by Ashraf Abdalla
It recently dawned on me, what I’ve been playing most on my PC and consoles, and what a lot of friends, acquaintances and I have been buzzing about the most over the last couple of months (if I’m being really honest I’d actually say the last couple of years,) were Independent, or indie games.
There have been tons of indie games released over the last few years, it’s been a growing phenomenon, my Steam library (if you don’t know what steam is, you may want to do your research and come back to this) is chock full of indie games sitting right next to dozens of games by mainstream developers and publishers.
At first glance, indie games generally illicit the reaction “that looks horrible” (that’s not to say all indie games look bad, some are absolutely gorgeous). That initial reaction is exactly what makes most indie games amazing. These games are made by passionate small teams who tend to fund these projects out of their own pockets before starting to sell them on one of the multitude of digital delivery platforms, or crowd-fund them à la Kickstarter and their heart and soul is poured into them. Indie games hearken back to days of old when games weren’t about the graphics, or the effects, or selling a console system over another. It was all about the gameplay and the challenge.
I’ve spent countless hours on a number of these over the last couple of years. FTL: Faster than Light was one of the first Kickstarter projects I pledged money for. It’s one of the most played games on my gaming rig, MacBook and more recently my iPad following the release of the iOS version. Gameplay is simple and straightforward yet complex enough to present you with many variant strategies. Graphics are pixilated but cute, the music futuristic and atmospheric. You’re the captain of a federation ship trying to escape the rebels to a federation base across the galaxy. The mission: deliver a vital piece of information. I’ve finished it multiple times, and it has been a wildly different journey each time. FTL is a labor of love and that really shows. This was a game made by two guys, with brilliant music written by someone they commissioned for the job. That is what indie games are all about.
Day Z is another labor of love that started off as a mod to ARMA, a tactical military sim game. Day Z added zombies and online survival play for you and a team of friends or strangers in a massive map on a multitude of online servers. The mod was made by one of the ARMA developers, and more recently became an indie standalone game. Anyone who has ever played Day Z if prodded, will regale you with countless adventures of exploration, terrifying moments, hopeless odds, miraculous survival, being a predator against another group of survivors or prey of a clan of Mad Max-like gamers. That mod kept me up many a work night well past when I should have gone to bed.
I can think of dozens of more indie games that entertained me for hours on end. Hotline Miami, a gory top-down action game with cool story telling, gore, stealth, more gore, a brilliantly thematic soundtrack and art style inspired by all the dystopian movies of the 80s, blended perfectly together. Monaco, where you and a team of friends are conducting multiple heists, is a complete riot when things start going wrong. Starhwal: Just the Tip, a local multiplayer fighting game, really needs to be appreciated. Nidhogg with its epic fencing battle is another favorite. Others like Don’t Starve, Outlast (this is the only game I’ve ever stopped playing because I was genuinely scared and freaked out), Limbo, Payday 2, Rust, Gone home, and Dear Esther, are just a small portion of the list of brilliant indie games.
Indie games don’t necessarily have to be small affairs. Star Citizen is one of the games I’m most excited about. I missed the Kickstarter campaign but will pledge on their website probably right after I’m done writing this. It’s an epic space sim the likes of which we have not seen since the days of Wing Commander and Elite. Star Citizen being more like the latter in its free form. For those who might be too young to know that reference: you’re in space and you can do whatever you want. The game started with a crowd-funding goal of $500,000 on Kickstarter and at the time of writing has now reached $43.6 million. Its graphics put most AAA titles to shame and you can do more than you could possibly imagine in its expansive universe. It is a PC gamer’s dream come true.
Don’t overlook indie games just because they might not look that great, or you may have not heard of them with all the AAA marketing and hype. Some indie games will be the most fun you’ve had in ages, and if that doesn’t persuade you, the fact that most cost $15 or less but offer you hour upon hour of fun for you and your friends, should help.