Technopolis: Three indie games from last year you might’ve missedIndie games provide innovative gameplay and deeply layered storytelling. Three games from last year do all of this and more.
Every year, a bevy of new gaming titles are released, many to big fanfare, supported by hefty advertising budgets as well as copious amounts of money for development. While triple-A titles are released with flourish, smaller companies with innovative game designs and ambitious ideas produce smaller games that are a breath of fresh air among the tired tropes that bigger companies employ to appeal to the masses and increase their revenue.
If you’re looking for something new in gaming, these smaller ‘indie’ games are where you’ll find them. Low-budget independent games like Undertale and The Stanley Parable have questioned the very nature of gaming and its effects on gamers while games like Braid, Superhot, and Don’t Starve employ unique gameplay mechanics to win you over. And games like Firewatch and Dear Esther are all about narrative and the telling of a deeply layered story.
In the past few years, the indie gaming industry has only grown, riding on the massive popularity of games like Minecraft.
Here are three indie games produced last year that provide some of the most innovative and entertaining gameplay.
Platforms: Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Playstation 4
Developed by Unknown Worlds Entertainment, Subnautica is a game based on exploration, much like its indie predecessor Firewatch. The game begins with the player being dropped into a watery alien world where you have to explore familiar yet hostile sea-beds in search of resources. Abzu, a game released in 2017, is very similar to Subnautica but while Abzu was meditative in its approach, Subnautica is not. There are creatures that can send you to the netherworld if you come to close or you could even drown if you don’t keep an eye on your resources.
There is a certain sense of isolation and fear that comes with Subnautica. The player is alone in a vast sea populated with alien sea life. While swimming with a school of fish, deep rumblings from the depths hint of large predatory creatures lurking beneath. The game provides very little in terms of defence, however, and the player is equipped with a simple knife that is more a tool for resource gathering rather than defence. Even as you progress through the game, your weapon choices are limited and the best option in the face of hostility would be to run.
This mechanic works for the game, though, as players need to take a different approach than to hack and slash their way through everything. The player is equipped with a bio-scanner and most of the time, are pushed to scan and understand the biodiversity of the world, and live in harmony with the ecosystem rather than destroy anything they come across. Subnautica is a beautiful game, and unlike the repetitive and mundane gameplay offered by other exploration games, Subnautica gives you a purposeful and engaging story to follow while finding ways to sustain yourself in this alien world.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux
When you think about indie games, a host of platforming games come to mind. Our idea of indie games has been influenced by many very well-received platforming games like Shovel Knight,
Oni and the Blind Forest and Dead Cells. While Celeste is very similar to these games and comes off as yet other retro-styled 2D platformer, it distinguishes itself with its simplicity and a nuanced approach to storytelling.
Celeste tells the story of Madeline, a young woman climbing the titular mountain. Throughout the game, the mountain reflects the character’s depression and anxiety. Rooms rife with moving platforms, dangerous spikes and crumbling walls litter the path to the top and the player only has three actions to guide Madeline through these labyrinthian rooms: jump, dash and climb. The simplicity and fluidity of the controls are what make Celeste such a pleasure to play. It’s all in the timing, and even if you fail, you start at the beginning of the room. Failure in Celeste is not a hindrance, rather a necessity to move forward.
Celeste looks beautiful, sounds great and responds incredibly well. While offering excellent gameplay, Celeste also succeeds in providing a heartfelt narrative through likeable characters and intimate moments.
Platforms: Android and iOS
Florence is more like an interactive graphic novel than a game. It tells the simple story of a 24-year old girl Florence Yeoh and her journey through love, using a heartfelt narrative that employs the minutiae of daily life. Player interacts with the story through simple puzzles like jigsawing conversations together and pair-matching expenses for her job. These interactions don’t feel forced, however, instead resembling an intrinsic reflection of the narrative itself. Conversational puzzles become easier as Florence becomes more comfortable in her relationship with Krish, her lover, and office work comes automatically when Florence is happy.
At its core, Florence, like many other indie games, is all about narration and story. Guiding Florence through the mundane aspects of her life and helping her find love helps us understand and care for Florence as a character, which makes the eventual heartbreak more difficult for the player to go through. But it’s a heartbreak that most of us have gone through and that is reflected through a narrative visual game, becoming more visceral and heartbreaking.
Rana has been writing about technology for the past nine years. He writes about technology from the purview of modern consumerist culture while also exploring the nuances of its social and behavioural effects on people.