Must Watch Indie Game

FROM THE END OF THE WORLD TO THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE, HERE ARE THE MOST EXCITING INDEPENDENTLY DEVELOPED VIDEOGAMES ON THE HORIZON


VOLUME
Mike Bithell is watching his words. “I’ve been playing a lot of Telltale’s games, so I’m paying close attention to what I say,” he tells us. “I’m looking for pop-ups in the corner of my screen” Development on his second solo release, a visually-striking contemporary take on the Robin Hood legend (like Metal Gear Solid “in a slightly ropey holodeck”) is going well. He’s recruited Andy Serkis to voice the villainous Guy Gisborne, and the game is now feature complete; all that’s left, says Bithell is “polishing, polishing and more polishing”.

RIME
You’re a young boy on an island filled with secrets. Lost ? Not quite, though you’ve no overt guidance on how to navigate this idyllic setting. Rime will, however, encourage you to pay attention to a few light audiovisual clues the camera will shift in places, nudging you in the right direction rather than letting you wander aimlessly. Sound design plays its part, too, with music and spot effects. Along the way you’ll have to solve environmental puzzles based on light, shadow and perspective, with a limited skillset: the boy can jump and has a shout that produces visual sound waves to denote its range. It’s impossible to ignore the influence of Journey and Ico, but its distinctive Mediterranean feel is entirely its own.

EVERYBODY’S GONE TO THE RAPTURE
A Leafy shropshire village in the Eighties is an unusual setting for the end of the world, but The Chinese Room has never been a developer to follow convention. You play as the last person on Earth, or so it seems, until you encounter a series of AI characters through subtle guidance, all the while tuning into conversations scattered around the lushly-rendered countryside environments a delicate, inventive twist on the well-worn videogame trope of the audio log. Rapture’s non-linear narrative frees you to make discoveries at your own pace, gently encouraging you to learn more about the world and its former inhabitants. It’s a bold approach that could potentially confuse as many as it satisfies, but rarely has the apocalypse looked quite so invitingly pretty.

NO MAN’S SKY
After a barrage of publicity, developer Hello Games has opted to beat a tactical retreat, and so for the first time in months, we’ve had to endure a period of radio  silence about its enormous, procedurally-generated space quest. Can it even be called ‘indie’ anymore? “You can’t deny when you look at No Man’s Sky that it’s an innovative, beautiful, fresh and interesting game that absolutely stands shoulder-to-shoulder with triple-A stuff,” Mike Bithell enthuses, before helpfully explaining how a tiny team from Guildford ended up making perhaps the most ferociously anticipated game of 2015. “Maybe it’s even more exciting to [players] looking for a new experience,” he continues. “Indies have gotten better at producing what that big audience wants and because they have the increased resources to do it now.”

HER STORY
This crime drama from the writer and lead designer of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories sees you poring over interview footage in a police archive room, using an old computer system to assemble the pieces of a woman’s testimony. Your job involves entering key phrases to import clips in batches of five, watching them to pick up further clues in order to filter the important parts and uncover crucial details of the crime of which she’s accused. You’re perhaps more archaeologist than detective, digging up remnants of the past to create your own picture of events, and there’s enough ambiguity to leave plenty of room for player interpretation. It raced through Steam’s Greenlight process, which is testament to its alluring premise: Her Story is one to watch in more than one respect.

HYPER LIGHT DRIFTER
Hhart machine’s gorgeous adventure has had us intrigued from day one. With the likes of Hayao Mizazaki and Neon Genesis Evangelion cited as influences, this pixel-art homage to the 16-bit classics of creator Alex Preston’s youth had an irresistible pitch, not least with a killer trailer accompanying its Kickstarter campaign. Little wonder, then, that it smashes its modest $27,000 target, surpassing $660,000 in total, which transformed the game’s development. “Yeah, the project changed when the Kickstarter blew up,” Preston admits. “The core concept didn’t, but we suddenly had opportunities we didn’t have before.” The scale and scope of the game expanded, and Hyper Light Drifter naturally missed its due date. Following the release of a three-day preview build to backers late last year, Preston and his team sat down to analyse the game. “We realised the things that were working and trimmed the things we didn’t like.” Now it seems to be on track for launch this year fingers crossed.

CUPHEAD
Sony might be the current darling for independent developers, but Microsoft has almost certainly signed up the best-looking indie of all as a console exclusive for Xbox One. Inspiredby the art of Walt Disney and Max Fleischer, brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer have put together a run-and-gun shooter that looks like a classic-era cartoon. Though the developer has kept its cards close since the E3 reveal, it remains one of Xbox One’s most exciting releases. The Moldenhauers have a challenge ontheir hands if Cuphead’s systems are to match its looks, but the pair have reportedly studiedthe art of the boss battle in detail, and are aiming to have 30 in the game agenre record.

TACOMA
A frustratingly Brief teaser is all we’ve seen of Fullbright’s next adventure, which will take Gone Home’s exploration-led storytelling into space. You play as a technician, sent to look around a Nuclear Transfer Station, whose lavish, pristine interiors bring BioShock’s Rapture to mind. Excitingly, the studio’s co-founder Steve Gaynor has already referenced System Shock, while hinting that the simple act of getting around will be affected by the facility’s micro-gravity, with important objects floating around you. It’s another great example of the games industry’s rediscovery of outer space as a setting, offering new challenges to developers and players as they battle against unfamiliar elements and forces. While the domestic story of Gone Home was fun to unravel, this promises to be something far more. Roll on next year.

THE LONG DARK
The first person survival genre is an increasingly crowded one, particularly on PC. The Long Dark distinguishes itself from its peers through a smart aesthetic, a gripping setup and a focus on battling the elements and your own human needs over a recurring enemy though hostile wildlife can be a significant danger. Beautiful but unforgiving (your save data is deleted when you die), the game’s Survival mode is currently available on Early Access, with a Story mode to follow later this year. It’s been gradually updated and improved over the last few months with new features arriving in a steady flow and we have to say we found it so gripping we just kept reloading it after each death.

BELOW
Capy’s tilt shifted adventure has the kind of bleak, windswept landscapes that make you feel very small indeed. As it happens, you are very small, your dot of a protagonist dwarfed by his environments. This “roguelike-like”, as Capy calls it, purposely disempowers you, as you explore its randomly-generated labyrinths with the scythe of permadeath permanently hovering over you. Combat is simple, yet it forces you to be savvy with your limited tools. New weapons are rare, amplifying the joy of discovery, though all of them have disadvantages, too and while your hero is nimble, encounters vary enough that you’ll have to carefully consider what to equip. Choose wisely, or perish. 

MASSIVE CHALICE
Double fine’s other Kickstarter triumph, Massive Chalice is a strategy game that takes place over multiple generations, forcing you to breed warriors to continue the fight. Facing an encroaching force called The Cadence which oddly resembles a substantial Fanta spillage you’ve got to choose between expanding your base, researching upgrades, or encouraging your heroes into bed, in order to produce
offspring that will benefit from their parents’ positive traits.

WRECKFEST
If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you may remember Wreckfest by its working title, the endearingly rudimentary Next Car Game. It’s a spiritual successor of sorts to developer Bugbear’s FlatOut games, with nods to PlayStation classic Destruction Derby in its focus on automobile destruction. It won’t be as blisteringly quick as FlatOut, with a more strategic element to how damage is dealt and received:
crashes will noticeably affect handling, encouraging you to time your shunts and sideswipes carefully.

OLLIOLLI 2: WELCOME TO OLLIWOOD
“I don’t think any of us slept for weeks!” says Roll7 co-founder and director Simon Bennett when we ask him about the glowing response to its original skateboarding hit. “We sat down and tore it apart once it had been submitted [to Sony], and said ‘Let’s go and find some day jobs, guys, because this isn’t going to go anywhere’. And when it came out, there were tears, there was hugging and craziness and we took the team out for a big celebration.” The sequel has a sharp new art style, and expands upon the original’s ideas, with multiple routes to take and more trick modifiers. “It’s a much more accessible game visually, but we’ve definitely not pandered to a wider audience. This is still very much a hardcore indie game,” Bennett adds.

TITAN SOULS
2013’s ludum dare theme You Only Get One spawned this thrilling, tense hybrid of Shadow Of The Colossus, Zelda and Dark Souls. As a diminutive bowman, you battle a series of bosses with just a single health point and one arrow, which you must retrieve via telekinesis to take another shot. On the plus side, the weak points of the guardians you face only need to be hit once to slay them not that they make that process easy, of course. Titan Souls isn’t far from launch, with just QA testing and the porting process to deal with. From what we’ve played so far, publisher Devolver Digital has yet another hit on its hands.

MEW-GENICS
Edmund McMillen’s ‘cat-lady sim’ has been temporarily sidelined while Team Meat builds Super Meat Boy Forever for mobile platforms, though we’re hopeful it won’t be long until McMillen revisits his most ambitious idea to date. It’s a game suffused with its creator’s pitch-black humour and design ingenuity: you’ll have to manage the moods and behaviours of the cats you own, with potential consequences to every interaction. For example, a cat attacked during feeding time may grow scared of food and starve.

FIREWATCH
This handsome first person mystery is being assembled by something of a development superteam, including The Walking Dead writer Sean Vanaman and artist Olly Moss. Firewatch casts you as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness, who is forced out of his tower to investigate an anomaly, with only a colleague on the other end of your handheld radio for company. The pedigree of the developer and the enigmatic promise of its debut trailer mean we’re keen to learn more about this intriguing title.

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