In recent years many gamers have been lamenting the nature of AAA studios, the massive corporations with teams of programmers and board rooms full of “critical thinkers” who, like clockwork, produce a slightly altered version of a popular game every 8-12 months.
While those games have their merits, they can grow repetitive and lack the innovation and depth that make you lose yourself in the adventure. Thankfully the industry also has its Avant-garde of independent developers who are less constrained creatively, often creating amazing products but struggling to be noticed. Initiatives like Steam’s green light have assisted in this endeavour, but there is still a whole generation of gamers who have yet to experience the joy of a well developed indie game. The following are a few great examples.
Darkest Dungeon ($25)
Darkest Dungeon is an adventure/exploration game with turn based combat in which a player explores a recently inherited estate, which due to the occult dabbling of its former occupant, is overrun with with monsters, zombies and other eldritch abominations. The game is styled like a classic JRPG (with characters lined up parallel to one another during fights) and while at face value it seems simple. This game has deceptive depth, your characters likelihood to land an attack is influenced by position, for example.
Though the games most interesting mechanic is “stress”. Unlike in many games, fighting monsters effects the characters not just physically, but mentally as well. Actions in the game can either add or alleviate stress, develop enough and the character will begin to disobey commands. Attacking themselves or refusing to be healed, which makes the game slightly more difficult and much more interesting.
One of the older games on this list, but meriting praise regardless of its creation date. Bastion is an isometric RPG in which the player takes control of a character referred to simply as “The Kid”. Who finds himself a survivor of the “Calamity” which destroyed his city and shattered it into a number of floating segments. He must undertake a journey to find “cores” in order to stabilize the various districts and regain normalcy. Bastion takes place in a sort of medieval, retro futuristic universe and offers a number of weapons, potions and play styles for characters to utilize. The aesthetic is amazing, with paths forming as the character walks towards them. Though what really separates this game is the soundtrack and narration, the story and movements of The Kid are told in real time to amazing effect.
Sunless Sea ($18.99)
Sunless Sea is based in the universe of a previous game called “Fallen London”. The player finds themselves in a gothically inspired, Victoria era London. Which after an ill advised trade by The Queen caused the city to be magically relocated into a massive underground cavern on the edge of a vast, dark body of water called the “Underzee”. The citizens of fallen London are hardened and untrusting, resigned to a dark and difficult life. You play a steamship captain with a customizable background that effects the victory parameters of the game (exploring far enough, gaining enough fame, becoming rich, etc). You must upgrade your ship to explore the Underzee, and complete quests to further your personal ambitions, while gaining helpful character traits. But dark and terrible things lurk not only in the water, but in your crew. You must be careful.
The game is rouge like, meaning death is permanent, but you can choose to retain a single characteristic of your former self to aid you in your next journey.
In this game the player takes control of freelance spy Richard Conway, who must clear his name in relation to the murder of a weapons manufacturer. Most levels in this side scroller revolve around needing to infiltrate a building and hack a computer in order to gain relevant information. Avoiding cameras and guards as he goes. Conway can re-wire security within a building to power down cameras or activate elevators as needed. And in between the levels you can shop for new gear and spend points on various abilities. At its core Gunpoint is a humorous murder mystery that will keep you curious and engaged to the very end.