This holiday season is going to be all sorts of epic. Blockbuster titles such as Call of Duty: Ghosts, Battlefield 4, Assassin’s Creed 4, and Batman Arkham Origins are all going to hit soon. On top of all that, the next-gen consoles are finally coming out. All this means that there are going to be tons of fun new games to try out this holiday season.
But what if you’re strapped for cash or are simply looking for alternatives? The indie scene has been producing amazing titles that you should definitely check out. Not only are they fun to play and push the boundary for gameplay, they’re also very cheap.
The following are games that I’ve played and enjoyed. They’re all available from Steam and can be bought for somewhere between $10-15 each.
Stanley Parable—Why “You” Need to Play This
Stanley Parable is an absolutely brilliant piece of work. It transcends narrative boundaries and uses the very nature of videogames to tell a story that’s impossible to tell in other media. The fact that it’s well-written, well-acted, and funny as hell are bonuses.
The biggest selling point of this game is its second-person structure. While it’s become a staple in modern games—especially shooters—most games treat it as secondary and mostly reserve the player as a passive participant. But in Stanley Parable the relationship between the game and its player is something sacred, special even.
The problem with Stanley Parable is that describing it is extremely hard. Imagine slaving away as an office employee, being told what to do and how to do it. Now imagine that control being stripped away. In the beginning, your actions are narrated but then you discover you can stray from the predetermined path. This is where things get interesting, and it’s also where I’ll stop explaining the game.
Both critics and gamers are going crazy over it. It’s already available on Steam and can be yours for $11.99.
Eldritch—Where Knowledge is Power
Can you name any games that have librarians as protagonists? Before playing Eldritch, I’d have said none. Eldritch takes its inspiration from Minecraft, stealth games, RPGs, and the creepy lore of H.P. Lovecraft to create something that is truly special.
The plot is the very basic “character with amnesia,” but it quickly evolves into something sinister and creepy. Imagine yourself literally being devoured by a book and transported to a strange place filled with maddening monsters.
While the atmosphere is unquestionably phenomenal, it’s the multiplicity of load-outs and approaches to gameplay that marks the game as something special. You have to duck, dodge, and silently make your way through the levels. And you only get to carry two weapons, so you’ll have to devise a clear strategy before making your run.
The horror (good kind!) originates from the gameplay: unpredictable enemy spawns. Since there aren’t any straight paths through the levels, the enemies can pop up behind you and catch up to you via side passages. You’re not safe, no matter where you are.
Eldritch is available on Steam for $11.99. It’s highly recommended for Lovecraft fans.
Papers, Please—The Most Depressing Game of All Time
There’s nothing quite like living in a dystopian, communist state where paranoia rules. This game takes Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, amps them up several notches, and puts you inside it for a “dystopian document thriller” that is equal parts stressful and depressing.
Note that both those adjectives mean nothing but praise. You’re an immigration officer who is tasked with letting citizens, tourists, and immigrants into Arstotzka. Among these characters are smugglers, terrorists, and spies—and it’s your job to catch them.
The hours are long and tedious. You spend hours working over every detail in the NPCs’ documents. And then there are the revolutionaries, the bribes, the government, and most importantly, your family.
The game reminds you of the futility and the hardships of living in a communist state. Your mother is sick but you don’t have the money to buy her medicine. Your son dies from starvation because you can’t afford food. Your wife is highly uncomfortable from the lack of heat. These are just a few of the stark realities you’ll face.
All these things make for a very personal and touching story. They come together to form a package that’ll mark its place in your gaming history.
Glory to Arstotzka!
Gunpoint—Rewiring Cranked Up to 11
One sentence introduction: it’s a 2D stealth game about rewiring things and punching people. But damn, it’s done so well!
Gunpoint is a fine example of a small, simple game that takes expectations and raises them to a higher level. It exudes sheer elegance and is immensely funny. The clever design is prominent everywhere and works to create a truly unique 2D puzzle platformer.
You get to don futuristic pants, waltz around on walls like Spider-man, and take no damage from long drops. On top of that, you have to rewire security systems, hack computers, and take out unwitting security guards.
It has an ingenious design where you have to experiment to succeed. The levels can be handled in any way you want. The dialog is consistently funny and self-aware, which is simply awesome. The visuals are minimal yet functional. I thoroughly enjoyed this game, and I hope you’ll too.