Jesse’s 2020 Indie Horror Hit List
Another year comes to an end, and with it, countless articles of top games that were released. But not everyone can afford a fancy gaming rig, or even a fancy game itself. This is a 2020 best-of list for the rest of us. The caveat of these titles is that not all of them are full hours-long games, but each one is cheap (or free) and can (probably) be played on an older computer. I’m sure to have forgotten or missed other titles that came out, so this is by no means a comprehensive list. That said, in no particular order, here’s a handful of the best indie horror games of 2020.
There’s a tried and true formula for horror. You see it in all kinds of movies, games, and shows. This year, no title adhered to it better than Crooked Silence. This game has it all. A mysterious car crash in the night, a spooky house in the woods, a basement way larger than such a house would warrant, puzzles, limited resources, and much more.
Crooked Silence is a title by itch developer Echo7Project. This game is great in just about every aspect. The colors are awesome, the atmosphere suspenseful, the style is retro yet feels inspired by modern development technique. And it’s really hard. Not only that, once you finish with the game proper, there’s Crooked SIlence: Tales from the Dark, a $1 expansion/ sequel with three episodes that take place around the events of the first game.
You can download Crooked Silence for free on itch.io by clicking here.
This next one comes courtesy of developer GameDevBoi. A submission for the Hispanic Heritage Month Jam, Llorona is a ghost story set during the Mexican Revolution. I’m generally not a fan of the haunted house genre, but the atmosphere and execution of this game is flawless.
Llorona opens with a priest informing you that your new haunted house is probably not safe to stay in. Indeed, why else would you have so easily won it in a poker game? Regardless, it’s 3am which is the best time to visit your new unholy home. Mi casa embrujada es su casa embrujada.
You can download Llorona for free on itch.io by clicking here.
Going to an interview is about as terrifying a “boss encounter” as one gets in real life. The perfect setup for a horror game. This game is a take on such an event. In M. Stain you are visiting the big city to meet the man of that name who hopefully will become your employer. But an interview is a good place to look for warning signs, both for the interviewer and for the interviewee.
Created by developer Impostorsyndrome, M. Stain is a fantastic and surreal experience. It’s a wild ride from start to finish, both visually and story-wise. And not just in this game. Impostorsyndrome’s other title this year, Death Flush, could easily be a contender on this spot for the same reasons.
You can download M. Stain for free on itch.io by clicking here.
The Imagined Leviathan
You certainly wouldn’t guess this is a horror game off the screenshots. But The Imagined Leviathan is as dread-filled a game as any. Created by developers Far Few Giants, this game is a horror experience unlike any other on this list, emphasized all the more by the bright white presentation.
In The Imagined Leviathan, you play a character who’s trying to survive in the snowy wastes. Building fires is critical for survival, and you need to pick up all the sticks, logs, and lighters you can find. But one more ingredient is needed, kindling for the fire and for the soul. Added to the flame are sentences, fully voiced lines reading original works as well as passages from Jack London and even VanderMeer’s Annihilation.
The Imagined Leviathan is typically $3, but right now it is having a 100% off sale. A pretty good deal I should say. You can try it for yourself on itch.io by clicking here.
Indie developer Papercookies quite literally puts out too much good stuff to cover. Not only did they organize C.H.A.I.N. and Haunted PS1 Madvent Calendar 2020, two amazing collections from dozens of indie developers, and the DREAMDISC, a collection of their own titles, plus about one awesome game a month, they also started what could be a franchise of its own: Spookware.
Spookware is a take on the WarioWare game style. Progression through the game is done by completing a series of random 10 second long minigames, but this time, spooky. With music by the excellent Viktor Kraus and a visual style you need to experience for yourself, Spookware stood out as an incredible title on its own—and then Papercookies made another for the Dread X Collection 3!
It’s not journalistic malpractice if the game is good. Try the original Spookware for free by clicking here.
Teebowah Games is another developer with too much good stuff to choose from. With the fantastic child labor horror game It’s a Living, the incredible museum nightmare The Third Shift, and the truly stunning last-game-of-the-year release Pit of Babel, one of my favorite games was the extremely surreal PYLONS. A game in the style of a 70s PSA about the dangers of playing around electrical pylons, this title is as amusing as it is harrowing.
In PYLONS you are a child playing in their neighborhood. You roam around the area and talk to whoever is nearby. Including the handy dandy pylon repairman. These great and beautiful works of technology conveniently bring electricity into all of our homes every day. But perhaps there is more to these structures than one might suspect.
You can buy PYLONS for $1 on itch.io by clicking here.
There’s a lot of great stuff coming from CASE. The recent Bloody Service could easily hold this spot, and I’m sure their upcoming The Parrot That Summons Demons will equal in comparison, if not exceed. But developer Nico Saraintaris’ solo projects are excellent as well. Most notably for me this year was 19 Line.
19 Line is a story based game where you take the role of a subway operator. Unbeknownst to you, this night is a special night on your route. It’s a fairly short story based game, so I won’t spoil too much. But if you like the style of this title, you’ll most certainly love Bloody Service.
You can try 19 Line for free on itch.io by clicking here.
Torture Star Video and Puppet Combo never miss, that much is certain. Their recent title Murder House may be the best of their releases yet. As with the rest of their titles, which “simualtes a 5th gen survival horror game,” Murder House is a fantastic throwback to PS1 horror.
Murder House is set in a self-explanatory setting. You play as a news crew investigating an abandoned home belonging to an Easter-themed serial killer. Upon entering the murder house, obviously murder begins to happen. To survive, you must play the killer’s twisted games, which are also Easter-themed.
The price of Murder House is a bit higher than the list would suggest, but still worth every penny. You can try it on Steam for $15 (on sale right now!) by clicking here.
Pigs are a wonderful animal, and Saw is a fun horror franchise. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Pigsaw made the list. Another submission for the haunted PS1 Summer of Screams, this game is created by itch.io developer Achebit. This survival horror nightmare is just as gory and violent as you can imagine.
Pigsaw takes place in the world’s least OSHA friendly abattoir. The pigs are the butchers here, and the people are being processed into nice containers for grocery stores. You play as one of the many human cattle to be sent to the slaughter, and if you wish to survive, you’re gonna have to slaughter the butchers right back.
You can try Pigsaw for $5 on itch.io by clicking here.
Happy’s Humble Burger Barn
True horror is inspired by real life. And nothing in this world is more harrowing than working in a restaurant kitchen. Created by Scythe Dev Team, known also for the Northbury Grove series, Happy’s Humble Burger Barn takes on this premise. This game’s atmosphere
You’re running the whole restaurant in Happy’s Humble Burger Barn. Clocking in for the graveyard shift at the happiest and humblest of fast food franchises, you soon realize that not everything is well tonight. But someones gotta stay and flip those patties, right?
You can try Happy’s Humble Burger Barn for free on itch.io by clicking here. And if you like it, try the alpha build for their upcoming sequel, Happy’s Humble Burger Farm. Also for free.
Indie Horror GOTY: Golden Light
Golden Light is a game that is profound. There is quite literally too much good stuff to say about this title, and it’s not even finished yet. This roguelite horror is by developer Mr. Pink and is without a doubt the most stylish, baffling, beautiful, and most importantly, fun horror game I have played this year.
The game takes place in an underground(?) labyrinth called the Gut. Appropriately named, as most if not everything in the area is made out of meat. Golden Light has you making your way through the halls of the Gut, ever cautious of the objects you find around you, as any one could be a mimic waiting to strike. It’s a game of prop hunt, and this time, the props hunt you.
This brief description doesn’t even scratch the surface of this title. Full review coming soon. You can (you will) buy Golden Light on Steam for $13 (on sale now!) by clicking here.