Horror games are a rough proposition sometimes. Sure, you can get a weird RPG Maker game, or a 16-bit stealth-horror extravaganza, but there’s a significant effort you have to put into most games. Also, if the particular game isn’t quite your thing, then you’ll find yourself more frustrated and angry than scared, dying over and over again to a variety of low-level frights. That’s even before getting into the usual dodgy physics, jump-scares, constant chase sequences, and edgy RPG Maker content that dog the genre to this day.
But for those who enjoy their Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing and want something a little lighter on mechanics, something that doesn’t force them headfirst through nasty scenarios, there are luckily plenty of games, even if they’re not immediately obvious.
With that in mind, this list is a horror-game chillout tape, focusing on games with simpler mechanics, less intense scares, and a lower number of death and loss states. If you’re not a hardcore aggro gamer, you can still get weirded out without breaking a controller in frustration.
10 Gentler Horror Games For Players Tired of Jump Scares
Developer: Spry Fox LLC
Platform: PC, PS4, XBOX One, iOS, Switch
It doesn’t get much gentler than this. Drawing comparisons to Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley among others, Cozy Grove puts you in the khaki shirt of a Spirit Scout, sent to an unusual island on a camping trip. Over the course of your stay in Cozy Grove, you spend your time fishing, crafting, and slowly bringing the island back to life by soothing the restless spirits.
It’s incredibly satisfying watching the island slowly fill out in color as you solve more problems, and the easy crafting/farming mechanics take the frustration out of building up your campsite. But the best feature is that the game runs in real-time, reinforcing the idea you should take your time at a leisurely pace and explore all the game has to offer instead of rushing through. All in all, it’s a relaxed, gentle, and not too intense-take on a spooky sort of game, and one definitely worth the trip.
Developer: Night School Studio
Platform: PC, PS4, XBOX One, Switch, Android, iOS
For those craving a haunted island game that’s more intense in subject matter but still relatively easy to play, Oxenfree has you covered. Five teenagers take a trip to an abandoned island military base, hoping for a night of exploring and drinking around the campfire. Instead, they find a number of vengeful spirits, a mystery involving a submarine, and radio signals that can tear holes in reality and possibly enable time travel.
Much of the game is spent in a series of walk-and-talks between Alex and her friends. The dialogue genuinely feels like it’s a bunch of teenagers hanging out, the visuals are utterly gorgeous, and while the scares and emotional stakes are intense once they start stacking up, the game allows enough time to breathe, and there’s a slow enough build that you can definitely wait until you’re in the right mood to tackle those sections.
Night in the Woods
Developer: Infinite Fall
Platform: PC, PS4, XBOX One, Switch, iOS
Another game about young adults getting into trouble in mysterious locations, Night in the Woods is another game that’s gentle in its mechanics and art style but gets pretty intense in content. Mae Borowski returns home from college after an unspecified incident and tries to figure out her life in familiar surroundings even as everything around her starts to change. But between friends who are growing up and moving on with their lives, a family that tries very hard to hide their disappointment in her, a reputation as “the weird kid,” and the unsettling local legends, she finds it much, much harder than she thought.
The game itself is an adventure platformer, where you run around the town during the day hanging out with friends, advancing a bunch of side plots, and doing various side activities like playing with your garage band. As it gets dark, however, the main plot takes over, throwing Mae into conflict with both friends and an unusual mystery connected to the town as a whole. Don’t let the colorful construction-paper aesthetic fool you— this one can hit like a truck while still remaining unusually pleasant and relaxing.
Kentucky Route Zero
Developer: Cardboard Computer
Platform: PC, Switch, PS4, XBOX One
An Appalachian gothic adventure game seven years in the making, Kentucky Route Zero is a very odd, sad, beautiful, and charming journey. The game is something of a hyperlinked story, beginning with antique deliveryman Conway stopping off at a gas station for directions only to be pointed toward the hidden Route 0. As Conway makes his way down Route 0 to finish his delivery, he runs into a spiritualist TV repairwoman, an unusual scientist, ghosts, and a variety of other strange events. But as Conway meets someone, then they also get added to the cast, their thread being woven into the tangled but beautifully coherent whole.
The game might strike some as more eerie than outright scary, but it still manages to have unsettling scenes. Conversations might end with you finding out the person you talked to was a ghost, there’s a recurring motif involving glowing skeletons, and some of the road’s landmarks are beyond weird, including perpetually burning trees and a doll head factory. But the gentle, ambling pace and emphasis on weirdness rather than outright jump scares make it easy to see why this one’s a classic and should be perfect for those who don’t necessarily want something too intense.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
Developer: Dim Bulb Games, Serenity Forge
Platform: PC, Switch, XBOX One, PS4
Where The Water Tastes Like Wine has an oddly simple premise, but it goes deep and it goes very hard. After an opening where you lose a poker game to a wolf-headed Satan figure, you’re turned into a skeleton and forced to wander all over America collecting stories. The game is absolutely drenched in gothic Americana, from the legends you collect all over the country to the various travelers who serve as your “boss battles,” sharing their stories as well as the ones you collect on the road.
There are more than a few ghost stories, a couple of tales of true-life horror, and the weird way even people change shape. It’s not an unforgiving game or a particularly brutal one— there’s no real lose condition and the general gameplay is as simple as walking across a map of the US whistling and occasionally hitchhiking— but it’s one that will linger, as surely as the sight of your campfire companion changing into a gigantic carnivorous rose.
Haunt the House: Terrortown
Developer: SFB Games
Platform: PSVita, PC, Android, iOS
A puzzle-adventure game centered around scaring the bejeezus out of people in a variety of locales, Haunt the House manages to be both adorable and terrifying. Adorable in that you control a small ghost with red cheeks and a neck ruff who floats around possessing a variety of objects and wiggling through the air in an incredibly cute manner.
Terrifying in that your entire mission is to cause people enough hysteria that they run screaming from each level, or possibly scare them to death. The adorable artwork and physical comedy built into the game do a lot to distract from how grim the premise is, and the simple, brightly colored interface that shows things like the “current mood” in the building you’re trying to haunt and what actions are immediately available to you do a lot to make things fun rather than upsetting. It’s also simple enough that anyone can pick it up, but deep enough for lasting fun.
Dread X Collection 3
Developer: Various, Published by Dread XP
Dread XP does an excellent job of serving up horror-themed throwbacks to the old shareware compilations, collections of unusual and interesting games wrapped in a bizarre launcher for the consumption of discerning horror game nerds. Collection 3 has the specific theme of “spoopy,” games that are more cute or silly than outright terrifying.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t still plenty of scares and weirdness throughout the collection, but as opposed to the flat-out bizarro horror of collections like The Hunt and the original Dread X, it’s a much gentler, easier form of horror to get into. There’s also nary a weak link in the collection, with something for just about everyone depending on the tastes of the individual player. It might be a little lo-fi at points, but DX3 is an absolute must-play.
Do You Copy?
Developer: Space Octopus Studios
One warm summer night, hiker radios into your rescue tower with a report of being stalked by a local monster called The Goatman. Your job is to follow him on the map and help him avoid the monster, all the while being taunted over your radio by The Goatman. The interface is simple, if a little buggy, and the dialogue trees are surprisingly deep for a short game with a limited amount of choices, but what makes it shine is the sheer ambiance of the park and mountains.
You’re surrounded by the noises of woods in summer, the park looks gorgeous at “nighttime,” and the occasional scares help ratchet up the tension in a really satisfying way. While you might not realize it, you’ll find yourself relieved every time you get to the end screen, but still ready to experience the other endings all the same. The developer is hard at work on The Leeds Murder, a new game in the same setting, so there’s no time like the present to visit the park.
Developer: Weather Factory Games
Platform: PC, iOS, Android, Switch
Cultist Simulator might present itself as a pleasant, placid tabletop, but beneath that exterior lies a fiendish snarl of occult horror, esoteric language, and atrocity hidden behind flowery flavor text. The game mirrors this beautifully; you start off with a few cards and a simple verb (“Work”) and then expand from there in a wild sprawl, each new verb and mechanic only adding complexity until the game you’re playing barely resembles that starting tabletop.
The card narratives are no less unhinged, as your player character forms a cult, journeys through dreams, hangs out in underground nightclubs, and eats memories all without ever once leaving that pleasant blue table and the dreamlike ambient music. While the presence of countdown clocks and dynamic music can make for a little more of a tense experience, it’s easy to pick up and play, and a much gentler horror experience than the average jump-you-in-a-dark-hallway sort of game.