Top five indie games of 2013

Review

Brenna Thompson, Copy Editor

2013 was certainly a big year in gaming. The release of “Grand Theft Auto V” broke six world records, including fastest sale of an entertainment product in 24 hours, and grossed over a billion dollars. “The Last of Us” received a perfect 10 on IGN, the only game of the year to do so besides, you guessed it, “GTA V.” There was a boom in the console gaming industry not seen in years. The Playstation 4 and Xbox One were vying for consumers’ attention come the holiday season. And quietly, away from mainstream gaming, the indie gaming world had a boom of its own.

Indie computer games are games small studios or individuals wanting to get exposure create and release independently, often following a free-to-play model. They are a huge source of creativity in the gaming community, and since they don’t have to sell well to make a profit, they are not filled with the tired old concepts that have become way too pervasive in console gaming. They can be horror games, first-person shooters, adventure games, whatever strikes your fancy. I would argue that the indie game is the next great undiscovered trend.

Here are the best five indie games of 2013, with brief overviews (no spoilers) and ratings from both me and IGN. These games are all for PC, but some have console/Mac releases. You can decide which games you might want to play. (You should just play them all.)

 

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5. SUPERHOT (demo) (PC)

In this brilliant and simple run-and-gun experience, the object of the game is like any other first person shooter – to navigate through the environment without being killed. The unique game mechanic, however, is like nothing that has been done before. “Time only moves when you move,” boasts the “Superhot” tagline. Sure enough, if you stand still, so will the world around you. It’s a poetic concept, one the plot and fast-paced attacks carry off beautifully.

The feel is undeniably reminiscent of the slow-motion scenes in the Matrix, where you can dodge an assailant’s bullet by just leaning back. Additionally, the game has a distinct look, as the environments are a mellow gray and enemies glow bright red. That design element is what drew me into playing it in the first place, and I’m thrilled that I did.

This exceptional demo is completely free and web browser-based, so you can play anywhere for free. If you already love the concept, you are not alone – the game was greenlighted by Steam users in a record-setting five days after several notable Youtubers played it. I cannot wait for its full release.
My rating – 8.5/10

IGN rating – not rated

Genre – first person shooter

Price – free

Average runtime – 12 minutes

 

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4. thomas was alone (PC, Mac, PS3, PS Vita)

This game premiered on Steam in 2012, and upon receiving an unprecedented number of awards, was re-released last year for console gamers. The 2D puzzle platformer is extremely minimalist and simplified, and that’s where the magic happens. You play as Thomas, a little red rectangle with no friends and navigating through huge environments alone.

Fortunately for Thomas, he meets many other shapes, like stubborn Chris and lonely Claire, and they work together, using their unique attributes to get each other to safety. Though the characters are as basic as it gets, their personalities and attitudes really shine through. There is minimal dialogue, but somehow you really get a sense of these little shapes’ hopes, dreams and fears.

“thomas was alone” is sure to be one of the most critically acclaimed indie games for many years to come. The game’s phenomenal soundtrack and smooth British narrator don’t hurt, either.

My rating – 9/10

IGN rating – 8/10

Genre – puzzle platformer

Price – $9.99

Average runtime – 5 hours

 

Gone_Home

3. Gone Home (PC)

This is it. This game became the indie darling of 2013. It seemed as though upon its release, every gamer worth his or her salt had played, reviewed, and shed emotional tears over this game. While I wouldn’t call “Gone Home” game of the year, it touched me in a truly special way, and I doubt I’ll ever find another gaming experience like it.

More of an exploring mission than a shoot-em-up storyline, “Gone Home” is not your typical PC adventure; rather, it is all about the journey and what you must uncover for yourself. One of this game’s only drawbacks is its length – I would have been thrilled with a 20-hour experience instead of a 90-minute one, yet somehow, that adds to the cinematic vibe this game has.

Notable news sites such as NPR, Forbes, The New York Times and The Atlantic have reviewed and highly praised. The Times even goes so far as to call it “the greatest video game love story of all time,” and NPR dubs it “a game with heart,” noting: “The game is at times a touching, humorous and frightening story. But most importantly, it is a game that tells a human story.”

My rating – 9.7/10

IGN rating – 9.5/10 (IGN’s PC Game of the Year)

Genre – interactive adventure

Price – $19.99

Average runtime – 1.5 hours

 

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2. Outlast (PC)

“Outlast” is quite possibly the scariest, most graphic game I have ever played, and will ever play, as I’m sure it brought me too close to cardiac failure. It is haunting, frightening and appalling, and it will make you leave your lights on when you go to bed. It is stunningly well-made and was the brainchild of developers from several Triple A game studios, so you can barely call this one indie.

Not for the faint of heart, the game contains explicit scenes of gore, necrophilia, naked people, people getting impaled and beheaded – the works. And it’s outrageously awesome.

The plot drives you ever forward as you investigate Mount Massive Asylum’s dark secrets and try to find out just what “Project Walrider” really is. You play as a reckless, unfortunate reporter named Miles Upshur who just doesn’t know how to stay out of the huge, dark, abandoned asylum. Oh, Miles. Some things should be left alone.

One of the most terrifying elements of the game is its unpredictability – one of your main enemies is invincible and will patrol relentlessly to find you – and he kills you with one silent hit. Just make sure to bring your camera and watch out for the “doctors” and you’ll be just fine… right…?

My rating – 9.9/10

IGN’s rating – 7.8/10

Genre – horror/thriller

Price – $19.99

Average runtime – 4 hours

 

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1. The Stanley Parable (HD remix) (PC)

Fair warning: no description that I give this game will do it justice. You have to play this, even if you haven’t played a video game a day in your life. See, it’s about choice. It’s about how the choices we make define us. And man, does it screw with your head.

It’s beautiful and clever. It’s confusing and frightening. The question you will most often ask yourself while playing this is “What’s going on?” The snappy, enthusiastic British narrator is very excited to guide Stanley on his journey and will gladly lead you to victory… if you let him. You see, you don’t have to.

You can create your own destiny and find an ending that is perfect for you, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll come out alive. “The Stanley Parable” is really beyond compare; I’ve never played a game, indie or not, that has been so personal, into which I can venture so deep.

You can fly among the stars. You can discover what your boss has really been doing all these years. (Hint: it’s really sinister.) You can watch your life – rather, Stanley’s life – slowly fall apart. There’s even an ending where you can play Minecraft and Portal 2. (??) Like I said, it’s about choice, but you must be careful to make the right ones. Just follow the Adventure Line and you’re sure to stay alive! Maybe.

My rating – 10/10

IGN’s rating – 8.8/10

Genre – interactive adventure

Price – $14.99

Average runtime – depends on the ending