With Dead Space's return kicking off the year, Amnesia: The Bunker's successful June launch, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre closing out the summer, 2023 will definitely be remembered as a great time for fans of horror games. We’ve been spoiled — and certifiably spooked, terrified, and haunted — by all these fantastic titles delivering their best scares.
Even for the most seasoned horror player, though, sometimes you just want a well-crafted thriller that doesn’t overstay its welcome. When you’re in the mood for a burst of dread and anxiety, but don’t have much time to spare, I always recommend short indie horror games, compact experiences that get your heart racing as efficiently as a triple espresso shot. Here are a few you can finish in just a few hours!
Please note that these completion times can vary depending on your playstyle.
The Mortuary Assistant
If you love horror games, The Mortuary Assistant is a must-play, as it’s full of unexpected jump scares and offers a consistently creepy atmosphere. Developed by DarkStone Digital, the game opens with your first shift at River Fields Mortuary. You’ll embalm bodies and carry out mundane tasks, but demonic entities will make sure you’re never bored and never safe. Figure out a way to banish the Mortuary’s demon or suffer the consequences. While your first playthrough will take about two hours to finish, you can hunt for endings and achievements, which will push it closer to 10 hours.
We Never Left
For fans of ‘80s horror films, We Never Left from FYRE Games might be right up your alley. This hybrid first-person, text adventure puts you in the middle of a missing persons case. It begins with a mysterious phone call, letting you know that your game-dev cousin hasn’t shown up to work and no one can get ahold of him. Even stranger, there was a note found at his house addressed to you with a three-word message: Finish the game. With a run time of 30 to 60 minutes, this can definitely be completed in one sitting!
Fears to Fathom
Fears to Fathom, developed by Rayll, is an episodic series of psychological horror games, with each one featuring realistic scares and anxiety-inducing situations, such as home invasions, stalkers, and more. These first-person narrative experiences focus on a different stand-alone story each time, but you’ll find that most mechanics carry over, including text messages from NPCs and the game picking up your voice activity to make hiding much more stressful. Currently, there are three Fears to Fathom entries: Home Alone, Norwood Hitchhike, and Carson House. They only take an hour to beat, and even better, they’re budget-friendly. The first game, Home Alone, is actually free to play, so you can easily see if this series is for you! And if you get hooked, you’ll be happy to hear more scares are on the way. Ironbark Lookout, the fourth installation, is set to release later this year.
The Painscreek Killings
Developed and published by EQ Studios, The Painscreek Killings puts you in the inquisitive shoes of Janet, a young journalist with three things at her disposal: a camera, a notepad, and a burning desire to publish an interesting story. As you step into the abandoned town of Painscreek, you’ll investigate the murder of Vivian Roberts, finding clues and jotting down notes along the way. Its open-world design is full of secrets and puzzles to discover, so this isn’t the shortest title on the list, but you can probably finish your first playthrough in eight to 12 hours. A completionist run for all the endings and achievements will take you longer, of course. Overall, if you enjoy being a detective, The Painscreek Killings is just the right amount of suspense, mystery, and thrills.
I'm on Observation Duty
I'm on Observation Duty, developed by Notovia, is quite a different experience from the titles in this list. It’s like horror meets spot the difference games. Observation Duty gives you the job of monitoring surveillance cameras and reporting any anomalies you might see. An anomaly can be anything from seeing seven chairs when there were only six before or the more obvious (and scary) intruders that might break into the scene. Your goal is to survive the entire night; too many anomalies missed, and it’s game over. While it might not sound terrifying, it’s definitely mind-bending and tense, and those intruders fit the bill for a good jump scare. Completing Observation Duty will typically take three to five hours, and once you’re done, you can jump into the rest of the series, which currently has six games to play!
If you’re looking for a shorter spooky gaming session, these indie horror titles are just what you need. And if you’re a newcomer to the genre, these bite-sized experiences can be a great way to ease into it. However, for the more skittish players, be sure to check out our “Seven Horror Games Ideal For Cowards (Like Me)” where Niall Cawley recommends games that balance jump scares with other less-frightening mechanics!