Oh goodness me, where did the time go? December has crept up on us with alarming gusto. It reminds me of that Neil Gaiman story, Goliath, where the machines of the Matrix can accelerate time to ensure everybody experiences a common reality. Whatever the reason for this seeming timeslip, 2013 was a great year in the indie scene and heralded several innovative new titles that will resonate with gamers for a number of years to come. With this article I’ll be looking at some of the most noteworthy additions of 2013, and get the list started off right with:
It would be positively wicked to start off without mentioning this seminal coffee-break title. I’ll be honest: I’ve only gotten into this one very recently, but once I started I was hooked. It’s insanely addictive and it’s perfect for a quick gaming session to satisfy your itch. The fact that it’s a local indie title that received international recognition is nothing to sneeze at either, so if you haven’t tried it already, you have no excuse.
Survival games are inexplicably addictive; the list of titles which employ this tactic are too numerous to mention. Few, however, manage to pull it off as stylishly as Don’t Starve. The art is a Tim Burton-esque fusion of cartoonish visuals and gloomy atmosphere, while there’s no shortage of strange creatures and creepy sound effects to set the tone. It’s brutal and unforgiving, but you’ll love it and you’ll keep coming back to it.
Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs
Us gamers aren’t a bunch to be scared easily, but the original Amnesia came pretty damn close, and this poignant sequel doesn’t fail to deliver. The gloomy Victorian setting is pulled off perfectly and players will be immersed in a world that is clearly hostile yet invites exploration. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is how it ditches many of the original’s mechanics and streamlines the experience, yet manages to be equally as enthralling; a testament to the fact that a sequel can indeed go in a different direction without betraying its roots. It’s difficult to discuss A Machine For Pigs without spoilers, so I’m just gonna say that it’s wonderfully desolate and creepy, and you’ll want to see it through to its conclusion.
Roguelikes, roguelike-likes, dynamic design, procedural generation… these are becoming very common buzzwords in the industry. Rogue Legacy adds a fresh twist to these concepts by throwing players into dynamic dungeons with a character whose traits are as equally random. Most notably, death is not the end: succumb to the villains and you’ll be able to spawn an heir who will carry on the mission and keep you in the game. Thing is, the treatment of genealogy is fundamentally a cosmic lottery: your new character may have a deliberately undesirable trait such as myopia, rendering parts of the game as a blur. It’s all in good fun, though, and it’s a wonderfully silly platforming romp that’s also a damn fine challenge.
Love them or hate them, FPS games are an unstoppable force in the modern gaming industry. These days they’re mainly cinematic, scripted and hyper-realistic, but lots of players yearn for the simpler style that ruled in the days of DOOM and its legion of clones. Enter Wrack: a throwback to classic shooter conventions and possibly the most arcade-y FPS since Serious Sam. It’s fast, colourful, cel-shaded and doesn’t pretend to be anything else but a mindless blast with some minor platforming and maze-navigating elements. If you’re a fan of the original DOOM, then you need to play this.
Like many games on this list, Gone Home takes an essentially mundane concept and manages to execute it perfectly. Essentially, you’re exploring a seemingly empty house that is filled with so much character and so many memories that it draws you in and keeps you interested. Your character returns home after a trip to Europe, only to find the house deserted. It’s up to you to shake up the place and find out just what exactly is going on, but don’t be fooled: this isn’t a whodunnit or a horror. It’s a surprisingly moving tale that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that games can indeed be a legitimate story-telling medium. The fact that it’s drenched in 90’s sensibilities is a nice touch, too.
Who would have thought that a boring desk job could be made into an enthralling game? Well, if you add a twist of Cold War paranoia to the mix, anything is possible. Papers, Please thrusts you into a thankless, Soviet-style inspection booth where you have to process documents from a flood of foreigners and expat citizens trying to enter your oppressive country. What sets it apart are the moralistic choices: do you let through a possible revolutionary and risk being branded a traitor, or do you obey the cruel system and expose any dissent? To make matters more interesting, you also have bills to pay and a family to support, and this takes morality-based decisions in games to an all-new level.
Among The Sleep
I’m cheating a bit here because the final release of Among The Sleep is only slated for a 2014 release and there’s currently only a demo available for download. However, playing the alpha, I was totally blown away by the concept: you’re a two-year older toddler exploring his house at night when some very weird things start happening. The game seeks to emulate that experience of being very young and letting your imagination run away with you, as we all did at some stage. It’s one hell of an interesting idea and we’re all keeping a firm watch on its development.
It would seem that gamers are suckers for all things Lovecraft, so it only makes sense that Eldritch would appear to us from the abyss. It’s a mix between a dungeon-crawler and a rougelike, with a fantastic soundtrack and Minecraft-esque visuals. Each playthrough is different and there’s always more to explore and discover. Despite the blocky look, it manages to be genuinely creepy and it has that unmistakable “just-one-more-try” quality that all the best games possess.
The Stanley Parable
Lordie, this is a difficult one to describe. It’s sort of a game, but not really. It’s a trippy, mind-bending experiment in narrative, meta-references and choices in gaming, all while at the same time mocking these very conventions that are essentially its core. Players take on the role of an oddball named, of all things, Stanley, who has a pretty crappy job that wholly entails sitting at a computer and pressing buttons. When his colleagues mysteriously vanish from his office building, he takes it upon himself to discover what has happened to everybody, or perhaps just him. With a sarcastic, omnipotent, and unreliable narrator who could give GlaDOS a run for her money, and a weirdness factor that shoots through the roof, it’s 2013’s definite “must-play-before-you-die” title, and one of the most unique gaming experiences ever.