January 3, 2013 7:30 AM | Konstantinos Dimopoulos / Gnome
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." (H.P. Lovecraft)
Horror, just like humor, is an ancient, fickle and hard to tame beast. Going beyond mere jump-scares and evoking the feeling of proper fear can be particularly tough, but more than a few indie developers seem ready to tackle such tasks.
This particular roundup hopes to cover the best and, well, most scary horror releases of 2012 and is featuring both freeware and commercial titles for a variety of platforms.
Here then are our favorite indie horror games released in 2012:
10. Anna (Dreampainters) [Windows and Mac, paid]
Set in a real location and inspired by ancient Italian legends of Val D'Ayas, Anna is a beautiful 3D point-and-click adventure that, despite a few problems, quite a bit of pixel-hunting and some obscure puzzles, will happily disturb you. It is well paced, the atmosphere simply works and even the doors of the spooky mansion you'll be exploring will shut themselves in the most jump-inducing of ways. Interestingly, Anna also sports three different paths/endings.
9. Erie (UGF) [Windows, free]
Erie is a stunning survival horror-esque affair taking place back in 1966 and following a partial nuclear meltdown and the subsequent strange events taking place in a sleepy Michigan town by Lake Erie. You get to play as Oliver Victor, a Red Cross investigator, sent to help survivors and investigate the strange going-ons, only to end up running for his life and avoiding mutated horrors.
You will probably get to scream quite a bit too, as Erie isn't afraid of scaring you in a variety of ways, and even its jump scares are masterfully tied to its overall atmosphere.
8. Imscared (Ivan Zanotti) [Windows, free]
Those wanting a little more than a quick scare should definitely dive into this first-person psychological horror game, for Imscared, cute yet apt name and short length aside, is an offering you won't be forgetting anytime soon. Imscared is devious and ready to deceive, and is happy to both terrify and puzzle you. Actually it's an excellent game and, yes, that portrait definitely had blood on it the first time you looked...
7. SCP-087 (haversine) [Windows, free]
SCP-087 has somehow been inspired by a sort of rather unnerving and slightly creepy pasta. It is thus very odd. What's more, it also is an incredibly intriguing, procedurally generated experiment in horror that may or may not have you jumping out of your seats, but I frankly can't say much more. Spoilers would definitely kill the experience.
6. Fibrillation (Egor Rezenov) [Windows, paid]
Disorientation. Oddness. Darkness. Hallucinations. Voices. Impaired vision. Yes, getting scared doesn't have to involve violence. At least not of the direct kind. A truly empty building can be perfect for horror, let alone a building that doesn't really make sense. A building that defies the laws of both physics and logic. Or an endless maze. Fibrillation, a "first person philosophic horror with elements of mysticism" according to its developer, is both unsettling and thought-provoking. And, despite being a gorgeous little game, it also allows you to close your in-game eyes. And be scared while enjoying the short and evocative Dear Esther-esque experience it has to offer.
5.The Corridor (Al-exe) [Windows, free]
Ever since The Shining, empty hotel hallways have been scary; especially late at night. I mean, really, is that bucket of ice really worth leaving the security of your room? In Al-exe's first-person horror The Corridor it most probably isn't. Players wake up from a sense of unexplained anxiety, leave their room, and find themselves in a dark, long, eerie hallway. The hotel slowly turns into an endless maze of walls that forebode something sinister. They then must go deeper into the darkness to escape and, whether they make it or not, test their calmness.
4. Slender: The Eight Pages (Mark J. Hadley) [Windows and Mac, free]
A first-person horror game that has been viewed as both gimmicky and ground-breaking, Slender has inspired a slew of clones and derivative material. Drawing from the Slender Man myth, the game has players scrambling to recover manuscripts before the inevitable approach of the Slender Man and the onset of terror-induced insanity. Even more importantly and despite its non-universal appeal, Slender has inspired more than a few indie devs and people are still coming up with Slender-esque offerings even today.
3. The 4th Wall (GZ Storm) [Windows and Xbox 360, paid]
Calling it an "abstract horror puzzler" as its developers seem to prefer, really doesn't do The 4th Wall justice. This one is one of the weirdest 2012 releases, a wonderfully surreal game and an offering in which the horror element is masterfully executed. It can be downright creepy and genuinely confusing; a game which starts off oddly and makes sure you fail to grasp what's going on, only to get much stranger and more disturbing and go out with an incredible finale.
2.Home (Benjamin Rivers) [Windows, paid]
Saying that Home is a unique game, might sound like a cliche, but, trust me, this is not the case. Home shares very little in common with the average horror game; its pixel-art graphics, subtle atmosphere, sensible sound-design, deeply psychological nature and short length make it a one of a kind offering. The fact that it's built around the mysteries of the subjective make it a masterpiece. A masterpiece that effortlessly evokes feelings and provides with an almost perfect blend of adventure-esque puzzle solving and horror.
1.Lone Survivor (Jasper Byrne) [Windows, Mac and Linux, paid]
Evolving from a freeware and pretty brilliant Silent Hill 2 demake (Soundless Mountain II) and never being shy of its traditional survival-horror legacy, Lone Survivor went on to become one of the most successful indie games of 2012 and a glorious love letter to those pioneering genre classics.
Lone Survivor, Jasper Byrne's side-scrolling box of scares, does much more than evoke memories and transport them to a new aesthetic though. It goes back to the survival horror roots, pays its respects and then evolves and refines everything in a way the AAA industry hasn't so far managed. This is a sleek and mature game, dealing with mature subjects in an artistically mature way; a game that feels heretically close to Twin Peaks and one you simply can't afford to miss.