AAA games tend to make most of the headlines throughout the calendar year. However, it can be argued that some of the best and most unique gaming experiences come from studios without the backing of big publishers. Independent developers have a great deal more freedom in defining what they want their game to be, and cater towards more of a target audience than the general public.
As the indie scene has evolved over the years, so has the quality of the games coming from it. There is a steadily growing financial payoff in going indie, and although it's still undoubtedly a riskier business venture, there are more and more developers making the jump, so the competition has become increasingly fierce.
This list does not necessarily consist of games with concrete release dates, as delays and uncertainty are the norm among indie titles. However, these games have at least been slated for release in 2015. Just bear in mind that this is all subject to change.
The Trine series has enjoyed a relatively quiet run of success since the first game launched back in fall of 2009. The games have effectively combined 2D platforming, 3D graphical elements, and puzzle solving that revolves around environmental manipulation with a splash of basic combat. All of these elements are kept fresh throughout due to a constant rotation of three characters representative of classic gaming archetypes: a soldier, a wizard and a thief.
Trine 3 improves on its own game mechanics by exploring the use of depth for environment traversal, all while maintaining the classic two dimensional plane.
After successfully reviving the Shadowrun series back in 2013 with Shadowrun: Returns and following up with the Dragonfall expansion last year, developer Harebrained Schemes returns with the next official entry, Shadowrun: Hong Kong. Hong Kong was successfully funded on Kickstarter earlier this year, raising over $1.2 million, achieving the same amount of success as the initial campaign for Returns.
Shadowrun is a cRPG that is know for its sci-fi cyberpunk meets high-fantasy magic world that predicates its gameplay on freeform exploration and strategic turn-based combat.
Calvino Noir is a 2D side-scrolling stealth adventure game that leans heavily on inspiration from films like Bladerunner and The Third Man, as well as the game Deus Ex, for both its narrative and architectural representations. There are three distinct pillars of importance when defining the Calvino Noir experience: puzzle-solving gameplay, enhanced immersion, and an episodic storyline.
In a recent post on the PlayStation Blog, the developers cited the authenticity of the architecture within the game world as a key aspect that establishes the game's gritty art style through form.
Armello is a turn-based multiplayer digital board game with strategy and role-playing elements by developer League of Geeks. The premise of the game is that the king of the land of Armello has fallen ill to a mysterious sickness called The Rot, and a power struggle for his throne has begun. As each turn commences, the king gets closer and closer to death, and as a result, more corrupt.
Players take control of a single clan, lead by a prominent animal character with different attributes that can be enhanced by completing quests, defeating opponents in battle, and acquiring new gear. All of this builds into a final confrontation with the king to take his castle. The first player to defeat the king and take the throne, wins the game.
SOMA is a sci-fi horror game built in the same vein as the Amnesia and Penumbra series, which is no coincidence since the developers are one and the same. This time, players will be exploring a run-down underwater ocean lab, filled with frighteningly human and aggressive mechanical monsters, as well as the potential dangers of the unknown. SOMA tries to emulate a sense of loneliness with a larger environment to traverse, really making the player feel small and insignificant.
Adr1ft is an upcoming sci-fi survival game set above the earth in zero gravity. A terrible accident has occurred at a space station orbiting the planet, and it is your job to figure out what happened and get back to Earth. Your character is inhabiting a damaged spacesuit that can't hold oxygen for very long, so one of the primary moment to moment mechanics is the constant struggle to keep yourself alive by finding canisters of O2.
Jotun is a beautiful, hand-drawn Viking adventure that is not for the weak. The game prides itself on difficulty and demands its players be tactful, patient - and above all, skillful. I had some hands-on time with the beta version recently, and I can say for sure that the game's strength is in its boss encounters.
In a sense its experience is similar to that of Shadow of the Colossus, the world exploration in between boss encounters is both epic in scope and empty in space. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but rather an intentional design choice, meant to evoke the sense of loneliness that the protagonist is enduring on their journey.
Hyper Light Drifter has some of the best use of perspective with pixels that I've ever seen. The indie action RPG has gained a considerable amount of praise and anticipation from its following, beginning during its Kickstarter campaign in 2013. Hyper Light Drifter is built upon five core mechanics: melee combat, shield defense, dash movement, an array of secondary items, and the use of a drone companion.
What is there to say about No Man's Sky that hasn't been said already? The game looks amazing, and no matter what happens, it will make an instant impact on the industry as a new standard for what the indie games can accomplish. Of course, there are some doubts as to whether the game world will be too by the numbers.
Game director Sean Murray has said in the past that the secret behind the game's infinite universe is simply math, which makes me wonder if there will be enough assets to cover the fact that a lot of planets will have very similar features. Regardless, there's many a reason why many gamers, myself included, can't wait to get their hands on this game. However, don't be surprised if Hello Games elects to wait until 2016 to let us play No Man's Sky.