Man, writing about horror games is hard! There are just so many clichés surrounding the genre. I’m tired of reading the same tired phrases. “Ooh, look how scary this game is! Don’t play this one with the lights turned off!” It often comes across as pretty pathetic when you read critical writing about horror games. Often there’s no originality, and instead there’s a lot of exaggerating the truth to try and keep the reader interested.

Anyway, here’s me doing some critical writing about horror games. Yeah, I’m intentionally setting myself up for failure here, aren’t I? Pointing out the clichés of horror writing before writing an article about horror games. For the rest of this article, every time I use a cliché, you’re going to notice it. I must be mad.

My point is, horror games are never as scary as they’re made out to be. I mean, think of a popular “scary” game that was released in the last 5 years. Let me guess – it relies on cheap jump-scares to shock the audience, right? Yeah, I thought so.

I’m not saying I hate horror games. In fact it’s quite the opposite – I love the horror genre! But I don’t love them because they’re scary. I love horror, because it’s a great storytelling device. The unsettling ambience, the sick, twisted unpredictability of the plot lines – these are the elements that make a truly great horror story work. And when it comes down to it, that’s all they are. Stories. And maybe I’m weird, but stories just don’t scare me.

Anyway, enough stalling. Here’s five free horror games that understand how the horror genre is supposed to be. No jump-scares desperately attempting to make the player jump out of their skin (à la the FNAF franchise.) Just unsettling, disturbing stories, which instil a sense of unease in players that they can’t just shake off at the end of the play session.


The Static Speaks My Name

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Truly putting yourself in the shoes of a villain isn’t easy. Usually, when I play as the villain, I feel fairly detached from the experience. Remember Hatred? No, of course you don’t. You only remember the vitriol and outrage surrounding its release. As a game, it was rubbish, because it totally failed to engage the audience in the horrific acts they were supposed to be enacting.

The Static Speaks My Name is the opposite of that. It allows you to inhabit the body of a villain, and shows that evil acts are rarely as black and white as they seem on the surface. You play as a disturbed individual, who’s kidnapped a painter and locked them up in their house. You perform a series of menial tasks that get sicker and more twisted the further you get down the list.

It’s a short game, but in mere minutes, The Static Speaks My Name garners a more visceral response inside me than 99% of horror games could ever dream of. There’s a reason this game is considered one of the most sickening disturbing horror games ever made – it really is just one of those experiences that has to be played to be truly understood.


Tourist

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Tourist is the video game equivalent of climbing the stairs in the dark. You know that sick feeling when you think there’s one more step than there actually is, but when you bring your foot down, there’s nothing? That’s what this game feels like. It only takes 15 minutes to play, but the horror is all wrapped up into one neat bundle right at the end, providing one hell of a punch to the gut.

What makes Tourist scary is the mundane nature of the setting. It’s just an ordinary stay at a nice little hotel, and you’re just getting ready to go out for your work function. It doesn’t sound like the setup for a horror story, does it? Well, it is, and trust me… It works.

Tourist is a succinct horror experience that sadly flew under the radar of the majority of horror fans when it was released last year. From the creator of The Charnel House Trilogy, this is probably one of the most under-appreciated horror games I’ve ever played, and it saddens me that I haven’t shared the experience with as many people as I should have.


The Loop

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Recently the Internet has decided that clowns are in vogue, thanks to some utter dickwads who think dressing up as clowns and scaring random passersby is funny. Horror is a great genre, but it should never be forced on others who don’t choose to seek it out – even around the Halloween season!

So, if you want clowns, here’s a recommendation for you: check out The Loop. In this visual novel, you play as a writer who’s trapped in an endless loop of mundane events, at the behest of a mysterious clown figure. You flit back and forth between different dream worlds, solving puzzles, searching for a way to break free from the endless loop.

For a short game, this one has plenty of replay-ability. There are three difficulty levels, and plenty of trophies for you to unlock. Sure, it won’t scare you, but it’ll certainly do a good job unnerving the hell out of you!


Cupid

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Cupid opens with a girl stabbing her own eye out with a crucifix. Seriously, I’m not kidding! She’s in a church, knelt down at the altar, when she picks up a cross, and… well, there’s a sudden squelch! and, from that moment on, the protagonist is left looking more akin to Mike Wazowski than James Sullivan.

Anyway, Cupid is a visual novel that tackles the delicate balance between horror and sex. Yes, sex can a beautiful expression of love between two people, but it can also be a depraved act as we give in to our animal urges and, in the words of Bloodhound Gang, do it like they do on the Discovery channel.

Cupid is a great example of how the horror genre can play with far darker themes than mere fantasy like the occult. Rape is generally considered untouchable in game narratives, but Cupid treats it as it should be treated: As one of the worst horrors a person could ever face.


Voeux

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A bizarre visual novel that questions the nature of life after death, Voeux is set in the aftermath of the end of the world. Right from the word go, it’s an unsettlingly

abstract experience. You’re greeted by a disembodied voice that gives you little more than vague hints about what’s going on. You venture out of the darkness, and wander into a mysterious circus, that’s totally devoid of human life.

The only inhabitants left alive (or are they?…) in the place are mysterious silhouettes, referred to as Shadows and Spirits. By interacting with the four shadows, you can slowly piece together the history of the carnival, and discover the hidden secrets of its spectral occupants.

It’s not one for people who want a big horror payoff, but this is definitely a story that nails the intended atmosphere. It’s one of those rare visual novels that actually succeeds in making me want to go back and find the alternative endings after completing it the first time, and when it comes to this style of game, that’s one of the biggest signs of success.


And just in case those five aren’t enough for you, here’s one more…

Angel In The Dark

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Yeah, I know, shoot me. I’m talking about my own game here. But hey, it’s horror right, and Halloween is just the time for it to be shown off. Angel In The Dark is an audio/text based adventure game, featuring a disturbingly dark, interactive story, that’s set in pitch black darkness. The game is experienced entirely through audio and text, and only takes an hour or so to complete.

Angel In The Dark is available to download via Itch.io right now. You can also vote for it on Steam Greenlight if you’d like to.


Can you think of another short horror title that people need to try this Halloween? Leave a comment down below!

About The Author

Contributor

As a composer and video game enthusiast, Philip has spent years searching for a way to combine his passions for both music and gaming. Then, one day, he figured he could just write about them. He loves to over-analyse the way music helps to shape the player's emotional response in a game. He also loves to criticise bad control schemes, because... Well, they just get on his nerves.

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