Top 5 indie games going into 2015

Indie games are now more popular than ever. With the amount of games being released every week it is not so much about finding affordable games as it is about finding the right games for you and finding some time to enjoy them. With that in mind I’m listing my top 5 games as of March 2015:

Note: After writing this post I realized that all 5 games I picked have great replay value as well, so if you’re looking for something that will last for more than one play-through look no further.

5) This War of Mine

This War of Mine has already received a lot of press coverage, and rightly so. This is a game that you have to play simply because of the unique experience it offers. There are loads of war games out there and pretty much every one of them glorifies war by making you play some overpowered soldier that saves the world. Some war games have shown some self-awareness with regard to the horrors of war, but usually these attempts to tug at heart strings fall flat underneath the glorification of combat. Spec Ops: The Line received a lot of praise for raising critique against war and war games, but ultimately the message never really hit home for me, partly because it is another glorified shooter but also because the horrible decisions you have to make in the game aren’t really decisions at all. These “decisions” are made for you since they are very much part of the game’s story.

This War of Mine is different from all other war games in that it puts you in the shoes of civilians trying to survive the war. The message it gives is delivered through game mechanics rather than pre-scripted events and story. That is not to say that it doesn’t tell a story, but the story emerges based on how you play the game. The game never forces you to do anything, but chances are that in trying to keep your group of survivors alive you will end up making them do things that they (and you) will not be proud of.

I don’t want to say much more about this game because I don’t want to spoil it for people that haven’t played it yet. The only other thing I’ll add is that this is a 2D survival game, so if you’re not into the survival genre then maybe grab this one on sale. If you like survival games (i.e. Don’t Starve, Project Zomboid etc.) then This War of Mine is an absolute must.

Why should you play This War of Mine?

  • Fresh idea
  • Great atmosphere
  • Nice art style, which suits the setting
  • Game mechanics work well
  • Emergent storytelling
  • Decent replay value, since the civilians you start with and places you can visit change with every new game

 

4) Mark of the Ninja

Mark of the Ninja is one of the best stealth games that I’ve played in a long time. This is what you would get if you combined Gunpoint with Assassins’ Creed, if you were to take only the best elements from each. Everything in the game feels fluid, tactile and responsive. More than that, it is a game that encourages you to experiment with different play styles. I’ve played through the entire game, including the DLC, and I’m still having fun playing through again to experiment and take different approaches to levels. The art style is fantastic, and the story is sufficient to provide a nice framework for the game.

Nowadays there is no shortage of stealth games, and most of them are pretty good. I like Splinter Cell and the Hitman series, but as good as these games are they still get some things wrong. I have too major criticisms of these games: First, when things go wrong you might as well load a save since you’ll either have to kill everyone on the level in a loud firefight, or you’ll have to stand around doing nothing until the guards decide that the murderous assassin that just ran into the shadows has probably gone away and is no longer a threat (for the sixth time that night). This brings me to my second criticism, which is that the pacing of these games is never quite right since you spend too much time waiting around.

There is a lot that Mark of the Ninja gets right, but one thing that sets this game apart from most other stealth games is the pacing. You never spend too much time standing around waiting for a guard to walk to a certain position. Irrespective of whether you want to kill everything in your path or try to slip by everyone undetected, it is possible to progress quite quickly, especially once you start getting the hang of the game. Also, if you get spotted you can still fight back without alerting the rest of the world, and if you get killed you never lose too much progress. 2D platform games don’t get much better than this, and at the risk of sounding too exited this is probably the best stealth game I’ve every played.

Why should you play Mark of the Ninja?

  • Fantastic art style and atmosphere
  • Smooth, tactile and responsive gameplay
  • Makes you feel like a true badass ninja
  • Different ways to approach levels

 

The top three games that I’ve selected aren’t in any specific order, since I love these games for different reasons and couldn’t really pick one over the other. Interestingly, I’ve written about all three games before, they all fall in the simulation/management genre, and all three have a bit of a learning curve but are great fun once you get into it. Also, all three games are in early access, but probably at a point where they are better than most full releases.

 

3) Kerbal Space Program (KSP)

KSP was recently updated into Beta and now has a fully fledged career mode. You start out with a small space center and you can upgrade the various facilities as you earn money. Completing contracts gives you money and prestige, which in turn enables you to take on more ambitious missions and contracts. You can also earn science points which allows you to unlock new parts through R&D. The career difficulty is completely customizable allowing you to adjust everything from the amount of money you earn from contracts to whether or not astronauts (or kerbalnauts) die permanently when things go wrong.

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The thing that makes KSP great is that you can build any plane or rocket using the wide range of available parts, and the possibilities are virtually limitless. This is also what makes the game challenging though, and if you are new to KSP I would recommend messing around in sandbox mode first and watching some of Scott Manley’s Youtube videos to get up to speed on how orbital mechanics work and how to design efficient rockets.

Why should you play KSP?

  • Has a sandbox and career mode
  • Loads of content and customization options
  • Plane and rocket designs only limited by your creativity (and the laws of physics)
  • Truly satisfying to reach new frontiers
  • The best way to learn how space travel works

 

2) Prison Architect

A lot of games claim to have fully simulated world where situations and gameplay arise organically rather than from pre-scripted events. Prison Architect is one of a handful of games where this is really true. As the name suggests you have to build and manage a prison. Each prisoner has his own needs (much like in The Sims) and traits and will interact with the environment and other prisoners, guards and prison staff based on these variables.  To be successful in Prison Architect you have to think like a prisoner. If you give them the chance, they will do whatever it is they are not supposed to do.

Prisoners will try to smuggle in contraband when their relatives come to visit; they will use the phones to have their contacts throw contraband over the walls; they will smuggle tools and weapons out of the workshops; they will try to tunnel out of their cells; they will start riots; they will kill snitches; and so it goes on. You have to deal with all of this by carefully planning out your prison: Use metal detectors and guard dogs to flush out contraband; do random cell searches; use snitches to get useful information; tap phones; build a protective custody wing for ex law enforcement prisoners and snitches that have been made; keep the hardcore killer prisoners away from the minimum security prisoners; deploy armed guards; manage prisoner schedules and guard patrols; implement reform programmes; all while making sure that you have more money coming in than you’re spending.

This game also has a bit of a learning curve to it, but luckily it only starts to get really hard if you try to run a very large prison with lots of high security prisoners. You are free to experiment with a small prison while learning the ropes, and it is up to you to decide how many new prisoners you want to take in and how dangerous these prisoners will be. Having a large prison with many maximum security prisoners means you’ll be getting paid a lot of money to look after these prisoners, but you’ll also be dealing with a lot of issues. Prison Architect reminds me a lot of Hospital Tycoon, but it’s long early access development history means that the game is really well balanced with loads of content to keep you playing for hours (possibly hundreds of hours).

Why should you play Prison Architect?

  • Emergent gameplay
  • Every prisoner is simulated
  • Loads of organically arising situations to deal with, and loads of creative ways to deal with them
  • Complete freedom in terms of how you build and expand your prison
  • Helpful tutorial and grant system helps ease new players into the game

 

1) Gearcity

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I first reviewed Gearcity shortly after it was released on Steam last year (2014), and even at that stage it was already a great game. Gearcity is among the most in depth business simulations I have played, and it is definitely the most in depth management sim where you are running an auto manufacturing company. A lot has been added since the game’s early access release and a lot more will be added before it is released as a full game.

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Gearcity is special because of the depth that the simulation offers, which means that the game never feels monotonous and that you deal with various challenges that arise organically as the game progresses. Each career you play will be different, and it will be especially different if you vary the location and the era that you start in. For example, I’ve managed to built a successful auto company starting in Africa in the 1980’s. It was challenging since the income levels are lower compared to other parts of the world, but I found a niche by designing cheap pickup trucks which were in high demand at the time. This playthrough was completely different to my previous playthrough where I started off in London building mid-range hatchbacks, and proceeded to produce luxury sedans for the European market and SUVs for the American market.

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For the most part Gearcity is produced by a single developer, and it is astonishing what he has achieved on his own. Since I bought the game several updates have been released, adding more content, improving the game interface, and adding nice touches like a car magazine where you can read reviews about the cars you produce and see how they stack up against the competition. The developer takes player feedback seriously and goes out of his way to ensure that any issues are addressed.

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If you are interested in this genre, you may also want to have a look at Automation which was recently released on Steam Early Access. Automation has an absolutely amazing engine and car designer, and will also feature a career/tycoon mode where you can manage your own car company. However, while slightly more polished than Gearcity, Automation doesn’t currently have a career mode and when the developers do get around to implementing this I doubt that it will be as in depth as Gearcity. If you like the idea of designing cars and running your own automotive company you should buy both Gearcity and Automation, though if you can only afford one you should probably start with Gearcity. At only 16 USD Gearcity is very easy to recommend and given the depth of the game you’ll get your money’s worth many times over.

Why should you play Gearcity?

  • Possibly the best business simulation ever made
  • Incredible depth and complexity
  • Great replay value
  • Design anything – pickups; small hatchbacks; luxury sedans; sports cars; the list goes on
  • Manufacture, market and sell your cars in any part of the world, each with it’s own market characteristics depending on population, consumer preference, and income levels
  • Compete with other manufacturers
  • Deal with changing market conditions, including wars

 

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