Below is my Top 10 list of the best Indie sci-fi video games. What is an Indie game? Wikipedia defines it as follows:
Independent video games (commonly referred to as indie games) are video games created by individuals or small teams generally without video game publisher financial support. Indie games often focus on innovation and rely on digital distribution.
So why put together a list of great Indie games? Well, money isn’t everything and many times great video game titles are overlooked due to their lack of finances, big name branding, or significant marketing. With the expanse of digital systems like Steam and various console eShops, Indie titles are more accessible than ever before. Check out my favorites and then comment below with yours.
Top 10 Indie Sci-Fi Video Games
The term “Faster Than Light” is a generic term to deal with the realities of having to break certain fundamental laws of physics to journey to the stars. FTL’s approach is that of Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica’s warping of space to instantaneously teleport to another part of space. The jump’s sound and visual effects are an obvious nod to the show. But plot wise, instead of running from Cylons, the brave souls of your little ship are off to warn the government of an impending revolution and to stop a massive ship.
The plot of the game isn’t its best draw, it’s the game mechanics. FTL is basically an 8-bit styled starship simulator. You reroute power from one system to another, strategically target vital enemy systems, all the while choosing when and where to fire. Timing is very important in this game, a glaive beam with shields up is pointless but if the enemy can be caught with their shields down, this weapon it can be devastating. Missiles, on the other hand, punch through the shields but are more expensive. Another option is to simply board the ship when there is a gap in shield coverage, kill its crew, and salvage parts at leisure. You can even board the enemy ship mid-combat, take out the life support, and let the bad guys suffocate. The choice is yours.
Choice is another great mechanic in the game. It isn’t about jumping to a sector and killing the baddies. The game presents you with problems and options, with choices having various short term outcomes. All of this is randomized to keep the game fresh and fun. How and what is done in the game determines your ship’s load out as you advance to the final goal and confrontation with the enemy flagship.
Let’s face it, this game isn’t easy. As with a lot of other 8-bit games, it’s actually quite hard. The chief tactic to remember in this game is to play the best hand you’re dealt. But also remember Cpt. Picard, “It is possible to commit no errors and still lose… That is not a weakness that is life.” FTL scratches that itch you always had to command a starship and it hits its mark far better than so many other big name titles try to do.
This game is an alien invasion take on the sub-genre of tower defense. Simply put, this real-time strategy styled game is about stopping the enemy from reaching its objective, to keep the insectoid aliens from taking your vital computer cores. If they take all of them, you lose and your people die. What sets this game apart from other games in the sub-genre is routing the nasty little bug’s path. You build your towers in a way that forces them to go the long way around or take extra laps around well armed section. This is a great way to slow them down; it’s a great little mini puzzle in itself.
In the game there are towers that house various types of offensive weapons, from short range and cheap machine guns all the way up to longer range cannons. Flamethrowers roast groups and lasers zap the fast ones; you get the idea. There are also support towers that boost the capabilities of existing ones. Boosting revenue, gathering intel, or slowing the alien bugs down. All of these towers can be upgraded to increase firepower when and where you need. You’ll soon learn in this game that real estate is precious.
Defense Grid also sports an excellent narrative to go along with its depth of game play. Superbly acted, the narrator sucks you into the story. Turning a basic bug killing game into a desperate, last stand attempt to save your society. You are the last line of defense and the narrator makes you believe it.
Input: Keyboard and Mouse
Bastion’s greatest achievement is its story and how it is told. Narrated by a deep jazzy voice that evokes the country twang of Firefly, it draws the player into this world of calamity. Some cataclysmic event has ripped apart the world and the player has to save what they can in this lifeboat of a town called Bastion. This action game is about holding onto what you can after a tragedy, poignant in this post 9/11 world. This sense of the world’s loss is all delivered by narrator who doesn’t just feed the you the story, he comments on your actions with quotes like:
“the kid gave as good as he got” (when you first get skilled at reflecting hits)
and at the end:
“But then? All he got was more thankless work, from a man who ain’t even asked his name. Sure, I may be the one who dreamt up the Walls and the Bastion, but the Kid made ’em real, not me. I’d like to say I’ll never forget him, or what he’s doin’. What he’s done. I surely would.”
This is a superb game that brings great storytelling in with some great combat. The soundtrack is also uniquely moving and brings in the mood of this adventure.
(#4) Binding of Isaac
Input: controller is best
This macabre game is about a troubled boy named Isaac who is tormented in life. Particularly by his overbearing, religiously conservative mother who blames him for being evil. Isaac must enlist both the forces of good and evil to escape the dungeon and ultimately confront his mother.
The game’s graphics are a simple 8-bit style that is all drawn in a crude, unassuming manner. The game’s real strength lies in the game play . The general feel of the game is something like the original top down style of the classic Legend of Zelda for the NES, gathering unique power-up items that drastically change game play and exploring dungeon like environments, all leading up to a boss fight. Great replay value and depth is given to the game by the huge amount of random items: 196 special items and 343 semi-special ones. Bosses, enemies, and dungeon layouts are all randomized so that even after a hundred plays, the game still feels fresh and enjoyable. Add on top of all of that, it has been updated for free several times in the form of free DLC. All of these makes this one of the best indie games out there. Behind the plain and simple art styles is an excellent Zelda styled game that shouldn’t be skipped over in any indie game list.
Utterly short, terribly pitiful, painful plot. This is The Stanley Parable, one of the most innovative games out there. From the first person perspective you follow the boring life of Stanley who is about to learn about free will. This game is a tongue-in-cheek critique about modern gaming and illusions of free will in gaming. In this game you’ll ask your self, ” Is that really a clever, outside the box, approach? Or are you just following the path down the maze to get some cheese that someone left for you.” If you follow the narrator’s directions the game comes to a short, safe ending, that is simply just boring. If at every turn you attempt to derail this narrative by going off the well-beaten path the narrator lets you know, often in humorous and snarky ways, as if your making the narrator’s job more difficult and being a nuisance. But all of these alternative paths are far more interesting, but ultimately go nowhere. It is in these alternate, clever routes where the fun is. It ends up being a commentary of the illusion of free will in all games and evokes all of those times the illusion of a world was shattered when you simply didn’t go where the game makers meant you to go. The Stanley Parable isn’t so much as game as it’s a work of art, an essay of video games in general. Play this one to freshen up your perspective on game culture.
Mark of The Ninja is an action game that makes you feel like a ninja. You will sneak; you will pounce down on unaware guards; you will out-think your opponents and if you like these sorta things then you will love this game. You will become the ninja. It does these things better than most other big name games try to do in the stealth genre. A neat little feature is its quick time events when you sneak attack a guard; do it right and he is taken out without a noise; do it wrong and his friends come to investigate his cry. Mark of the Ninja demonstrates that it’s better to be like a cobra, to be felt but not seen, an excellent ninja styled stealth game.
The plot follows a ninja protagonist who takes an ink tattoo that gives him heightened capabilities, a tradition that goes all the way back to ancient times. Forces that work against him want to make his clan modernized, replacing the ancient ways with high tech military hardware. The player has to decide what direction the clan’s future lays with. Will the ninja remain true to his ways or embrace something else? Bloody bodies and shadows await.
On the surface this just looks like another colorful beat’em up game, but there’s more to it. Guagamelee has a fantastic mechanic of timing and selecting special attacks that force the player to pay attention and think on their feet. The player has to choose which alternate reality he is in to strike opponents and beat puzzles. Choosing the right special attack against the right opponent is critical as well. This all built around a Metroid styled mechanic of new abilities, unlocking parts of the map that had always been just out of reach.
At its heart it still is just a beat’em up, but a surprisingly good one. All the other elements that make an excellent game are there, story, style, timing, pacing, and even some humor sprinkled in as the game never takes itself too seriously. This is a visually stunning game, sporting Luchador elements and other Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) flares. It’s a pleasure walk through this world. All the while excellent music that sets the mood as you beat thugs. This game’s claim to fame isn’t its originality, it’s Guacamelee’s ability to do the basics all so perfectly that makes it stand apart. Don’t let the looks of the game fool you, it is an excellent beat’em up game!
The best homage to 8-bit platforming is Super Meat Boy and the game shouldn’t need much introduction. It hints and nods to classic games at every turn through cut scenes and game play and its music is actually quite good considering the mood of the game. Though not much to look at graphically speaking, it has a nice unifying simplistic style that is charming and grows on you. Its game play is hardcore platforming, the kind that would make the most skilled veterans of the 8-bit era shocked. A rampant fast moving parkour rush approach to levels. Imagine speed runs of Super Mario Bros. and you start to get the idea. It encourages you to charge boldly in to dangerous levels, without a moments hesitation, acting instead on instinct and reflexes. Super Meat Boy goes where angels fear tread. Overthinking in this game will get you killed. Often you’ll find yourself getting the furthest on the first attempt just to be snuffed out by hesitating in another run. But the rewards of making it through a stage are incredible, seeing the replay of you zipping to the goal, watching your failures die off in an all encompassing replay of all attempts at the stage. What’s most excellent about the game is its crisp controls. Taking on these hazardous levels is like cruising down the Alps in Lamborghini. You always feel in control. When you die, you blame yourself; the game never feels like it cheated you into death, so you never feel frustrated regardless of how hard it gets. This is something a lot of retro games fail at, making it difficult and yet still fun Super Meat Boy excels at it. It’s fair to say the game can be found at the top of many Indie game lists.
This game is all about starting with your little adventurer at the top of the map and working your way down to the exit. Using bombs and ropes to go down, collecting gold and jewels as you go to buy items. All of this done in classic 8-bit style. Levels are randomized to give the player great replay value and the game’s mechanics are strict yet rewarding. Spelunky encourages the player to “look before they leap”, making players go about things carefully and cautiously. Totally different from the game Super Meat Boy. Every move is thought out and gone about carefully; an impulsive player won’t last long in the caves. Deliberation is needed. This game’s deceptive difficulty brings the game down a notch on the list but is still plenty of fun to play as there are numerous, creative enemies and items to change game play up.
Torchlight looks like Diablo, sounds like, plays like, and in many ways is very much like Diablo. This would be a rip off except two of the co-designers for it, Max Schaefer and Erich Schaefer, left Diablo to come make this. But simply put, if you like Diablo, then you’ll like this game. It offers many modernized ideas to dungeoneering and loot gathering that improve upon the classics. All dungeons and loot drops are randomized but also have scripted events blended into them to keep the story moving along. Respectable graphics and great music make for a great ambiance to go with your hack and slash, spell casting action. And the sequel is actually quite good as well supporting many Steampunk themes.
Have you played any on my Indie sci-fi game list? Did I leave something off you think deserves a spot in the Top 10? Comment below!