What indie games lack in terms of budget in scale, they more than make up for in novelty and innovation.They also tend to be sold exclusively on digital marketplaces such as Steam, Origin or PSN. And, more often than their high-budget counterparts, these games frequently go up for sale early into development, letting players dictate the final result while they play.
What’s more, an indie game normally won’t require a fancy rig to play at the highest settings, if there is more than a single graphics setting at all. By leveraging standout art styles, indie games can strike distinct visual appeal without straining your PC or console. This, in turn, makes indie games more accessible than their GPU-intensive cousins.
On this list, we’ve carefully sorted through our favorite indie games of the past few years while also supplying one anticipated game on our radar. With so many great games currently after our hearts, narrowing down the best indie games down to a slender handful isn’t easy. Since we’re sure to miss a few, let us know in the comments below if we’ve overlooked one of your favorites.
Joe Osborne, Kane Fulton and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this article
The top indie game on our radar: Tacoma
Like its spiritual predecessor, Tacoma, too, is a first-person game sans combat. This time, however, it takes place in space, where you assume the role of Amy Ferrier as you explore an abandoned space station through augmented reality (AR) recordings of its former inhabitants. The ‘multi-threaded’ single-player experience was overhauled mid-development in 2015, allowing for a rewind and fast-forward feature that would enhance control for players over their own unique experiences.
Platforms: PC, Xbox One
Release date: 2017
But as you spend time with it, it reveals more of itself, moving from a series of time-bending puzzles to quiet reflective texts – which doesn’t stop it being the smartest puzzle game until SpaceChem. Blow himself has hinted that the ultimate story might be something to do with the atomic bomb.
2. Cave Story
But this classic deserves to be on every best-of list for its loving homage to the classic action platforming games of the Super Nintendo era, its incredible music and its incredibly vibrant world. Oh, and don’t forget the hugely intuitive controls, gobs of secrets and weapons that are entirely too fun to use. If you’ve yet to enjoy this one, just put it on your backlog already.
3. Papers Please
Papers Please is similar to Cart Life – it’s also an IGF winner with elements of misery about it – but it’s better, being a smart, weird sim about the compromised life of a border guard under a totalitarian regime. It’s ugly and desperate, but also innovative, uproariously funny and terribly smart.
It also has more dark secrets than a presidential candidate, meaning there are many, many ways to finish it, and its daily challenges are a sure-fire way to public humiliation.
5. The Stanley Parable
No decision is punished, every play-through throws up new humor and weirdness. Being trapped in the closet in the Stanley Parable is more moving and funny than 9/10 other games.
6. Gone Home
After getting home from a stay overseas, you play as 21-year-old Kaitlin Greenbriar who is greeted by a vacant residency. While gameplay in Gone Home is mainly limited to scavenging through notes to find out where the protagonist’s family has ventured off to, the gripping story exhibits a rollercoaster of emotions, if you keep an open mind.
7. Kerbal Space Program
Yet its focused use of real physics means that you’ll find yourself following NASA in building multi-stage rockets, space stations and exploring the Kerbal’s strange universe on EVAs, before bringing your discoveries back to research on the Kerbal planet – that’s if you can get off the ground at all. It’s a huge, complex, challenging and fun game, that’s smart without being preachy.
8. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
With hundreds of weird modifiers to discover, endlessly touch procedurally-generated levels, and secrets galore, Isaac is a very dark take on the exploratory model established by Spelunky.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Undertale is how much freedom the game gives you. Despite its cleverly integrated boss matches, you can play through the entire 9 or so hours of Undertale without executing a single kill. Plus, when you complete the game, you’ll be pleased to discover that you can play through Undertale again, this time bearing the weight of your consequences from the previous run.
Though it isn’t quite clear why the boy is running from these men or why you should even care since you don’t know who he is, Inside will leave you begging for answers. The bleak, lifeless setting of Inside is more than worth the price of admission. Its minimalist art style alone is avant-garde enough to feel right at home in a museum. Add in a game that’s both fun to play and dripping with curiosity, though, and Inside is one of the best indie games money can buy.
Abzu is described as a “stylized swimming simulator” that accurately depicts the relationship between ocean life and its interactions with humans. Like Journey, the game is told linearly with a silent protagonist. Abzu manages to hold its own, though, drawing influence from popular role-playing games with the ability to upgrade equipment.
12. Prison Architect
With smart prisoners who are willing to do anything to escape, you’ll struggle to keep them all inside – or keep them from rioting – and turn a profit. It’s still in alpha, but it’s eminently playable right now..
13. To The Moon
You control two doctors who are exploring a dying man’s memories to implant a false memory so he can die in peace. Which is all depicted in a classic 16-bit Zelda style. It’s a rare, brave, adult game.
14. Dwarf Fortress
Your task is to keep the dwarves alive as they carve out their subterranean kingdom – given that insanity, monsters, and starvation plague are thrown at them at every stage that’s not easy. And dwarves, always, always mine too deep.
15. Super Meat Boy
But Limbo is much more than a simple platformer: it’s an experience, and one that has you pondering the very essence of life by the time it’s over. Deep, profound and absorbing, it’s one indie game everybody should take time out to play.
17. Towerfall: Ascension
Arrows that don’t hit are embedded in walls, making for tense scenarios when you have to traverse the map while dodging enemies to retrieve them. As such, practicing until you achieve Robin Hood-esque levels of accuracy is recommended. Ascension is best experienced with friends in local multiplayer mode, which recalls Super Smash Bros’ most manic moments.
Obduction has a gripping story that you’ll have to exert a lot of brainpower to get through. It’s not a game that’ll hold your hand if you get stuck. Au contraire! Obduction isn’t bottlenecked by the typical UI practices of conventional video games. No, you just have to go for it with no instruction at all, leaving it up to you to figure out how to get to the next point. Until you do, Obduction will mock you with its beautifully rendered HDR environments and Nvidia Ansel support.
You are Naija, a humanoid sea creature (not a mermaid!) that is exploring a new world to her after awakening from a life-long dream. She soon gains the ability to manipulate The Verse, a supernatural force that pervades all of Aquaria, which gradually unlocks new abilities and locations to explore.
21. The Witness
This puzzler takes place in an almost equally impressionist – albeit heavily Myst-inspired – world, but it’s story is far more nuanced and mysterious than Blow’s previous. At almost every corner of this island that you’ve simply woken up on (or beneath), there is a clue as to how you got onto this island and why you’re here.
22. Hyper Light Drifter
Despite appearances, it’s a combat-focused game wherein you explore the unknown, ruined world of Buried Time, inspired by nightmares and dreams, where your Drifter is searching for the cure for a fatal disease that he or she is clearly suffering.
Every level in BroForce is a race to the rendezvous point, and you’re one of countless “Bros”, goofy characters inspired by the real-life action heroes of today. Complete with a rescue system for Bros that have lost one too many lives, BroForce both parodies the bro-tastic action flicks that rake in millions and instills a fun level of camaraderie through clever mechanics.
That is, save for your partner on the other line of a walkie-talkie: Delilah. She’s your only point of contact as you explore the wilderness. Will you make it back alive? Will the decisions you make help or harm the relationship with your only lifeline to the outside world, your boss? Don’t worry about those questions just yet – just look at those forestscapes!
Still, it seems people can’t get enough of the Day Z-inspired survival sim. It sees you use your wits and bearings to survive its harsh open world, starting off with nothing but a rock. After gathering resources needed to build a house and weapons to fend off attackers (other online players, in other words), Rust gradually becomes more intense as you defend your growing base — or attempt to breach others’.
26. Duck Game
In a sense, Duck Game draws its inspiration from the one-hit kill mechanic made popular by Nidhogg and hat selection made famous by Team Fortress 2. Instead of fighting with swords like you would in Nidhogg, however, you’re fighting with raw ammunition. Oh, and if you couldn’t tell by the title, you’re a duck.