Sometimes video games aren’t meant to empower or immerse, but for something much more primal: to scare the crap out of you. Playboy’s Fear and Loading series peers down dark hallways and checks under gaming’s bed to find the games that terrify us, and delves into how and why they work.
The website itch.io represents the extreme D.I.Y. segment of gaming. Anyone can make a simple game and upload it to the site to sell or give away for free. And with the advent of game creation tools like Unity and Gamemaker, it is easier than ever for someone to create and share a game.
As such, there are a lot of interesting experiments available on the site that wouldn’t make it on a larger platform. However there are also a lot of nearly unplayable games. So I’ve been digging into the horror section to try and pull out some recommendations. I’m not promising that all of them will be amazing genre-defining creations, but they’re short and free—and they just might scare the pants off you.
5. ‘NIGHTTIME VISITOR’
You start off in what appears to be a regular office and you receive a call on your cell phone. You pick up and hear someone talking on the other line, only to be cut off by heavy breathing and gargling. From there you have to figure out how to escape the office while constantly receiving calls on your phone.
The person, or thing, that’s coming after you will hear your phone ring and chase you down based on that. You aren’t entirely powerless though as you can call them to figure out their position as well. It’s a bit silly, but the idea of a tense game of phone tag was interesting enough to me that I feel comfortable recommending at least giving it a once through.
4. ‘ONE CHANCE’
One Chance is less in your face scary and more creeping existential dread. The game opens by informing you that in six days all living cells on planet Earth will be dead. You have one chance to prevent that disaster.
The developer page bills One Chance as “a game about choices and dealing with them” and I would say that’s a pretty accurate summation. The game is short and can be played for free in your browser. If this sounds at all interesting to you, then give it a shot.
3. ‘SHI NO MORI’
Shi No Mori takes place in Japan’s famed “suicide forest”. It starts out innocent enough with you gathering notes that explain the controls and background story of the game during the day, but things become more sinister when night falls. During the night you have to move through the forest collecting artifacts while avoiding the various ghosts and demons who aren’t taking too kindly to you encroaching on their territory.
There are very few discernible landmarks in the forest, so I got lost at frequent intervals. Normally this would be quite frustrating, but I think it enhances the mood of this game. Darting my flashlight around the trees to see if the ghost I had been running from was still in pursuit while trying to figure out just where the hell I was became a very unnerving experience. The game is also not above flashing the image of a ghost’s bloody face on your screen at random intervals so have fun with that.
If you love the writings of H.P. Lovecraft then this is the game for you. You wake up on an alien planet with the ruins of mysterious ancient architecture all around you. You can walk around and explore the various fractured structures while collecting green crystals that will narrate part of the story to you.
The game can be finished in 10-15 minutes, but it’s a great adaptation of Lovecraft’s style of cosmic horror in a game—even better than the official Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth game.
Greg wakes up in the middle of the night with a sudden flash of anxiety. Did he lock the door? He can’t get back to sleep, so you’ll have to guide him around his house finding clues that may point you to the source of this sudden flash of dread. Guided only by the light of his candle, you will have to piece together what exactly is going on, but it will soon become clear that someone really doesn’t want you to.
Reagan Cox is a writer living in Kansas. If you can’t find him playing games or in the woods then he’s probably listening to records like the dirty hipster he is. He also does a Twitter sometimes @theoreticalgam3
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