Indie Game Reviewer’s Top Ten Best Indie Games of 2014
10. NEO Scavenger
Blue Bottle Games
“The debut commercial offering from Blue Bottle Games, NEO Scavenger is a brutal, detailed take on post-apocalyptic survival. Because it’s turn-based and text-driven, you’ll have plenty of time to make each decision. In a fight? You can try to tackle your opponent or punch him or even try and talk to him. Even small decisions can make the difference between life and death; you’re starving, but the only thing to eat is a handful of berries that might be poisonous…do you risk it?
9. TRI: Of Friendship and Madness
Rat King Entertainment
TRI showed us that sometimes the best puzzles are the ones that you can solve in more than just the ways they were intended. With a unique approach that allows you to take on problems from literally any angle and an art style that is both trippy and themed but without over-doing it, this is a game that I would easily recommend to any modern puzzle game or Portal fan. ~ HappyWulf
8. Shovel Knight
Yacht Club Games
Whether you grew up in the 8-bit era or simply love the gameplay focus of ‘retro’ titles, Shovel Knight recreates perfectly the look, feel and challenge that make these titles remain so popular. Shovel Knight not only allows for some clever use of special abilities, but then also encourages you to show how good you really are by completing it without them! This along with a NG+ makes Shovel Knight stick around much longer than a single play-through. ~ HappyWulf
Bob The PR Bot
“Survivalist has been compared, the developer admits, to State of Decay (published by Microsoft Studios and built on CryEngine 3), but I actually found Survivalist far more engaging and playable from the outset. I should admit that it took me three or four very frustrated restarts to get the hang of things. That is when I learned to use the multiple Save slots liberally, and also that not everything will be obvious or explained before you actually need to know about it.
At first I faulted the developer for this, but then I got to liking the game’s uncompromising scenario. It has a little of the old Dark Souls to it that all the kids are talking about these days (minus all that spirit world stuff). In Survivalist, dead means dead. You’d better have saved!
Incredibly well-crafted for a single person enterprise, and on XNA at that, Survivalist is one of the best XBLIGs I have ever played. If you still have an XBOX 360 and still have it plugged in, I urge you to support the developer and give it a shot. It’ll cost you a fiver. (Editor’s note: Survivalist is now also available on Desura and has been Greenlit on Steam.)” ~ Indie Game Freak
6. Endless Legend
“Amplitude Studios’ Endless Legend is a mammoth and intricate breath of new life into the 4X genre, incorporating everything from turn-based strategic combat to circular technology pools. Intimidating in its complexity but revealing itself in small enough chunks to be manageable, this offers depths for any discerning strategy fan to delve.
More than revitalizing the 4X game, Endless Legend is also set in a strange and original science/fantasy world with magic powered by nanotechnology “Dust” (as revealed in the developers’ previous games). Instead of elves, goblins and skeletons, you’ll encounter or play as such strange entities as the insectoid Necrophages, ghostly Broken Lords and bio-mechanical nihilistic Cultists of the Eternal End.
“With its off the wall presentation style (think late 1950’s Cold War spy thriller cum alternate-future robotic dystopia), Jazzpunk quickly establishes its true purpose: unbridled ludicrous humor. As missions are completed, the narrative becomes increasingly ridiculous, and just when you think you’ve hit peak psychosis, you’re whisked away to a beach resort populated with multiple robotic Hunter S. Thompsons.
As is so often the case with material published by Adult Swim games, weird bordering on chattering insanity seems to be the raison d’etre. There’s an inside joke at play here, and while the laughs are plenty and frequent, it’s never entirely clear whether it’s the subject matter or the player who is intended to be butt of said joke. If you can put aside that paranoia, it’s well worth the trip down the rabbit hole.” ~ Adam “Callabrantus” Fimio
“Jazzpunk is one of the weirdest games of 2014, but that’s also why its one of the best. A stylized retro spy jaunt that plays like James Bond crossed with Playmobil, the offbeat story is so original, so funny, and packed with so much unexpected whimsy that it can’t help but leave an impression.
Jazzpunk deserves particular credit for taking the time to set up every single joke, using interactivity to draw the player into the gag and making the punch line that much more effective. The game is not a collection of random references. There’s a recognizable tone that cuts through the weirdness, making for a game that’s both fun and deceptively cerebral. Jazzpunk is a landmark title for the medium, a triumph of comedic storytelling that we’ll be talking about for a while.” ~ Eric Weiss
4. Legend of Grimrock 2
Almost Human Games
Really, this eye-poppingly immersive dungeon crawler could have taken GOTY. It is full of excitement, struggle, blissful challenge and surprise that satisfies every D&D gene left in your bloodline. The grid-based but realtime action mechanic is often alarming but methodically precise. At this level of iteration, particularly over its already strong precursor, it begins to defy classification. Try it. You’ll be hooked.
3. Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director’s Cut
“What should have been a routine espionage mission goes horribly wrong. Ancient destructive forces are awakening, and with a team still badly shaken, you must prepare for the coming onslaught, while tempering your own desire for vengeance.
This isometric view tactical turn-based strategy game is packed with a staggering amount of detail. Zoom in on any of the set-pieces, and marvel at the level of intricacy. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any evidence of a reused tileset here. Each character is highly customizable: As in Shadowrun’s analogue form, new abilities become available with each acquired experience level. You decide which skills to acquire, allowing you to build the type of team you want to play.
The story is well written, capturing a wide range of emotions in a fast moving tale. Some might begrudge the lack of any voice acting, but with character graphics as gorgeous as these, it doesn’t feel like an oversight at all.
We say, Jack In: The cyberpunk tabletop phenomenon that is Shadowrun has never had such a faithful digital representation.” ~ Adam “Callabrantus” Fimio
2. Dungeon of the Endless
This is an uncompromising dungeon defense Roguelike with enough RPG in it that you will assign points to various character stats and abilities, equip them and feed and water them. You will not use a joystick like it is an action arcade game, but you will feel like you should because it is fast and twitchlike in its desires. You will feel like you are maybe playing Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery EP in the Dead Space nightmare except that you are, in fact, in the Games2Gether-developed Endless Universe with its complete cast of truly original characters.
“Everything about Transistor is stellar. The combat was uniquely fun and satisfying, the story was cleverly fleshed out in an interesting way, the visuals were imaginatively striking, and its soundtrack was hauntingly beautiful. Everything about it was engaging and interesting, I couldn’t stop playing it, and when I finished the game I wanted to play through it all over again. It’s a game I won’t soon forget and one of the best games that I’ve played in years.” ~ FictiveTruism
The ability to slot memories as boosters and modifiers to attacks makes for one of the most impressive and customizable combat experiences I’ve encountered this year. Setting up for combat becomes a precise and measured affair, but call the shots correctly, and you can revel in the sound trouncing you administer to a pack of hefty foes.” ~ Adam “Callabrantus” Fimio
It is a tough call to make another game by the same studio our top choice for another year, but, like with Bastion, SuperGiant Games has created something that is so much greater than the sum of its already incredible parts. From the Bokeh lights that gleam across the field of view, to the gin-soaked nostalgia and decay that pervades the otherwise sterile yet esoteric dimension in which Transistor takes place, to the freaky time-warping TRON-meets-Blade Runner combat sequences that features an awe-inspiring power-up combining mechanic, this is just a studio operating on a totally different level.
We are lucky that we can have nice things like Transistor, and humble enough to step aside and let the Game of the Year drag its glowing sword along the ground ahead of us.
INDIE GOTY 2014 – HONORABLE MENTIONS
DG2: Defense Grid 2
Hidden Path Entertainment
DG2 is a spectacular gaming affair; mature level design, dazzling particle effects, eerie and rich world-building and narrative terrific vocal performances make this “Gold standard of Tower Defense” among the best of its kind. It only gets edged out of our 10 best because it takes a more blue chip approach than our other challengers.
The Talos Principle
“The Talos Principle is a slow starter that takes a bit too long to get to the point, but it’s exceptional once it hits its stride. The game pairs some of the best puzzle design of the year (independent or otherwise) with refreshingly introspective musings about free will and humanity that avoid the pitfalls that derail most attempts to tackle philosophical subject matter in fiction
Created by Chilean developer ACE Team, Abyss Odyssey stands out from other Roguelikes thanks to its superb artwork, unique atmosphere and engaging, minimalist storytelling. Elegant combat is backed up by randomly generated dungeons that remain exciting to explore even after several playthroughs.
White Paper Games
The title of the game effectively sets the tone. Most of the action of Ether One is spent in a dream-like exploration of the fractured memories of a patient battling a brain-addling ailment. As a Restorer, you slowly drift through a hazy reconstruction of what recollection remains, looking for clues to access memories that are presently inaccessible. This is often done by solving puzzles that are delicately integrated into the surrounding areas. The ambient music and ethereal quality that pervades creates a sensation that is reminiscent of the original Myst games.
As if this foreign dreamscape might prove too irresistible to leave, the voice of a scientist overseer weighs in as you progress, reminding you of the laboratory that exists in your reality. While you follow her instructions, startled and pained reactions from the subject will make you question whether your “treatment” is doing more good than harm.
The main quest can be solved in a few hours, but a rich history can be unlocked for those willing to spend time solving the increasingly complex puzzles. ~ Adam “Callabrantus” Fimio
Super Time Force Ultra
“The only game that encourages you to make mistakes – and fix them with style! It has a game-play mechanic that is very rare, combining action with puzzle elements. How did I die? Rewind and find out! Rewind further, fix your mistakes, and progress even further.” ~ BlueBirdPlays
The Blackwell Epiphany
Wadjet Eye Games
“Going into a game knowing that it’s the last game in the series was a bittersweet experience, especially for a series I truly admired. The Blackwell Epiphany marks the close of a series that was about helping people not through violence but through knowledge and compassion. Epiphany is one of the best games of 2014 because it satisfyingly ended the overarching narrative of the series, while also being a great story driven point and click adventure game.” ~ Fictivetruism
The Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure
Big Finish Games
“Convoluted puzzle environments are nothing new, and we’ve had more than our share of point-and-click adventures cross our desktops this year. But the enthusiastically Kickstarted The Tesla Effect goes the extra mile, and does so in a flying car.
Set in San Francisco circa 2050, Tex stumbles onto a series of events that could bring the existence of our world to an abrupt halt. This futuristic game realm is fleshed out with a wealth of live action video segments hailing from the intersection of sci-fi and film noir. The acting in these clips is deliciously B-Movie fare: it feels like a throwback to the glory days of Sega CD titles like Night Trap, but the level of production polish is above and beyond any such comparison.
Watch the Trailer for The Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure:
Never Alone (KISIMA INGITCHUNA)
Upper One Games
“A cooperative platformer about a young girl and her arctic fox companion, this game draws on the storytelling traditions of Northern Alaska’s Inupiaq people, who were integral to the game’s development. The game seamlessly includes documentary-style short films that explore and explain Alaskan Native culture, customs and folklore.
Zenzizenzic is a little known title that, though it may not have the production value of Geometry Wars, can very well compete with it on its sheer intensity. It’s solid, smart, and just scratches that bullet hell itch in the perfect way. “I’ll just play 1 more game.” ~ HappyWulf
Watch the Kickstarter trailer for Zenzizenzic:
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
“The more I delved into the game, the more I appreciated what it accomplished. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter delivered a fantastic narrative which was purposefully left open for your own interpretation. Its narrative is disturbing and heartbreaking. It’s world is atmospheric and incredibly detailed. It doesn’t hold your hand and favors exploration with environmental storytelling. It’s one of the best narrative exploration games you’ll ever play.” ~ Fictivetruism
Watch the trailer for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter:
And that is how we bring a draft started 9 months ago, to a close. Very special thanks to all the independent gamer/reviewers who make up IGR and who contributed to this article, above and beyond merely turning in some words. They are, in no particular order: Adam “Callabrantus” Fimio, Eric Weiss, Kit Goodliffe, FictiveTruism, InfinityWaltz, BlueBirdPlays, HappyWulf, Damage82 and hey, me too – Indie-Game-Freak. Click the names to see all their respective articles.
And thank YOU, reader, gamer, dev, for being with us. We love and appreciate your mutual love and appreciation for this incredible medium. If you keep coming back and sharing, commenting and clicking, we will keep bringing you commentary and tips about the very best indie games in the universe.
Thanks for another great year!
What were your favorite independently produced video games in 2014? Please let us know in the comments below!