TOP10 Indie Games for PC
Best INDIE Games | TOP10 Indie & Retro PC Games
In 2019 there were countless great indie games that convinced with great concepts, cool gameplay and emotional stories. Even as a customer you are completely blown away – and even as a gaming journalist with a strong connection to the indie sector it is almost impossible to keep track of things. “Monster Train” may be the game of the hour on Steam right now – but will it take off in half a year or a year just like the incredibly successful “Slay the Spire”? Will the developers even manage to deliver an implementation for the consoles (despite the declaration of intent)? In addition to their creativity, indie games impress with their low price, compared to large AAA titles.
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Mechanically, however, one is much more conventional: one steers the main character from a bird’s eye view through the rather manageable sections and takes care of the enemies patrolling or pursuing their everyday affairs. It is important to take the time to study the scene and to include walking paths, surroundings and weapons in your plans. Because if you just storm blindly, you’ll die faster than you can say PS3 (or Vita). Whereby one anyway often, very often hears the sentence “You are dead! Press X” very often anyway. The AI is not very clever, but it does show unpredictable paths, which you can adjust to. And every mistake is mercilessly punished. Therefore, despite all the hectic, you should proceed calmly, almost tactically.
For example, you can include doors in your attack options: If you open them while an opponent is standing behind them or walking along them, he will be thrown to the ground and is an easy victim for his end, which inevitably culminates in a huge vermilion pixel pool. The fact that Hotline Miami is really not squeamish is both relativized and made into an art form by the coarse 16-bit pixel look, which looks more coherent on the vita and therefore I like it better there. The world in which the nameless killer is up to his mischief is absurd, confused and ruthless. Dozens of attempts to create sections have to be accepted as well as the sometimes annoying bosses. If you’re looking for an action-packed counterpart to the rogue-likes that have recently come back into fashion, you’ll find it here. However, the joy that flows through you when you have mastered the section (with a little luck, if necessary) is also much higher than after an Assassin’s Creed fight with Ezio against 30 enemies.
But frustration resistance is a must. Even though there are always new methods to get rid of the enemy effectively and pixel-violently with lots of weapons lying around and unlockable weapons. Even if you choose an animal mask at the beginning of a job, which gives you a special ability (e.g. that you are ignored by dogs). The game speed is high. You can rarely take a break – even if you just want to take some time to enjoy the soundtrack that heats up the adrenaline. Because if you pause too long, you run the risk of being discovered by the stray guards and unceremoniously bumped over. And then it’s back to the beginning of the floor. Where again everything can be different: The enemies are armed differently, new objects lie around. There is no plan to work through, and certainly no strategy to come up with. Hotline Miami is demanding. And merciless. In every respect.
At first glance, Celeste is a classic bouncing game that demands smart, accurate navigation and mercilessly punishes mistakes. Together with heroine Madeline you climb the mountain Celeste, which gives the game its name. The path leads through ruins and over steep slopes. You will not only meet characters like the tourist Theo, who shoots selfies, but also Madeline’s evil twin sister, who wants to prevent her from climbing the mountain at all costs. The climbing game is divided into eight chapters, each with dozens of levels, which usually correspond to a screen. If Madeline dies, the section restarts immediately. And this happens often. Because hundreds of times Madeline falls into abysses, touches deadly spikes or is crushed by platforms.
To prevent this, you have to budget with two scarce resources. The first is Madeline’s endurance. She can climb up walls with a shoulder button, but she can only stay there for a few seconds. As soon as she loses her grip, she falls. The second and most important resource is the dash maneuver. With this, Madeline can make a big jump in the air in any direction – but only once! Only when she touches the ground again or picks up a special crystal, the Dash is recharged.
Three buttons for jumping, dash and climbing are sufficient. Instead of equipping Madeline with more and more abilities, the variety comes into play through the level design. Each chapter introduces new elements. In one section there are moving platforms that move simultaneously with the Dash. Others feature bubbles that let you take another leap in the air.
The simple Dash must always be used a little bit differently. More important than a spot-on landing is finding the best route. Each section is a little puzzle that can be solved with the right combination of Madeline’s movement repertoire and the environment (Dash crystals!). Despite hundreds of sections, no idea is repeated. You will have to rethink again and again to conquer the mountain.
What also makes Celeste a real gem is its heart-wrenching story. More of an appendage to many jump ‘n’ runs, she plays an important role here. Despite the pastel pixel look, it gets surprisingly dark. It’s about depression and self-doubt. The mountain metaphor is not chosen by chance.
So it is all the nicer to master these difficulties together with her. Celeste succeeds in the rare feat of bringing the feeling of play and story in almost perfect harmony. What Madeline experiences in the story – overcoming an almost impossible challenge – is also reflected in the gameplay.
Cuphead and Mugman lead a quiet life on the Inkwell Islands, at least until they discover a shady casino. The Elder Kettle has forbidden them to do so, but of course that makes gambling even more tempting. At first Fortuna is on their side, but catastrophe is imminent. Euphoric about all the winnings, Cuphead puts everything on one card – and gambles his and Mugman’s soul to the boss of the casino, Satan himself. That’s the way it is when you do business with the devil: The heroes only get out of the diabolical deal when they collect the debts, ergo souls of the remaining inhabitants of the Inkwell Islands. No matter if queen bee, killer robot or three-headed dragon – none of the debtors repay their debts voluntarily.
The focus of Cuphead is on boss fights, of the sidescrolling Run&Gun levels there are only a handful. In comparison to the crazy fights that always take place in several phases, a large part of the running sections fades away, although even there outstanding moments are remembered – such as when Cuphead runs on the ceiling in a chamber of horrors or is chased by a troll through a ruin. The movement repertoire of the heroes is perfectly adapted to the requirements: Cuphead and Mugman shoot, jump and cover distances via boost. If you press the jump button, as soon as you land on pink marked objects, your Superbar is charged – with it you unleash particularly strong attacks. Thankfully, the controls are completely configurable; sprinting on the Y-key and fixing the hero via LB is not a good idea, but it’s best to change it immediately. From hidden coins you can buy new weapons (e.g. target-seeking bullets or bullets with scattering damage) and tools like additional heart containers from dealer Porkrind. From time to time you are not on foot, but above the clouds in an airplane. In addition to the two weapon options and the boost, this setting also offers the possibility to shrink to make evasion easier. Firepower and range are limited in miniature form.
Quick wins are rare in Cuphead, the core of the 2D spectacle consists of internalizing the boss attack patterns – and that can take a while, depending on your genre experience. However, memorizing them alone does not necessarily lead to victory, the random elements make sure of that. Many bosses combine attacks and bullets behave partially randomly. Occasionally this leads to unavoidable hits, but on the whole the level of difficulty of Cuphead is absolutely ok for genre relations, especially since you have the choice between two levels (one more will be added later). Unlike in a lot of classics, you never have to worry about the number of your lives, you have endless attempts and time to master the challenges. Every now and then a design sin duo causes unnecessary frustration: In some arenas, objects in the foreground obscure the action, and some bosses’ hit boxes don’t always match their silhouette.
Depending on your skills, you will be busy with your diabolical job for five to seven hours. If you are interested in the unlockable content and the best ratings, there are a few more hours on top. Success in Cuphead feels satisfying and deserved, especially since it’s fun to see how you get along with the challenges as time goes by. A large part of the fascination is of course also the unique design of the game: With unbelievable attention to detail, Cuphead captures the charm of classic animation from the 1930s like no other title. The game owes its authenticity to hand-painted backgrounds and classic animation, which, however, is expensive and time-consuming – which is why the much-awaited title had to be postponed several times. The bombastic look is complemented by contemporary sounding jazz and ragtime pieces composed especially for the game. The creativity doesn’t stop at the graphic implementation, far away from boring everyday opponents Cuphead burns a firework of creative boss ideas, where other titles turn green with envy: Where else do you fight a fire-breathing cigar in an ashtray or a renowned theater actress you have to face for a whole play in four different sets? Despite its obvious qualities, Cuphead will not appeal to every jump&run fan, due to its strong orientation towards classics and a comparatively high level of difficulty.
In Dead Cells we take over a slimy lump that ends up in the dungeon and slips into a body lying around. Why, we don’t know at first, because our hero doesn’t speak. Instead, the character gestures fiercely at every opportunity, causing one or the other laugh. In fact, Dead Cells contains an interesting, but playfully incidental story about a kingdom on a living island.
Because the island pulsates and breathes, it also constantly changes its structure. Means for us: We jump, run and fight our way through a total of 17 areas like the prison or later a cemetery or a clock tower. As soon as we kick the bucket, we end up in the dungeon again at the very beginning and the levels are “rolled out” again – just like in a roguelike. The Metroidvania part comes through a simple trick.
Unique locations change their position within the level, but always stay in the same area. Therefore there are fixed routes through the island, which we will uncover with permanent items one by one.
Keyword path: It is not for weak nerves. Because up to the last of the only four bosses we shred our way through heaps of monsters and die a thousand deaths. From normal zombies to archers and small ninja fighters, everything is on board.
Each opponent has special abilities. For example, the enemy grenadier throws flares through massive walls to us. Individually this is no problem, but in combination with other creatures we have to use all our skills to avoid the bombs. We use two slots for direct attacks, on which we place melee and ranged weapons, and two for special items, such as a self firing device or traps that increase the damage we deal.
This plays nice and fast because our clump-obsessed hero runs fast and the blows give great visual and acoustic feedback. A hammer makes a good bang, a lance shoots through the air, and a crossbow makes a good bang while the enemies fall to pieces.
In addition, all equipment has its advantages and disadvantages, which encourages experimentation. For example, it can be worthwhile to use an actually weak melee attack, which freezes the enemies for a short time in return – which gives us time to go back to distance and use the bow. In general, the game with the low cooldowns of the special weapons motivates us to use them constantly, which makes the fights pleasantly varied.
Through the fusion of Roguelike and Metroidvania, Dead Cells masterfully combines the advantages of both genres. Because we often die, we have to go through the same levels over and over again. But because they are constantly changing, it doesn’t degenerate into blunt work.
Conversely, the world does not seem completely arbitrary, since nodes and connections always remain the same. Character development also finds a healthy balance, although some passages can be frustrating due to bad luck with weapons. Nevertheless, we are willing to go on and on. Because the next upgrade is already waiting!
But even the Roguelike bonds can’t hide the fact that we’re always running through the same areas after a few hours. The fact that we roughly know what’s waiting for us in the levels doesn’t make it any better – on the contrary. After more than ten hours, every restart feels like backtracking, and every walk through the initial areas becomes annoying by the cube-throwing of the structure. You never know where you have to go.
Disco Elysium begins rather clichéd with the memory loss of our main character. This amnesia is necessary in this case, however, so that we really have a white sheet of paper in front of us, which we are allowed to design ourselves. Our hero doesn’t even know his name when he wakes up with the tomcat of the century after a drunken night in a shabby hotel. Only our partner, who is waiting for us downstairs in the flophouse, enlightens us: We are policemen and together with him we are supposed to solve the murder case of a hanged man.
The great strengths of Disco Elysium are the complexity, variety and range of themes, characters and stories. If we want to fall asleep at night while an ancient reptilian brain argues with our limbic system about our fate, it is wonderfully absurd. On the other hand, when a two-meter giant tells us about his race theory, which in his eyes makes us inferior, it is oppressive and disturbing.
Each figure appears as an independent character and not a clichéd decal. So the XXL-racist is a big black guy and the local racket squad has a clever lawyer at his side who gives us quite a lot of trouble without any violence. The main story also scores again and again with surprising twists and turns: Seemingly suspects turn out to be innocent and apparently uninvolved figures, but they turn out to be key figures.
What makes “Factorio” special is its focus on automation. As in many build-up games, but also in successful sandbox simulations from “Minecraft” downwards, resource extraction is the first step. From a bird’s eye view, players direct their lonely astronaut in the first few minutes to the various resources needed to build more tools and buildings. While in “MInecraft” & Co, however, the patient felling of trees and the knocking of stones is always omnipresent, “Factorio” almost immediately gives its players the tools they need to begin industrialization: automated factories mine stone, coal and ore, conveyor belts transport the raw materials to smelting furnaces, and primitive robot arms initially load raw materials and finished products according to the player’s specifications.
Soon an impressive variety of options will be available: If the first machines still burn coal, steam engines and later solar cells will provide electricity. Ever more powerful and complex assembly line kilometers connect an industrial landscape that grows over hours and days, which – in the distant ideal goal – works and produces almost without human intervention. As an architect and builder, the intervention of players is then limited to fine-tuning, expansion and (over-)ambitious expansion plans.
The only disturbing factors in this universal factory are the occasional exhausted resource depots and the hostile fauna of the planet, which feels disturbed by the industrialization taking place before its eyes with smoking chimneys and busy machines and is ready to attack. Especially in the first few hours of the game, the attackers can still be fended off quite easily, but in the long run there is no way around defenses and walls if you want to keep your ever-growing machine empire running.
The development of new buildings and technologies in research laboratories makes the implementation of even more complex, automated workflows that deliver the required resources a necessity. What sounds dry on paper, is in play in a constantly motivating constant expansion and optimization of ever larger factory landscapes. Until the latest developments are activated in the research tree and the full range of possible buildings, tools and building types is available, planners who are easily sucked into the game have enough to do.
By the way, if you want to dedicate yourself to the care and maintenance of your industrial landscape without being disturbed by additional tasks or opponents, you can also plan and build classically without a player figure from the commander’s perspective or deactivate the alien raids in the “sandbox” mode. A multiplayer mode allows players to work together to create the perfect factory.
The disciplines can be divided into three categories: Racing, Survival and Team Play. In the races we have to overcome a lot of obstacles on the way to the finish. Swinging giant pendulums that pepper us from platforms, wobbly seesaws or rapidly rotating platforms make it difficult to advance. In one level even a slippery mass rises slowly, which we are not allowed to touch under any circumstances.
In the survival disciplines, we have to find gaps in walls that are moving towards us at an ever increasing speed, or jump over large rotating poles that would otherwise bowl us off the platform with a sweeping movement.
In the team games we are randomly assigned to a group and are supposed to collect more eggs than the opposing teams, or maneuver oversized footballs into goals. Even though the group events are playfully funny and loosen up the “all against all” principle, they still feel unfair. Real team play is hardly or not at all possible. So whether or not you reach the next round depends largely on the luck of the group lottery ticket and not on your own ability.
Heroes of Hammerwatch is a very classic rogue-like, in which your goal is to climb the eponymous tower that was haunted by evil in the role of a nameless hero in a fantasy world. As usual for the genre, you will experience a large number of screen deaths and start the game over and over again, ideally unlocking new skills with each run, equipping yourself better or simply learning how to deal with certain opponents, traps or other special features to deal with.
In terms of the story, the title does not tear up trees, but that is nothing unusual in this genre, because the focus here is clearly on the game mechanics and the various stages. Unlike some genre competitors such as Binding of Isaac or Neon Abyss, Heroes of Hammerwatch approaches the repetitive dungeon slaughter a little differently. Before you can jump into the fray, you have to choose one of nine different classes, not all of which are initially activated. These include the classic fantasy stereotypes such as the paladin, who represents a bulwark in close combat, the ranger, who uses his bow to target his enemies from a distance, or the thief, who is armed with two daggers and attacks hostile Can repel projectiles. There are also a few playful exotics like the Warlock, who can refresh his life and mana with his magical melee attacks and summon monsters, the priest, who can heal other group members – which is a blessing especially in multiplayer – or the Witch Hunter, who goes to the throat of the evil henchman with his crossbow and bombs.
Once you have decided on a class, you start right away in a small base of the Heroes’ Guild. This once bloomed with life, but was then dropped. Now it’s up to you to fortify the area again and to rebuild the individual buildings, which is also the playful trick of Heroes of Hammerwatch.
Because instead of starting completely from scratch with every new attempt, you can use gold and ores that you find in the individual dungeons and mine shafts to expand your guild area piece by piece and thereby unlock bonuses and skills that you can use from the beginning on each run to be available.
For example, if you set up a forge and improve it bit by bit, you can now purchase upgrades for your weapons, armor as well as your critical hit chances and the running speed. Or you prefer to invest your resources in the local hero trainer, who will improve your skills and teach you one or two new tricks – assuming a correspondingly high level. So that you don’t prematurely bless the time in the dark vaults, can you also hire a pharmacist who, depending on the level of expansion, offers you better and more effective potions or do you want to focus on certain aspects of the game and hit your money on your head?
Then there is a tavern where you can take part in games of chance and have the opportunity to have certain drinks that give you passive bonuses and penalties, such as the fact that you get 100% more ore when you open come across a chunk of ore in your adventures – the downside? You hardly get any gold for it. There are also some other buildings such as a dealer who sells you temporary items for your current adventure, or a church, or, or, or … The buildings that you can invest in are diverse, but not overwhelming. In this way, however, you will be forced relatively early on to weigh up very carefully where you invest your meager resources.
In this way, Heroes of Hammerwatch succeeds somewhat in excluding the frustrating element of total randomness, because no matter how unlucky you are with the random generation of the levels, you can always rely on the fact that you will get into the dungeons with certain advantages and you become noticeably more powerful the longer you play. This creates an extremely steeply rising motivation curve, which I personally rarely got to experience in a rogue-like manner.
The individual levels are peppered with deadly floor slabs, firing devices or falling debris that can cause massive damage to you at the beginning. Some rooms in the game are specially designed trap rooms, at the end of which a treasure chest awaits you. In order to achieve this, however, you have to be able to maneuver with your hero quite skillfully and often memorize different movement patterns of the individual traps.
Occasionally you will also find puzzle rooms that come up with typical switch and logic puzzles and slow down the somewhat hectic gameplay. However, it is almost always worthwhile to take the time and take the risk to master these special challenges, because the treasure chests often contain diamonds or ore in addition to special equipment that gives you passive bonuses – such as more damage, a higher evasion rate or additional magical or physical damage – confer.
You may lose this equipment when you die, but it can be a pretty big help when it comes to making progress. After every three levels of an area you will also always encounter a boss. In contrast to many competing titles, this is always fixed and does not vary. Each of the top villains comes up with different tactics, but all of them can be learned quickly – which does not mean that you will probably bless the time at the first attempt. As you work your way up the tower, you gradually get more and more experience points. If you have achieved enough, your character will move up the level and receive a certain number of stars, which you can later exchange for new skills in the guild at the hero trainer.
The highlight: Your star, ore and gold accounts are not saved separately for each hero, but shared among all of them. This means that, for example, you can specialize your favorite hero more quickly by leveling up second or third heroes more quickly at the beginning, or you can boost newly created characters with a well-filled gold account right from the start. Above all, this leads to the fact that the inhibition threshold to try out a new class is initially lowered, because one does not have to start from scratch and constantly blesses the temporal immediately.
No question, Into the Breach is very challenging and will always let you fail. But it also motivates you to try again and again, because you always have the feeling that you can improve. Even the simple pixel-look display subordinates itself to the precise gameplay and never misses a more elaborate presentation. Into the Breach is a real feast for tacticians who like to experiment.
With your squad of three different Mechs and their pilots, your first goal is to defend four islands controlled by large corporations against the beasts’ attacks before you take action against their nest. The battles take place on manageable, randomly generated 8×8 fields on large maps, on which buildings, forests, mountains and other objects are distributed. Your primary task is to protect the civilian buildings from damage. Every destroyed house also means damage to the planet-wide energy network. As soon as the power grid has dropped to zero, an unstoppable number of monsters come out of the depths and the game is lost.
To emerge successfully from a battle is not an easy task, because the enemy is usually numerically superior to your three combat units. Also, new enemies appear regularly, which only aggravate your problems. This game is therefore less about destroying the enemy completely. Instead, you always try to keep the possible damage as low as possible and to keep the enemy away from your destruction targets through intelligent movements and attacks.
Most of your units’ attacks not only cause damage, but also have a push effect. This effect varies depending on the mech and the type of attack. Our Combat Mech, for example, uses its titanium fist to push an enemy back one space. The Artillery Mech, on the other hand, fires a projectile that shifts all surrounding enemies by one field at a time.
To make tactical use of this mechanism, the game always shows where each opponent’s next attack will be aimed and how much damage they will do. This creates an incredibly motivating tactical depth. Instead of simply concentrating on inflicting as much damage as possible on the enemy, you work out strategies for using the maximum of three attacks of your troops per round to move the enemies so that their attacks are no longer directed at a target but into the void. Even better, of course, if you can even make it so that the aliens do damage to each other.
But despite all planning, you will eventually reach a point where you fail. Then you have to start a new attempt. You can take your best pilot with you into the next timeline. In addition, you unlock up to eight pre-built squads with very different fighting machines. Each of these squads offers completely different playing styles and requires new tactics from you. Professionals create their own teams from the unlocked Mechs to create their own ultimate tactics.
We spend most of the game marching through the countryside at a fairly leisurely pace, listening to the group’s well-written conversations. In between we connect with the spirit world with a pocket radio and track down anomalies. Some of them are very eerie due to distorted, demonic voices on the radio, flicker effects like on an old VHS tape and mysterious time loops and visions. There are no cheap jumpscares or excessively brutal horror sequences.
Oxenfree gives you goose bumps above all with its exciting story and clever presentation. The terrific sound design chases cold shivers through our spines, especially when communicating with the ghosts. Who are these ghosts anyway? What do you want from us? The story quickly pulls us under its spell, even if the gameplay itself never challenges us.
There are no complicated puzzles, leaps or even fights. When we’re not walking around and talking to the group, we’re looking for the right frequency on our radio to listen to the ghosts or open doors. Oxenfree requires patience and no quick reflexes. You can hardly experience a good story in a much more relaxed manner, but if you like it more action-heavy, this is wrong. And if you want to see absolutely everything, you have to accept a few lengths.
Oxenfree has a single game save that is automatically saved. Loading an old savegame to try out other decisions at certain points is therefore not an option. For alternative game ends, you always start from the beginning – or stop by YouTube and cheat yourself by around three hours of playing time per additional round. Playing through it multiple times is not only worthwhile because of the different endings. For example, Alex has to choose a companion when the group splits up.
This is a great opportunity to get to know characters better who you haven’t interacted with often on the first run. Or how about pairing certain companions together? Admittedly, it might seem a bit strange at first when Alex and her fellow activists talk about things like relationships and school stress in the face of the weird, supernatural phenomena on Edwards Island. On the other hand, the teenagers distract themselves from the ghosts and keep each other from going nuts. At least most.
Oxenfree is actually scary, even without any fountains of blood or cheap shock effects. This is mainly due to the fantastic background noise, from the ambient noises to the great music to the super staged conversations with the ghosts. The lyrics are well written and almost all characters are interesting in their own way.
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