Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 in Review: #20-15

In this series of articles, I'll be listing and discussing my top 20 indie games of the year. While many indie GOTY lists I've seen tend to focus on the most popular and well known indies released in 2013, I hope mine represents a well-rounded look at the year's best.


20. Westerado
Browser (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Hard to pick just one, yet oddly enough, I think the fast travel screen captures the essence of the game the best, as you ride on your horse past the setting sun in perfectly pixelated Spaghetti Western style

I guess I should I credit Rock Paper Shotgun for bringing this gem to my attention. If not for their article about the game in November, I would have missed it. Westerado takes one of my favorite genres, the western, and gives it an atmospheric pixel art look, with gorgeous sunsets and windswept cemeteries. The game revolves around a randomly generated murder mystery as you search for your family's killer across an open world, slowly piecing together the identity and location of the killer through clues from NPCs and quests. Poker in the saloon, bandits in the mines, buffalo roaming the fields, Westerado is a fun and engaging experience worth playing.

19. SuperHOT
Browser (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: The first time you sidestep between bullets as your own rounds blows an enemy away and the blood spray lights up the clean white rooms...all in wonderful slow motion

I first played SuperHOT when it was submitted for 7DFPS and it was one of my favorite entries, alongside Beyond Perspective and Probably Archery. Since then, the game has been updated with cleaner visuals and revamped levels, and while it may not be that long or that deep, it's an fantastic promise of what's to come. The minimalist visuals and slow motion turn the act of blowing enemies away into an art as bullets creep across the screen, blood flies in elegant arc. But SuperHOT is more than a pretty facade; the core mechanics remain tight and satisfying even after my many playthroughs and your vulnerability and limited ammo promotes caution and planning over reckless action.

18. Gods Will Be Watching
Browser (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: I think the first time you unceremoniously die because you forgot to deal with the campfire speaks volumes about the tone and bleakness of the game.

I would have never thought that a simple single screen point-and-click game would become my favorite flash/freeware game since Nitronic Rush and Facade. But Gods Will Be Watching, and not just because of its awesomely ominous title or because it's gritty post-apocalyptic fiction. Not only does the game sport a great pixel art style, it's just a bleak, dark experience where every choice is grey, either bad or worse. Like SuperHOT, it's more of a snapshot of what the expanded game will offer, but when a snapshot is this affecting and unique, it deserves all the attention and acclaim it gets.

17. Sang Froid: Tales of Werewolves
PC (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Your bonfire is moments away from whittling to embers, you’re frantically reloading your one shot as the pack circles around you, eyes glinting in the light of the fire, one prepares to attack...and then darkness falls...

Now granted, Sang Froid isn't perfect. As I said in my impressions, the voice acting is subpar and load times can be very long. But when you're actually playing, none of that matters. Sang Froid is a game where the odds are always stacked against you. Even you think you've planned for everything, you haven't. Having to reload each shot manually, manage your foe's fear, time your traps or see them wasted, fosters an atmosphere of tension and challenge, in which only the steadiest nerves will see you through the night.

16. Mirrormoon EP
PC, Mac, Linux (Site) | Watch the trailer
Defining Moment: Moving the moon for the first time and watching the landscape shift as you turn night to day and vice versa

It bears repeating: Mirrormoon EP is not about story or complex gameplay or moral choices or brain-twisting puzzles. It's about discovery. In Mirrormoon, space isn't just an expanse of blackness and stars, but a canvas of color and abstract architecture to explore. Every planet offers something new and interesting to discover and maybe you'll leave your mark with a name for your new discovery.

15. Prison Architect
PC, Mac, Linux (Site) | Watch the trailer 
Defining Moment: Getting attached to your wards, providing them with amenities and rec time, only to realize the sneaky bastards have been digging an escape tunnel the whole time and someone got shanked when your attention was elsewhere.

First thing, I realize Prison Architect technically released in 2012, but I'm going by the Steam release and well, I wasn't into PC gaming last year and didn't know the game existed till this summer. Okay, back to the game. Prison Architect is a game where emergent narratives and moments breathe life into the already deep and complex mechanics. Every choice matters, and some consequences won't become evident until days layer, when your prisoners are rioting, dead bodies bleed on the grass, and your guards are too tired and overworked to hold them back. 

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