Not to come across as a hipster or anything, but I’ve always been a huge fan of independent game development. Bound by none of the restrictions of AAA developers; the indie community produces some of the most unique and interesting content in gaming. Not only that, they often end up delivering a level of quality superior to larger studios, and at a fraction of the price, to boot.
With how stagnant mainstream gaming is becoming lately (another dark and gritty military-themed shooter? You shouldn’t have. games industry!), there’s never been a better time to lend a bit of support to the indies. Here are a few recommendations to get you started; some of the best independently-developed video games I’ve ever played (sans Minecraft, which everyone should already know about anyway) .
We’ll start with one of the first – and still greatest – indie games ever developed on the PC: Cave Story. Created over the course of four years by the reclusive developed Pixel, the metroidvania style game includes an excellent story, an amazing soundtrack, and awesome gameplay. In the four years it took him to develop Cave Story, Pixel accomplished something that teams of several hundred have failed to do: he created a nearly perfect game. He was only recently convinced to start charging for remastered copies of Cave Story, but the original version can still be found online free of charge – and it always will be.
Widely regarded as one of the best survival-horror titles ever made, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is still frightening, even several years after its release. Its combination of atmospheric storytelling, nightmarish visuals and lovecraftian narrative elements make it a must-play. Just…keep the lights on when you settle down with it. Trust me.
If there’s one game on the list that might actually be a bit more disturbing than Amnesia, it’s The Binding of Isaac. This top-down action game has a young child by the name of Isaac exploring the nightmarish depths of his subconscious as he withdraws from his insane, fundamentalist mother. It’s a twisted, highly allegorical game, and if you do manage to beat it (it’s rather difficult), you’ll probably need some time to process things before you even know how to feel.
Gone Home is proof that a game needs neither violence nor action nor a fast-paced, railroaded narrative to be considered engrossing. The title puts you into the shoes of Kate Greenbriar, a young student recently home from a trip to Europe. Arriving back at her family’s home only to find it empty, the player – as Kate – proceeds to explore the hallways of the Greenbriar home, unveiling the secret dreams, torments, desires, and conflicts of a family on the verge of splintering apart. Every character – even Kate’s late great uncle, who originally owned the house – has their own story to tell; it’s simply a matter of knowing where to look.
Yet another Roguelike; Rogue Legacy is a platformer-sic-RPG which casts you as one of a long line of knights attempting to infiltrate the evil Castle Hamson in order to lift a long-standing and ancient curse that has been laid on your family generation after generation. How you’re to accomplish this is simple: enter the castle, gather treasure, and defeat the guardians in order to gain access to the castle’s heart. The unique thing about Rogue Legacy is how it deals with death – when one of your character’s dies, you can select from one of three heirs; generated randomly from your available character classes and each with a list of flaws which include color-blindness, dementia, and flatulence.
Sequence is a quirky little game that merges the Rhythm and RPG genre into something entirely different -and it works very, very well. Featuring songs from the likes of Ronald Jenkies (look him up on YouTube, he’s pretty fantastic) and chock-full of amusing pop culture references, this one’s a great way to kill a bit of time whenever you’re looking for a quick diversion.
After playing Fez, I realized what a tragedy it was that Phil Fish has withdrawn from the development community. Sure, he was abrasive, overly-sensitive, and a little arrogant…but he was also a damned fine developer, and didn’t deserve anywhere near the level of venom and toxicity that was directed at him due to his actions. Fez puts you into the shoes of Gomez, a creature living in a two-dimensional world who discovers the third dimension through a powerful artifact – and realizes that this artifact is the only way to save the world.
The Stanley Parable takes existential dread and translates it into video game form. Billing itself as an “experimental narrative-driven game,” the title combines quirky, wry British humor with a number of deeply philosophical questions about the nature of choice and the disconnect between gamer and avatar. Without sounding like a pretentious twit, it’s a fairly thoughtful game.
Allow me to describe Starbound for you. First, take Minecraft and turn it into a side-scroller. Then take that side-scroller and set it in the distant future, with access to a wide array of fully-customizable races to serve as a player’s avatar. Finally, add a nigh-infinite number of procedurally-generated worlds and random monsters. Lastly, pepper in a fairly expansive backstory and a huge quest chain that stretches on for hours. This game is still in alpha, and it already has more content than most completed games. If you’ve ever considered yourself a fan of sandbox games, this one’s a must-play.
Goat Simulator is the pinnacle of gaming. It is the sum total of everything the games industry has ever aimed to achieve; the apex of game development. If you’ve not played it, stop depriving yourself and pick it up on Steam immediately. It is an art form that must be experienced by every gamer, no matter how new or old.