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Best Indie PC Games of 2011

Cthuloops
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Posted December 13, 2011 - By Rob Manuel


  • Videos
    (24)
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  • Videos
    (26)
  • Screenshots
  • Cheats and Walkthroughs

The Indie Games of 2011

I’ve rewritten this list at least twenty times. After sorting through all the amazing indie games that came out this year for the PC--from Terry Cavanagh’s co-op masterpiece, At a Distance, to the student built adrenaline racer, Nitronic Rush-- I can assure you that PC gaming is far from dead. You need to only look as far as your PC to see just how alive the genre is. Picking five of the best titles took many long nights and more cups of coffee than I care to remember. Honestly, I never saw so much innovation, creativity, or simple love of gaming as I have with all of the indie games that came out this year.

And yes, I didn’t include Minecraft on the list simply because I wanted to give a couple of other games a chance to shine. Play it now if you haven’t already. Just because I’m not talking about Minecraft directly, you’ll see that its influence has already spread far and wide. Sit back and get ready to play some of the best games that came out this year.

The Binding of Isaac

Honestly, one of the reasons I really love this game comes from having to explain the premise to people, and watching their faces as I do so. When Isaac’s mother hears the voice of God telling her to sacrifice her son, this tormented ten-year old find a convenient trapdoor leading into the basement where he must fight twisted monstrosities to get out alive. This rogue-like dungeon crawler sends our beloved hero through five levels of randomly generated dungeon crawling goodness with your tears as your only weapons. Yes, you kill headless goons, giant slugs, and the seven deadly sins with only your tears. Of course, you pick up a variety of items to help you along the way but most of these items will remain a mystery until you try them out. Not everything you find will be helpful. Pop the wrong pill or flip over the wrong card and you’ll often end up in a worse situation than where you began. Once you run out of hearts, it’s game over, man. For a game so brutal and unforgiving, I cannot help but come back again and again.

Only Edmund McMillen, half of Team Meat, could get away with combining a story from the Bible, Legend of Zelda, and graphics both disturbing and cute at the same time. As with Super Meat Boy, challenging gameplay keeps the player coming back. Limited resources, as well as only receiving most items after battle, makes entering every uncharted room a risky decision. Item interaction also changes the pace of the game every time you play it. Even when you walk into the same room in a different game, wielding a laser eye or depending on a dead fetus as a second shooter can make all the difference of seeing one of eleven possible endings. Since launch, Edmund has added a variety of new items, enemies, bosses, and even a new ending. With more DLC mentioned, this may just be one nightmare you’ll never want to escape.

Terraria

Terraria

Imagine waking up in a world where you have nothing but the clothes on your back and the need to get away from monsters. Gather resources by chopping down trees or digging in the ground to build houses to create weapons, and the tools that you’ll need to survive this harsh realm. Sound familiar? The developers of Terraria might have borrowed a page from the Gospel of Minecraft, but they’ve made this game all their own with unique NPC characters, massive bosses, and a focus more on adventure. While you might lose a dimension, Terraria ratchets up the 2D action with tons of unique weapons to fight of some rather vicious enemies. And with more content always on the horizon, this may be the one adventure that you’ll never want to end.

With the turn-around of games getting faster and faster, copying and pasting ideas seems to be far easier than coming up with their own. But at the same time, we build upon the mechanics of the games before us. Terraria gets it right by transforming mechanics into their world filled with bigger monsters and more people for you to join you in your journey. It’s a game that’s so vast that it never feels as though you’re treading over the same ground.

SpaceChem

I’m not going to lie to you. SpaceChem isn’t the sexiest puzzle game around. But this isn’t the kind of puzzle game you come home to after a long day at the office. You control the nuts and bolts of a molecular assembly line – where to go, when to turn, when you have to wait, and so on. SpaceChem finds you manipulating the building blocks of matter the way Henry Ford intended – with an assembly line. Yes, this is the kind of puzzle game for people who fill out The New York Times Crossword Puzzle with a pen filled with their own blood.

The single player game throws you through the gambit of scenarios ranging from fulfilling orders to saving the world from devastation. Molecules start small but gradually increase in size and complexity. Once you complete a puzzle, the game tallies up a score for the global leaderboard which you can try to beat through replays. Elegantly designed and at times, brain-bashing hard; anyone with two neurons firing in their head must play this game.

As a side note, Zachtronic Industries, the makers of SpaceChem, were previously known for another title, Infiniminer. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, the gameplay mechanics may just jog you memory. Players dig around in a box-based sandbox world as they carve out tunnels in search of minerals. The mechanics stuck with one Markus Persson who later created Minecraft.

Frozen Synapse

Frozen Synapse

Often referred to as “chess with shotguns,” Frozen Synapse reinvents and elevates the turn-based tactical genre to meet the demands of modern gamers. The design is kept to a minimum to focus only on the important information in the environment as you try to hunt down the other team or simply stay alive. Action takes a matter of seconds as both teams move and follow out order simultaneously. During the planning stage, however, players can really take their time to move around each piece of the puzzle to discover holes in their defense or exploit their opponent. Aiming slows down your units but can quickly take down a unit running for cover. Hiding in cover can give you an advantage to units in the open but you can be easily flanked if the enemy knows where you’re hiding. Frozen Synapse perfects the genre through multiple modes, multiplayer options, and a map generator that always willing to throw a new challenge your way.

Jamestown

Sometimes it’s not just one thing that makes you love a game. Jamestown first won me over with style. 16-bit Revolutionary War set on Mars with a steampunk coating gets my attention every time. In this alternative history, red coats hit the red planet as you try to fight back the invasion and make your way through bullet hell. Orchestral electronic music melds with a choir of voices creating one of the best soundtracks of the year. I’ve often wished that some of the stages lasted a bit longer so that I could hear just a few measures more. The game is filled with big weapons and even bigger bosses. Jamestown even throws in a rather unique mechanic with the shield. More than just a get-out-of-jail-free button, the bubble of protection expands around the ship to collapse into a score multiplier. Players keep the multiplier going by collecting bolts dropped from fallen enemies. It’s this high risk/high reward gameplay that makes Jamestown one of the shooters you need to wrap your little hands around.

Highly Honorable Mention

To The Moon – If I had just a reward for story, it would go to this downloable title. You play as a scientist sent into the memories of a dying man to fulfill a single wish. As you move back from the present and deeper into his past; his life, love, and lost becomes more painful than anyone should have to bare. While light on gameplay, To The Moon demonstrates the power of storytelling within the gaming medium.

Dungeons of Dredmore – It takes a lot for a game to keep you laughing while murdering you with little creatures. This rogue-like dungeon crawler is rather unapologetic when it comes to serving you a steaming pile of misery around every corner. With so many abilities to master, items to collect, quests to complete and enemies to destroy; starting all over again isn’t the worse thing in the world.

Atom Zombie Smasher – You will never look at pink dots the same way again. Atom Zombie Smasher puts you in charge of saving the city. As civilians scramble for the awaiting chopper, you drop grenades, setup traps, and blowup whole city blocks just to slow down the incoming invasion. Sacrifices must be made for the greater good as you’ll often have to lead some people to their doom to save the city. This brilliant fast-paced strategy will keep you on your toes as you try to keep the zombies at bay.

Gemini Rue – LucasArts might have left their days of adventure gaming in the past but a new company has taken up the mantel. Wadjet Eye Games wants to bring the retro days of point-and-click gaming back to the present with a game set in the future. Gemini Rue leaps into the distant future where two men can change a galaxy. You play as either a police informant searching for redemption or hospital patient searching for his identity.

Magicka – If RPG’s were movies, this would be Monty Python. Magicka gives you just enough power to kill yourself, your friends, and if you’re lucky, an enemy or two. By combining certain powers in a particular order; you can create everything from rock shields, meteor showers, and even the blue screen of death. Of course, you can hurt yourself just as well with a badly placed lightening bolt or fire spell. Play it with friends or people who you don’t mind hating later on.

Best Indie PC Games of 2011
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