During my Spooktober adventures, I decided to really start digging down into the horror games available for PC, so I set out into a deep dive of the horror tag on Steam. What I didn’t realize at the time was exactly how much there is out there for free. The Steam store has a hefty amount, and if you start branching out to itch.io or searching through Google, you can find a whole lot more.
Of course, unless it’s well-received enough to make a splash (for example, Doki Doki Literature Club), it’s hard to gauge what your experience will be like. With Spooktober only ten months away, I’ve decided to dedicate some time in 2020 to trying out some of the free horror world! Occasionally throughout the year I’ll do a rundown of some of the games I’ve played. During October, we’ll take a look at which games really stood out among the rest.
For now, welcome to my first adventure into free horror, featuring games from the Steam store.
Note: All of these games contain disturbing or violent themes, images, and storylines. Please use your discretion if starting imagery or stories have an effect on you.
In At Home Alone, you’ll take the place of a young girl whose mother is headed off to another day of work. Left to your own devices, what will you do with your day? Before long, the doorbell will ring, and you can invite a boy in to play with you. But who is he? You’re about to start a disturbing chain of events with just one invitation…
There are some details I really enjoyed about At Home Alone. Once you finish one playthrough, the next will have some new options and events – slowly you’ll uncover more of the story. But the game doesn’t really let you get there organically. Most options that you have really aren’t optional at all, and if you try to do anything outside of what will progress the story, the game will stop you. All in all, it feels like a VN more than anything – just with a few extra steps of movement. The translation grammar isn’t great, but the majority of the story is understandable despite that, and I did find the creepy tidbits that tell you the full story to be really interesting.
Final thoughts: I wouldn’t say that it’s not worth playing, but it is an extremely linear playstyle, so don’t expect to wander the house and discover all sorts of things. If you’re curious about what happens but don’t want to go through it yourself, there’s always Youtube – I think the twists are completely worthwhile. There’s also a pay-for follow-up, though I’ve yet to try it.
Her Lie I Tried to Believe is 100% a story with some background art – you don’t get choices to make, or things to do. Instead, you click through paragraphs of story, with occasionally changing scenes.
The story stars a young man recounting the story of a girl he hated throughout all of school – his imagined rival and longtime obsession. When he has the opportunity to be with her and finally act on his hatred, it starts a volatile relationship with an ending I didn’t see coming until the final few panels. The problem here is that that story… feels questionable. As a fan of horror, I’ve long accepted that it’s going to show me the darkest parts of humanity, and viewpoints and actions that disgust me. What struck me about this one is that it seems to ignore its violently horrendous protagonist in favour of portraying the manipulative ways of the woman he’s long chased after. At some point it felt less like a jarring story (and something that I’m not sure why it was really tagged with horror instead of drama), and more like something written for the most possible shock value.
While I normally don’t care much about translation errors (especially in games with low budgets), they’re especially noticeable when your “game” is nothing but writing, and they were definitely noticeable here.
Final thoughts: In hindsight, I’d have probably skipped this one. There are stronger stories all around the internet, and the occasionally changing background art didn’t quite qualify this as a game. While some reviewers have praised the story – which certainly does have its twists and surprises, and is pretty uncomfortable to read – the last section of the story I found myself wanting to rush through because I was getting a little tired of it.
Dissolving also is a VN without so many branches, though it does have a couple hidden details and an unlockable second part to the story. You begin the game as a young woman visiting her shut-in ex-boyfriend. It’s always been a little odd, but on this particular day things take a turn for the extra uncomfortable when he refuses to come out of his room, just leaving an envelope with cash and texting some instructions. Soon she uncovers the story of a cult-like group offering “ascendance” to the web – wouldn’t you want to live forever?
Despite not feeling a whole lot like a game, I enjoyed the creepy story in Dissolving. There are just a few secrets, which are hidden in where you click on the screen (the ending screen of one of the scenarios gives a hint on how to find them). I ended the playthroughs with some questions, but the lore hidden within the game was super unsettling and kind of fun. The art and music were a nice touch.
Final thoughts: I actually enjoyed Dissolving. The extra lore didn’t feel punishing to find and the hints felt pretty clear. You’re able to complete the game without getting frustrated or dedicating a ton of time to hopelessly trying to figure out what to do. If you don’t like VNs, this definitely isn’t a good choice for you – you’re essentially just clicking throughout it. But overall it was a fun little story that was spooky enough to leave an impression.
Will is in love with Liza. She’s beautiful, smart, perfect… but would she ever be interested in him? Lucky you – you’re at school late and so is she, finishing up her homework before rushing off to her part-time job. You’ve got five minutes to decided if, and how, you’ll confess. What could go wrong, right?
Like At Home Alone, Confess My love has cumulative story playthroughs. Each playthrough is short (some can be done in a minute), and as you add them up you’ll uncover more secrets that lead you to more of the numerous endings available. It’s actually quite a bit of fun, and with enough exploration you can easily uncover new things to try for different endings. My only real complaint is that some of the timed endings require some hefty guesswork to realize they exist, and I did end up using a guide to find everything.
Final thoughts: Confess My Love is a nice little mix of cute and creepy, with a nice little twist ending. I rather enjoyed collecting all the various conclusions. It doesn’t take up a whole lot of time, and is pretty worth it, I think, if you’ve got the dedication to get through all the endings to find out what really has taken place.
Traum drops us into the end of Mike’s workday. He’s there late, getting prepared to go home to his family, but on the way out things start getting… spooky. It’s up to you to lead Mike through the office, a hospital, and home, all while strange things continue to happen. To make matters worse, he’s certain his wife is having an affair.
The gameplay is a little light in Traum – you won’t find tricky puzzles, but you can move the character around to explore and engage with your surroundings. The interactivity helped the jump scares be a bit spookier than something flashing across the screen of a VN, so I don’t really have any complaints there. Overall, the story was spooky and while my chat and I saw the twist coming toward then end, we did spend a lot of the game wondering what would happen. Even for a story that’s been done before, we got pretty involved in it.
Final thoughts: If you’re good with light-gameplay RPG maker games, I think Traum is pretty worth it. It’s linear enough that you won’t spend ages caught up with what to do, but allows for a good amount of exploration and guessing. The art and music were far better than I expected in a freebie game, and we had a lot of fun getting to the final plot twist.
We’ll be sampling games and doing a few more roundups of free and low-cost horror throughout the year! Got a recommendation? Send it my way!
Order Up! is a weekly column featuring indie-focused reviews, news, or interviews! We like old games just as much as new ones and are always looking for something to check out. Have a game recommendation, a project, or a company you want to talk about? Email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @ArcanaChance