Somewhere in rural Scotland in the 1980s, a secret research facility is overwhelmed by a cosmic, unknowable horror called the Black Iris. Some of the scientists begin worshipping this powerful entity, and establish a bizarre religion around it, leading to the facility being mysteriously abandoned. This is the brilliantly spooky premise of The Black Iris, a mind-bending horror game from solo indie developer Jamie Ferguson.
The first thing that hits you is that fever dream art style. The vivid fluorescent colours, woozy, abstract low-resolution visuals, and feeling of isolation and claustrophobia collide to create something uniquely unsettling. As you explore the eerily lifeless facility you find clues that paint a twisted picture of the the nature of the Black Iris and the fate of the scientists.
You play as an engineer sent to the facility to decommission it. In the facility, you pick up notes and video tapes that fill in small parts of a purposefully fragmented, hazy story. There's no combat and only very light puzzles; it's more about exploration and atmosphere. But thanks to a trippy soundtrack, those striking psychedelic visuals, and a low, rumbling sense of dread, it manages to be scary and quietly unnerving without any overt threat.
There are so many neat touches, like the occasional shift to Resident Evil-style fixed cameras, the surreal, distorted dream sequences, and the fuzzy videos that use old science stock footage to creepy effect. The Black Iris does weird extremely well, and it's clear the developer has an eye for this particular style of subtle, gnawing horror. It really got under my skin as I played it.
I also have to mention the game's use of typography, which is stunning throughout. The stark, stylish title cards (a few examples of which I've shared below) remind me of something you'd see in an arty '70s horror film, and they establish the game's strange, otherworldly mood magnificently. Everything else aside, The Black Iris is just so damn nice to look at.
You can play The Black Iris right now, either for free or name your own price. If you do decide to throw the developer some money, all the proceeds (minus Itch's 10% share) will be given to a local Scottish charity, the West Dunbartonshire Community Foodshare, which is very nice of them.