Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Top 10 From 2012: Free Indie Games

With 2012 now a distant memory, it's time to reflect on the year's greatest achievements and rank them in order of their success. Since I hardly ever play new releases, I can't compile a list of the top ten releases from 2012. Instead, I'll be highlighting some of my best articles from 2012. Shameless self-promotion with an opportunity to get some of my favorite pieces on the front page again. Huzzah.

I didn't play as many free indie games as I would've liked in 2012, so this list isn't much of a "top 10" -- it's more like "the only 10" ranked in order of preference. Some of them were a little disappointing, but the top half of the list were all outstanding, and even the bottom half showed a lot of potential. Continue reading for the full list.

For further reading, check out my top 10 free indie games list from 2011.

In Blackwell's Asylum, you play a female patient in an asylum attempting to escape from the wardens. Everything appears weird and distorted (either due to your own insanity of the mind-altering drugs) as you navigate the hallways and hide behind or underneath furniture. The game shows a lot of potential, but really needs more of a backstory, better goals, and less tedious gameplay to be fully enjoyable. Read more of my words here; get it here.

Process is a free first-person point-n-click adventure/puzzler. It takes place on a train that, in 20 minutes, will go off the rails at high speed; you have to find a way to stop it before time runs out. The atmosphere is really good here, but the entire thing (from the story / premise to the effects of puzzles) is so vague that it's hard to appreciate much of anything else. Read more of my words here; get it here.

In Erie, you play as Oliver Victor, a Red Cross investigator sent to search a nuclear power plant for survivors after it suffers a partial meltdown. Trapped inside, you have to find a way to escape all-the-while being pursued by strange monsters. Erie is supposed to be a horror game, but its central horror aspect (the monster and how it pursues you) is just not scary. Read more of my words here; get it here.

The original Dear Esther is a free source mod and plays like a "first-person leisurely stroller" with absolutely zero interactivity. You walk along paths on an island while a voice narrates a story to you, and you have to piece the premise together yourself. I did like not Dear Esther much because it takes no advantage of the interactive nature of video games, but the writing and music have enough artistic merit to find a certain degree of satisfaction in it. Read more of my words here; get it here.

Slender is a free horror game in which you're tasked with collecting eight pages of a manuscript on the slender man, while he stalks you through the dark woods. Slender is very much a one-trick pony and quickly loses its effectiveness once you realize the patterns, but its soundtrack is really good at building atmosphere and tension, and it's pretty good while the horror lasts. Read more of my words here; get it here.

Picture Oblivion; now picture an Oblivion that's actually good. Nehrim: At Fate's Edge is a total conversion mod for Oblivion set in its own completely original world with its own original quests and story. It feels just like you're playing Oblivion, but with quests, exploration, and a leveling system that are all actually worthwhile. This is a full-length game with professional production values, but it's in German so you'll have to use English subtitles. Read more of my words here; get it here.

A free indie game in which you play a German soldier circa WWI, The Snowfield takes place after a great battle as survivors mourn and attempt to collect themselves after a great decimation. Your goal is simply to bring other survivors back to a fireplace and avoid succumbing to the cold yourself. Despite its crude simplicity, I found the experience simultaneously heart-warming and tragic. Read more of my words here; get it here.

Another free source mod, Nightmare House 2 is a paranormal horror FPS in sort of the same vein as the original FEAR. Most of the horror is based on weird, creepy, supernatural stuff happening in the environment while you try to maintain your health and ammunition values against monsters and other threats. The game also features some fairly engaging puzzles (for an FPS) and a really interesting story. Read more of my words here; get it here.

Another game where you play a German soldier in the trenches of WWI trying to escape the horrors of war. Oh, and the trenches are being stalked by dinosaurs, and you have very limited ways of dealing with them -- your main option is to run away. There's a whole lot of tension here as you try to navigate through the labyrinthine passageways to reach the ladder at the other end; few other games have ever gotten my heart pounding as much as 1916. Read more of my words here; get it here.

A free source mod, The Stanley Parable is all about the dichotomy between narrative and freedom of choice. As you play, a narrator describes Stanley's actions according to the story he has laid out in his mind, but you're always free to go against the narrator and do your own thing. This makes for some really unique moments as the game takes unexpected twists with the back-and-forth interaction between player and narrator. Read more of my words here; get it here.

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