In all honesty, there are perhaps too many games launching in 2016, far too many that look good enough to demand the hard earned coins from our tatty looking wallets that barely hold enough to buy sufficient food for us to live off of. As such then, I thought it might be best to draw up a short list of those key indie titles that look appealing enough to perhaps compete with the very long list of AAA titles that are being released this year. I made a conscious effort to avoid any that were being published by a team other than the developer, which ruled out the likes of Three One Zero’s Adr1ft (published by 505 Games) and ColdWood Interactive’s gorgeous looking Unravel (EA) to name but two of them. Please be aware that there are still many other fantastic looking indie releases coming this year, and if you want to raise awareness of these, please don’t hesitate to heap praise upon your top prospects for this year in the comments, on Facebook and on Twitter…
5. No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky made quite a splash when it was first sighted – though that feels like a lifetime ago now – with its scope, particularly as at the time, it was only being developed by a minuscule, four-man team. For those that don’t know, the game offers the prospect of space exploration through a vast, procedurally generated universe, though it is by no means infinite in its size (it’s pretty close though) with 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets available to explore, and it’s estimated that it would take over 580 billion years to see them all. Now, if that’s not exciting enough, the whole universe is governed by mathematical principles which means that everything exists for a reason, it’s logical, and it is so vast in size that the developer, Hello Games, has had to create virtual bots to send out and document what some of its locales may look like.
The downside to having such a massive expanse of universe to explore; there’s no story. The only overriding objective to the entire experience is to simply try and get to the centre of the universe, the idea is that the player will themselves create the story. The upside though, players will stumble upon planets never before visited by man, discover ancient alien artifacts and derelict spaceships from which they can harvest advanced technologies and upgrade their own vehicle. Over mining a planet, or disturbing its natural balance will invoke punishment in the form of a wanted level, this sees mechanical bi-pods known as Sentinels set upon you, whilst attacking too many ships in space will see the police end up on your tail, because No Man’s Sky isn’t simply a game based on exploration, there’s enough combat to satiate even the most hardened of console gamers too.
Now, whether or not it can top the mighty Elite: Dangerous is another thing, but it certainly promises to be an interesting ride regardless. At present, No Man’s Sky is set to launch towards the end of the year on PS4 and PC, an Xbox One version has been rumoured to be in development, but this has yet to be confirmed.
Tacoma is the follow up to The Fullbright Company’s award winning debut, Gone Home,
where the developer has created an Elysium style vision of the future where the richest 1% of Earth’s population live aboard a massive space station hovering within the planet’s orbit.
It is a game world influenced by the likes of Irrational’s System Shock, or Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 masterpiece, Alien, to tell a grounded, emotional story within a wholly fictitious, future world setting. To do so, the developer will make full use of environmental storytelling, replacing all of the characters with the holograms that they left behind.
In Tacoma, The Fullbright Company advance the narrative through the use of Augmented
Reality Logs, it is these that unlock the holographic remains of the station’s former crew to reveal conversations between characters, which fill in the back story that precedes the first day of new start, Amy Ferrier (the game’s protagonist). The experience as a whole is rather low-key, a far cry from its other science fiction based contemporaries, including Adr1ft, there is no combat to be found, only a pervading sense of dread as you traverse the cold, forsaken station.
Gone Home was a highly regarded experience, one that was supposed to deal an emotional howitzer, so we’ll just have to wait to see as to whether the developer can manage to do that a second time around when it launches later this year on PC and Xbox One.
Now, Ashen is an indie title that immediately caught my attention when Microsoft showed it off at last year’s E3, where it captivated the audience with its beautiful visuals and bleak, desolate setting. The game is set to be an action-RPG set within a world without light, where the player must form relationships with the others that they encounter as they search the land for a new place to call home. The world of Ashen, you see, houses a rather frightening number of active volcanoes whose eruptions smother the atmosphere in a dense blanket of ash, entirely blocking out the sun.
The protagonist forges a camp high up in the mountains, and it is up to the player to decide what inhabitants of the world can be trusted enough to lead back there, to establish a new town where life can prevail. Though the world may be a dark, desolate place it is not entirely devoid of life, there’s still plenty of flora and fauna to discover, and beyond that, as the official website claims, “rare, lonely giants and hungry, twisted inhabitants of the night”.
Sounds good, right? Well, to top it off, Ashen is also set to feature non-linear story progression, meaning that no two games will be the same as the narrative will diverge based on where the player goes, what they do, and when they do it.
Expect to find out more details about Ashen’s setting and mechanics as we move towards its release date, when it will appear on both PC and Xbox One later on in the year.
2. The Banner Saga 2
Stoic have only recently launched their seminal debut release, The Banner Saga, on PS4 and Xbox One, for those that don’t know, it’s a beautiful looking strategy RPG (the visual style recalls early Disney films) set in a world experiencing its end of days. It is a place where resources are running scarce and the populace are beginning to turn against one another in their desperate attempts to survive. It is a game where (as you might expect from former BioWare devs) the player is forced to make decisions that have consequences both big and small, and as The Banner Saga has been intended from the outset to be a four-part series, those decisions carry weight into the following chapter of the story, sculpting the world into one that feels as though it is inherently your own.
Now, those who have played the much lauded original will be happy to know that everything that they loved about it will make the transition to the sequel, except that it will all be beefed up somewhat with more refined, and rather varied combat. This is achieved through combat encounters and supplementary objectives that may see the player tasked with protecting a landmark or bridge whilst in the throes of battle. Additionally, there will also be new character classes and abilities and a greater amount of cover objects spread across the numerous battlefields, all of which should be destructible too, just to keep you on your toes.
Now that the first part of this ambitious saga is available on almost every gaming platform on Earth, there’s really no reason for you to not experience its epic tragedy and visual splendour, and do so soon as we expect to see the sequel launch simultaneously on PC, PS4 and Xbox One within a few months.
Now, if any of you read my coverage of Cuphead from after its first appearance at E3 as part of a Microsoft demonstration of its main up and coming ID@Xbox releases, you’ll know that it is a game that I am ludicrously excited about, and despite the lack of any new details or footage, I still am. Developed by brothers, Chad and Jared Moldenhauer (otherwise known as Studio MDHR), Cuphead looks to be an intense, run and gun shooter wrapped up within the visual trappings of a 1930s cartoon, so yeah, it looks absolutely spectacular!
Inspired by a whole host of games, though primarily Treasure’s insanely good, Gunstar Heroes, Cuphead is set to be a platform-shooter with a strong emphasis on boss encounters, traditional animation techniques and a blistering hot jazz soundtrack; even amidst a calendar year jam packed with wonderful looking AAA games, Cuphead may have the potential to outdo the lot of them. The story sees Cuphead and Mugman gamble with the devil, and lose, meaning that they must do his bidding which invariably leads to stages full of intense, blasting action, a whole host of weaponry and power-ups, bonus stages, a bizarre world and mammoth, screen filling boss encounters. This is what gaming is all about.
Cuphead is a beautiful slice of retro styled gaming action, and it is expected to be released in Q3 2016, exclusively on PC and Xbox One.
- James Paton