Indie horror's "the weirder, the better" approach is effortlessly pulling focus from triple A games this summer – but why?

No More Room in Hell 2
(Image credit: Torn Banner Studios)

To say that I wasn't expecting much in the vein of horror games at Summer Game Fest is putting it very mildly. The items on my list of SGF horror predictions saw varying degrees of success – I called Slitterhead and the first Alan Wake 2 DLC showing face, but I should have known better than to jinx my Resident Evil hopes and dreams by typing them into existence.

But perhaps the most exciting new reveal came to me in the form of Blumhouse Games. The home of cinematic horror has a brand new games publishing branch, announced alongside a bumper trailer that promises a feast of indie terrors currently in the works under its wing. I felt my mouth drop open as I inched closer to the TV screen. Nothing, not even the lengthy Silent Hill 2 gameplay reveal, had gotten me that hyped for horror games all weekend. My reaction is living (dead) proof that the horror genre still very much belongs to indie developers and their fans in 2024 – and if you look at their track record, that's no bad thing at all.

Back to our roots

Slender the eight pages

(Image credit: Parsec productions)

As if it needed to be said, we owe much of the current horror boom to indie game devs. Ever since the days of Slender: The Eight Pages or Hotel 626, indie developers have known that you don't need a huge budget to scare huge swathes of people. Creativity, a low price tag, and a heavy dose of true-blue weirdness are more than enough to charm me into trying out your game these days, but you know what helps even more? The internet.

The litany of new indies announced by Blumhouse already look like they can go the distance. Playmestudio's The Simulation sounds like the kind of fourth wall-breaking meta weirdness that Doki Doki Literature Club popularized in 2017. Fear the Spotlight sees players hiding in the shadows from patrolling enemies in a photophobic spin on Amnesia: The Dark Descent's hide-and-seek machinations. And all of them look and sound like games that can be easily shared and spread among gamers at a grassroots level. From Content Warning to Lethal Company, Phasmophobia to The Mortuary Assistant, indie horror fans are constantly looking for shareable ways to experience horror – whether through multiplayer antics, or through watching Twitch streamers. 

If you make a bitesize horror game that has the potential to go viral, as well as a unique little gameplay quirk that people can react to differently, you've already done more than half the work. Think of flash player browser games like Hotel 626, for example, that could only be accessed between 6pm and 6am. It's not 2008 anymore, and the game is sadly no more, but Hotel 626 is one of the first games I remember going to school and hearing every single person talking about.

Hotel 626

(Image credit: Snack Strong Productions)

Indie horror fans are constantly looking for shareable ways to experience horror.

The same novelty factor can be said of the most successful modern indies, and Blumhouse Games understands that assignment. Balls to the wall oddity also happens to be something you don't often see coming from the AAA titans. The reason? It's difficult to say with certainty, but it certainly doesn't hurt that a great many indie games are able to capture very specific brands of weirdness, and that weirdness is so often drawn from unapologetic creative freedom – the ability to throw everything behind very particular niches.

You need only look at some of the horror demos doled out during last week's Steam Next Fest to see what I'm talking about. GreenColdBody is a first-person horror game that "can only be played 2.5 times''; Tormenture is a pixelated horror puzzler where the monsters you encounter can interfere with the game itself; Grunn is an unnerving farming sim featuring ominous little garden gnomes, honing in on a disturbing atmospheric presence rather than concerning itself with ray-tracing or photorealistic human faces. With such a breadth of subgenres and gameplay quirks on offer, it's unsurprising that blockbuster games and their current survival-horror-only trends are failing to grab me right now.

I'll probably still pick up Silent Hill 2 later this year, and truth be told, I am still keeping a candle lit in the name of Resident Evil 9. But until the big wigs can give me what I want, it's good to know that there's no shortage of excellent indie horror games skulking about on the horizon to keep me well and truly distracted for the foreseeable future. 

There are so many upcoming horror games to keep track of, but here are our top ones to watch.

Jasmine Gould-Wilson
Staff Writer, GamesRadar+

Jasmine is a staff writer at GamesRadar+. Raised in Hong Kong and having graduated with an English Literature degree from Queen Mary, University of London in 2017, her passion for entertainment writing has taken her from reviewing underground concerts to blogging about the intersection between horror movies and browser games. Having made the career jump from TV broadcast operations to video games journalism during the pandemic, she cut her teeth as a freelance writer with TheGamer, Gamezo, and Tech Radar Gaming before accepting a full-time role here at GamesRadar. Whether Jasmine is researching the latest in gaming litigation for a news piece, writing how-to guides for The Sims 4, or extolling the necessity of a Resident Evil: CODE Veronica remake, you'll probably find her listening to metalcore at the same time.