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Top Five Psychological Horror Games Top Five Psychological Horror Games

Game Reviews

Top Five Psychological Horror Games

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With Halloween fast approaching and the nights growing colder, gamers are finding themselves spoilt for choice when it comes to indie horror: a genre which blew up with games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Slender, and Five Nights at Freddy’s popularised by screeching YouTube stars. However, these games have also given indie horror an unfortunate reputation for relying on jump-scares, teleporting monsters, and an increasingly familiar cast of creepy little girls. “It’s late at night, you’re driving through a darkened forest when suddenly your car breaks down. Desperate for help and with your flashlight running low on batteries you stumble across an old mansion, but not everything is as it seems…” sound familiar?

A market saturated with low-res haunted houses and regurgitated storylines are enough to put off any buyer from trawling through Steam titles for games worth their time. But if you expand your search a little bit you’ll find that beyond the survival shooters and cheap slasher games is a whole world of indie horror worth playing. So to get you in the mood for Halloween, we’ve picked out the most interesting indie horror games that you might never have considered. From innocent-looking anime dating sims to harrowing point-and-clicks, here are some stunning indie games that shouldn’t be underestimated, and whose takes on psychological horror go above and beyond the jump-scare clichés.

1. The Cat Lady 

Developed by Harvester Games
Published by Screen 7
Available on PC

The Cat Lady

Gruesomely disturbing and strung with tension, The Cat Lady is a graphical adventure game that blends reality with the nightmarishly surreal. The game handles adult themes head-on, beginning with the suicide of its main character. Yet Susan Ashworth’s wish for death is refused by the Queen of Maggots, a character who instead grants Susan immortality and returns her to our world to rid it of five ‘parasites’. Willing or not, the game follows Susan’s attempts to find and kill these five psychotic murderers, on a journey that takes us to the edges of our own sanity. Make no mistake, The Cat Lady is a truly messed up game that comes with multiple content warnings: exploring sexual abuse, torture, cancer, and mental illness. Harvester Games do not shy away from brutal themes, yet their honesty in exploring Susan’s depression throughout such nightmarish scenes helps transform the game into a compelling story with room for hope and redemption.

Gameplay generally comes down to point-and-click puzzles which are straightforward, yet filled with tension as you pray that you’ll have time to complete your task before a killer discovers what you’re up to. Though its animation is unpolished The Cat Lady’s ragdoll characters lurching about like puppets on strings undeniably bring a fitting element of the uncanny to the screen. Equally, the game’s visual style with muted colors flecked with splatters of red, or rare warm scenes with autumnal lighting, easily give way to blinding light and flickering psychotic visions that threaten to consume reality. The Cat Lady is absolutely worth the price as a fully voice acted eight-hour game fretted with pain, horror, and moments of silent melancholy. It’s a disturbing point-and-click drenched in blood, guts, and gore, but where the real horror comes from the monsters within.

2. Doki Doki Literature Club!

Developed by Team Salvato
Published by Team Salvato
Available on PC

Doki Doki Literature Club

At first glance, Doki Doki Literature Club looks to be a cutesy anime dating sim where a hopeless boy joins a new club and soon finds himself surrounded by beautiful girls eager to write poetry, bake cupcakes, and make new friends. Everything seems completely innocent, except for the small problem of a warning that pops up on the very first intro screen: ‘This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed’. That’s because Doki Doki Literature Club is, in fact, a psychological horror game with chillingly gruesome content that will leave a pit in your stomach.

Keeping spoilers to a minimum, it is fair to say that Doki Doki is an indie horror masterpiece for players familiar with the usual tropes of visual novels, but even without a knowledge of dating sims players who enjoy games like The Stanley Parable or Pony Island will undoubtedly find themselves horrifically surprised. Doki Doki is free, around four hours long, and comes with a content warning for suicide and self-harm. If you think there’s no way an anime dating game can get inside your head, you need to give Doki Doki Literature Club a go.

3. Little Nightmares 

Developed by Tarsier Studios
Published by BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment
Available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC

Little Nightmares

Little Nightmares is a short puzzle-platformer that has left players hungering for more. The game sets itself apart from other indie horror games with a haunting storybook aesthetic and uniquely hideous monsters lying in wait for you. You play as Six, a young girl bundled inside a yellow coat, as she tries to escape from The Maw. Elongated limbs reach out to pluck you from your hiding place, grotesque humans tower above you as wobbling piles of fat desperate to gobble you whole, and a mysteriously masked geisha lurks in the shadows.

Little Nightmares gives very little away when it comes to its backstory, yet it’s possible to piece events together as a hunger grows within you, and you begin to question why you’re really here. Though it could do with more complex puzzles the game has a flawlessly executed visual design that plays on fears not usually explored in horror games, and meanwhile, the Little Nightmares team are continuing to add DLC and expand on its mysterious universe. Little Nightmare’s story is tantalizing, its gameplay nerve-wracking: Tarsier Studios’ game may be short, but it makes up for it with a style of horror that is disturbingly sweet.

4. Rusty Lake Roots

Developed by Rusty Lake
Published by Rusty Lake
Available on iOS, Android, and PC

Rusty Lake Roots

A macabre point-and-click puzzle game that follows the unfortunate lives of the Vanderboom family. Beset by a demonic presence, psychotic bloodlines, and fated accidents, Rusty Lake Roots achieves an incredible feeling of sympathy for its ill-fated characters without them ever needing to utter a sentence. Yet there’s also a wicked delight in letting the game turn you into a monster. By setting complex puzzles that require you to rifle through the families’ most personal possessions as they gaze on mournfully at the screen you often don’t know what the outcome of your actions will be until it is too late. As you play you unlock new generations in the family tree, enacting each character’s will until you slowly find yourself complicit in the Vanderboom’s tragic ‘accidents’, and as you uncover their final secret, become the demon needed to complete their unholy plans.

Rusty Lake Roots tells a compelling story of misery and horror that more than makes up for its simplistic art style, and at $2.99 with around four hours of gameplay, it’s absolutely worth picking up. Rusty Lake Roots is grim, but when the game decides in its opening scene to ensure that the family dog is made immortal you know that you’re in safe hands for a tale of dark humor and unforgivable deeds.

5. Stories Untold

Developed by No Code
Published by Devolver Digital
Available on PC 

Stories UntoldStories Untold is a compilation of four sinister stories ranging from text-adventures to sci-fi puzzles that take interactive fiction to unsettling areas. Pushing the boundaries of what ghost stories can be, Stories Untold switches between entire genres, settings, and mechanics, to deliver an intense experience that keeps you guessing. Each story is based around a different piece of classic 1980s technology, with each tale Stories Untold taking its retro content to a new and disquieting level, creating a sense of claustrophobia and creeping dread that continues to dig away at you until the game’s final reveal.

Stories Untold isn’t like many other games, but with an eerie undertone tying together its surreal pastiche of horror stories it might be precisely the game you’re looking for to set you on edge this Halloween. While the games vary individually in terms of success, they are each undeniably clever, well-written pieces that are subtle enough to get inside your head, and threatening enough to leave it reeling.

Helen Jones is a Ravenclaw graduate who likes to apparate between her homes in England and Denmark. She spends her time reading fantasy novels, climbing mountains, and loves to play story-focused and experimental indie games like The Stanley Parable or Night in the Woods. She also covers tabletop and board games over at Zatu Games, and you can follow her twitter @BarnacleDrive for updates, blogs, and pictures of mushrooms.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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Game Reviews

‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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Game Reviews

‘Remothered: Tormented Fathers’ Review: I Want My Remummy

There’s merit to be had if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, indie horror game, but with so many flaws, I can’t recommend Remothered.

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Remothered: Tormented Fathers Review

It feels like a while since the ‘survival horror but you can’t fight back’ genre was at its peak, especially with the recent, tradition-tinged revival of the Resident Evil series, but back in 2017 when Remothered: Tormented Fathers was being developed for PC it was all the rage. Like any indie game that’s had even the slightest amount of interest or acclaim during the current generation, Remothered has received the now-obligatory Switch port. Although its modest technical requirements clearly made a successful transition to the platform more than manageable, they don’t help to hide the game’s very obvious shortcomings.

Players take control of Rosemary Reed in her attempts to investigate retired notary Dr. Richard Felton, who is currently undergoing treatment for a mysterious disease. Oh, and he has a missing daughter that he probably murdered. The plot of the game feels a little cliché, but it’s undoubtedly its strongest facet. However, suspending your disbelief at the ropy animations and dodgy voice-acting is needed to avoid being sucked into feeling like you’re watching Theresa May running around a big mansion trying to escape from a John Cleese impersonator with his arse hanging out. Alas, I clearly failed in this endeavor.

Remothered is essentially a game of ‘go there, fetch that, bring it here, use it’ with an added element of ‘don’t let the annoying old man kill you in the face with a sickle’. Yeah, one of those ones. The story takes place almost entirely within Felton’s huge mansion, and navigating the ol’ girl is by far the game’s toughest element. It’s made especially harder while you’re constantly on edge, trying to avoid the stalking lunatic without a map, weapons, or a proper objectives system. Be prepared for your bearings to be quite considerably lost.

There are a couple of ways to avoid that face full of sickle. There’s a dodge button (provided Rosemary isn’t too tired to actually dodge), a run button, distraction items, and defense items that will automatically be used to escape a grab attack if you have one equipped at the time. Remember those crappy bits in Resident Evil 4 where you had to play as Ashley? This is like that… for a whole game.

While a little tired in 2019, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the formula of the weapon-less survival horror game – it’s just that in Remothered, it’s not implemented all that well. Enemy AI routing is weird, which should be grounds for an unpredictable fright-fest, but leans more toward the annoying and/or hilarious. It seemed like the stalkers would either sit directly outside the room I needed to enter – barely moving and refusing to be distracted for longer than a few seconds before returning immediately to their original spot right on my current objective – or simply bugger off to another floor and never come back.

Even with his penchant to completely vacate the area, and despite his advancing years, Dr. Felton possesses supersonic hearing. It seemingly doesn’t matter how far away you are – if you run in this game, he will hear you. To make matters worse, the sound design just doesn’t make sense. With every press of the run button, enemy dialogue would instantly change to indicate they’d heard you and then loud footsteps would permeate every room you enter as if they were right behind you, when they most certainly are not.

It’s either a cheap scare tactic to give the impression of enemies constantly being within touching distance, or the fallout from a combination of naff sound design and the limitations of my Switch’s Pro Controller not having a headphone port. What makes it worse is that everything is so campy that it’s seldom scary in any tangible way. When the man trying to murder you is constantly shouting about how he hasn’t got anything to eat that isn’t moldy while you hide in his cupboard, it’s not exactly bone-chilling.

As a result of the big-eared murderers and their impeccable radar tuned to the sounds of running, I spent almost the entirety of the game… well, not running. Unfortunately, Rosemary walks slower than an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping, and this made exploring the mansion a monotonous chore – especially when getting caught and subsequently having to run up and down floors to hide before slowly sneaking back to restart the investigation.

Puzzles are that old school type of obtuse where you’re tasked with finding everyday items to fix problems. The puzzle itself lies in realizing the item the developer decided should work, finding it in the giant four-floor mansion, and slowly returning to the its intended area of use without dying. For example, in order to get into an attic, you have to search rooms at random to find an umbrella to pull down the door’s previously-out-of-reach cord. It’s such a shame that Remothered eschews any type of self-contained puzzle for a string of confusing fetch quests, as everything feels more tedious than taxing.

It feels a little unfair to bemoan the lack of polish for a two-year-old indie game, but Remothered is full of niggling issues. Animations are janky, lip-syncing is non-existent, and the camera wigs out after the QTEs to fight off enemies have finished – always pointing you in the wrong direction. I also encountered a couple of game-breaking bugs where Rosemary did her door-opening animation without the door actually opening, and I couldn’t enter the room without rebooting the game. Lastly, and I don’t want to be too harsh to an Italian developer, but the in-game English is pretty abysmal, and lots of the game’s expositional notes and articles border on illegible through their poor translations.

There are some people out there who can’t get enough of the whole hiding under sofas schtick, but I like my survival horror games with better psychological tension, a (limited) means to fight back, and coherent puzzle-solving. There’s merit to be had in the game’s labyrinthine setting and short length if you just want a quick bash at a quirky, campy indie horror game in the Haunting Grounds model, but with so many flaws and such a frustrating gameplay loop, I can’t recommend Remothered: Tormented Fathers outside of anything other than morbid curiosity.

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