For many indie means innovation. With the freedom to tackle anything they wish, independent developers can give us something a little different. While they lack the budget of a AAA title, these five games are the pinnacle of indie development from the past year, according to us anyway. What they manage to do on a limited budget presents some of the industries best talent, as well as giving us some very though provoking experiences. What better way to begin our 2013 awards, than looking at those which do the most with the least resources.
5. Gone Home
Being an indie developer comes with the freedom of being able to tackle any subject matter you want, be it unexplored, or not explored enough. Family isn’t a theme that AAA games can usually touch. It takes a sense of intimacy and care that any amount of shooting and explosions can’t match. Discovering the secrets of those at #1 Arbor Hill involves no guns, no hidden enemies, or any way of losing, just a pure sense of pure investigation and discovery. Walking around the manor is like a trip around a museum, inspecting objects and slowly unfolding the story of the Greenbrair family. Hopefully The Fullbright Company will be able to create something just as touching and introspective in the future.
4. Rogue Legacy
Indie development doesn’t mean everything has to be artsy and navel-gazing, something Cellar Door Games probably didn’t even consider while they made Rogue Legacy. This Metriod-vania rogue-like doesn’t pull any punches, making you earn every achievement as you sacrifice generations of your family to edge ever closer to victory. Each boss defeated is a leap forward, with every new descendant’s quirks constantly forcing you to change your play style, evolving your skills unlock new classes and powers. Other randomly generated oddities help make every playthrough different, without making the next iteration too daunting. Hopefully in the new generation we will see more games like Rogue Legacy bring a level of simplicity to the rogue-like genre.
3. The Stanley Parable
If you want to make a point well in a game, you need to craft it into the very core of your game. If you slap the message around a set of mechanics that do little to reinforce your ideals, then miss out on getting that message across. The Stanley Parable by Galactic Café knows what it is to its core. Meditating on narrative progression, the meaning (or lack thereof) in player choice, and what it means to ‘influence’ a game. Between the player, Stanley and the narrator, a weird relationship is developed; part friendly, part antagonistic and always on the verge of going the other way. Mind-blowing for some, and at least thought provoking for others, the Stanley Parable is a game about games while still being a great experience.
2. Papers, Please
A puzzle game about being a lonely immigration officer doesn’t sound like a fun time, but Lucas Pope made it happen. The balancing act of trying to be quick and efficient, while also not making mistakes, is a hard one. Forgetting to check one crucial detail can be the difference between your family eating tonight or not. It also opens itself up to some interesting ethical quandaries: do you let the old woman into the country to see her long lost son, or do you haul her off to interrogation so you don’t loss precious credits? It is up to you, and the game never judges you either way. Are you willing to do the right thing at the cost of your family’s health? Play Papers, Please and find out, and remember, GLORY TO ASTOTZKA
1. Sir, You are Being Hunted
While still in Alpha, Big Robot’s cybernetic stealth game is a tense experience. Dropping you into a randomly generated series of islands, you must collect the parts of a machine blown apart in some unknown experiment. Disempowering the player at every turn, the game imparts a fantastic sense of vulnerability as you slink through fields and run between cover as you elude your robotic hunters. Nowhere is safe. Slenderman-like scarecrows alarm nearby hunters, and robo-dogs sniff you out as you stalk towards your goal. Even when you eventually find a gun, does the benefit of extra protection really seem like an attractive option when every nearby robot could come running? Risk and reward is a constant thought, especially with the ticking clock of hunger. Is it worth raiding the nearby village for a dram of whiskey, or do you play it safe and hope you stumble upon something soon? Fortune favours the brave, but only fools rush in. These two credos describe Sir, You Are Being Hunted to the letter. How Big Robot continue to develop this game out of the paid alpha holds a great deal or promise that should hopefully pay off at some point next year. Until then, Sir, You Are Being Hunted rests as our favourite indie game of 2013 before even leaving alpha.
Do you agree or disagree with our choices? Did we miss out a game you wanted to see? Why not let us know in the comments, or vote for your favourite game in out poll below?