Here at PN2, we are compiling a list of all the great Indies that frolic about in the vast gaming wilderness, which we believe are more than worthy of your time. Each issue we’ll delve into the known, the unknown and the weird to provide the perfect list of games to spend your hard earned cash on.
But first, a a little education. The modern AAA video game tends to fit within popular genres and are commonly based upon pre-existing franchises. This makes sense, as big name publishers need to recoup their rather high budgets and maintain the healthy wallets of the stakeholders, hence generally playing it safe. Indie games, on the other hand, do things just a little differently. Their lack of financial support means that developers (out of bedrooms or around their 9 to 5 day time jobs) must rely on innovation for their games to gain attention. Being independent also awards developers full creative control over their games, which can result in original ideas that are suitable for gamers who crave something new (plus they’re a fair bit cheaper, always a bonus).
Okay, enough of that, let’s get to our first lot of must play indies, starting with:
Hotline Miami is a 2D top-down shooter that features retro style graphics, addictive, ultra-violent gameplay and one of the greatest original soundtracks in gaming. The year is 1989. You play as a hitman who receives mysterious phone calls instructing you to commit massacres against the Russian Mafia. Because why not? The surreal storyline may or may not make sense to you. This is fine. The gameplay makes up for it.
The murder filled gore fest that is gameplay, unfolds at break-neck pace. You die a lot. Each time you learn something new to alter your strategy for the next killing spree. It is highly satisfying nailing the perfect run and earning an A+ rank. The weapons at your disposal include baseball bats, knives, katanas, pool cues, frying pans and a variety of firearms. Netting the high score will grant you access to animal masks that feature unique abilities such as lethal door slams and a power drill for when you feel the need to perform brain surgery on your enemies. This is topped off by an electro soundtrack that will be stuck in your head long after you stop playing. But you won’t stop. Everything about Hotline Miami screams REPLAY ME!
Available on: PC, Linux, PS4, PS3, Vita
The year is 1995. There is a severe thunderstorm. You play as Kaitlin, returning home to the family mansion. The door is locked. No one is home. You find the spare key and search the house for clues to your family’s whereabouts. As you search for a note, you become enthralled with poking around the eerie home and discovering its secrets.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why Gone Home works so well. It’s a first person narrative experience where you literally walk room to room and examine items. There’s a constant sense of dread, although it’s not a horror game. There are no real objectives to complete. So why does it work? All signs point towards curiosity. This is a living breathing home full of history and artefacts. Each new item you examine expands the story without ever alerting you that there is a story to be told. The more you examine, the more you learn of your dad’s failed dreams, you come to understand why your sister is so rebellious and you uncover your uncle’s dark secrets.
It can be difficult returning to the family home and realising that your memories are not an accurate representation of what you are experiencing. It can leave you feeling like a stranger in your own home and that is exactly the feeling that Gone Home evokes. Anyone who has left home and returned can relate to this. If not, take comfort in knowing that other families are just as dysfunctional as your own.
Available on: PC, Linux, PS4, Xbox One
Framed is a noir styled puzzle game developed by Aussie studio Loveshack, released in 2014. Framed resembles a motion comic, where a suavely dressed character carrying a briefcase slinks down dark alleys, leaps off fire escapes and tries to allude the police. He fails every time, however, as each scene has been jumbled up like a puzzle piece. It’s up to the player to rearrange said pieces so that the character can escape from harm. Trial and error are key to solving the puzzles, you will likely die or get caught through changes you make before discovering the safe exit off the page.
Framed succeeds through its originality and clever puzzle design. There are no other puzzle video games like it. This is no small feat, as the app store is flooded with cheap puzzle games. Even critically acclaimed game The Witness relied on classic line and maze puzzles. The smooth Jazz soundtrack will also alleviate some of your frustration from failing to crack a difficult puzzle. If you are still unsure, don’t take our word for it. Hideo Kojima declared Framed to be his favourite game of 2014 due to its ‘high sense of gameplay, graphic, & sound’.
Available on: IOS, Android
And if you don’t believe Kojima, check out our own Let’s Play:
Shovel Knight is a 2-D side scrolling platformer where you play as a knight who wields…you guessed it, a shovel! As the eponymous knight, you must journey through the lands, battling the knights of The Order of No Quarter (I get it) and rescue Shield Knight from the evil Enchantress.
The pixelated graphics make it easy to forget that the game was released in 2014. Shovel knight was built for anyone who appreciates old school 8-bit gaming. It features gameplay mechanics borrowed from classic NES titles such as Mega Man’s boss structure, Castlevania’s weapon system and even Ducktales’ pogo attack. There are even some metroidvania elements where you unlock new abilities to gain you access to hidden areas in previous levels. The game has a wicked nostalgic sense of humour to boot.
Shovel Knight is a love letter to classic games. It may not appeal to everyone, but if you fondly remember playing games in the late 1980s than you are precisely the target audience. Since its original release, developer Yacht Club Games have added a free DLC campaign titled Plague of shadows where you play as the villain Plague Knight. Check it out.
Available On: All current systems.
And there you have it, Issue 1 of our Indie starter guide. There are many more excellent games that we wish to share with you so stay tuned for Issue 2 coming soon. In the meantime, why not share with us your favourite Indie title in the comments below, we might just list them in a future issue.
Michael Vane is a freelance writer who wishes for more hours in the day to play all the great games worthy of his time.