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2017 was an unusually strong year for video games, and some of them had nothing to do with the surplus of big-budget shooters and open-world adventures. In fact, a lot of those stellar experiences came from small, independent developers.
To honor their achievements, GamesBeat partnered with Intel to choose the top 20 indie games of the year. Among other factors, we looked at titles that offered unique experiences and told captivating stories. The list represents a group of games that push the boundaries of the medium in one way or another.
Here, in no particular order, are the games we came up with.
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It’s rare for developers (indie or triple-A) to release back-to-back hits. But somehow, Supergiant Games is 3-for-3 with the release of Pyre (PlayStation 4 and PC). Like Bastion and Transistor before it, Pyre invites you to explore a fascinating new world filled with memorable characters. In the game, players have to escape purgatory by teaming with a small cast of outsiders to beat other tribes in an ancient ritual — think basketball, but with fire and magic.
Beautiful artwork, meaningful dialogue choices, and an atmospheric soundtrack round out the exquisite package.
Gamers weren’t starving for horror games last year (especially with Resident Evil 7 and The Evil Within 2 leading the charge), but Detention managed to carve its own spooky niche on PC. It’s a 2D point-and-click adventure that takes place in Taiwan during the 1960s, where you play as a pair of students trying to escape from the grotesque creatures haunting their high school.
Part of what makes Detention stand out is how developer Red Candle Games uses a tumultuous time in Taiwan’s history — a period of martial law called the White Terror — to add real-world weight to its horror story.
SteamWorld Dig 2
Over the past few years, Swedish developer Image & Form has been building a unique video game universe about sentient robots exploring their worlds. The latest is SteamWorld Dig 2 (PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC), a vibrant platformer that greatly improves on the mechanics from the original game. You’ll find a variety of satisfying power-ups that’ll help you in your underground adventures.
According to GamesBeat PC gaming editor Jeff Grubb, SteamWorld Dig 2 did everything right. On his top 10 list of 2017, he said the game is “so effortless in its execution of its elements that it almost makes me wonder why every game isn’t this wonderful.”
Divinity: Original Sin 2
2017 was also a banner year for role-playing game fans, who had plenty of flavors (from traditional JRPGs to action-RPGs) to choose from. But even with the tough competition, Divinity: Original Sin 2 (PC) still managed to stand out. Larian Studios’s sequel to the critically acclaimed Divinity: Original Sin astonished players with its open-ended combat system, sharp writing, and an emotional storyline.
Original Sin 2 was the No. 1 game on GamesBeat managing editor Jason Wilson’s top 10 list, where he proclaimed that it was “the best RPG to come out not just this year but in recent memory.”
You can’t talk about gaming in 2017 without mentioning Studio MDHR’s Cuphead (Xbox One and PC). The alluring combination of a 1930s cartoon aesthetic and super difficult platforming created a ton of buzz when it debuted at a Microsoft press briefing more than three years ago. And the story behind its development is nothing short of inspiring. Two brothers — Chad and Jared Moldenhauer — risked it all to make their dream game a reality.
For many players, Cuphead was worth the wait. Studio MDHR recently announced that the game sold over 2 million copies across both platforms.
Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods (PS4, Xbox One, and PC) is a striking, narrative-driven adventure game from developer Infinite Fall, who ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for the project in 2013. The story follows Mae, a college dropout who returns home to reconnect with old friends. But the town of Possum Springs is also harboring some strange secrets, and it’s up to her to uncover it.
Night in the Woods was one of GamesBeat reporter Stephanie Chan’s favorite games of the year. She said Possum Springs makes the world feel alive, and that “No matter how flippant or comedic the characters are, you feel that there’s a deep throbbing wound at the center of this place.”
Scottish developer No Code describes Stories Untold (PC) as a “compilation tape,” cheekily playing into the retro ‘80s aesthetic that inspired the game. The short horror anthology has four interconnected episodes, and the gameplay is an engrossing mix of various adventure genres (including text and point-and-click).
It won’t take you long to solve Stories Untold’s puzzles, but its creepy soundtrack and unsettling narrative will stick with you for a long time.
Despite its name, Golf Story (Nintendo Switch) isn’t too concerned about replicating the real-world rules behind the sport. It’s an easygoing RPG where your golf club can help solve different problems, like helping a kid escape from alligators or earning extra experience points by finding hidden holes in the world.
In his review, VentureBeat head of social Anthony Agnello said that Golf Story is “confident, smooth, and its lighter-than-light approach to everything from art to humor to play is perfectly matched with the Switch’s play anytime, anywhere form factor.”
Nex Machina (PS4 and PC) is a fast-paced twin-stick shooter from a dream team of developers: the arcade experts at Housemarque and Eugene Jarvis (the influential creator of ‘80s arcade hits Defender and Robotron: 2084). The goal is to free humanity from their robot overlords by destroying the deadly machines with a host of different weapons and power-ups.
In his initial impressions piece, PC gaming editor Jeff Grubb said he dug Nex Machina’s colorful graphics and its “baller techno soundtrack.”
Sumo Digital’s Snake Pass (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC) is a slithery alternative to the usual jump-heavy platformers. You play as the cheery Noodle, who moves around a lot like a real snake. Crawling in an S-shape makes you go faster, and lifting your head up as you move helps you wrap your body around different obstacles. And the collectibles (coins, orbs, and magic stones) scattered throughout each level constantly test your mastery of the controls.
Originally, the idea for Snake Pass came from an internal game jam. According to Sumo Digital, creator Sebastian Liese wanted to make “a love letter to both the favorite games of his youth and his childhood pet snake.”
Dead Cells (PC) almost didn’t exist. For years, French studio Motion Twin was making free-to-play games for Internet browsers and mobile devices; but as the market became more complex, the developers knew they needed to make a change. They abandoned F2P altogether to make their dream project, a side-scrolling action game inspired by Super Metroid, Castlevania, and the roguelike genre.
Though Dead Cells is still unfinished, its popularity quickly rose when it debuted on Steam’s Early Access program in May 2017. Critics loved the detailed pixel art and the smooth, satisfying combat.
West of Loathing
Don’t let the stick-man art fool you; West of Loathing (PC) is actually a hilarious western RPG. Your goal is to explore the black-and-white frontier and battle all kinds of monsters and bandits. The game’s pun-filled item descriptions and absurdist humor is developer Asymmetric Publications’s specialty — it’s the same studio behind the long-running browser-based MMO, Kingdom of Loathing.
In her positive review, reporter Stephanie Chan said West of Loathing has an “unapologetically silly sense of humor that would make Mel Brooks proud.”
What Remains of Edith Finch
The second game from developer Giant Sparrow (PS4, Xbox One, and PC) is a moving, contemplative experience. You play as Edith, the last living member of the Finches, and she’s trying to figure out the truth about a supposed family curse. You’ll experience the lives of former relatives through a series of flashbacks, which ultimately reveal how they died.
GamesBeat lead writer Dean Takahashi enjoyed the personal stories hidden in the Finch home. He said Giant Sparrow succeeded at “creating an experience in a video game that I’ve never had before.”
Aether Interactive’s Localhost (PC) is an adventure game set in the far-flung future. You just started a new job in a repair shop for AI-driven robots, and one of your first tasks is to reformat four hard drives. The problem is that their AI personalities are still intact, and they’ll try their damnedest to convince you not to erase them.
Reporter Stephanie Chan praised Localhost’s exploration of morally grey areas, saying that it’s the “kind of game that raises a lot of questions, and none of them have simple answers.”
Everything is going to be OK
Creator Nathalie Lawhead describes Everything is going to be OK (PC) as a “commentary on struggle” in our everyday lives. It’s an interactive zine that contains a collection of dark but relatable stories as told through cartoon characters. But the game ultimately has an uplifting message: no matter what hardships you’re going through, you’re not alone.
For Lawhead, looking at self-esteem issues, depression, trauma, and other topics through a comedic lens was important. In an interview with GamesBeat, she said, “Life is ridiculous. It’s one damn thing after another. You make the best of it. You roll with the punches.”
Torment: Tides of Numenera
Developer InXile Entertainment describes Torment: Tides of Numenera (PS4, Xbox One, and PC) as the “thematic successor” to Planescape: Torment, the landmark 1999 RPG. It takes place in the fantasy world of Numenera, where, as the former vessel of a god, you must carve out a new life for yourself. It’s less about combat and more about storytelling — as well as making tough choices along the way.
Torment was another 2017 favorite for managing editor (and resident CRPG expert) Jason Wilson. He said it has “one of the best-written stories of the year.”
Bury me, my Love
The plight of millions of Syrian refugees — who are escaping from the country’s civil war — is made personal in Bury me, my Love (iOS and Android). It focuses on the fictional couple Nour and Majd. Nour is fleeing to Germany while her husband is staying in Syria to take care of his family. You’ll track Nour’s journey (and help her make crucial choices) from Majd’s perspective via simulated text messages.
While both of them are in precarious situations, the game isn’t always so dour. According to reporter Stephanie Chan, you’ll see Nour’s “sassy sense of humor” and Majd’s bookishness come through in their intimate conversations.
Three Field Entertainment’s Danger Zone (PS4, Xbox One, and PC) is laser-focused on one thing: dramatic vehicular mayhem. And that makes sense given the developers’ heritage, some of whom worked on the iconic Burnout franchise. Danger Zone is like a standalone version of Burnout’s score-chasing crash mode, challenging you to create bigger and bigger explosions using all sorts of cars and obstacles.
PC Gaming editor Jeff Grubb had a hard time putting Danger Zone down when it first came out. He said the physics-based gameplay felt “quite magical.”
2064: Read Only Memories
In 2064: Read Only Memories (PS4, PlayStation Vita, and PC), San Francisco studio Midboss transformed its home city into a cyberpunk paradise. Like its inspirations Snatcher and Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father, ROM is a point-and-click adventure game where you hit the streets of Neo-San Francisco to find information about your missing friend. It has an eclectic cast of characters, including your helpful robot partner, Turing.
The game is actually an enhanced version of the original 2015 release. The 2017 update (coinciding with the PS4 port) added new art, voice actors, and puzzles.
Kingsway (PC) is a tribute to both classic RPGs and ‘90s-era Windows operating systems. The latter is evident in the pseudo-Windows interface where the entire game takes place. Solo developer Andrew Morrish cleverly repurposed traditional RPG staples — like inventories, combat, and quests — so that they feel like a natural part of the OS.
Reporter Stephanie Chan gave Kingsway a score of 85/100, saying that she “enjoyed the novelty of the interface along with the ability to experiment with maximizing different character classes.”
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