A Last List For The Year So Far
This week, I just want to go over a list of some of my favorite small/indie horror highlights of 2023 so far. It’s already been a smashing year for horror in games, and while it’s been lovely to see the big hitters getting a revival, the small-scale stuff has been the meat and potatoes for me. Let’s get into that then. Pour some fucking gravy on this.
Dredge (Black Salt Games)
This fucked up fishing sim really captures the horrors of the sea, and that’s before you even see one of the terrible things that lurk in it. It’s got enough atmosphere to fill the very ocean you cross, and its gradual escalation of nightmarish things keeps the dread in Dredge. Jay Krieger went into the litany of freaky fish in an article here recently.
Killer Frequency (Team 17)
The film Pontypool is one of my favorite horrors of the past 20 years, and a large part of it was how it integrated a sleepy local radio show into a more horrifying outside event. It was word-of-mouth zombies there, but in the game Killer Frequency, our radio host has to help the townsfolk evade a supposedly long-dead killer by instructing them over the airwaves.
Incident at Grove Lake (Dan McGrath)
While we had an absolute stinker of an alien invasion indie horror game this year that got a lot of pre-release hype, there was a shorter, more impressive effort there which deserves more attention and praise. Incident at Grove Lake bottles the wonder and paranoia of 90s alien conspiracy. Its use of old radio shows with the late
Sin(e)s (Future Reality Softworks)
A surreal take on early PC edutainment. Sin(e)s not only replicates the look of an old PC’s system, but uses that to take the game in a fascinatingly unsettling direction. A very simple set of mechanics are put to effective use to simulate an earthquake disaster, and the ending was something I didn’t see coming.
Nightmare Zapping (Maldo 19)
I covered this channel-hopping horror from the creator of The Horror of Salazar House on this site before, but since then a full-fat version has come out and it’s even better than it was in its concept form. You zap through a series of ‘channels’ on an old television set and some channels contain small games that tell a connected story. The winner of my completely made-up but no less legitimate ‘Best Game to Capture the Feeling of Skipping Through TV Channels at 2 AM in 2001’ Award.
Varney Lake (LCB Game Studios)
LCB Game Studio is undoubtedly one of my new favorite horror developers. I fell in love with its ‘Pixel Pulps’ series from the very first beat in Mothmen 1966, but Varney Lake takes that formula to a whole new level. With a classic 80s computer adventure visual style connected to the feel of pulp novels, Varney Lake’s tale of innocence lost and a chance encounter with a vampire is beautifully melancholic.
Homebody (Rogue Games Inc)
Its publisher may be highly recognized (Game Grumps), but Jory Griffiths’ Homebody encapsulates the indie scene’s dedication to reviving classical ideals. A proper modern throwback to survival horror’s beginnings with the likes of Clock Tower. Its interpersonal drama is punctuated by a trippy slasher tale and a puzzle box house trapped in a time loop.
Amnesia The Bunker (Frictional Games)
Frictional Games continuously fascinate me. It’s the company that will always make something fresh and exciting from the bones of what it’d previously conjured up. Even in a year where Resident Evil, Dead Space, Clock Tower, Alone in the Dark, and maybe even Silent Hill revive classic games, Amnesia: The Bunker’s take on survival horror deserves to be at the top table come the end-of-year lists. It’s frankly amazing the developer pulled off this immersive sim/survival horror hybrid. Its central monster proves to be a fearsome foe indeed.
Yes, it’s a DreadXP joint, and that might feel like some kind of bias at play, but it genuinely holds a special place for me because my kids were so eager to play the finished game having seen the demo version on YouTube. It ended up being a fantastic social experience in horror for me and my kids, and I like the direction it takes with ‘kid-friendly’ horror.
This will sadly be my last article for DreadXP for the foreseeable future. This site has been a godsend in so many ways when I needed a creative boost the most. I have such massive respect for what this company has done for the indie horror space, and I hope it only grows in stature from this point. How could it not be when there’s been such great writers on this side and such amazing game creators on the other side of the business? In a world of bullshit corps leaning heavily on quick fix easy options, there’s a company like this that celebrates the genre in such an honest and passionate way. It helped keep my love of the genre aflame when I had begun to question that.
To the future!
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