Cognition, An Erica Reed Thriller, video game, box art, title, woman, Erica, man, killer, murderer, shadow

Beginner’s guide to indie: part one

If you’re a regular Later Levels visitor, it’s pretty obvious I’m a fan of indie games. Starting up a large RPG can be an incredibly daunting experience when you’re short on spare time due to a hectic job and family. But smaller titles can fit in well with a busy routine, and there’s something nice about being able to complete a game within several sittings before moving onto the next one.

During a recent conversation with Dan from Now is Games, he asked if I’d ever written a guide for gamers who were new to indie releases. It wasn’t something I’d ever considered but it seemed like a good idea – so thanks to Dan for being the inspiration behind this post!

A disclaimer before I launch into my list: this contains only titles I’ve actually played myself and, as pretty obvious from the content on Later Levels, I tend to favour adventures or games with strong narratives. However, I’ve done my best to ensure not every entry is a point-and-click (although there are still a couple) and hopefully everyone will be able to find something that piques their interest. So without further ado, here’s the first part of my beginner’s guide to indie…

Adventures

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller remains one of my favourite point-and-click adventures despite being released back in 2012. It features FBI agent Erica, who has the ability of postcognition, while on her search for her brother’s murderer: the Cain Killer. This is a grown-up murder-mystery and not a game for children, and it’s one of those titles that’s so deserving of a sequel. Come on, Phoenix Online Studios – make it happen!

Are you a fan of harmless smut, very naughty boys and humorous tales of redemption? Then Four Last Things may be just the indie release for you, as it’s almost as if The Secret of Monkey Island had been made in 16th century Flanders by a time-travelling Monty Python fanboy. It’s also worth checking out Joe Richardson earlier adventure, The Preposterous Awesomeness of Everything, even if it’s just for the ‘backflip’ button and cat on the title screen.

Action

The next two titles are ones with amazing soundtracks, so I’d highly recommend checking out the music even if you’re not a fan of action games. First up is Bastion and if you’re looking for a beautiful RPG you can get lost in for several hours, then this may just be the one for you. Sure, it doesn’t provide as much challenge as some other releases out there; but does everything really need to be as difficult as Dark Souls?

Next is Hotline Miami and this isn’t a video game for anyone who’s offended by blood – even the pixelated kind – or gratuitous violence. But if you’re looking for vicious enemies, bullets and action, along with a storyline about taking on the Russian Mafia, then it will prove to be right up your street. It’s actually not my cup-of-tea but it generally receives positive reviews and has made it onto my list for the soundtrack alone.

Couch co-ops

Overcooked is a great game if you’re looking for something to play with the family that doesn’t feature anything inappropriate for the little’uns. Players take on the role of chefs in a kitchen and must work as a team to prepare meals, all while under a time limit to complete as many dishes as possible. It’s a lot harder than it sounds – and be careful you don’t spend too long wondering who on earth designs their cooking station like this.

If you’re looking for something a bit more ‘adult’ however, why not give Quiplash a try. Players give answers to prompts such as ‘the worst thing you could discover in your burrito’ and the audience votes for their favourite. There are no wrong answers but it’s definitely necessary to prepare yourself for some rude ones and jokes at your expense; it’s highly likely that ‘Dad’s bum’ always appears on-screen whenever my stepson is involved in a round.

Exploration games

The year is 1989 and Henry has taken on the role of a Shoshone National Forest fire lookout. Why are the strange things happening to him and supervisor Delilah connected to a mystery from years ago? Firewatch is an awesome-looking game with some of the best writing and voice-acting I’ve ever come across… but it’s probably not one to play if you have a fear of being alone in the wilderness while someone is watching you, however.

Gone Home is another title that probably won’t be for you if you don’t like being alone, but there are no jump-scares here despite the abandoned house you find yourself in front of at the beginning of the game. It’s a beautifully-told story: here is a bittersweet tale about love, loss and sacrifice, and it’s very touchingly and expertly written. You’ll probably have a tear in your eye by the time you reach the end so you might want to keep a box of tissues handy.

That’s it for now, so hopefully I’ve pointed you in the direction of something new to play if you’re not already familiar with indie games. But if your favourite genre didn’t make the list this time, come back for more on Friday when part two will be published.

28 thoughts on “Beginner’s guide to indie: part one

    1. I’m feeling the 80s vibe from the visuals and music in the trailers on Steam. Games like this aren’t something I’d naturally gravitate towards but I do love a soundtrack with a synth.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for pointing out some smaller-name titles, I confess I’m a bit too much of a triple A devotee and tend to neglect the indie world. There are some true gems out there, though, and I really enjoyed a couple of games on this list last year. Here’s to more indie discoveries in the future!

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    1. I really wish I had more time to play some of the bigger games released this year… it’s can just be really hard to fit in a 100-hour title! I managed to play Horizon Zero Dawn though, so I’ve had my fix. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 2 people

  2. My favorite indie titles are games like The Stanley’s Parable, Beginners Guide, Fairune 1+2 and Evoland. Indie games can sometimes be as much as other triple A titles.

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    1. That sounds like you enjoy the more ‘experimental’ side of indie games then… I think I might have a couple for you coming up in part two and three of the guides, if you haven’t played them already that is!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kim, thank you so much for the mention, and for taking the time to write this fantastic post!

    Firewatch is something which sneaked it’s way into my Steam library at some point. It was finished in a single session. Absolutely gripping! I highly recommend.

    I was introduced to Overcooked by my accomplice Jon, so much fun!

    I will definitely be trying some of those titles in the near future.

    Looking forward to the next part ๐Ÿ˜Ž

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seconded, Great post Kim!

      I’m going to broaden Dan’s education further on Saturday with Gang beasts, Overcooked, move or Die and some speed runners!

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      1. Excellent – sounds as though you’ve got a proper training plan lined up for Dan! Are you guys coming to London for Rezzed next year? ๐Ÿ™‚

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        1. I was thinking about it. I think Dan is aiming to convince everyone. I normally try to go to insomnia as it’s a lot closer.

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            1. I will definitely be going to Rezzed! Really enjoyed EGX proper and will be going next year to the whole thing. Will take you up on that coffee ๐Ÿ˜€

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    2. Honestly, it was my pleasure to write. It was so difficult trying to narrow down the games though, and the list went through several revisions and reductions ha ha ha! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      If you manage to figure out a good strategy for the level with the conveyor belts in Overcooked (2-3), please let me know…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We find screaming at each other is the most effective method… ๐Ÿ˜‰ We played our best when a 5th person directed the 4 of us playing…

        Maybe you can list the ones which didn’t make the cut, but are still worth checking out? I would welcome such a list!

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        1. Are you on Steam? Come find me if you are (kissingthepixel) and take a look at my games – if there’s anything in there that looks interesting, let me know and I can tell you what it’s like!

          As for Overcooked… I’m sure there’ll be plenty more screaming this weekend when my stepson has us back on it. Damn conveyor belts.

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  4. I love love love Gone Home and Firewatch. My students in my queer gaming course fell in love with Gone Home. We watched the early trailer for it and through the game play function in class, we talked about how it changed to be SOOOO much better.
    Have you checked out “Read only Memories” by Mid-boss games?

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    1. The voice actor for Sam in Gone Home nailed the performance – I’m not sure they could have chosen anyone better for the part. The subject matter was handled in such a sincere way and the characters leave you feeling for them.

      Read Only Memories has been added to and removed from my wishlist several times over the past year or so, but I still haven’t played it! I take it it’s good then? ๐Ÿ™‚

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      1. Totally agree with the voice actor. It wasnโ€™t until I started to think of gaming as performance when I realized how important the voice acting is, which sucks because most times I play games on mute from habit because of gaming pre-cinemagraphic age.

        It took me a while to get into ROM because of having to think about the old school gaming feel but the nostalgia works well for the game. I really do recommend it. Although now I have a bunch of games to try on my own.

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    1. Hotline Miami isn’t really my thing, but the soundtrack is bloody awesome! And I’m really looking forward to seeing what Campo Santos come up with next after Firewatch – hopefully we won’t have to wait too long.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. You know what… I haven’t played it yet! I tried a demo at Rezzed last year and really enjoyed it, so it’s been on my wishlist since then. I’ve read a lot of good things about the game. ๐Ÿ™‚

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