Indie Games Galore
Releasing a handful of stunning games from independent studios was at least one thing 2016 got right.
By Joanne Paquin, Emerson College
While there were many horrible aspects of 2016, the gaming world did not suffer from many of them.
There were a pack of successful video game releases for major consoles, including “Uncharted 4,” the final game in the Nathan Drake series; “Dishonored 2,” which featured the return of the beloved duo Emily and Corvo, and “Overwatch,” the team-based shooter whose protagonist has finally been confirmed as openly gay. In addition, “Pokemon Go” caused players to flock to the street with their cellphones held outright and the widely anticipated “Last Guardian” was finally released after seven years in the making.
However, amid all these major releases, some less famed, less marketed games may have slipped under your radar. Here are the top five indie games of 2016 worthy of your attention.
“Oxenfree” follows the story of Alex and her brother-in-law Jonas as they travel to Edwards Island with a group of friends for their annual summer blowout. Alex brings her radio because there are certain spots on the island the player can tune to, in to learn about the island’s history. But the radio also unlocks a more sinister aspect of the island, separating the group and sending both Alex and Jonas on a journey to save their friends.
The reviews for “Oxenfree” are numerous and positive, all of which are well-deserved. This choice-based game stands out because of its original, fun story and haunting, yet beautiful soundtrack that has been described as “VHS synth-pop.” But the characters are what make this game so fun to play. The voice acting is incredible, and the individuals are all unique and extremely believable, leaving the player thinking about them well after the game is complete.
Also, while it is not terrifying, “Oxenfree,” definitely classifies as a horror game. It doesn’t rely on jump scares, but masterfully weaves the sinister characteristics of the island into the player’s mind, leaving them deeply unsettled. Where a lot of horror games these days rely on gore, jump scares and loud noises, “Oxenfree” is refreshingly absent of puerile scare tactics.
Another breath of fresh air for the horror genre, “Inside” is an unsettling platforming puzzle adventure about a red-shirted little boy. There is no dialogue in the game and no explanations, but the world that the boy lives in is clearly treacherous to those who think freely, perhaps a statement about where society is headed.
The game begins with a red-shirted boy running through the woods away from masked guards. As the game progresses, players realize that the guards are after him because he is “free-thinking” unlike the majority of this world’s population. The boy has to fight off barbaric Dobermans, guards with tasers, brutal black-haired sirens and monstrous machines, in what players believe is a fight for freedom.
Not only does the game thrive on its disturbing oddities and puzzles, but also on its ability to keep the player clueless as to what’s going on. The game is also gorgeous, with stunning graphics, natural body movements and high quality sounds that put the player into the various scenes.
It’s intense too, with “encounters so expertly choreographed that you always escape them by the skin of your teeth,” as IGN writes.
And in the end, the player is left with a single thought: What the fuck?
Fans of “Harvest Moon” games or farming simulators will likely love “Stardew Valley,” a peaceful RPG that allows players to cultivate their very own farm after leaving a mindless job at JoJa Corporation.
The game is easy to play and quick-to-learn, though it certainly isn’t simple like most games of the same genre. Unlike with farming simulators found on Facebook, “Stardew Valley” has a genuine story that propels the purpose for your farming ventures forward.
While most farming games, including the “Harvest Moon” series, tend to become monotonous after playing for a few hours, the insertion of various relationship-based scenes with the numerous characters and task-driven adventures keep the game innovative and forward-moving.
The characters in the game are also incredibly interesting and varied, with a lot of depth to each person’s story that can be revealed through simple socializations. By giving a character the gift of a blueberry, the player may learn that this character spends a lot of time in his bedroom because he feels his parents favor his sister over him. Or they may learn that there is something scandalous going on between the mayor and the town’s go-to animal expert, or that one player’s drinking habits are dangerous, definitely suggesting this game is for the mature and not young children.
The possible goals in the game are endless: the player can choose to perfect their farm, befriend all the townsfolk, become an animal connoisseur, traverse the depths of the mine, catch every type of fish or get married (same-sex is an option!) and start a family. All of this allows for “Stardew Valley” to played for hours upon hours without it growing repetitive.
In “Unravel,” the player traverses a beautiful world as a tiny, red yarn figure that goes by the name of Yarny. The game begins by introducing an elderly woman who picks up a picture frame of a young child, before she walks up the stairs and drops a red ball of yarn.
The yarn rolls out of the frame and Yarny pops in. Through various picture frames in the woman’s house, Yarny journeys through different landscapes, introducing the player to various memories of the old woman.
While this is a platforming game, the beauty of it comes from the breathtaking graphics and its emotional story. Yarny is also a lovable hero, almost immediately upon its introduction, that has a lot of heart and spirit, despite a lack of dialogue in the game. Also, because Yarny is a tiny figure, the different landscapes that they travel across are shown from their low perspective, allowing the player to revel in the stunning details.
“By restricting the camera’s focus to the immediate foreground,” an IGN review says, “it forces you to pay attention to the small details–tiny rocks, blades of grass, bright red berries, all of which are highly realistic and richly detailed. Playing ‘Unravel’ feels like you’re looking at the world through a magnifying glass, and it’s wonderful to explore.”
“Firewatch” is a first-person mystery set in 1989 that follows a witty hero by the name of Henry who decides to spend some time as a Shoshone National Forest fire lookout after having trouble with his marriage. He meets Delilah, another fire lookout, on his first day, and the two of them converse by walkie-talkie throughout the game as they attempt to figure out what’s going on in their forest.
It’s a short game, between four to five hours, but its mystery is intriguing, terrifying and frequently hilarious, sometimes within moments of each other. The colors in the game—vibrant and warm—are also captivating and realistic, making it easy for the player to imagine the woods the game is based off of.
But the real draw of the game comes from the witty dialogue, incredible voice acting and the charming relationship between Henry and Delilah. While this is a fun game with humorous conversations, it deals with serious issues in a realistic, adult way, bolstering the story. There are also different dialogue options that the player can choose from, allowing them to become even more involved in the story.