Crossfader’s Super Spooky Listicles: Freeware Horror Games
As long as the Earth revolves around the sun, an independent game developer will put his time and effort into cramming as many jump scares as possible into a 20-minute throwaway play through. Entering the public’s consciousness thanks to the 2013 hit SLENDER: THE EIGHT PAGES, freeware horror has proven to be a never-ending well of content, running the gamut of creativity and quality. Largely bolstered by YouTube’s popular “Let’s Play” format, where you can watch complete runs of games done by screaming adults, for every creepypasta-derived FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S clone, there’s a hidden gem promising an entertaining and genuinely scary gaming experience. Here’s a roundup of six such games.
A good start to Super Spooky Listicles, considering that it doubles down on the current memetic potential of clowns! Self-awareness aside, BEWILDER HOUSE actually manages to cram in a good amount of tension into its economical run time. Due in large part to its stressing of puzzles over cheap scare tactics, BEWILDER HOUSE is far more mature than it may seem upon first glance. Featuring a fun house layout that regularly aims to subvert and manipulate traditional game mechanics, an unreliable “guide” that constantly necessitates questioning, a genuinely menacing antagonist (pictured above) that will ensure you’re kept on edge, and just a touch of well-deployed humor, I would recommend BEWILDER HOUSE to amateur gamers, as it manages to be both just challenging and frightening enough to keep the player’s attentions until the end. Topped off with a stellar palette of comic-book carnival colors, BEWILDER HOUSE is sure to entertain for a night spent with friends. You can download it for free here.
THE CROOKED MAN
Shout outs to the devs of THE CROOKED MAN for offering a fully-developed, full-length game for free! David Hoover, a mentally unstable man, moves into a new apartment, only to have strange, unexplained events begin to occur. When he goes around asking about the previous tenant of the apartment, he ends up getting more than he bargained for, as he begins to be stalked by a malevolent entity (The Crooked Man in question) and have his version of reality slowly crumble. Making use of the art style of an old-school JRPG, THE CROOKED MAN is the most conventionally meritable entry on this list due to its fantastic blend of atmosphere and moments of sheer, pants-soiling terror. With a layered story that manages to land moments of emotional devastation among its more straightforward horror leanings, THE CROOKED MAN may make use of some tried-and-true horror tropes, but promises an entirely immersive experience that will leave many lights on into the wee hours of the morning. And yes, this was made way before THE CONJURING 2. You can download it for free here.
While I certainly won’t go to bat for ETERNAL WALK’s premise, at a certain point we all play horror games to have the pants scared off of us, and in that regard, the game succeeds. Immediately placing the player in an unspecified, claustrophobic space, ETERNAL WALK makes full use of its lo-fi production values to make the atmosphere as suffocating as possible. Maybe illuminating a quarter of the screen at any given time, the goals of the game involve collecting cassette tapes (yes, I’ll allow you an eye-roll at the hearkening to SLENDER), but considering that these are never contextualized in any significant way, it comes across as more of a perfunctory, almost satirical farce of the genre. What we ultimately have on our hands is a deathly silent maze, with something quietly stalking us from the periphery. Is that a monster in the shadows, or just an indie dev weaseling out of animating something fully? The fact that ETERNAL WALK regularly plays with this question ends up being the most frightening and creative part about it.
RIDES WITH STRANGERS
Alright, so this is technically a demo, but this wouldn’t be the first time a horror teaser outclassed its feature length peers. Playing a hapless young woman hitchhiking in the wee hours of the morning, RIDES WITH STRANGERS tasks you with surviving a car ride with a variety of disturbed individuals. Necessitating a tense array of multitasking, the player must answer the driver’s questions in the correct manner, look over at the driver periodically to make sure they’re not about to make a move, and attempt to remain calm. While the death animation unfortunately makes use of a jump scare, the disturbed individuals that the devs have created are grotesque enough that the prolonged conversations will keep you on edge, and the game mechanics are nerve wracking and comparatively unique. The demo makes use of a demented preacher as the first driver to offer you a ride, but other promised character models such as The Dungeon Master are sure to be equally repulsive. Unfortunately, the demo is no longer available for free, but you can donate to the Kickstarter page to get a playthrough, and it’s not too hard to find if you look outside of the box…
SONIC DREAMS COLLECTION
Since RIDES WITH STRANGER isn’t a fully-realized product just yet, I thought I’d shake things up with what should be an unexpected addition: SONIC DREAMS COLLECTION. With heavy ties to the online communities of DeviantArt and 4chan, SONIC DREAMS COLLECTION isn’t scary in the traditional sense of the word, but in many ways, it’s a far more disturbing entry than its peers on this list. Consisting of four “secret” Sonic mini games that never saw the light of day, each and every one of the entries is squeamish and nauseating, whether it be the disturbing “ascension” of Dr. Robotnik in “Eggman Origin,” your sexual romancing of Sonic in “My Roommate Sonic,” or even just stretching the character models past any logical point of taste or body politics in “Make My Sonic.” However, what truly makes this a frightening experience is “Sonic Movie Maker,” which made me squirm just as much as POSTAL 2. “Sonic Movie Maker” tasks you with creating sexual fetish films starring rag doll models of all the major Sonic characters. While violence is mercifully avoided, there’s something existentially devastating about feeding a chained-up Sonic cake until his belly balloons to astronomical proportions, placing a speech bubble saying “Thank you Daddy” over his head as a finishing move. If you want to feel in need of a shower, you can download it for free here.
THE UNCLE WHO WORKS FOR NINTENDO
It’s been making the rounds for a while now as part of the Text-Based Renaissance, but for those who want their spooks a little more mature, THE UNCLE WHO WORKS FOR NINTENDO can’t be beat. Hearkening back to the playground bullshitting of yesteryear, THE UNCLE WHO WORKS FOR NINTENDO takes place during a sleepover between two boys. One of them claims to have the titular uncle, which allows him special access to premium consoles and games as a result. However, as the night progresses, it becomes clear that you definitely don’t want the uncle to pay the house a visit…Almost entirely eschewing jump scares for a steadily progressing sense of dread, this text-based game makes excellent use of ambient sound and your own expectations of flash internet content to regularly surprise and frighten you. Topped off with a story both innovative and bizarre enough to keep interest invested through the six play throughs required to achieve all endings, THE UNCLE WHO WORKS FOR NINTENDO is one of the best freeware games available. You can download it here.