The PC gaming world is a melting pot of ideas and it’s where indie gaming flourish. Apart from the inherent advantage of PCs with no technological restrictions gaming consoles have, any would-be indie developer can create games with little to no budget, no dev kits to pay, and they can self-publish to avoid the expensive middleman.
But what is an indie game? And how are they different from “Triple-A” or blockbuster games? Is it the budget? There are a lot of indie developers getting millions of dollars through crowdfunding to make their games. Is it the quality of the games? But games from both sides have their share of good and bad games. Is it the name of the publisher who gets to distribute the games? Some indie games are self-published, but some are partnered with popular publishers, but also some Triple-A games are also self-published. Or perhaps the people behind the games? Indie developers are no-name programmers who just want to make a game and Triple-A games are developed by people who are known in the industry. But there are Triple-A devs who started their own indie companies.
Honey’s Anime will try to shed some light on the question by listing down 10 of the best indie games for PC. For this list, we’re going to showcase indie games and we’ll try to shed light on what defines indie games.
10. Trine 2
- System/Platform: PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: Frozenbyte, Inc., Focus Home Interactive
- Developer: Frozenbyte, Inc.
- Release Dates: December 7, 2011
Trine 2 is a 3-player cooperative side-scrolling puzzle platformer game where you control a powerful wizard, a bulky yet strong knight, and an agile thief with unique abilities to aid you in solving puzzles and defeating monsters. If you prefer to play alone, you can switch between the three characters on the fly, and the only thing missing is some griefing from your friends. The game is part of the Trine Trilogy, but it’s Trine 2 is the pinnacle of the series with a bigger world, an interesting story of 3 warriors literally bounded by fate by an artifact known as Trine, and fantastic visuals that no Triple-A game can emulate. Just look at it!
The visuals are not just skin deep, the gameplay is also top-notch where you fight mythical creatures using physics, platforming, and strategy. While you can play alone, as previously mentioned, Trine 2’s true potential shines in multiplayer and make use of each of the character’s abilities to traverse the levels.
9. Rocket League
- System/Platform: PC, Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
- Publisher: Psyonix, 505 Games
- Developer: Psyonix, Panic Button
- Release Dates: July 07, 2015
Soccer/Football games are boring to the average gamer and only fans of the sport play these games. But what if you take the basic formula of soccer…er, football…, replace the human players with rocket-boosted cars and guide the ball to the goal by jumping, running sideways and occasionally explode when you collide head-on with other vehicles while retaining the competitive aspect of the sport and it’s actually fun to play? Essentially you get Rocket League.
Rocket League is a high-octane, flammable, fast-paced and competitive game where you pick a car, pimp it up with bling if you want, and team up with 3 other players and push that oversized ball to your opponent’s net. At the surface, the gameplay is simple, but once you get the hang of the game, there’s complexity in the controls of your car. You need to master your braking, time your boost, execute barrel rolls, and other moves to control the ball while fending off other players. Rocket League is rewarding, especially with friends and a ton of fun that will keep you playing for seemingly forever.
- System/Platform: PC, Linux, Mac, PS4, PS Vita
- Publisher: tobyfox
- Developer: tobyfox
- Release Dates: September 15, 2015
You are a young human boy who falls underground and is trapped in a world of monsters. With every monster out to get you, you must find a way to survive and escape. Along the way, you meet a cast of characters who are full of personality. You can’t help but like them and you’re curious what stories they’re going to share.
This is one of the few games, if not the only game, where you can follow a true pacifist route without killing anything, even lowly grunts. The visual style, gameplay and even the turn-based combat, are similar to the Nintendo classic, Earthbound, Undertale changed some of the mechanics that make the game unique, like the aforementioned pacifist route. Instead of running away or straight up killing monsters, you have the option to talk your way out of every situation. While the combat system is generally good, it’s the story, the wit, and charm that’s made Undertale such a joy to play. Each character, even the random grunt, has a story to tell and the dialogue is consistently funny. You can’t help but love every character you see.
Undertale is a game with choices and the fate of everyone depends on your actions. Will you travel the world of monsters killing everything you see, or maybe give these monsters a chance and listen to what they have to say?
7. Hotline Miami
- System/Platform: PC, Linux, Mac, Android, iOS, PS3, PS4, PS Vita
- Publisher: Devolver Digital
- Developer: Dennaton
- Release Dates: October 23, 2012
Hotline Miami got a lot of attention because it’s a perfect blend of pixel art style, skill-based gameplay, unforgiving combat, blood and gore, a story of a mysterious antihero taking assassination jobs, all wrapped in an electronic soundtrack inspired from the late 80s era of music. Listening to the music as you bash people’s heads with a baseball bat, drill holes on their faces using a power tool, mow them down with a shotgun, or score two kills with one bullet using a magnum feels like you’re in one hell of a murderous psychedelic trip.
The main draw of Hotline Miami is simplistic, but tight and fast combat. As the hitman, you enter houses from a top-down perspective and you progress by killing anyone you see. There’s a level of strategy involved in sneaking behind enemies or funnel them to a hallway to take them out because you are always outnumbered and you will die in one hit. And you will die. A lot. A damn lot. The first level alone, the game will kick your teeth in until there’s nothing left, but the difficulty isn’t cheap. Careful planning is key and once you’ve beat the first level smeared blood red and littered with corpses after many tries are gratifying. It’s like playing Dark Souls: brutally hard, but extremely satisfying after killing the toughest enemies and bosses you’ve ever encountered in your life. And if you’re into this kind of game, this begs the question: "Do you like hurting other people?"
6. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
- System/Platform: PC, Linux, Mac, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, 3DS, iOS, WiiU
- Publisher: Nicalis
- Developer: Nicalis
- Release Dates: November 4, 2014
When Isaac’s mother starts hearing the voice of God demanding a sacrifice be made to prove her faith, Isaac escapes into the basement facing droves of deranged enemies, lost brothers and sisters, his fears, and eventually his mother.
Rebirth is a remake of the original Binding of Isaac with improved performance and new art style. And like the original, Rebirth is a randomly generated action RPG shooter with heavy rogue-like elements. To put it simply, the game is a twin-stick shooter where you shoot, dodge enemy fire and use items and power-ups to your advantage in levels that are random with unpredictable enemy placement. The game is filled with tons of content, every session is different, you’ll encounter new power-ups and bosses even after hours of playing. And that’s the charm of the Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, its massive content, tough-as-nails, yet fun gameplay, and unpredictability will keep you coming back for years to come.
5. Shovel Knight
- System/Platform: PC, Mac, Linux, Amazon Fire TV, 3DS, PSVita, PS3, PS4, XboxOne
- Publisher: Yacht Club Games
- Developer: Yacht Club Games
- Release Dates: July 26, 2014
It’s fair to say indie devs opt for pixel art style because of budget constraints or the devs aim for that retro look to evoke nostalgia to older gamers. Even though the games are pixel art, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s retro. Take Minecraft for example - It’s a modern game where you can explore a world limited only to your computer’s capabilities with a pixel art style. Is it a retro game? Pixel art style is common because it’s a style high budgeted games rarely or never use. However, there are exceptions and these games capture what gaming in the 80s feel like.
In Shovel Knight, you play as the eponymous Shovel Knight on a quest to search for his lost love and save the land from the evil Enchantress. Armed with his trusty and versatile Shovel Blade, the Shovel Knight embarks on a quest filled with monsters, ghastly dungeons, deadly traps and menacing bosses who will do whatever it takes to stop you.
Shovel Knight an action platformer that captures what an 8-bit game looks and feels like. It borrows many elements and art style from games like the original Metroid, Castlevania, Ghost ‘N Goblins, Mega Man, etc. and with original and modern ideas, you get a game with tight responsive controls, huge variety of monsters, tons of power ups, interesting characters, tough platforming, gigantic bosses, a lengthy quest all wrapped into one 8-bit package.
- System/Platform: PC, Linux, Mac, Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, 3DS, Nintendo Switch, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, Vita
- Publisher: Re-Logic, Merge Games
- Developer: Re-Logic
- Release Dates:
Terraria is a 2D survival game where you harvest wood, gather materials to build a home, build weapons and explore the dangerous world by exploring the landscape or dig down to hell in search of treasure and rare minerals. Dig, fight, explore, build! Nothing is impossible in this action-packed adventure game. The world is your canvas and the ground itself is your paint.
When Terraria came out, a lot of gamers dismissed it as a 2D Minecraft clone and the game could’ve ended like that. But Terraria slowly molded its own identity thanks to the devs dedication in providing free updates even to this day. And these updates aren’t just bug fixes and a couple of new maps, items, and features, no. Each update is a massive expansion pack with hundreds of new items, hundreds of tweaks, additions, scenarios, graphics, animations, bosses, and so on. Each update transformed Terraria into something that’s no longer a Minecraft.
Terraria is something else, something unique and with patch 1.4 on the horizon, Terraria is one of rare indie games that still get massive support from the devs and a great value to everyone who owns a copy. It will take hundreds, if not thousands of hours to burn through Terraria’s content and that is not a feat easily achievable.
With a Metroidvania-like combat, dungeon crawling, world building, and exploring personality with great music, Terraria is a 10 dollar game with content that’s worth 100x more.
3. Five Nights at Freddy’s
- System/Platform: PC, Android, iOS
- Publisher: animdude/Scott Cawthon
- Developer: animdude
- Release Dates: August 19, 2014
You are a nighttime security guard and you just go assigned to watch over Freddy Fazbear's Pizza, a fast food restaurant famous for its kid-friendly atmosphere and lovable animatronic mascots programmed to please the crowds. During the night, however, these animatronic mascots seem to have minds of their own. Armed with only the security cameras, you must monitor the movements of these murderous mascots and use limited power to stop them from reaching you. Can you survive five nights at Freddy’s?
The gameplay is simple: You monitor each room for any movement and use electronic doors to protect yourself. However, your power is limited and you need to switch power around, and the game is cleared once you make it out alive. Fail, however, you’ll be greeted by one of these animatronics and they will murder you.
The development of Five Nights at Freddy’s was an interesting one. Scott Cawthon, the developer, made a kid-friendly game titled Chipper & Sons Lumber Co., but the ended up frightening because the animal characters in the game were unintentionally scary with soulless eyes, and creepy body proportions. Think of clowns and why some people find them scary, Chipper & Sons Lumber Co. gave off the same impression with its characters. The game wasn’t received very well by gamers, but this didn’t discourage Scott Cawthon and instead, he used the creepy looking animal characters to create an intentionally scary game, and you got Five Nights at Freddy’s.
The game got popular the same way Minecraft got popular: YouTube. Lots of popular YouTubers played the game for its jumpscare gameplay and their fans, finding their favorite personalities crap their pants, all went out to buy Five Nights at Freddy’s and it became an overnight success with positive reviews and tons of sequels. And yes, due to its mainstream appeal, the community is filled with annoying fans.
2. Cave Story+
- System/Platform: PC, Linux, Mac, Nintendo Switch
- Publisher: Nicalis
- Developer: Nicalis
- Release Dates: November 22, 2011
Cave Story+ is a 2D action shooter, platformer, adventure game, where you control an amnesiac boy who wakes up in a world filled with creatures called the Mimigas, who became violent after ingesting mysterious red flowers growing in the area. Soon, the nameless boy discovers that a mad scientist is hellbent on searching for a magical artifact and use it for war. Run, jump, shoot, fly, and explore your way through a massive action-adventure reminiscent of classic 8 and 16-bit games. Take control and learn the origins of this world’s power to stop the delusional villain and save the Mimiga!
The original game was released in 2004 and it was a freeware. Cave Story+ is the retailed version of the same game but with updated features and can be played at higher resolutions on modern machines. Cave Story is known for many things. It’s known as being a game developed by one person named Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya and it’s the very game that jump-started the indie gaming market. Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya developed the game for over five years during his free time and he poured his heart and soul in every bit of Cave Story. The end result is a massive game filled with interesting characters, a compelling story, fun and tight combat that rivals or even surpasses other action platformers like Castlevania, Metroid and even, the Legend of Zelda.
And this is the thing about indie games -- you’re free to create your game with no deadlines and no suits forcing you to cut corners or add stuff just to appeal to a wider audience.
1. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
- System: PC, PS4
- Publisher: Ninja Theory
- Developer: Ninja Theory
- Release Dates: August 08, 2017
Senua, a broken Celtic warrior is on a quest into her personal Hell as she tries to find the soul of her dead lover. Disconnected from reality, Senua is experiencing a world that is beyond description.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is very hard to describe in words and it’s one of those moments that you need to physically experience the game to appreciate the craftsmanship that was put into it. It’s a third person action game with a mix of survival horror, psychological horror, hack and slash combat, puzzles, and with lots of directed camera angles that give this cinematic feel.
When you read the bit in the description saying Ninja Theory collaborated with neuroscientists and people suffering from psychosis, it sounded like a gimmick and exploitative, but no, Ninja Theory cleverly used this mental condition as part of the story and a gameplay mechanic that will aid Senua on her maddening quest. Since there is no HUD, objective markers, health bars, or anything on the screen, the voices haunting Senua often give clues and cues like how to attack, dodge, warns you to danger and vaguely hints you on the next puzzle or clue.
Now, is this game considered indie? In a lot of ways, yes. Hellblade was made by around 20 developers from Ninja Theory and the game tackles on themes of mental disorder and psychosis, so it’s not made for the mainstream audience. There is no big-name publisher funding the game and gets to dictate what the devs do or what to avoid, and the game isn’t priced at 60 dollars. What Ninja Theory just made a game with their own, uncompromised vision, so the end product is very unique that blends the creative freedom indie and a budget and quality of a Triple-A game and at almost half the price.
Explaining the differences is like explaining what is art, and then explain the difference between classical art and modern art. However, there are a few elements that separate indie games from Triple-A games: The creative freedom. Triple-A games rely on, but not limited to, a sales-driven model. With hundreds of people working on a game and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on development and marketing, Triple-A games must follow the current tried and true formula to attract millions of gamers, and sometimes they have to cut corners and rush the games for the holidays just to meet sales projection. Triple-A games rarely try to be bold and touch on topics deemed too controversial because, well, they need to earn money by catering to the least common denominator. This result is games that play and look similar to each other, most of the time they’re buggy and incomplete.
Indie developers don’t have such restrictions and in turn, it gives them the creative freedom to make their games however they want with very few staff. It’s rare to find two indie games that play similarly to each other and the selection of genres are wider in the indie world. When was the last time you played a bullet hell game a farming game, a traditional RPG, a puzzle game, a rogue-like, or a visual novel developed and published by a Triple-A developer and publisher?
The 10 indie games on this list are just a small glimpse at the many games the indie world has to offer. It’s not perfect. The survival games, the Minecraft clones, walking simulators, the retro-pixel art styles are very common and indie game development may soon fall into the same trap Triple-A game development did because some game types or some art styles are appealing to the general crowd. But a game like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has shown the world that there is always an audience for any type of game, and it’s laying the foundation of a new breed of indie games that, again, retain its unrestricted creative freedom while having the quality of a Triple-A game, sold for almost half the price. And these are the very reasons why Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is number 1.
Do you know other indie games that weren’t on this list, but they deserve a spot? Please share your thoughts and games in the comment sections below!