80. To the Moon
Despite its straightforward gameplay, To the Moon’s narrative – which tasked players with re-configuring the memories of a heart-broken man to fulfil his dying wish – was not easy to get through. With its endearing RPG Maker style, To the Moon neglected visual flair in favour of pixel-perfect characterisation and a story that packed an emotional wallop that had us blubbering incomprehensibly by the time the credits rolled. To the Moon single-handedly proved that indie developers don’t need a huge budget or next-gen graphics to tell a truly beautiful story – and if that doesn’t get you choked up, then playing this game certainly will.
Observer is the best representation out there of what a “Triple A indie game” is. Superb graphics, top quality voice acting (Rutger Hauer from Blade Runner is there), revolutionary level design and a classic cyberpunk story that provides over the top player immersion. Bloober Team has chosen the psychological horror as the genre to work on and become the go-to developers for anyone looking for a mind-bending experience.
Tapping into people’s memories and fears prove to be as frightening as Hell itself.
78. Ape Out
Pairing incredibly fast-paced action with a top down perspective and simple art style is by no means a new model of indie game. Nevertheless, Ape Out takes the reflex-based gameplay and block graphics to a new level with its smashing, crashing, tearing, and clawing gameplay.
If you’ve ever wanted to feel like a bull in a china shop, you’ll want to try being an ape in a skyscraper. There’s a certain rhythm to Ape Out’s unrelenting action that makes defending and countering incoming attacks feel like a dance playing out from your fingers before your brain even has a chance to register the threat. Nevertheless, every move is so intuitive and so damn satisfying you’ll be picking up the muscle memory before you know it.
77. Mount and Blade
While most sane people have never read one of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books and thought to themselves, “Wow, that seems fun”, we should all be glad that Armagan Yavuz of TaleWorlds entertainment did. The result of what can only have been a fever dream, is Mount and Blade, one of gaming’s best sandboxes RPG experiences. Mount and Blade places you in the muddy shoes of a citizen of a Medieval land torn apart by civil war, and you are left to your own devices to find success and make a name for yourself.
While the premise of Mount and Blade is by no means revolutionary, it is the systems for roleplaying and combat that have elevated it to a higher level. Combat in Mount and Blade is based on guiding your blows with the directional movement of your mouse, and it easily becomes a clumsy, bloody mess. This is heightened by the large scale pitched battles that can take place, with hundreds of armoured people smacking each other over the head at the same time.
Mount and Blade cemented its place on this list with its strong and prevalent modding scene, which has seen everything from westerns to Star Wars. Strengthened by its expansions and mods, especially the mod cum expansion, Napoleonic Wars, Mount and Blade continues to have a dedicated following. A full blown sequel has been in development for some time, and looks to finally be releasing some time in the next year. We can’t wait.
You could spend thousands of hours replaying Larian’s ambitious Divinity: Original Sin and never approach the same encounter twice. You can Donkey Kong your way through dungeons by throwing barrels at traps instead of needing the trap disarming skill. Perfectly viable. This array of options extended into every corner of the game. Quests could be resolved in the most unusual ways, combat was a hectic mix of improvisation and advantageous use of elemental hazards. Combined with a sensational co-op mode, D:OS was perhaps the purest, goofiest fun you could have in a CRPG. That was until the sequel arrived last year and delivered even more sprawling RPG goodness.
While games such as No Man’s Sky, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild more recently popularised the notion of games portraying calming, meditative spaces, it was Proteus that pioneered this concept back in 2013. When Proteus was released, games containing open spaces felt the impulse to occupy every moment with distractions, with things to do – meanwhile, Proteus was more than content with filling space with just that: space. Proteus was a quiet game in a medium crowded with noisy firefights – a game that took joy in directionless exploration and thoughtful introspection, bereft of action and brimming with beauty.
A psychological horror game and cult classic, Pathologic became a big hit in the Russian indie scene when it was released in 2005. Unfortunately its English version suffered from poor translation, which made an already disorienting game virtually impossible to navigate. But the re-release in 2015 came complete with perfect English dialogue, allowing Pathologic to attract the mass audience it so plainly deserved.
With a choice of three characters, healers visiting a backward town plagued by disease, the player jumped into a whole world of weirdness. The town was a richly realised open-world full of well-crafted characters. The game could be summarised as a kind of early 20th century Morrowind crossed with Silent Hill, with quests, survival elements and mysteries wrapped in layers of enigmatic riddles. If the long-winded dialogue and slow pace doesn’t put you off, you will find Pathologic one of the most creepy, intriguing and replayable indie games out there.
While Songbringer’s ‘Zelda in space’, 8-bit premise wasn’t particularly original, there was something intriguingly about navigated this procedurally generated world.
A choice of code word provided by the player before the game begins generates the combination of map squares that will form the world as a whole and any given combination of letters can generate a totally different world.
The sheer randomness of moving from one square of the map to the next and seeing how the environment differs is fascinating enough to make you want to cover all the ground available.
When you’re not exploring, the satisfying hum produced when you swing your nanosword takes you through multiple dungeon levels, slaying plenty of alien foes and tricky bosses. It’s hard not to fall a little in love with this silly game.
72. SteamWorld Dig
SteamWorld Dig was a great concept executed simply and near-flawlessly: a metroidvania-lite meets Mr Driller.
As Rusty the robot, players followed in the steely footsteps of their Uncle Joe. Hearing that Joe had mysteriously disappeared in the depths of Tumbleton mine, Rusty explored the mine in order to uncover its secrets.
Players merely started with a weak pickaxe and a lantern with only enough power to facilitate short excavations. Over time, however, the precious materials mined for yielded enough money to upgrade Rusty’s gear. Mini-dungeons also provided new abilities, like boost jumping.
This gameplay loop of gradual progression in ability and distance through the mines made SteamWorld Dig engaging and rewarding. At around six hours long it was the ideal bite-sized subterranean adventure.
Supergiant Games made its debut in the indie scene with this isometric, narrative-driven adventure game. Its soundtrack, voice acting and unique world made it shine quickly and earn very positive reviews.
“One of the high level thoughts about that was an RPG where you can see the sky, and in an isometric game you never see the sky. So what if we could do that?”, said Supergiant’s Audio Director, Darren Korb, during an interview with us. And that’s one way of describing the initial title of a studio that would keep elaborating on innovative ways of storytelling through video games with their next two: Transistor and Pyre. And guess what, both of them are on this list as well.