in Something’s in the Sea, are deliberately retro. Each playthrough lasts about six hours and a mix of procedural generation and randomly-selected Ancients give plenty of replay value. It’s $10.99 CDN.
Content warnings: eldritch abominations, loss of sanity, body horror, suicide, cults, lots and lots of bad endings, the apocalypse can totally happen.
Head over to PAGE 2 for more games on our list…