With the end of the year almost upon us, it’s time to take a look at what made 2016 really stand out. For many gamers, it has to be the indie scene. Though the AAA studios were no slouches, players interested stepping into strange new worlds thought up by developers outside the mainstream had a record year.
No matter the genre, this year saw indie games of all stripes hitting the shelves. Be it platformers, puzzle games or dungeon crawlers, there was a great game for everybody. Here are eight of the best, plus two honorable mentions.
The list starts with what many think is one of the best indies ever made: Darkest Dungeon. One of the most immersive, scary and difficult roguelikes on the market, it just squeaks into this list through its January release date. The game punishes every mistake you make rather brutally, yet time and again players will find themselves hitting the “new game” button thanks to the truly excellent gameplay. Its creepy atmosphere is mostly evoked through the well-written descriptions, with the hand-drawn art adding detail to the unforgiving dungeons the player descends into. RPG fans will love this game, as will anyone who likes to get truly lost in an experience.
This title is as much a game as it is a celebration of pixel art. In fact, if there’s an award for persistence from a game developer, D-Pad Studio should win it; it took 10 years to make this game, pixel by pixel, and it shows. Owlboy is more than a pretty face, though, as the story is intricate and well-thought out. Players are in control of Otus, as he travels the world with his motley crew in a tale about darkness and evil, but also about growing up. Platforming action and puzzles are integrated well, making Owlboy an absolute must for anyone that wants to try something truly different and creative, made with a lot of heart and great dedication.
This game is, in a way, a celebration of a kind of loneliness that people seek out in the wilderness. Firewatch puts players into the shoes of of Henry, someone who takes a job in a distant national park to get away from it all and ends up finding out what being alone really means. The game plays like a combination of adventure game and straight-up mystery as Henry tries to find out what lies behind all the strange happenings in the Shoshone National Forest, guided by a friendly voice on his walkie talkie that goes by the name of Delilah. Who is Delilah? What is her role in all the forest fires? The game’s eventual big reveal at the end may feel a little thin, but the journey through the wilds of Wyoming is certainly worth it.
The Witness feels like the game Myst should have been – a story-driven puzzle game where each challenge makes sense in the overall scheme of things. Well, almost every one: the game features over 600 puzzles, so a few are bound to be less than perfect. The puzzles are integrated into the story, which features the player making their way through a tropical island studded with odd structures and weird sculptures. There is, of course, a mystery, with the many challenges the player faces serving as tutorials for the skills they’ll eventually need to find out what’s behind the goings-on on the island. The Witness is a wonderfully atmospheric game, though it should go without saying that people who don’t like puzzles should avoid it.