Welcome! Come through to the parlour of 2014, sir, madam, and taste of the finest delicacies and morsels this year's small developers have to offer.
There is much in the way of cyberpunk, horror, and sparking neon, and would you care for a canape of David Lynch with a little Burroughs perhaps? Ah, maybe you are into feeling nihilistically bummed out? Or, you'd rather have this hors d'oeuvres containing a whole crowd rioting?… I see.
There were so many games I didn't manage to fit into this list, so don't feel bad if I didn't include your favourite: 2014 is going to be knuckle-crackingly pleasurable for small budget developers; we'll see less known developers break through and known developers do their best work. And all for only a tiny slice of the cash you'd pay for a big budget shootfest. What a time to game in, my friends.
Well. Let's start with the world's most thrilling sword fighting simulator shall we? No, it's not a rude joke, I promise.
At laaaaaaast! In fluid movements of skill and half-breath decisions, you swipe your épée low-mid-high at your opponent across clouds, mines, castles and wilds. This long-awaited local multiplayer indie game is an intricate, flowing game of fencing, in which you kick as well as slash opponents through long grass and hallways. It's out on 13 January with a Daedalus soundtrack.
A slowburn cyberpunk horror game where you must find what caused the disappearance of everyone on an abandoned moon base. First-person exploration, permadeath, deadzone aiming, no HUD: it's all full-eyed horror. The game will also be available on VR device Oculus Rift at launch, adding an extra sense of horrible dread. Atmospheric. Futuristic. Dank. Full of tension. And it's the prettiest suitor at the prom. GIVE IT TO ME.
David Lynchian stealth game Tangiers is described by its creators as, "a love letter to the avant-garde of the 20th century… set in a world built from the broken prose of Burroughs and the social dystopia brought about by Ballard's architecture." Inspired by classic PC game Thief, it applies Burroughs' 'cut-up' technique to constantly rearrange the environment based on player decisions. I love this game because it seems to emulate old ideas and create new ones, integrating some of the most interesting concepts of literature and art. Strange and dark, it comes to PC, Mac and Linux this year.
Whatever you think of philosophising Braid-developing leaf-on-the-wind Jonathan Blow, his next game looks set to reinvent my childhood favourite, Myst, by exploring something Cyan Inc's classic title only dabbled in: the realm of three dimensions. An atmospheric exploration puzzle game on a remote island is promised. I bet it will be good, and everyone will be upset because it will be good.
I have a small place in my heart reserved entirely for games that are neon and layered in the sort of beats that would often come through my bedroom wall all the way through university: pounding techno or electronica. Thumper is about a pulsating neon beetle who likes to race to this sort of music, and Savygamer CEO Lewie Procter sent it my way. A fast-paced action game that combines elements of racing and rhythm action, it looks heart-poundingly exhilarating to a tune so rad that it might make me vomit.
I want to bring you down off that extreme Thumper high to describe the game that made me feel more upset than pretty much anything else last year: That Dragon Cancer. Ryan Green's little son is dying of cancer and Ryan and his friend Josh are making an adventure game about the experience of coping. As I sat in the Unwinnable game salon at GDC last year and played this game, Ryan sat in the room patiently waiting for my response to his work. I was unable to say anything at all because I was so shaken. It's something very moving and very upsetting, but worth it.
Blendo has a certain swishy style to their games, you can see it even in the trailers they produce. The quick cut was a feature of their euphoric, emotional and very very funny game Fifty Flights of Loving, and this time round they're bringing us a lo-fi cyberpunk hacking puzzle sim, guaranteed to make you feel good about your terrible computer skills and worse about your typo tendencies. I love how everything's going cyberpunk these days. Naturally, this will be available only on floppy disk and playable via a series of interconnected BBC Micros with very tappy keys. (Not really, it's on PC.)
Yes, it's a riot simulator, a game that recreates the circumstances that trigger riots, and gives the player an impression of the techniques police might use for crowd control, and the effects these have. It will be particularly interesting to see how bias will be embedded in the design: director Leonard Menchiari says the game was a direct result of him experiencing a riot first hand, and I think it might have a few interesting things to say about crowd behaviour in particular.
Rain World (JLJac, PC)
I think I was one of the first to report on this little sneak-based platformer puzzle game last year. The strikingly beautiful art and the curiously adorable movement of the little weasel-dudes are mesmerising, but better still is the detailed AI being programmed into the enemies. A complex beauty.
"You can't take the sky from me" is a thing I imagine Hello Games yelling last week as their Guildford office flooded – but they probably wouldn't because it's horribly cheesy. Snubbed by their insurance company and facing terrible damage, they've rallied admirably with support from all their fans, and this procedurally created universe has the ability to be vast and beautiful from what we have seen. It's unlikely, given the setbacks, that we will actually see this released in 2014. But we'll give them all the time they need, frankly.
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