As we have seen throughout the past, independent development companies can create experiences that excel far beyond their big-budgeted contemporaries. In order to get their names out there, indie developers must try to prove their worth by stepping out of the box and providing genuine games that players can't find anywhere else on the map. Easily seen within this list of the Best Indie Games of 2013, indie developers may have extremely limited resources, but can still put together titles that are just as, if not more, entertaining and compelling than their better-known counterparts. Some of these developers are a one-man-gang in terms of creation - where most development companies would allocate a team to create the sound effects, a team to design the levels, a team to design the models and a team to write the story, there is only one person (or just a couple) at work doing it all. Yet, these titles still amaze us. Without major publishing companies to advertise for them, many of these titles remain relatively unknown, which is a shame considering the level of talent needed to bring them to life. So we're giving respect to the best small-time hits of this past year with the Best Indie Games of 2013.
Monaco: What's Yours is Mine
Starting off the Best Indie Games of 2013 is a stealth-based title, but we have a feeling Monaco won't be the only stealth game on this list. Incorporating a minimalist, top-down perspective, Monaco has you climb the Grand Theft Auto ladder of success (rob a bank, rip off a jeweler, perform a prison bust, etc.). By itself, Monaco is quite enjoyable, but in a group working in unison, Monaco is an absolute blast. Each member of your squad can be an effective team player or they can try to horde as much loot as they can while they ignore the big picture. Toss in the award-winning composer of Journey next to a surprisingly rich narrative, and Monaco is easily one of the best indie titles we encountered in 2013.
Take Oregon Trail, get rid of the wagons and dysentery, make it fun and addictive, move it to a contemporary setting, and you have Don't Starve. You must explore the world, gather materials, procure food (usually by hunting the various types of wildlife), set up camp, and endure the cold of the night by staying close to the fire and eating. But the options you have in doing these things, and the logic that follows each individual part are what make Don't Starve memorable. While we're sure that it will be the talk of the town next month when it comes out for free on the PSN, we must mention how great Don't Starve was to play when it debuted this past April for the PC.
Stealth Inc. has established itself as the Abe's Oddysee of this generation. Stealth Inc. delivers an addictive, brutal, but fair experience. You must experiment, be calculated in your movements, and avoid hesitating in order to reach the end of each level. You must dodge lasers, pitfalls, traps, other escapees and various other obstacles between you and your goal. Nothing is as satisfying as completing a complex level in Stealth Inc. by the skin of your teeth. Atop of that, Stealth Inc. has tons of charm. PC gamers may remember Stealth Inc. as 'Stealth Bastard', but this sadistic escape didn't reach widespread acclaim until it had a name change when it came out on the PS3 and Vita this past summer.
Despite only being five levels long, Resogun is, arguably, one of the best launch games for the PlayStation 4. The side-scrolling shoot 'em up is a tried-and-true style of gaming that has been in effect since the 1970s. So Resogun must be one hell of a shooter for it to make this list in the modern era. Resogun acts as Housemarque's spiritual successor to their previous hit, Super Stardust. Resogun is clever in its execution and stays true to the high quality of excellence we'd expect from standout titles of the side-scrolling shooter genre - it's fast-paced, absolutely beautiful, and never feels repetitive. Resogun is best enjoyed with its catchy soundtrack on full blast while playing co-op.
Don't let the retro/minimalist style of Papers' graphics fool you, it is very in-depth and thought-provoking in terms of challenging its players. Ethics, greed and pride in one's country come to clash as you work as an immigration officer for the fictional, communist country of Arstotzka. You must investigate immigrants as they come in - trying to keep undesirables, criminals and spies out of your country. You are free to interrogate, intimidate and x-ray applicants as you see fit based on their paperwork, background story and what they're trying to smuggle into the country. Ethics are in question at Papers' core. Fewer applicants processed means less pay for you to bring home to your family. Rushed applicants means more mistakes and potential terrorist incursions in your country. You can also take bribes if you let the undesirables in. Want to really change the landscape? Purposely let each anti-Arstotzkian rebel you encounter into your country for a full revolution and regime change.
Cellar Door Games
Halfway through our list of the Best Indie Games of 2013, we have a title that tightrope walks a line between enjoyment and frustration. At first glance, Rogue Legacy seems to be a tribute to the likes of Super Ghouls and Ghosts. Take the genuine fun and silliness of Super Ghouls and Ghosts, slap on Dark Souls' level of punishment, some RPG classes and you have Rogue Legacy. It's ridiculously fun and addicting, just don't blame us when you throw your controller at the wall in sheer anger.
While reviewing The Swapper earlier this year, we were astounded at how much it kept us at the edge of our seats. Sure, side-scrollers can all be labelled as clones of each other, but The Swapper is a platformer that deals with the issues cloning itself. In particular, you have a cloning gun that manufactures Naruto-like clones of yourself wherever you aim it. These clones perfectly mimic your movements on the screen. You have the ability to transfer your consciousness back and forth between these clones. Proceeding through a level means that you must abandon your original body and sacrifice a ton of clones in the process. Falling into a spiked pit? Shoot out a clone to a safe location, switch consciousnesses and boom. Your old body dies but your mind lives on in a fresh, new suit of you. Does transferring your consciousness from body to body, only to abandon all of your other clones to die, bear any repercussions on your soul or psyche? Throw in some ingenious puzzle designs and wonderful, hand-made, clay-based graphics and The Swapper lets us answer that question for ourselves... and our clones.
Take the Metroidvania approach of the side-scrolling beat 'em up, give it a lucha libre-style headlock, imbue it with Mexican folklore, and you've got the formula for one of the best 2D title's we've played in a long time. For every ounce of sweaty tribute Guacamelee! does for its predecessors, it drops another ounce in the name of moving the genre forward. As expected of a luchadore, Juan has a very in-depth fighting style, which helps him explore his world and helps show off all of Guacamelee's idiosyncrasies. The WWE might have trimmed off a lot of its high-flying wrestling dives for safety reasons, but we assure you that Guacamelee! has all the right moves and locks to keep even non-wrestling fans thoroughly engaged.
The Stanley Parable
Davey Wreden / Galactic Cafe
Like many of the great games built atop of Valve's Source engine, such as Half-Life and Portal series, The Stanley Parable attempts to take what we are familiar with in the first-person genre and turn it on its head. The Stanley Parable left us questioning why we mindlessly follow game rules and directions without question. Ultimately, The Stanley Parable leaves us with a message - we are being hand-guided through most modern games without having any inspiration for us to figure things out on our own. The original version of The Stanley Parable came out in 2011, but its official HD remake/expansion released this past October helped The Stanley Parable exist not only as a mod, but as a great standalone title that is readily available to the masses.
The Fullbright company
Sitting atop our list of the Best Indie Games of 2013 is a game without equal in terms of its storytelling capabilities. Gone Home's premise is simple: it's 1995, you have arrived home from travelling abroad and have found your family home empty, with your parents and younger sister missing. The first few couple hours of Gone Home have you going through diaries, notebooks, letters, answering machine messages, etc., all for the sake of trying to piece together what happened to your family. While this has "Slender Man attack incoming!" written all over it, Gone Home shows off an absolutely brilliant way of storytelling through the video game medium. When you see the bathtub filled with red, you assume the worst. But like the bathtub's explanation, we assure you that Gone Home shattered our expectations. Instead of a point-and-click mystery with your expected supernatural tropes, we have a title that perfectly captures the mid-90s allure, breathes life into its complex characters through stellar writing, and ingeniously uses the first-person perspective to present thought-provoking ways at experiencing a game. By the end of Gone Home, you end up knowing and caring for each member of the Greenbriar household, helping you fuel your search while building up our admiration for such fantastic voice acting and high quality writing.