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The 20 Best Indie Videogames of 2013

December 27, 2013  |  12:55pm
The 20 Best Indie Videogames of 2013
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10. Redshirt
Developer: The Tiniest Shark
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Redshirt is set in a far future reminiscent of Star Trek mixed with a pastiche of sci-fi’s greatest hits. You create a Spacebook profile for a lowly ensign on a backwater station and try to navigate the social world of the station. A pulsing paranoia runs through Redshirt: every action on Spacebook is visible to all the other characters in the game. People will refuse events because of who else is going. Gelatinous cubes feel neglected, and demand a quick bon mot on their wall instead real contact. Every action is watched or has the potential to be watched. It’s not a vision of Facebook as it exists, but the one that spurred millions to learn the nuances of privacy control. Don’t let the charming, low-key tone and gentle referential humor fool you, this is pitch black stuff. —Filipe Salgado

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9. Alpaca Run
Developer: Samantha Allen, Joseph Culp, Guy Conn, Cameron Kunzelman
Platform: Web Browser
Often, personal games tell poignant or dramatic stories, but this exploration of Samantha Allen’s love of alpacas is a story of joy and life. Death is meaningless for the heroine of Alpaca Run; you can perfect your run, but that’s not the game’s emphasis. Even if you don’t know the backstory of Allen’s fondness for alpacas, the game serves as an exuberant postcard of sorts: a snapshot in time of Allen’s (and, of course, her alpaca Ingrid’s) journey across unusual obstacles, none of which slow her down.—Maddy Myers

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8. Analogue: Hate Plus
Developer: Christine Love
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Christine Love’s latest interactive fiction story, a direct sequel to 2012’s Analogue: A Hate Story, goes by the title Hate Plus, since it was slated to be a straightforward expansion pack for Analogue. Yet Hate Plus clocks in at nearly twice the word count of the original game, so calling it an expansion pack seems almost unfair—though understanding its story does require players to experience Analogue first. For those unsure of what to expect from the cyber-hallways of Hate’s abandoned spaceship, be not fooled by Hate Plus’ charming art style and occasional light-hearted moments: The story will take frequent turns down dark and tragic roads. Love’s well-crafted prose breathes life into these eccentric artificial intelligences once more, and it’s easy to fall in love (or, perhaps, in hate) all over again.—Maddy Myers

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7. Castles in the Sky
Developer: The Tall Trees
Platform: PC and Mac
Any way of explaining what you do in Castles In The Sky will always reduce the play experience to a series of actions taken in sequence. That’s a basic part of games and how they operate in the world, but what Castles In The Sky brings to this time-worn koan is a particular understanding that the actions you are performing are somehow more special than anything else. The “specialness” of other games often happens in retrospect; a killing streak in Call of Duty is beautiful when recorded and played back, but at the time you are riding the high of accomplishment without understanding the full weight of the wonder of the play experience. Castles In The Sky puts that front and center. It’s not a game that you play and then reflect on later. It is the coffee, the cello, the cornbread of videogame experiences. It’s meant to be taken in the moment as a wholly unique and beautiful experience that is wholly available to you in its entirety at the moment you experience it.—Cameron Kunzelman

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6. Gone Home
Developer: The Fullbright Company
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Will Wright once said, “games are not the right medium to tell stories…videogames are more about story possibilities.” Gone Home challenges such notions, not only by telling a wonderful story but by setting players free in the game world and trusting them to uncover it. By refusing to tell us what to do in the game, it communicates a self-confidence that most games lack. The result is an unforgettable story that’s intensely personal but universally powerful. To play Gone Home is to grow deeply invested in the lives of a family we’ll never know but in which we can all see different aspects of our own families and our own selves.—Drew Dixon

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5. Crystal Warrior Ke$ha
Developer: Porpentine
Platform: Web Browser
Porpentine’s Twine games have become increasingly intricate over the course of 2013, from All I Want Is For All of My Friends To Become Insanely Powerful to Ultra Business Tycoon to their angelical understanding. But the stand-out for me is still this title from early 2013, in which you take on the role of pop star Ke$ha—well, Ke$ha as a mystical, super-powered sorceress fighting to save the world (which she also is in real life, of course).—Maddy Myers

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4. Antichamber
Developer: Alexander Bruce
Platform: PC
Reasonable solutions don’t work in Antichamber. When I take the most rational course of action, I fail. Consequently it often feels as if these platitudes are designed to chide me for assuming that the world operates as it appears. When I think I have cleverly made it to the end of the chamber, a sign informs me, “Life isn’t about getting to the end.” My frustration at these signs, however, doesn’t get me anywhere. Antichamber doesn’t work like other similar puzzle platformers. It requires you to constantly discover new mechanics all while continuing to expand on the ones you have already discovered.—Drew Dixon

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3. The Swapper
Developer: Facepalm Games
Platform: PC
The Swapper casts into doubt the things videogames almost implicitly take for granted, like the significance of death when your avatar is basically immortal and completely artificial. It questions things like sentience or intelligence (as we understand or express them) as metrics for valuing life. It ruminates on the fundamental connection between the mind and the body, and of memory as a vital component of identity from a metaphysical and neurobiological perspective. And with that, of course, is a wink and a nod, because playing a videogame implies imbuing my own consciousness into something that is basically mechanical and unfeeling.—Lana Polansky

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2. The Stanley Parable
Developer: Galactic Cafe
Platform: PC
It’s impossible to talk about The Stanley Parable‘s inner workings without wrecking the game at least a little bit. Unlike most works of art that can’t survive spoilers, it holds up (really well!) under scrutiny; rather than being surprising or weird for its own sake, it gradually assembles its weird surprises into a coherent whole, a cubist-insightful look at work, play and consequence. The Stanley Parable is a striking example of how, on a small enough scale, it’s possible to predict most any action a player might take and fit responses to those actions into a larger thematic idea.—Joe Bernardi

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1. Depression Quest
Developer: Zoe Quinn, Patrick Lindsey and Isaac Schankler
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Depression Quest is special because it treats a serious issue with the seriousness it deserves while also injecting a sense of community. It may not be fun, but living out a moment of time with depression can not only help you understand the disease, but also connect you with those that have experienced it to some degree. So in a way it is escapism, even if you’re just escaping back into reality.—Carli Velocci

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