Written by: Nick Farinola // Edited by: Nick Farinola and Joe Ahart When I think of video games, the first thing, or person rather, that pops in my head is Master Chief from the Halo series. Halo is the prime example of a jam-packed, epic AAA-game with a massive budget allocated to the developers and publishers to spend on […]
Written by: Nick Farinola // Edited by: Nick Farinola and Joe Ahart
When I think of video games, the first thing, or person rather, that pops in my head is Master Chief from the Halo series. Halo is the prime example of a jam-packed, epic AAA-game with a massive budget allocated to the developers and publishers to spend on production as well as advertising. Keep in mind, video games, just like everything else, are products of business. Just like any business entity, there lurks competition. The video game industry is cluttered with new and old studios working on several different games at once most of the time. Grand Theft Auto is another appropriate example of a AAA, massively successful video game series. Rockstar, the developers behind the series, continues to one-up themselves with every entry from a technical, narrative, and gameplay standpoint. To put it simply, whenever Rockstar drops a new game every five to eight years or so, it pretty much dominates in sales for not only that specific year, but the years to come. Recently the fifth entry in the Grand Theft Auto series, which released in September of 2013 for last generation consoles and PC, has been named the most successful entertainment title ever. According to MarketWatch, GTA V has sold over 90 million copies across all platforms since its release in 2013, and has grossed a total of $6 billion from a budget of $265 million. Impressive, is it not? Let me rewind a bit. This article isn’t about me meandering around the video game industry as a business, but rather it’s about some of the lesser known, indie games that haven’t had quite the same opportunity to grasp the same spotlight as GTA or Halo. Here are eight of my favorite indie games that you (probably) have never heard of at all. As a short disclaimer, one of these entries is now currently offline as it was an Xbox Live Summer of Arcade exclusive back in 2012.
1. Gone Home
Starting off our list is a little game that I found on Steam back in 2013 not because of how popular it was, but because of how much hate it was getting at the time for its abrupt and supposedly unsatisfying finale and short length. Developed and published by the Fullbright Company (known for their work on Bioshock 2: Minerva’s Den DLC), and released for PC in August of 2013 (and for PS4 and Xbox One consoles in January of 2016 and Nintendo Switch in 2018 respectively), Gone Home tells a rather personal, small-scaled story set in the year 1995. Gone Home puts the player in the role of a young woman returning from overseas to her rural Oregon family home to find her family currently absent and the house empty, leaving her to piece together recent events. There is no combat, there are no NPCs to receive quests, and the story could be completed in just under two hours (maybe a little more if you’re a completionist). The gameplay is rather atypical in the sense that you are dropped into this large, empty house piecing together just where the hell your family had gone. It’s incredibly atmospheric, and at times I felt genuinely frightened by…nothing. The ambiance is downright unnerving, but the story couldn’t be any different. The game relies heavily on the player’s will of exploration and interactivity with the different rooms within the house. A large amount of what you can see can also be inspected or used to progress the story. It garnered much critical praise when it was released, but many users were critical of the ending, which honestly came out of left field up until the end when more details were revealed. For me, Gone Home symbolized a new direction for video games – a more artistic, surreal direction.
2. Outlast 2
Okay, okay, I might be stretching this one a bit, but let me have some fun! Outlast 2 is the much anticipated sequel to the cult favorite horror game of the same name (minus the ‘2’ of course) developed and published by Red Barrels in April of 2017. Outlast basically takes the Amensia formula of defenselessness, but adds its own little flare. If you thought Outlast was an exhausting game, then play the second. It’s utterly traumatizing at points, and that’s no joke. The story goes as follows: A journalist named Blake Langermann, along with his wife Lynn, roaming the Arizona desert to explore the murder of a pregnant woman only known as Jane Doe. Unsurprisingly, their helicopter crashes, separating the two in a village inhabited by a religious cult that believes the end of days is upon us. Any time religion and horror are intertwined, you pretty much know what to expect. Outlast’s defining mechanic is the ability to use the night vision camera. The camera allows you to see in the mostly pitch black environments, while also creating an additional layer of stress with a depleting battery life. The game favors stealth, but finding yourself being chased by a dozen blood-thirsty hillbillies is inevitable. The story takes you to weird and increasingly terrifying locales at a brisk pace, uncovering a deeply haunting twist that spans back to Blake and Lynn’s childhood. My only gripe with the game is the trial and error feeling throughout. There are moments where you’re running from enemies in the pitch blackness deep within the woods with zero indication of where to go to next. It only takes a few hits to go down before you’re face-to-face with the game over screen. Aside from that petty gripe, Outlast 2 takes everything that made the first game terrifying and amplifies it to ten. It’s sick, twisted, and undeniably irresistible. After you’ve finished the game, head over to my YouTube channel where I delve a little deeper within the lore of Blake and Lynn’s old school.
WARNING, this game is unfortunately offline. Hybrid was one of those games released within the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade era on last gen consoles, and one that unfortunately fell under quickly. Developed by 5th Cell and utilizing Valve’s Source engine, Hybrid is a third-person, multiplayer-only shooter that pits two factions (the alien Variants and the human Paladins) against each other in cover-based arenas. Story is unimportant, but those two factions that I mentioned before fight for control of dark matter after a catastrophic event in 2032 left Earth in turmoil. It’s your run-of-the-mill B movie trash that is solely there to give justification for the action. Players from the start are able to choose which faction to fight for in this all out battle or weekly ‘season’ that ultimately ends with one winning faction before resetting. Whichever faction claims 200 dark matter first wins. The winning faction is granted a champion helmet piece to gloat in front of the losing faction for the next season. Hybrid relies heavily on its rather standard third-person cover system, but the real kick lies in the jet packs. The player is able to jump from one platform to the next, whether it be upside down or rightside up. Various (generic) weaponry is at your disposal as well as the ability to call in drones to assist you in battle. There was a rather half-baked customization system, but it wasn’t expansive or deep enough to warrant too much hassle over. Hybrid being apart of the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade roster meant that it wasn’t very expensive, and that it offered many hours of enjoyment up until its eventual demise. Hey, there’s always YouTube.
4. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Remember when I said that Outlast 2 was one of the most grueling, heart-wrenching video game experiences I’ve ever had? Well, Hellblade is a whole other experience worthy of its own spot on the list. Developed by a team of twenty people at Ninja Theory, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice follows Senua, a Pict warrior who must make her way to Helheim by defeating otherworldly entities and facing their challenges, in order to rescue the soul of her dead lover from the goddess Hela. It is heavily inspired by Norse mythology, so if you still have that Nordic itch after playing God of War, here’s a game to satiate that. Hellblade is an emotional rollercoaster through Hell – to put it lightly. Senua suffers from what appears to be schizophrenia, and throughout the game, players are haunted by many voices within Senua’s head. Sometimes, however, the voices give information about the environment, whether it concerns certain visual puzzles or if an enemy behind you is about to strike you down (the voices will yell, “Watch out! Behind you!). The game brings awareness to mental illnesses, which immediately got the attention of cult fanbase. The core gameplay revolves around long stretches of walking and story beats, brutal, third-person sword combat, and obnoxious visual puzzles that slow the pace to a crawl and very quickly overstay their welcome. The combat is absolutely stellar in that it’s fast, brutal and fluid. Try playing this one with the lights off and headphones set to max volume. Hellblade proves that you don’t need an unlimited budget to make an amazing AAA gaming experience.
5. Naughty Bear
This one will certainly be the most divisive because I am almost sure that I am the only person to actually like this game. Set in the 1980s on the fictional ‘Perfection Island,’ teddy bears live in harmony…that is, most of them do. That harmony is ruined when Naughty Bear is laughed at when preparing a present for Daddles’ birthday party. He is enraged and the carnage ensues. Naughty Bear is your standard hack-and-slash, third person action game with some broken stealth mechanics. The story is pieced together in chapters that see Naughty going up against the Mayor, ninja bears, and even robot and zombie bears. It’s absolutely ludicrous, and I just can’t get enough of it. The player basically goes around each contained environment setting up traps and stealthing their way until every bear is slain (or the challenges given to you are complete). The kill animations are simultaneously clever, brutal and humorous whether you cut the bears to pieces with your machete or throw them into a giant cake machine until they are nothing but stuffing. The game plays off of ‘80s horror culture effectively…and that’s pretty much all it has going for it. It’s ridiculously short, the stealth and enemy AI are broken – how is it that I can hide behind a giant leaf as my prey walks right past me, get up, beat one of them to death with a baseball bat, only to find the remaining survivors chase me back into the same hiding spot where they suddenly forget where I am – and you’ve pretty much seen everything the game has to offer within the first thirty minutes. I’m bad at selling this, aren’t I? Tell me though what other game places you in the body of a psychotic killer teddy bear where your only objective is to kill those responsible for making fun of you before a birthday party you weren’t invited to? That’s what I thought. You could even drive the other teddy bears to suicide if you kill off enough of their friends – brilliant. Okay, I’m embarrassed, moving on!
Ah, Dayz. You either love this game or you hate it. Somehow, I fall in the middle. Developed by Bohemia Interactive, Dayz is the standalone game based off of a mod (of ARMA II) of the same name. After a five-year-long early access journey, it finally released for PC in December of 2018, and shortly after on Xbox One in Q1 2019. Let me get this off my chest immediately before I continue. DO NOT BUY THIS GAME FOR XBOX ONE. Remember PUBG’s chaotic technical launch for Xbox One in Game Preview? Yeah? Well, Dayz is in an even worse state…of decay (see what I did there?). Dayz is either a third-person or first-person survival game set in the fictional post-Soviet Republic of Chernarus, where a typical plague wiped out half of the world’s population blah, blah, and now people must survive against the horde of the undead blah, blah…excuse me, the horde of “the infected.” It’s a brutal game experience in the sense that it’s incredibly tough to master. There are strategies of where to look for gear and loot, hidden lore, etc. Most of the time though, I found myself spawning in only to be tortured and inevitably shot by other players. I watched this one guy on YouTube get captured by this group where they then tied him up and forced him to eat human flesh. It was hilarious. The selling point for me was the idea that every time I spawned in, I never knew what the hell to expect. It’s thrilling, frustrating, and insanely rewarding if you give it the time. The developers still need time to iron out some of the bugs and glitches, but for the most part, the PC experience isn’t bad. The game is priced currently on steam at $45.00, which is a bit pricey. My advice, wait for a steam sale and pick it up for sure!
7. Song of the Deep
I honestly don’t think I’ve played a more beautiful game than Song of the Deep. Developed by Insomniac Games and published by GameTrust Games in July of 2016, Song of the Deep follows Merryn, a 12-year-old girl who loves her father, a fisherman, especially when he tells her tall tales of his adventures. Her father, one night, vanishes leaving behind mysterious visions of him trapped in the ocean’s depths. Merryn, a determined adventurer, creates her own submarine built with unique gear to survive the perilous adventure that awaits her in the depths. The game is a metroidvania, puzzle, action game where the player navigates an intertwining area in search of new gear in order to progress to the next section. The artstyle is downright stunning, and I admired how difficult the game could get in some sections. Sometimes the difficulty felt artificial and unfair, but that didn’t get in the way of my love for this game. The different gear at your disposal is increasingly unique, and like any other metroidvania, the player should hunt for those hidden collectibles. Song of the Deep is an absolute must-buy!
Capping off this list is Playdead’s magnificent puzzle-platformer, adventure game Inside. Released in June of 2016, Inside is the follow-up to the widely praised Limbo. As one of the most well-known indie titles, Inside is an experience like no other – I guarantee that. The player is placed in control of an unnamed boy traversing surreal environments with no concrete explanation as to why he’s there, where’s he’s going, and why he’s going there. Everything about this bleak world is incredibly engaging that I often found myself enamored by the mystery. Unfortunately for me, this is one of those games where the less I say, the better it is for you. The game mechanics are simplistic, leaving the story front and center in its weird complexity and metaphorical undertones. As the boy, you can run, jump, climb, and interact with certain things in your environment. The chase sequences are thrilling in the sense that you’re always somehow escaping by the skin of your teeth. I found my entire body jumping with the boy because the environment itself is so overwhelming. You actually feel like you’re trapped in this nightmare, and boy is it glorious.
So there you have it folks. Here are eight of my favorite indie games that you may or may not have heard of, but one thing’s for sure, you should definitely check them out! Also, do me the favor of letting me know your thoughts on my list and what games you would have picked for yours!