Fall brings out the spookiness in all of us. We crave the darkness, the horror within ourselves, and the best ghost stories we can get our hands on. Some of us do this by visiting haunted houses, or going to the movie theater for the latest disgusting blockbuster, or playing through videogames like the Amnesia series or countless others. We just love being scared, and thanks to the Internet, you can get that creepy feeling for nothing.
There are countless free horror games around made by independent developers that’ll scare you just as much as Outlast. It’s tough to name the best ten because it’s impossible to play all of them, but here’s a selection that you can check out this month.
1. SCP Containment Breach and SCP-087
The source of many modern-day horror stories comes from the Internet in the form of creepypasta. The SCP Foundation is one such place where you can binge on stories. It’s described as an organization designed to “secure, contain and protect” the general population from supernatural objects and figures—sort of like The X-Files without the sexual tension. It may be best to let them remain within the confines of the website, but with these two games, you can experience some of the worst SCP has to offer. Whether you want to escape from an even more terrifying version of the Weeping Angel from Doctor Who in Containment Breach, or trek down a never ending staircase in SCP-087, you can pursue the dark secrets of the foundation while trying to keep your head and sanity in check.
2. I’mscared – A Pixelated Nightmare
The fun thing about horror games is that they exist inside of your display. They can scare you in the short term, but once you turn off your computer, it’s all gone. You can go about your daily life with no evidence that it even existed. It’s only a game, right? When a game seems to seep into your real life, the horrors in the code get closer, become corporeal. I’mscared’s files play a key part in its story, which amounts to a 30-minute game of hide-and-seek. What looks like a Slender knock-off becomes much more complex when you see things on your computer change before your eyes.
3. The Insanity
The mad scientist is a common trope in many of the games on this list, but none do it gorier and more vulgarly than in the flash game The Insanity. This point-and-click adventure lacks detailed animations and smooth combat, but this trip through the lair of a deranged killer known simply as “The Doctor” is nausea-inducing. His victims are people that have been spliced with animal parts and the manor that you find yourself trapped in is covered in blood, guts and monstrosities. It harkens back to films like the original House of Wax, which took body horror to a new extreme, and the hokey plot twist completes the package.
This flash game has been scaring players since 2004. There have been multiple sequels since then, but none are quite as creepy as the original, which still holds up almost 10 years later (minus the silly-looking photographs). It’s a typical point-and-click adventure title through a mysteriously dark and deserted house, and while it relies on some common techniques like creaking doors and whispering sounds, it uses them sparingly enough to make you feel uneasy about searching through the rooms. Then it proceeds to scare the pants off of you.
5. Kraven Manor
Naturally you find yourself in an abandoned manor and you must explore it even though all of your instincts tell you to go out the way you came. Something even tells you to get out. The fun of Kraven Manor is how terrifying and unique it manages to be despite these initial expectations. By finding scale models of the house, you can arrange the mansion to your liking and discover why that statue seems to be following you as you walk around the foyer. It resembles a Stephen King novel, bringing the house alive and trapping you until you find the opportunity to escape. The game is still in beta, but is complete enough for a good scare.
6. Maere: When Lights Die
The Oculus Rift should never be applied to horror games. If you don’t believe me, go on the Internet and check out the multitudes of demos that show people losing their minds, or play Maere, a 2013 free PC title that was designed for the virtual reality device. You can play this game without the Rift, and when you do, you wonder what kind of sadistic human being though that was a good idea. Maere takes place within an Oculus Rift-like experience that goes horribly wrong, blurring the line between the real world and the gameplay by bringing the specters closer. It’s like they can touch you.
This Russian game doesn’t need a translator. It’s the shortest game on this list at about 15 minutes long, but leaves one of the most lasting impressions. Rather than going for broke and piling up the scares, the game cleverly paces them, removing much of the pretext surrounding what you think the game will be about and managing to build up an atmosphere and sense of mystery. As you traverse through the seemingly endless corridor of the title, you start to wonder where the game is going. Framed like a true nightmare that you can’t wake up from, Corridor is worth it for its short running time, along with the all-to-real simulation of the dream world.
This art gallery hellscape was created in RPG Maker 2003, but it’s hard to tell unless you’re familiar with the software. While the game’s graphics are pixelated and some of the images are hard to determine, they’re still able to convey the menace of the hungry paintings and walking mannequins that want to get at Ib, a young girl who gets lost in the gallery, and her friends. Whether the game is trying to make a statement about art is anybody’s guess, but it manages to build up the scares while also presenting a world you want the characters to escape from. It’s surreal enough to make you feel uncomfortable, and the little moments of clarity the characters get only seek to make you empathize with them. There’s nothing scarier than actually watching people you care about die.
9. White Chamber
Alien made us realize that the most hopeless setting for horror is space, where no one can hear you scream about how bad Prometheus is. In White Chamber, a point-and-click adventure created by Studio Trophis, you wake up alone on a space ship with amnesia and all signs point to you being the remaining crew member after a mass slaughter. As the rooms warp around you, covering the walls in still-beating muscles and dismembered body parts, you begin to wonder if screaming would be worth it. Probably not, especially considering somebody seems to want you dead.
This is the only non-traditional horror game on the list, but it’s worth mentioning. This surreal experiment in ludonarrative dissonance, similar in many ways to Bioshock, was created by Mortis Ghost in RPG Maker 2003, and recently gained a cult following on Tumblr. It presents a blank world with disturbing ghosts where people don’t talk normally and where the environment is so corrupt enough that you, the Batter, have to purify it. It’s a psychological thriller that subtly presents the story of a dysfunctional family and a tragedy that leaves you feeling heartbroken and ashamed. Its off-putting scenery and strange dialogue make this a memorable experience, but most importantly, an eerie one.