Whether you're an indie game aficionado, you're dissatisfied with the state of AAA gaming, or maybe both or even neither, independent games have a lot to offer the medium as a whole.
Indie game devs have a bit more freedom in how they approach development compared to AAA devs, and sometimes that'll result in games with innovative new mechanics, unusual approaches to storytelling, or even both.
However, indie games are also typically shorter than many AAA titles (most likely due to budget constraints), which isn't necessarily a good or bad thing -- where some players may prefer games that last for dozens of hours, others might be looking for games they can finish in one sitting.
If you're part of the latter group, you're sure to find what you're looking for in the indie scene -- and here are some of the best games it has to offer.
Say what you will about “walking simulators”, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a mystery game with a story as riveting as Firewatch’s. The game takes place in the Shoshone National Forest, with the player guiding Henry, a forest ranger recruit, through both the forest and his conversations with his supervisor Delilah.
One of the things that elevates Firewatch above many other walking simulators is the game's focus on dialogue as a way to keep things engaging for the player. The majority of the game's dialogue happens between Henry and Delilah by way of walkie-talkie, giving the player ample opportunity to grow attached to them as the mystery unfolds.
Many indie games innovate by iterating or expanding upon gameplay and narrative elements found in AAA titles. The Stanley Parable challenges them.
The Stanley Parable is a short narrative game that calls into question the nature of choice and player agency in gaming. With a Gla-DOS-like narrator as their guide (at least in terms of humor), the player takes the role of Stanley, navigating an office complex, following the narrator’s commands ... or disobeying them.
What sets The Stanley Parable apart from more or less every other game in existence is the way in which the narrator will account for every one of the player’s choices, making it a very thorough investigation of the limits of interactive storytelling.
Given how popular crime drama is in film and television, it’s a little strange that games rarely ever touch the genre. Maybe the scarcity of crime games explains why game designer Sam Barlow took such an unconventional approach to Her Story, which many might consider to be more of an interactive film than it is a game.
Her Story delivers a non-linear narrative through the screen of an old computer from the '90s, with a database containing several police interviews with a woman named Hannah regarding the death of her husband. The twist is that the interviews were somehow corrupted, and the player must find and sift through the fragmented interview clips in an attempt to piece together the whole story and to discern what actually happened to Hannah’s husband.
SUPERHOT is one of the most innovative shooters released in years!
Most, if not all, AAA FPS games that feature bullet time only offer it as a tool that the player can use to enhance their fighting ability, generally no more than once or twice per firefight. In SUPERHOT, bullet time is always active -- time moves when you do, and it slows to a near halt when you stand still.
This incredibly stylish first-person shooter proves that there’s a lot of design space to be explored in gameplay mechanics that we more or less take for granted nowadays. You probably won’t find any other first-person shooters that encourage you to plan out your moves like you’re playing some sort of strategy game the same way SUPERHOT will.
Puzzle games, platformers, and puzzle-platformers are some of the most popular indie game genres, and it can be overwhelming trying to pick out the polished gems from the rough. Playdead’s Limbo was one of those gems -- but it’s also a seven-year-old critically acclaimed title, so chances are you’ve probably already played it. (And if you haven’t, well, you may as well stop reading now.)
However, if you’ve been looking for a new indie game to scratch that puzzle-platformer itch, then you might be happy to learn that Playdead delivered on that front a second time.
Inside, like Limbo, is an atmospheric puzzle-platformer set in an unsettling, washed-out world. Inside's excellent sound and visual design really help bring the world to life (as alive as a dystopia can be), and while the puzzles are challenging, they should rarely ever frustrate the player. Better yet, the puzzles tie into the narrative in a way that helps to drive the story forward as the player solves them.
Whether you're looking specifically for a puzzle-platformer or just a great game in general to play, you can't go wrong with Inside.
To the Moon is an adventure game developed by Freebird Games, where the player takes on the role of a doctor employed by Sigmund Corp., which offers a wish fulfillment service using a futuristic piece of tech that can create artificial memories. There's just one twist: the doctors have to use the machine to explore their patient's memories Inception-style.
In To the Moon, the player must use the machine to fulfill the last wish of a dying old man: to fulfill his lifelong dream of going to the moon. However, aged as he is, he doesn't remember why, and it's the doctors' job to delve backwards in time through his memories to discover why he wanted to go to the moon before they can fulfill his dream.
If you're looking for one of the best stories that gaming has to offer, then To the Moon is the game you're looking for. You might want to hold off playing it, though, if you're not in the mood to shed a few tears.
(Also, Finding Paradise, To the Moon's slightly lengthier sequel, is now available!)
Part Shadow of the Colossus, part Dark Souls, Titan Souls is a game that’s all about boss fights in a beautifully imagined fantasy world.
In a way, Titan Souls is like a puzzle game, though instead of having to solve quaint little environmental riddles, the player has to identify and figure out how to exploit each boss’s unique weakness while simultaneously dodging everything thrown their way (because you die in one hit).
Boss fights tend to be the highlights of many action-adventure/RPG games, and if you're one of those players who prefers quality over quantity, then Titan Souls is definitely worth checking out.
Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut is a post-apocalyptic survival horror game where the player controls an unnamed, masked survivor (referred to simply as "You") who must wrestle with both the mutant horrors that roam the city and his deteriorating mental state.
Lone Survivor bears many similarities to the Silent Hill series, with many likening it to a 16-bit SNES Silent Hill game. One of the most prominent features that Lone Survivor shares with the Silent Hill series are its multiple endings. As the player explores the surrounding area, they'll encounter various NPCs and objects that they'll be able to interact with, and how the player chooses to carry themselves in the post-apocalyptic world determines which ending they'll get.
There aren't many indie survival-horror games on the market, but if that's what you're looking for, then you're in luck: Lone Survivor is a fantastic instance of that niche.
Gone Home is a walking simulator -- a really good walking simulator. While Gone Home may not transcend the genre the same way The Stanley Parable might, it's definitely much more representative of it.
Playing the role of Kaitlin Greenbriar, the player will return home from a semester abroad in Europe, only to find the house empty. The player will have to explore the house in search of clues that'll help them figure out where the rest of Katie's family is, which more or less constitutes the entirety of Gone Home's gameplay.
Gone Home isn't exactly the most groundbreaking game ever, but it's short, it's sweet, and it's got a great story and atmosphere. You can't really go wrong with that. (Although you might want to pick the game up at a discount if you don't think two hours of entertainment is worth $15.)
The shoot 'em up genre may not be as wildly popular as first-person shooters, MOBAs, and digital CCGs are these days, but one of the strengths of indie game development is that they're willing to tackle a broader variety of games, and every now and then, you wind up with a game like Nex Machina.
Housemarque's Nex Machina is an arcade-y, twin-stick shoot 'em up set in a vibrant and colorful cyberpunk world where AI machines have all but exterminated humanity. The game has more or less the same fast-paced core gameplay loop that most other shoot 'em ups have, but it's packaged in a highly detailed and stylish world with a fantastic soundtrack, beautiful visuals, and great enemy and weapon variety.
In short, if shoot 'em ups are your thing, then Nex Machina's your game.
Hopefully, you found a game or two in this list that piqued your interest. If you know of any other short but awesome indie games that could fit on this list, let us know in the comments!
Or, if you're interested in what we have to say about other indie games, you can find some of our other indie content here!