IndieDB has just released the list of their top ten independent studio games of 2015 and the winners are just plain outstanding.
- First Place – Space Engineers – Keen Software House – Early Access Oct 22, 2013
This years winner is a personal favorite. Space Engineers is a procedurally generated voxel based space and building and exploration sandbox with both survival and creative modes as well as online play via hosted servers. In this game you build ships, stations and anything else you can imagine with their elaborate building system and wide variety of highly customizable blocks.
Everything from programming blocks, gyros, thrusters, rotors, pistons, remote control, armor, and just about anything else you can imagine make the possibilities endless. Did I mention mods? This game has full access to the Steam Workshop and custom fanmade content.
Almost forgot to mention their newest edition, PLANETS! A lot of new features have been added along with them. Also of mention is their weekly updates. They’re always tweaking and adding things and making the game overall more enjoyable for everyone. There’s really too much for me to go over in just this short blurb, so pick it up and check it out!
- Second Place – Squad – Offworld Industries – Early Access Dec 15, 2015
Squad is a new Early Access title squad based shooter based upon the Project Reality modification for Battlefield 2. Their intention is stated “to place players in a realistic environment and encourage them to work together toward a common goal.” The creators describes it as “a middle ground between the Battlefield and Arma series”, which in my humble opinion is a darn good place to be.
Design wise they use game mechanics, elaborate voice communication, as well as the realistic large scale deployment of equipment and building in order to promote a sense of team-play and realism. As of the Early Access release there are two maps available, a 16km^2 map based on a real world location in Afghanistan, as well as a shooting range and training map. So as of the Early Access release there are a total of four factions, five maps across two real world conflict zones, as well as four individual game modes.
This game has been touted as one of the most promising and ambitious shooter titles of the year, and honestly it deserves that boast. If you get the chance to pick it up, please do. It’s a lot of fun.
- Third Place – Black Mesa – Crowbar Collective – Early Access May 5, 2015
Black Mesa is another favorite of mine, taking the fan favorite classic “Half-Life” and totally rejuvenating it with modern graphics technologies,higher definition models, textures and and an entire barrel of polish. So far all stages but the last are just about complete.
They state, “Making a game with the scope and scale of Black Mesa is a massive undertaking. Back in 2012 we made the decision to release what we had completed up to that point, and were blown away by the community’s response, feedback, and improvements to our work. We want to keep that relationship alive and well by using Early Access as a tool for allowing our community to participate in the final phase of Black Mesa’s development.
In addition, our ambitions go beyond the original Xen chapters found in Half-Life. We have a standard of quality that we have to achieve. Early Access allows us to commit resources to bring you the remaining chapters with the quality that you expect.”
“We currently have the first ~85% of our single player campaign completed. For the last 15% we want to not only recreate it, but improve upon it to make it an enjoyable and memorable experience. We feel it will take us considerable time to get the last 15% up to our standards, and putting a time estimate on it would be a total guess.”
Their page goes on to boast 10 hours of a single player campaign, a multiplayer deathmatch and team deathmatch mode, along with 6 completely re-imagined Half-Life 1 maps on the updated Source Engine. I’ve put a good amount of time into this title myself and I keep finding myself awestruck with how gorgeous they’ve made one of my fondest gaming memories look.
- Fourth Place – Besiege – Spiderling – Early Access Jan 28, 2015
Besiege is described as “a physics based building game in which you create war machines and lay waste to peaceful hamlets and lonely outposts. You must build a machine which can fulfil multiple objectives, from razing windmills to wiping out battalions of brave soldiers and transporting valuable Ore Stones. Create a trundling behemoth, or take to the skies, and let loose in fully destructible environments. Ultimately, you must conquer all Kingdoms by crippling their castles and killing their men and livestock.”
Basically it’s madness through engineering in all the best ways. I’ve spent a good amount of time on youtube checking out some of the crazy monstrosities people have cobbled together and this game looks like a total blast. I personally haven’t gotten my hands on it but I certainly want to. Their seems to be almost and endless stream of new blocks put in the game regularly and they are always something new and different from their past additions. This game certainly deserves it’s place on this top ten.
- Fifth Place – Rocket League – Psyonix – Released Jul 7, 2015
Rocket League is unlike any game I’ve played, but at the same time all too familiar. Honestly it’s this mix that makes it such a flipping (ha puns) blast (more puns!). Rocket League takes over the top racing games like Burnout, Flatout, and Rush 2049 and turns them on their head by mixing it with of all things, soccer. You can boost, jump, ramp, stunt, and otherwise steer yourself through the air around a highly detailed arena to knock a comically oversized ball into the opposite teams net. Sound simple right? Wrong. This game is utter chaos and it really gives everyone that plays an opportunity to shine and pull off some absolutely bonkers shots, tricks and saves.
Some of the features include an All-new Season Mode that allows players to enjoy a full single-player experience, extensive Battle-Car customizations with more than 10 billion possible combinations, unlockable items and vehicles, stat tracking, leaderboards, and more, addictive 8-player online action with a variety of different team sizes and configurations and countless other features which are constantly being updated. This game is absolutely exciting and a thrill to play so if I were you I’d definitely put this on your list of “must haves” of 2015.
- Sixth Place – Soma – Frictional Games – Released Sep 22, 2015
First thing I’ll tell you is that I’ve not touched this title, and not because it’s bad. I’m a total wuss. I simply freak out too much to properly play a game this frightening, so I reserve the right to just watch others play. Frictional Games the creators of the groundbreaking Amnesia and Penumbra series of popular repute have created “SOMA; an aberrant tale of scientific inquiry and survival; an entropic exploration of synapse and circuit that wades through the delusions of human consciousness.” Having barely gotten through the first Amnesia due to my heart nearly stopping, I expect much of the same from this title plus all the new benefits from modern tech and story telling that they’ve picked up through experience.
Another huge feature Soma touts is high mod-ability. If you are at all familiar with modding Amnesia on the HPL2 engine, you may enjoy the new features that come with SOMA’s HPL3 Engine which expand your creative freedom immensely. Features such as global sunlight with full shadow support, terrain generation with dynamic terrain, LODHDR lighting with filmic tone mapping, the introduction of a custom shading language, HPSL, Particle collision, Depth of Field, Coloured Specular, Streaming (no loading screens between levels), Tessellation, Fly Mode (an in-editor “fly” cam), Poser EditMode (an in-editor skeleton manipulator tool), Colour Picker, and Particle Editor.
If you love horror games, this will probably be right up your alley. A very dark alley.
- Seventh Place – Prison Architect – Introversion Software – Released Oct 6, 2015
I think their description is best in this instance. “Build and Manage A Maximum Security Prison. Prison Architect is the world’s latest Prison Management Sim. Starting with an empty plot of land you must construct a holding cell with basic water and electricity to house your first batch of prisoners, to buy you enough time to create a proper cell block.”
This game is a heck of a good time. Never before have I though managing a building full of criminals and murderers could be so much fun. On top of it the game has Steam Workshop which allows endless possibilities (Like managing an Imperial Prison in the Star Wars universe).
It’s easy to lose time in this game just setting things up, and its even easier to get side tracked with a personal project and end up with no money and your game ending. Though you can adjust the difficulty to your liking, out of the box it adds the right amount of challenge and fun and really lets you just chill, relax and play. The best bit is you can pick up and play in a matter of seconds and start a new game just as fast if things aren’t going to your liking. The graphics are a bit simplistic, but it honestly adds to the games overall charm and allows you to easily tell what’s going on on screen.
- Eighth Place – Verdun – M2H – Released Apr 27, 2015
As I personally don’t know much about this title I’ll leave the description to the creators.
“Verdun is the first multiplayer FPS set in a realistic First World War setting. The merciless trench warfare offers a unique battlefield experience, immersing you and your squad into intense battles of attack and defense.
The game takes place on the western front between 1914 and 1918, in one of the bloodiest conflicts in world history. The developers were inspired by the infamous Battle of Verdun France in 1916. The game includes many historically accurate features such as realistic WW1 weaponry, authentic uniforms and maps based on the real battlefields of France and Belgium.
The Frontlines game mode is unique in its tactical complexity. The realistic trenches are challenging to fight in and require tactical cunning to capture and defend. The Entente and Central Powers strive to gain control of frontline sectors. One battle you’re rushing the enemy trenches during an offensive battle in order to gain ground. In another battle you might be defending your recently conquered ground against an enemy counter-attack.
Players can choose to be part of one of the many squad-types in the game, each of whom have their own distinct tactical role. By working together with your friends, you can earn experience that improves the power and versatility of your squad. As you gain more experience fighting and get promoted in rank, you also earn Career Points which you can use to unlock specializations, weapons and Rifle Deathmatch is a free-for-all game mode, where all players are pitted against each other in a thrilling contest of skill using only bolt-action rifles.”
Verdun key features include:
- Realistic World War 1 gameplay: Authentic weaponry with realistic bullet physics, skill based weapon handling, poisonous gas with a claustrophobic gas mask experience and artillery barrages
- Tactical squad-based FPS: Unique squad leveling system, distinct squad types and roles, voice chat
- True trench warfare: Real-time dynamic frontline with momentum-based attack and counter-attack gameplay
- Authentic World War 1 setting: Typical WW1 music and style, historical battlefields set on the Western Front
- Challenging game modes: Team-based Frontline and skill-based Rifle Deathmatch
It’s definitely ambitious and it’s certainly on my list of “games I’ve gotta get”.
- Ninth Place – ARK: Survival Evolved – Studio Wildcard – Early Access June 2, 2015
ARK: Survival Evolved hits a sweet spot for me. Survival games are a particular favorite. Plus DINOSAURS?! You’re damn right dinosaurs!
“As a man or woman stranded naked, freezing and starving on the shores of a mysterious island called ARK, you must hunt, harvest resources, craft items, grow crops, research technologies, and build shelters to withstand the elements. Use your cunning and resources to kill or tame the leviathan dinosaurs and other primeval creatures roaming the land, and team up with or prey on hundreds of other players to survive, dominate… and escape!”
Really this game is the genre at it’s best. While it may not run the best on everyone’s rig quite yet, it will certainly receive optimization as soon as the game is further developed. The attention to detail and care for their product is evident in this game as nothing feels cheap or derivative. Your character, persistent per world, has a slew of RPG like statistics that can be improved upon through different equipment and found items, some of which are used in the expansive crafting system. Along with their expansive crafting system is their building system, which goes with it hand in hand. You must harvest, fight, explore and discover to get the materials you need for your tech, buildings and various equipment.
ARK currently features over 30 dinosaurs at Early Access start and 70+ planned for the final release. That’s a lot of lizard. Another exciting features is summoning mythical creatures. By bringing rare sacrificial items to a special Summon location, of which there are many, you can summon one of the ARK’s god-like mythical creatures who will show up angry and ready to fight. These behemoth creatures form an end-game goal for the most experienced groups of players and their dino pets, and will drop super rare and valuable progression when defeated.
Steam workshop is also implemented into the title, so fan based content will be a a part from the start. With sandbox games having an open ended experience is ultra valuable and opening your game to modding is about the best move you could make.
Graphically and creatively ARK features Unreal Engine 4, with fully dynamic lighting & global illumination, weather systems (rain, fog, snow, etc) & true-to-life volumetric cloud simulation, and the latest in advanced DirectX11 and DirectX12 rendering techniques. The music of this title is composed by the award-winning composer of “Ori and the Blind Forest”, Gareth Coker.
Were it a little bit more polished as of this point in time, I’m sure it would have landed higher on this list.
- Tenth Place – Undertale – tobyfox – Released Sep 15, 2015
Since it’s release, Undertale has caused quite a buzz in the gaming community with opinions ranging from “game of the year” to “trash”. Regardless however you look like it Undertale is a downright great game with incredible polish and a charm that harkens back to the 8 and 16 bit era’s of gaming. Some say pixel graphics and that classic style have been done to death, but honestly it just needed to be done right enough times. Games like Starbound and Terraria are dominating the sprite based style of art to new heights and Undertale really takes it in stride and shows that it can run with the big dogs in all the best ways. Unlike Starbound and Terraria which are sandbox rpg platformers more akin to a metroidvania mixed with minecraft, Undertale is an RPG in its purest form. There’s this thing about it though, and it’s that should you so choose, you haven’t got to kill anyone. The choices you make in this game directly impact the direction of your experience. Games have touted before that they have “choices that matter”, and in this case it’s more than true. The last game to make me so conflicted was “Life is Strange”, which has choices that WILL give you the feels. Undertale is much the same, but in a much more classic execution.
Now to the story itself which I’ll leave with this short line from their website, any more and we venture into spoiler territory. “Welcome to UNDERTALE. In this RPG, you control a human who falls underground into the world of monsters. Now you must find your way out… or stay trapped forever.”
Undertale boasts a bevy of features(some of which I’ve mentioned) that are incredibly intriguing.
- Killing is unnecessary: negotiate out of danger using the unique battle system.
- Time your attacks for extra damage, then dodge enemy attacks in a style reminiscent of top-down shooters.
- Original art and soundtrack brimming with personality.
- Soulful, character-rich story with an emphasis on humor.
- Created mostly by one person.
- Become friends with all of the bosses!
- At least 5 dogs.
- You can date a skeleton.
- Hmmm… now there are 6 dogs…?
- Maybe you won’t want to date the skeleton.
- I thought I found a 7th dog, but it was actually just the 3rd dog.
- If you play this game, can you count the dogs for me…? I’m not good at it.
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on the winning entries and will give some of them a try.
Oh and one last thing, I’d also like to direct you to ModDB’s Top Ten Mods of 2015 which boasts some of the best community made content available.