Feel free to scream.
We all need a good scare every now and then, and that shouldn’t always have to come from a glance at our bank balance. Thankfully, there are plenty of free horror games out there just waiting to be investigated. When there’s no cash changing hands, indies can be as weird and disturbing as they like, and that’s where these titles shine. So sit back, turn out the lights, and put the bank card away – here are seven free horror games to keep your blood pressure up and your lights on.
September 1999 is an eerie found footage game by 98DEMAKE that perfectly captures the unsettling vibe of low-budget horror. There’s something so quintessentially weird about viewing a snapshot of someone’s life captured at a time that feels alien now. Since video cameras made their way into mobile phones it seems like everything is recorded, daily. Back in the ’90s, someone recording their everyday life was strange and the odd VHS tapes that have survived the era remain bizarre relics of this.
It invokes some serious P.T. vibes, with one person seemingly alone in a grimy apartment haunted by strange sounds and hallucinations. Its visual design, in particular, stands out as one of the key elements that make the game so unsettling. It’s so quiet at times, but this silence is often punctuated by bursts of strange sound like banging at the door. It does a great job of building tension.
It’s short, coming in at just over five minutes, but that’s more than enough to get you sleeping with the lights on for a day or two. I promise, 1999 really wasn’t that bad.
Don’t be mislead by Doki Doki Literature Club’s cute visuals and nonchalant description, this is a dark, psychological horror that hides plenty of surprises. It describes how ‘every day is full of chit-chat and fun activities,’ but that’s not exactly the whole story. It also states ‘This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed.’
On the surface, it’s your typical, anime-styled graphic novel adventure. But underneath it all, this is a terrifying, fourth-wall-breaking experience that explores a range of topics faced by young adults including mental health. It’s hard to explain what makes Doki Doki Literature Club such a brilliant and deeply unsettling horror game without terrible spoilers. So, if you’re into creepypastas or experiential horror games that subvert expectations than just play it. You won’t be disappointed.
If you weren’t aware, SCP (short for Secure, Contain, Protect) is a long-running science fiction universe maintained and expanded by its online community. SCP – Containment Breach is an open-source horror game that takes place in the universe. But while fans will appreciate the faithfulness to its source material, SCP newbies can easily get in on the free sci-fi horror scares too.
You play as a test subject inside an SCP research facility for scientific anomalies. After a power outage, these weird and wonderful (and often dangerous) anomalies break free and put the whole facility on lockdown. You have to navigate procedurally generated levels and try to make it out of there alive.
A highlight of SCP – Containment Breach is the creatively designed test subjects you encounter. One is a statue that can move when not being looked at, like Doctor Who’s weeping angels. On the flip side, another is completely harmless until you look at its face. While some are neutral or even helpful, many are deadly and terrifying, making this a unique horror experience.
Slenderman has become synonymous with internet creepypasta culture. Originally a tale of digital folklore, the tall, suited figure of the faceless variety took on a starring role in the free horror game Slender: The Eight Pages, developed by Mark J. Hadley. We all have memories of crowding around a 2012 PC, gnawing our fingernails and shouting directions to the poor soul at the helm.
The first person exploration-survival game takes players deep into a dark forest with a low-quality, warped graphical style that has come to represent cheap horror experiences as a whole. As players collect eight pages of mysterious scribblings, they are stalked by none other than the Slender Man himself. Fear sets in as soon as that screen starts to crackle and that white noise flares up, a truly terrifying game worthy of the viral fame it accumulated.
The Static Speaks My Name plays more like a psychologically taunting vignette than a horror game, but there’s something happening off-screen that makes Jesse Barksdale’s experience all the more horrifying. The story takes us through the final moments of the life of Jacob Ernholtz, exploring the deeply troubling obsession he developed with a simple painting of two palm trees and the artist who created it.
A lonely flat with boarded-up windows and walls filled with the same painting provides a suitably creepy backdrop for the unsettling hour or so before you, but it’s the collection of everything you’ve learned about this strange, disturbed man’s obsession culminating in one moral decision that brings the terror home for many.
Whereas all survival horror games are scary in their own ways, there’s something particularly mortifying about the ones in which you can’t attack. [REC] Shutter is a great example, where your weapon of choice is a humble video camera – hence the title. Give me a shotgun over that any day, please.
Horror games often feel restrictive and claustrophobic at the best of times, but viewing [REC] Shutter through the lens of your video camera adds an extra sense of powerlessness and a confined field of view. Thankfully, your camera does at least feature the occasional benefit, such as the ability to switch on night vision – an obvious plus in a game like this.
[REC] Shutter is full of all the horror goodness you could hope for – creepy entities that vanish and reappear, sudden loud noises, grim levels, hallucinations, you name it. While the controls are a little clunky and it doesn’t have the highest level of polish, it’s well worth a look.
1. Kraven Manor
Anything can happen in the dark. When we can’t see what isn’t there, it could be anything. It’s a simple premise of horror entertainment, but one that has been expounded by Kraven Manor. Dropped by the front door of a mysterious manor, you’ll explore the candlelit corridors and oaken furniture for story information and new rooms to add to the mysterious model in the foyer, all while avoiding the terrors that lurk within.
There’s a twist here, and one that Doctor Who and Five Nights At Freddy’s fans will recognise. The story’s main antagonist, a simple bronze statue, will only move when you’re not looking at it. That makes the darkness even more threatening.
There are interesting mechanics on offer here, such as the player’s own creation of the manor’s map. As you collect rooms, you can change their position on a small model in the centre of the building, creating a dynamic map to be manipulated to reach your current goal. The novel approach to its design and enduring fear factor ensure it’s one of our favourite free horror games.
Heart rate settled yet? If not, there are always more free indie games to try out, and some of these offer the perfect relaxing antidote to the scarier games on this list. Or, perhaps you’re looking for more terror, in which case a rundown of the creepiest villains in indie gaming will be right up your scary, dark alley.