Here is a collection of great indie games. I've been writing up collections like this for a while now on my blog, and at the suggestion of a good friend thought I'd post here in case there are any other indie-lovers. All of them are free to play online and download.
Murder Dog IV
Murder Dog IV takes roughly 10 minutes to play through but upon completion feels like a magnum opus of wit and creativity. You play murder dog, on trial for a bloodthirsty crimes - bumbling, growling, and cheating your way through the investigations. Murder Dog is a game which has a million things constantly going on, a 30s-style narrator offers a secondary perspective in newspeak along the bottom of the screen, calling witnesses or evidence changes the game format entirely, and the design is a brilliant mish-mash of clay models, sketchy chalkboards, and real photography. It is brilliantly written, with just the right balance of convention and innovation, and captures a superb sense of hectic absurdity. Play it!
There’s a lot to be put off by with Space Funeral: The fact it is a 16-bit style RPG (of which there are many bad ones), the luridly coloured artwork, and the fact it takes quite a bit of time to play for an indie (over an hour). It would be a mistake to dismiss this game however, because it’s rather more than it seems. It’s long nature is down to a wealth of ideas and detail, it imports none of the 16-bit style repetitive difficulty (and is actually rather easy), and the lurid art design is perfectly cohesive with it’s astonishingly good soundtrack (it truly is superb) and unique tone. Space Funeral is quite simply entertaining throughout, It’s possible to interpret many of its ideas as a deconstruction of game tropes, or merely funny asides. You could take your time exploring the world and soaking in the ambiance, or lazily breeze through it for the twists and turns – either way, Space Funeral is undeniably brilliant.
Keys of a Gamespace
It’s sometimes easy to see why games are viewed as rather destructive things. Not because of their perceived immaturity, gratification in violence, or lack of challenging ideas, but because they can consume the player – engulfing him completely with repetition, stimulating his basest instincts whilst disengaging him from emotion, feeling, and articulate thought. Keys of a Gamespace is essentially about such things. It’s also about choice, about whether evil acts are chosen, or innately inevitable. Nothing about the actual gameplay is particularly inventive, but the deeply personal experiences portrayed by the maker, as well as the questions it asks are incredibly well presented. Decently written, with delicate, muted artwork and a nice soundtrack, this is a game which stuck with me for a while after I played it, and might resonate with other long-time gamers too. (Note: There are some pretty disturbing themes in this game so don’t expect something light-hearted.)
Despite being a short, rudimentary game with blocky graphics Judith manages to weave an elaborate and deeply engrossing plot replete with haunting discoveries, surprising turns, and an incredibly strong atmosphere. Within seconds of beginning I was deeply involved, something about the deftly minimalist writing and the superb pacing pulling me through its 20 or so minutes with shivers down my spine and a pointedly piqued curiousity. A great example of what can be achieved with nothing but an understanding of narrative and gameplay.
Unmanned, Crow and Foxy (Le Corbeau et la Renarde), & Stratus
In Unmanned you play the role of an American family man who works as a controller for anti-terrorist predator drones. It’s a strange concept and despite the immediacy of the gameplay and the colourful graphics Unmanned manages to strike some pretty profound notes. I don’t want to spoil anything, particularly because this is a game which is simple and easy to play, yet possesses quite a bit of thematic depth.
Made for a 48 hour competition, Crow and Foxy has only one neat idea, but the idea gives the basis for a funny, post-modern riff on adventure game conversations. Half-based on a fable, it’s another example of brilliant writing in an indie game, and offers up some food for thought on how conversation systems in games work.
Stratus is another game made in 48 hours, and as such won’t engross you in a massive world to a satisfying conclusion. Although what made me love stratus was its beautifully implied scenario, and its covertly impressive understanding of players and game mechanics. You wake up on a failing airship which is under attack, and the ensuing, panic-stricken moments are elegantly engineered from thereon. A perfectly designed short that really left me wanting more.
Hide, Yeti Hunter, Ruins, & Blind
Hide is possibly one of the most intense indie games I’ve ever played. It begins with you staring up at the crudely rendered night sky of a snowy forest, and gameplay consists of nothing more than moving through the silhouetted trees and snowfall away from the unknown horrors. Moving figures wield torches, piano notes sound in the distance, seemingly random signposts offer methods of death, and the unexplained premise allows your imagination to run wild. A similar game to Hide is one called Yeti Hunter, which also had you moving through a crudely depicted environment in search of the Yeti. Rather than the exasperated avoidance of Hide, Yeti Hunter is a paranoid, claustrophobic, and fearsome game – still great, though perhaps a little less cohesive.
Ruins aims to evoke a sense of half-remembered dreams and pretty much succeeds. There’s some kind of plot here, but the game is predominantly about a faded, abstract, ethereal beauty. As a black dog you run amongst fragments of structures as a wistful prelude plays and the camera sweeps playfully across the surreal vista. A really nice experience.
With a threadbare visual style and incredibly basic gameplay, Blind tells an ambiguous story that genuinely surprised me with its emotional weight. It is a game which uses branching paths (and consequential playthroughs) to build a sense of something greater. One of the nicest things about playing such basic games is their ability to switch up the gameplay or tone to narrative effect, and Blind has some great examples of this.
Masked, Never Alone Hotline, Process, & Don’t Take It Personally
Masked is a tautly-structured, escape-the-room style adventure game that takes place in a singular environment. Despite the conventional set-up and puzzles, there is a compellingly insinuated plot and some neat visual tricks. Far more satisfying than its short play time and basic premise ought to be.
Never Alone Hotline is a sweet little game in which you play a call centre operator dealing with inbound calls from all manner of people. It’s a little bit sad but had enough humour to make me laugh a few times and feel genuinely interested in who was going to call up next. A great premise well fulfilled.
Process is a Russian game and it is obvious throughout – it has a dirtied, industrial aesthetic, it doesn’t patronise the player with unnecessary elements, and it is very good. It’s a first-person adventure game in which you wake up on a moving train and must figure out how to stop it. The puzzles are very well-designed, although Process tries to pull a fairly smart trick with regards to puzzle-solving that is rather obtuse, though it doesn’t dilute the game and isn’t apparent til later on. It has great sound, and some gripping moments. Definitely worth trying out.
Don’t Take It Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Game (to give it its full, ridiculous, title) is a Japanese style visual novel by the creator of the superb Digital: A Love Story. I have to admit, my expectations were extremely high for this, and whilst evidence of her creative talent is apparent in the general theme (you play a school teacher dealing with his pupils issues, all the while the alternate-world of facebook and twitter conversations between them are easily accessible to you), I felt the game was a little too trite in many other areas. Despite my own disappointment, I fully recognise that for a romantic visual novel, the tropes are welcome, and the innovations are great, so if you like school-based dramas, romance, internet culture, or Japanese-style characters, Don’t Take It Personally is a great indie.
Rebirth, Feign, A Song in the Void, & Flatland
This is a strange game for a number of reasons, it lies somewhere halfway between interpretive art-game and more conventional mechanics. With Geiger-style visuals and a strong message, Rebirth is particularly strange for the fact that its middle section is intelligently dark and evocative, whilst other portions fall somewhat short. I was extremely underwhelmed by the ending, but found the rest of it powerfully focused for its message.
Feign exhibits some pretty deft brilliance with level and art design. Taking a simple graphical trick (a two-textured colour style that is rather difficult to get your head around, particularly when the game perverts its own protocols), and creating a labyrinth for the player to navigate. It sounds gimmicky, but it somehow works, resulting in something far more interesting on a purely architectural and mechanical level. There’s little plot but for an end trick that is pretty annoying and sours the experience somewhat, but Feign is well worth checking out.
A Song in the Void is less a game, more an experiment in sound and colour. It’s a fantastical story about nature, chaos, and the entire cosmos, steeped in a sentimental philosophy that – depending on your taste – is either movingly profound or a little bit insubstantial. Nonetheless, Song of the Void is an ambitious plaything which is very well-designed and has some genuine character.
Visually Flatland is rather boring, and its gameplay is somewhat finicky and often frustrating. All you do is navigate a triangle through a maze while avoiding other shapes that are out to get you – but a noir-esque voiceover telling the story of a revolution, combined with some good music gives the basic shapes on screen a personality and a purpose. It’s a rather interesting experiment and I was somewhat surprised at how much the game had me empathising with a triangle.
Vsevolod, Yeti, The Kite, & Egress: The Test of STS-417
Vsevolod is beautifully designed, has superb sound, solid writing, and a fascinating premise. Unfortunately I found the puzzles a little laborious, which is a great shame considering the sheer detail and effort that runs through every other aspect of the game. Nonetheless, those more patient than I should definitely check this quality adventure game out.
After having played Yeti I wasn’t sure whether it was brilliant or banal. You play a cameraman/presenter, following the yeti and giving a David Attenborough style voiceover. It’s rather funny, and very polished. Gameplay is minimal and simplistic, but it’s still rather entertaining.
Set in post-Soviet Russia, you play a downtrodden, poor woman with an alcoholic husband and a hungry child. It’s extremely grim, but the art-style is strong enough to evoke that in a compelling way. I really wanted to like The Kite, but the disappointingly bad translation and weak puzzle design made it a little difficult to get truly immersed. Again, one for the patient.
Egress: The Test of STS-417 is a superbly paced adventure game in which you are an astronaut who becomes stranded on a mysterious planet. It’s a superb take on a classic sci-fi horror scenario, and its set pieces are superbly designed. Every aspect of it is competent, the music, artwork, writing, pacing and puzzles, though it will require additional playthroughs to fully complete.
Which, Opera Omnia, The Snowfield, & Loop Raccord
Horror games have become increasingly popular, and I have to admit I never get as scared at a film or a book as I have done with games. Which is yet another game that genuinely chilled me. It takes place in a single environment from a first-person perspective, and has you piecing together a bizarre situation with multiple (shocking) endings. A simple idea but executed flawlessly.
I tried about 5 times to get my head around Opera Omnia‘s peculiar mechanics because its premise is extremely interesting. You play a historian who must create simulations of migration patterns amongst various peoples – all at the behest of a sinister politician. Although I didn’t complete it, the concept of re-interpreting history for manipulative gain, and the sheer uniqueness of the game throughout really intrigued me. If you can get your head around it this is well worth it.
The Snowfield is a game about the grimness of the battlefield. It’s powerfully atmospheric, and aside from the fairly ‘gamey’ fetch-quests, there is a superb sense of place and time. The frozen lens, wails in the distance, bombed-out building and decrepit postures all lend the game a great ambiance, even if the game itself is somewhat thin.
Accessible fun and pure innovation don’t often come together, but Loop Raccord is precisely that. It’s a difficult game to describe: it involves sequencing many clips (from movies, archives, cartoons, etc) in order to create a sense of movement from one to another. It’s a game about timing and perception, dressed up in scattershot-insanity. Whilst it can be a little difficult sometimes to interpret what the game sees as a good connection (I often felt hard done-by with the games mechanics), the central idea is so fresh and fun that I had a great time with it and can recommend it wholly.
Wonderputt, Nous, and Igneous
I try to avoid putting any conventional time-waster games in these posts. The internet is littered with games that only want to engage your fingers and get you hooked on repetitive tasks, but Wonderputt is really a cut above most. Essentially a mini-golf game, Wonderputt is an imaginative little world that animates and manipulates like some Chinese contraption as you play along. Worth playing just for that.
Whilst I wasn’t able to get very far into Nous (it really requires the use of a controller to play), I saw enough of it’s Portal-esque combination of innovative game-mechanics and bizarre, proto sci-fi story-premises to realise it has something pretty good going for it.
Igneous does what pretty much every blockbuster game these days tries (and often fails) to do. Create tense and thrilling action against an awesomely dynamic background. I’ve always maintained there is as much artistry to designing exciting action sequences as there is to anything dramatic, and Igneous, despite being a simple game in which you race through a crumbling, volcanic, ancient civilization, is exhilarating because it looks, feels, and plays extremely cohesively. Short and brilliant.
Noctis IV & The Lonely Man
These are two games which I couldn’t get to run on my computer, but which had such interesting premises to me that I thought I might as well add them.
Noctis IV is a game in which you explore the universe in search of planets. It seems that you can land on any planet and explore the landscape, climate, and fauna/life on those planets. I love exploration games and Noctis IV sounds on paper like the it could be a great one – I’m still pulling teeth trying to get it working.
The Lonely Man begins brilliantly (my computer could run the intro at least) with a shot of the world from space, before swooping down through the landscape to focus on the lonely man of the title. It’s a great intro, and although I didn’t see any more than that, the game’s premise of having you run about a vast landscape performing tasks could be great (or awful, who knows).
Edit: Almost forgot this one as I’m still currently playing through it. Donna: Avenger of Blood is a gothic, dystopian adventure game set in a world of vampires and conspiracy. It has a pretty clunky, old-school interface (look, take, combine, etc) though some neat vampire-style additions such as a blood-meter (which enables certain abilities) and a stress-meter. Its story is told in a distinctly comic-book noir-esque style, and while the writing is a little cheesy and the plot a little cliche, the presentation is top-notch and anyone who likes adventure games or goth-vamp stylings will find a lot to like here.