2012 Indie Games of the Year
January 1st, 2013 1:07pm EST
Alright folks, 2012 came and went, and with it, a bunch of REALLY fun Indie Games. Since I couldn't decide on just ONE game to rule them all (anyway, that would be a pretty short list) I decided to make up a whole bunch of bullsh*t categories so I could fit all of my favorites. Without further a-do - here's the best Indie Games of 2012.
NOTE: Some of these games are currently unreleased. However, trials and demo versions can make the cut if they are an accurate (and fun) representation of the final game.
Best Wilderness Survival Game Involving Both Science and Magic
Don't Starve (Beta)
Don't Starve mixes the survival game play of Minecraft with the charming aesthetic of a Tim Burton movie. Currently in beta testing, Don't Starve puts you in the shoes of an enterprising Scientist stuck on a lonely and dangerous island, filled with pigmen (who turn into werepigs when the moon is full), giant "tallbirds", murderous spiders, and the ominous "grue" which attacks silently from the darkness. Using the powers of "magic and science" you are forced to survive this roguelike world, which throws new twists and turns at you every day. Also, you have to eat, hence the title. It's a wonderful, simple-yet-complex kind of game, and one that I have been enjoying since the Beta opened to Steam Customers.
Best Medieval Grand Strategy Game
Crusader Kings II
Crusader Kings II is a wonderfully robust grand strategy title from Paradox Interactive that puts you in the shoes of a medieval family, who may or may not be a preeminent power during the period. You can play anyone from a lowly count to a mighty emperor, managing your dominion, choosing who to marry your children off to, how you will interact with your underlings and who you will go to war with, or who you will just assassinate. The game is riddled with not only military glory, but political intrigue, interesting and unique procedurally generated characters, and cloak and dagger diplomacy. Paradox has so far supported this title very well with multiple DLC packs, and hopefully more content to come. (JUST SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY)
Most Innovative Musical Adventure Game
Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery
It's hard to describe Sword & Sworcery without saying "strange." It's a short, episodic adventure that puts you in the boots of "The Scythian," a raven-haired heroine who is forced to undertake a series of tasks to claim the Trigon, a mystical artifact, which allows her to face the evil "Gogilithic Mass" - an ominous ghost that haunts the spirit mountain of Mingi Taw. You are accompanied on your travels by "the Girl" and a lumberjack known as "Logfella" and your travels are narrated by "the Architect" - a suited 'g-man' individual who narrates through the fourth wall. The adventure is accompanied by a series of musically themed battles, and the entire game is centered around a series of musically oriented challenges. While the adventure is short enough to be played through in one sitting, I found myself beating the game over and over just to be absorbed into it's strange, yet enjoyable atmosphere.
Scariest Survival Horror Game
So, Lone Survivor is the kind of game that isn't horrifying because of acute moments of terror interspersed between moments of dull boringness. Nope - Lone Survivor had me completely tense the entire way through. The games 2D pixel graphics made the game seem innocent - and true, the enemies weren't particularly scary. However, the detailed environments, filled with sickeningly detailed flashbacks, and the decaying mental state of the main character made me almost think that I too was slowly lapsing into insanity. The game is short, bordering on long, meaning that it can be very brisk or drawn out depending on the decisions you make. The audio direction is spot on, making the two dimensional mutants come alive - as if they were right next to you. Definitely play this one with the lights off and your headphones on, folks.
Most Awesome Exploration/Free-form Adventure/Immersive Experience
Santa Monica Studios
If you have got a PS3 and don't have Journey, you should be ashamed. If you have ANY interest in the paradigm of "games as art" then Journey should be a no-brainer. It's a unique mesh of video, audio and disco (as in discovery, not as in bell bottom jeans and afros) which comes together to form a unique experience. The story is subdued and subject to individual interpretation, but you play as a member of a broken civilization who goes to meet his/her people atop a mountain.
Your journey takes you through a sprawling desert, a series of underground ruins and an aquatic ecosystem, all filled with beings made of red scarves, which were used as some sort of advanced power source. The games music is right on queue with the atmosphere, going from a chilling and haunting as you traverse the broken cities of your ancestors to cheerful and upbeat as you make your way through a city of clouds. The lack of dialogue makes player interaction meaningful and interesting. You may run across players, ignore them, help them or harass them, completely without any sort of direct conversation. And the open nature of the levels encourage exploration, meaning that your complete journey through the Journey will likely take you more than one play through.
Most Innovative Space Game
FTL, for those of you who aren't sci-fi aficionados, stands for "Faster Than Light" and is a game about managing an interstellar star ship and the crew. Despite it's simplistic presentation, FTL is one of the most complex rogue-like strategy games I have ever played. It requires you to maintain the health of your crew, make sure all your ship's systems are manned, mount attacks on pirates, fend off boarding crews, deal with potential bio hazards, repair broken equipment, maintain your oxygen supplies during fires, and pretty much every other situation that goes with typical deep space exploration. It's a roguelike, so there's a definite goal (somewhere at the end of another galaxy,) but it sure ain't easy to achieve, and every time your ship breaks into a million helpless pieces, you feel the frustration mount. It's a game best enjoyed in small doses. When you play it right, and everything goes according to plan, you feel like Captain Kirk himself.
Best Cross-Genre Team Based Shooter
Natural Selection 2
Natural Selection 2 is a hybrid FPS/RTS. Players choose to play either as the "Aliens" or "Marines" which are vying for territory and resources over a number of sci-fi themed maps. The idea is straight forward; the aliens want to cover the map with "cysts" that ooze bacterial infestation of alien life, whereas the Marines want to take the power nodes over and collect resources. Of course, therein lies the rub; the two sides just aren't into the "peaceful coexistence" shtick. Each side has unique attributes, primarily, the marines can upgrade and equip new items, whereas the aliens can mutate into higher-order life forms with more varied powers. On each side, a player can assume a commander role, to dictate the flow of the battle, build or "grow" new structures, and inform the soldiers or aliens about incoming enemy attacks. The game is ruthless and downright scary at times. It emphasizes teamwork and coordination, as well as stealth, defense and clever use of strategically played pathways. It's an incredible game to play, especially when both teams work hard to coordinate attacks and defense.
Best Ninja Stealth Game
Mark of the Ninja
Mark of the Ninja embodies all the things we love about games like Splinter Cell, Dishonored and Metal Gear Solid and wraps them up in a clever side scrolling package with an appealing comic book / anime art style. Truthfully, I was reminded of Samurai Jack the first time I played this game - on steroids and with gore. To do well, requires good stalking technique, careful attention to patrol routes, observation of guards cones of vision, hiding in the shadows, and striking swiftly and precisely. It's absolutely fantastic, and the fact that it was well received, gave me faith that small games can do very well provided it's given the right attention. Klei, the studio that's also designing Don't Starve, is also responsible for last year's indie smash hit, Shank.
Best Puzzle Platformer Involving Turkish Headwear
Fez buts you in the shoes of Gomez, a little pixelly dude who's granted a magical Fez which allows him to rotate everything in his 2d world, in three dimensions. This, of course, has some seriously serious implications. The perspective switch reminds me somewhat of Echochrome, a perspective puzzler from a couple years back. Gomez can move up, down, left and right normally, but must switch the level's perspective to access secret passage ways, or alternative paths to complete the level. If your brain doesn't think in three dimensions, it will after this little brain buster. The controls are intuitive and easy, and anyone who played Mario should be completely at home with how this cute little voxel game plays.
Best Multiplayer Hackfest
Chivalry: Medieval Warfare
Torn Banner Studios
Chivalry is a game that is NOT about chivalry; it's about dismembering your opponents in every possible way. It's a class based, medieval first person "shooter" but really should be called a "first person slice-and-dicer" though that might be a bit misleading because it also includes "first person bludgeoning" and "first person stabbing" as well. The game pits the Mason Order against the Knights of Agatha, each team having access to a handful of classes, which includes and archer, a mobile man at arms, an assault trooper called a vanguard, and a heavy knight. The combat system is twitch and skill based, meaning you have to plan you attack time and angle very carefully. This includes usings feints, blocks and kicks to thwart your opponent into dropping his guard. Guarding is equally tricky, your guard direction needs to be in correspondence with your enemy's attack direction. This all culminates to a first person experience that requires players to be detail oriented and quick thinkers. Because the wrong block or a mistimed counter attack often means your head ends up on the ground, a couple feet from your body.
Best Retro Point-and-Click Adventure
Primordia, as one might surmise from my review (shameless plug) reminds me of a cyberpunk "Monkey Island." It's a fantastic little point and click that puts you in the shoes of Horatio Nullbuilt, and his floating, wisecracking companion, Crispin. It's a story of discovery, in a world that's well detailed with a truly fantastic back story filled with mystery and intrigue. The point and click interface is as complex as it needs to be, and serves the story very well. With fantastic music, great animations and an engrossing story, there's not WAY this clever little title wouldn't have made the list.
Game Most Likely to Make You Wet Yourself From Fear
Slender rocked the Indie scene a couple months back. I was in the middle of a college class, when all of a sudden a student screamed, disrupting the entire lecture. The professor, of course gave them a strange look, asked if everything was alright, and she insisted that she had dozed off and was having a bad daydream. That mollified the professor, who gave her a light scolding and told her to get a better night's sleep. After class, I asked her what REALLY happened, and she told me she was playing Slender on her laptop and it scared the pants right off of her. It's a simple concept really - give the player a flashlight, put him or her in the middle of the woods and tell them to find eight pages, with each page found increasing the likelihood of running into the nebulous "Slenderman" an urban horror story produced on the "Something Awful" forums years back. Simple concept, simple execution, but very, very terrifying results; especially when you can hear him breathing down your neck, walking right behind you, but you still have the insane urge to look back, right into his blank, expressionless face. Game over.
Most Fun Multiplayer Platformer
Spelunky did for platformers what Minecraft did for survival games; it completely re-imagined the genre. Instead of memorizing the same levels over and over, Spelunky introduced procedurally generated dungeons, with random loot. It's another game that's simple fun, with characteristic roguelike difficulty. Spelunky HD was released on Xbox 360 earlier this year, and was a fantastic addition to the series. With beautiful, cartoonish characters and local multiplayer (with a couple different modes to boot) Spelunky HD took everything that was great about the original and made it better, in a fantastic HD presentation.
Most Nerve-Wracking Survival Game
Miasmata takes survival to a whole new level. It encourages players to explore, but to do so gingerly, as your character is suffering from a plague that puts him on the brink of death, regularly. Normally, being stuck on an island paradise with luscious jungles, fantastic vistas and clear blue water wouldn't be such a bad thing, provided you were... dying. Luckily, the jungle is filled with all sorts of vegetation to nurse your disease. It's necessary to find herbal remedies to keep the plague at bay while you seek out a more permanent solution to the disease. Unfortunately for you, you're stuck on the island of Eden, with no other human life, so your only hope is to find clues to ending this ailment through reading the remains of those who came before you. Oh, by the way, a nasty looking creature is stalking you. And in your fragile state, you're in no condition to take it on face to face. So it will take a lot of sneaking, some brains and a whole lot of bravery to keep you alive.
Most Frustratingly Impressive Multiplayer Tactical Shooter
Running With Rifles (Beta)
Running With Rifles is a throwback title for me, because it reminds me so much of my beloved Infantry, before SOE crucified and mutilated it. It's a top down shooter that can be played multiplayer or single player, with hundreds of gun toting sprites vie for control of a map by blowing the crap out of each other. It's a voxelly gorefest, with grenades sending body parts flying, bullets tearing through blue and green bodies, and tanks wiping out entire squads with a single shell. Effective use of cover, strategic planned movements and quick reflexes are all necessary if you plan on living for any meaningful amount of time, rewarding players who play tactically with undeniably longer lifespans. There are plenty of weapons and vehicles, and it's safe to say that multiplayer and single player modes are a bloody good time.
Best Indie Puzzler
PC, OSX, Linux, iOS, Android
Cipher Prime Studios
It's hard to describe puzzle games, particularly Splice. It's about...splicing? And there's bacteria. And that's the best description I can give. I thoroughly enjoy this game, though you wouldn't be able to tell. It frustrates me terribly, and I get mad and punch my desk. Maybe I'm just not good at puzzle games - but that doesn't mean that Splice deserves any less praise. It's entire UI is cool and avant-garde, with all the menus looking like bar codes and text off a test tube or a bacteria culture, which goes very well with the whole visual aesthetic of the game. Also the music is GREAT!
Most Graphically Impressive Indie Mech Game
I don't think that there is much of a debate here; when it comes to graphical fidelity from a small game studio, Hawken takes the cake. It's an absolutely gorgeous game. The mechs are fantastically detailed, down to every little button and gear in the cockpit. The environments are sprawling, the weapon fire is crisp, and realistic, and the explosions are big, bright and satisfying. If you haven't seen footage of this game, look below, and I think my point will be well proven.
Most Astonishing Musical Exploration Game
Ed Key and David Kanaga
Proteus, is like listening to Fantasia, while playing Minecraft. It's an absolutely brilliant combination of audio and video. Some may find the lack of interaction distressing upon first glance. But one need only look and listen more closely to see that there is more interaction here than there is in many AAA games. The way the music subtly changes when you leave one biome and enter the other, the way the mushrooms chime, or the way the entire feel of the game shifts when it rains, when the sun goes down, or during a snowstorm. It's really something you need to experience for yourself, in a dark room, with a big screen and a good headset. Trust me, it will be an encounter you haven't ever had before.
Most Enchanting and Mysterious Exploration Game
PC, OSX, Linux
iOS, Android (Planned)
Kairo is a lot like Proteus - it's about exploration or a strange, alien world, suspended in a colorful space. Except whereas Proteus focuses on music as a catalyst for engagement, Kairo uses puzzles and history. As you traverse this mysterious place, you are forced to bring ancient machines back into life; this of course begs the question; "Who created these machines? And where did they go?" The adventure is captivating, and while it won't puzzle you like, say, Splice, the brain teasers are enough to crank even the most rusted brains into action. The environments boast a unique and other worldly art style, colorful, serene and lonely. While much of the details of the story are left to your imagination, the game feeds you enough subliminal hints for you to get the gist of the intended story. And, in my opinion, it's a worthwhile story, and a fantastic adventure.
Coolest 2D MOBA Game
PC, OSX, PS3, Xbox360
Awesomenauts takes games like DotA and LoL and literally flips them on their side. Typically MOBA (that's multiplayer online battle arena, for those who don't know/don't care) games are played from an isometric top view, panned fairly distant from the characters, and involve players fighting each other in "lanes" to destroy towers and home bases with the help of CPU controlled minions. Awesomenauts does all this, but from a 2D scroller perspective instead.
Awesomnauts is probably one of the most well supported Indie games to date, with new characters being released gratis intermittently for the past couple months. It's fun and quirky, and has a great sense of humor. Each character has his or her (or its) own theme song, a host of moves, an upgrade-able skill tree and decorative skins. The game is well balanced, and generally quicker paced than it's traditional MOBA counterparts. It's also significantly less in-depth, meaning the investment from the player is considerably less, both in mastery, and in actual length of games. That doesn't make it any less fun or valid - it's great for a quick couple matches between your more "serious" gaming sessions.
Game Most Likely to Remind You of a Scene from Scarface
Hotline Miami is like something you would have seen in an 80's gangster movie, or even a flick like 'Reservoir Dogs.' It's straight up over-the-top (literally and figuratively) gangster violence, with all the accompanied blood, guns and guts. You play as a character without a name, and you're on a killing spree, presumably because you were betrayed by some other mobster in league with some biker gang (I wasn't paying attention, I just wanted to kill.) Before each mission you choose a mask, which grants you bonuses. The missions are littered with bad guys just itching to die. There are plenty of weapons to use on your killing spree, and your murderous rampage is accompanied by an absolutely stellar 80s themed soundtrack. There's even a cool car that looks just like a Delorean. All that's missing is a boatload of cocaine, some "cock-a-roaches" and a grenade launcher.
© 2012 Starpulse.com
Photo Credits: Klei Entertainment, Youtube