2013: The year of independent horror
In the eyes of many people, mainstream game development studios and big publishers have nearly given up on the horror genre entirely. Be it the latest Resident Evil suffering from a genre identity crisis, or EA trying to make Dead Space 3 appeal to a much larger audience by adding online co-op, some would say that pure horror games are becoming far and few between. This notion quickly diminishes however when you take into account the thriving indie development scene, one that is practically overflowing with quality titles. 2013 in particular is looking to be the year for indie horror. With such a plethora of quality indie horror games on the horizon, we felt the need to narrow the most promising and interesting indie games down to a list of 11 titles. What we were left with is a conglomerate of games that while they may vary significantly from each other in how they play, they all have one thing in common: they are a celebration of all the good qualities of horror, and showcase the strengths and potential of the genre in various ways.
You know those psychological horror games that envelop the player with an overwhelming sense of dread, the kind that truly leaves a lasting impression? Well Asylum looks to place itself up on the mantle with the best of them, as it invites players to the Hanwell Mental Institute.
Inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Asylum is a chilling venture into the mind both for the player and the patients residing within Hanwell Mental Institute’s walls. The asylum itself is a massive labyrinthine spanning roughly 100 rooms and environments for players to explore. More impressive yet, much of the level design is modeled after actual floor planning from real asylums. The game is also narrated by the main character, which will give players an idea as to what’s going in his head, as well as provide clues to solving puzzles.
If you want to have a preview of what’s to come, be sure to check out the interactive teaser currently available. It will give you a delectable taste of what’s to come when the full game is ready.
Huntsman: The Orphanage
There are few places more depressing than an orphanage and fewer yet more eerie than an abandoned one. In Huntsman: The Orphanage, you are not only expected to explore such a dilapidated orphanage, but you’re also expected to investigate the mystery behind a mass disappearance of children in the late 1800s.
In Huntsman, the only tool at your disposal is a smartphone, which can be used to light your way in the darkness, or as a means to communicate with the spirits inhabiting Grimhaven Orphanage. Additionally you may be examining a particular item you found and your phone will spring to life with a message or transmission from one of the aforementioned spirits. The most interesting thing about these transmissions is that they will contain live action video sequences. How seamless the video sequences will be with the actual gameplay remains to be seen, however judging from the trailer it looks quite promising.
Players must be wary though, because they are not the only thing wandering the halls of this orphanage. Legend of a mysterious figure known as The Huntsman is closely tied to the disappearing children, only it may in fact not just be a legend.
The game is being developed by Australian indie development team Shadowshifters, and is currently ranked #2 on Steam Greenlight.
Among the sleep
While Among The Sleep is not meant to be purely a horror game, we can’t help but still include it on this list after the stellar debut trailer from last year. The games’ developer Krillbite, claims that the game will be an adventure into the mind and body of a two year old child. Offering the player the chance to explore everyday, fantastical, and frightening environments from a perspective we all have experienced but probably remember very little of clearly. In the debut trailer, the developer chose to show of one of the games’ horror themed environments, one which many people thought hearkened back to the first Paranormal Activity film through it’s used of moody lighting and objects in the environment seemingly being manipulated by an invisible force. What player’s adversaries such as this invisible force really are remains unclear, but Krillbite insists that imagination is going to be a big factor within the game, where the lines between reality and the fantasy will blur, and we would hope so, because imagination is primarily what fuels a young mind.
Among The Sleep will be played from a first person perspective and features some light platforming somewhat reminiscent of Mirror’s Edge, only instead of scaling buildings like a parkour master, you’re child climbing over obstacles like stools and chairs. Little is known about the gameplay outside of that, but the idea of entering hostile environments controlling a small child is quite remarkable, after all humans are at their most vulnerable point in life when they are children.
In Stasis, you play as John Maracheck, a normal everyday kind of schlub thrust into a extraordinary situation. John awakens from hypersleep inside a massive abandoned research facility, unsure of his surroundings or where his wife and daughter are. Worst of all, it would seem that this research facility is home to something sinister that has yet to reveal itself to John.
Stasis plays like a classic point and click adventure game in the same vain of something like Sanitarium. Where much of the gameplay will come in the way of exploring, inventory management, and solving puzzles. One interesting thing to note with regards to the inventory management, which is always a big part of point and click adventure games, is in Stasis John has something called “Emergency Medical Kit” that he can use to break items down to their base elements. This item should help considerably with the tedium inventory management tends to add to this type of experience.
The shining star of this title however is the lavishly detailed and gritty environments. The art direction shows us a grim portrayal of the future, with dark corridors being mostly illuminated by the white noise of a computer monitor or the green glow of industrial lighting. It has very Ridley Scott inspired in look and tone to it, with bulkheads and wires scattered about a glistening darkness.
Akaneiro: Demon Hunters
We’ve had quite a bit of coverage up for Spicy Horses’s upcoming game Akaneiro: Demon Hunters, not only because industry legend American Mcgee is one of the minds behind the game, but just because it’s such an intriguing premise.
Much like the studio’s previous effort Alice: Madness Returns, Akaneiro: Demon Hunters is a dark twist on a classic fairy tail. Taking the original Little Red Riding Hood story and combining it with ancient feudal Japanese mythology. The game plays like a traditional action RPG in the same vain as Diablo, and has an art style that’s very reminiscent of Okami. Best thing of all: It’s completely free to play!
Akaneiro: Demon Hunters recently made it through the 4th set of Steam Greenlight titles, and will be available on the service in time. The game has however yet to meet it’s kickstarter goal, with only $101, 000 of it’s $200, 000 goal being met. So if you’re interested in the game, you might want to head over to Akaneiro’s Kickstarter page and give them a pledge.
Memory of a broken Dimension
Out of all the games on this list, Memory Of A Broken Dimension is the most distinct in nearly every measurable way. I mean, who would have ever thought learning how to use an old command line could be so creepy and surreal?
The idea behind Memory Of A Broken Dimension is you are presented with an old DOS-esq command line, similar to those found in old terminal computers. Where only curiosity is there to help you decipher what is it you’re looking at. The game has a series of executable and hidden files within this command line that if executed with the correct series of commands, will lead to a series of haunting visuals and first person exploration segments. Everything is very abstract with the visuals in this game, accompanying them is some seriously impressive sound design, complete with chilling music. The games creator Ezra Hanson-White said he was inspired to make the game by his own experiences learning how to use a computer for the first time when he was younger, and the sort of mysterious nature of the computers drove him to want to learn more about them, which is the experience that he wants to be replicated for people playing Memory Of A Broken Dimension.
You don’t have to wait for the full game to be released to at least get a taste of this game, as there’s a test build of the game available here if you want to try out the command line a little, none of the first person segments are available in this build however. Alternatively you can check out this trailer to get a quick look at the game in action.
Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs
Chances are if you’re visiting this page, you’re already well aware of Frictional Games’ Amnesia: The Dark Descent and its legacy. It has become somewhat of a wright of passage for many gamers looking to test their courage and mettle against, and it’s also “Let’s Play” phenomenon on Youtube. So to say there is a lot of hype for the follow up would be an understatement. Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs however is not being developed by Frictional Games, but rather the UK based indie studio thechineseroom responsible for 2012′s Dear Esther. Frictional will continue to oversee and produce the game still, and are very much involved with the project.
Many details for the game are still somewhat sparse, but what we do know about the game is the setting and time period. A Machine For Pigs takes place 60 years after the events of The Dark Descent, and rather than be in an isolated gothic castle, it will be set in an steampunk environment inspired by that of disturbing medical and progressive science practices of 1800s Britain.
Dan Pinchbeck, the creative director working on the project stated in an interview that while many elements of the original game will return, such as the now iconic lantern, thechineseroom is looking to up the ante and remove any sort of barriers in the way of immersion. Particularly with how the game will handle’s death, and that the team has reassessed how death is handled after playing DayZ, a game where once you die, you lose your character permanently. We’re not saying that’s how Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs will handle death specifically, only that thechineseroom has been inspired by it, and that they’re trying to bring about true dread and fear when it comes to the dying mechanic.
Currently the game has no release date set in stone, and it’s been a while since the developers gave an update on their progress. Regardless of that though, it’s hard to not to be excited for the sequel to what many consider the scariest game ever made.
Path of Exile
When Diablo 3 was first revealed in 2008, many fans were upset that the Gothic art style of the previous two games had vanished in favor of something with a little more color. Well Path of Exile is here to satisfy the those looking for a really gritty, dark, and morbid dungeon crawler. Much like the earlier Diablo games, Path of Exile thrives in the darkness, letting players know from the get go that the best place to get great loot is the crypt most adventurers dare not venture. The very words on the game’s website are “We’re sick of the recent trend towards bright, cartoony RPGs. The art style we chose for Path of Exile is dark, gritty and realistic.”
Despite being a free to play title, Path of Exile looks to be the most fully featured and complex dungeon crawler currently available. With a shockingly deep skill system, which consists of using gems and socketing them in weapons and items. Equipping gems will grant access to certain abilities, making experimentation between your class, items, and gems curtail to progressing further in the game. There’s also a massive passive skill tree, that allows players to branch out and tailor their characters progression to their specific desires.
Lastly, the game’s open beta begins on January 23rd, so head over to their website and sign up!
No More Room in Hell
It’s arguable as to what really started the recent zombie movement in gaming, but most people would probably say it was the immense success of Valve’s popular Left 4 Dead title released in the fall of 2008. Since then the market has been flooded with games featuring zombies, so much so that many gamers are quite tried of the formula already. However no matter how over saturated a genre might be, there’s always a title that should make everyone sit up and take notice regardless, No More Room in Hell is one of those games.
No More Room in Hell is a multiplayer zombie first person shooter in the same vain as Left for Dead, there are more than enough aspects of the game that set it apart from it’s Source Engine brethren. For one, the zombies are of the Romero ilk: slow, plodding, and very difficult to kill. Not only are they a challenge to dispose of, but they also can infect players and cause them to bleed out. No More Room in Hell also takes note from older survival horror titles by making ammunition, healing items, and all beneficial items rather scarce. Thereby making you weigh the pros and cons of using each item carefully, this is part of the games strong stance and emphasis on realism. Some other examples the game pushing the realism is both text and voice communication only working between players within a certain proximity, limited hud, and no crosshairs.
No More Room in Hell has passed the Greenlight stage on Steam, and is set to release on the service once the developer reaches the 1.07 patch. The Steam version of the game is supposed to be completely free to play, and there wont even be micro transactions. You don’t have to wait for the Steam release to try it however, as you can download the latest version of the game straight from the developers website.
Shadow of a Soul
Whether Telltale’s The Walking Dead has convinced you that episodic gaming can be done properly, or the lack of Half-Life Episode 3 has left a bitter taste in your mouth, there’s no denying that applying a television distribution model is a great way to keep people interested in a game. Vivec Entertainment is looking to take that model and apply it to their new horror title Shadow of a Soul.
In the first chapter of Shadow of a Soul you play as a thief named Jack tasked with a industrial espionage mission to steal blueprints of some sort. The office complex housing these blueprints however seems to be also home to ill willed spirits.
There is unfortunately not a wealth of information pertaining to what the gameplay will be like in Shadow of a Soul, aside from the fact that the game will be played from a first person perspective, and players will have to solve puzzles and investigate the environment like a traditional adventure game. What really caught our eye specifically about this one was the stunning debut trailer, let’s hope the final game ends up looking that gorgeous.
Chapter 1 of Shadow of a Soul is slated to be released this May, you can even pre-order the game on the games website right now!
They say that in space no one can hear you scream, and Routine is going to provide the emphasis on that statement. Tasked with the job of investigating what happened on an abandoned moon base, players will have to uncover clues and find data to help discover what exactly happened to the denizens of this moon base.
The most interesting aspect of Routine is you only get one life each time you play it, that is if you die, it’s game over and you’ll have to start over fresh. Each time you start a new game much of the game will change, items and a multitude of other gameplay facets will be randomized and changed from your previous playthroughs. Better yet, you’re free to roam the space station of your own accord, the game is entirely non linear. There’s also no HUD in the game whatsoever, not even a health bar, the developers claiming it’s all about the “full body awareness” immersion factor with this title.
Routine is also probably the most technically impressive game on our list, with visuals rivaling a lot of major publisher release game. It is pretty shocking that a game can look this good and still remain independent.
Hopefully by now, after looking over these 11 titles you’re convinced as we are that 2013 is indeed going to be the year for independent horror games. Even though I personally thought this was the cream of the crop, there’s plenty other great looking indie horror titles set to be released this year. From frantically cowering in the loneliness of space to taking on the demonic legions of hell first hand, all the bases seem to be covered. So for all of you that feel the mainstream gaming industry has abandoned horror altogether, fear not, because the independent scene is teeming with fear.