Ten Indie Games to Look For in 2011

Here at Diehard GameFAN, we tend to have an emphasis on games put out by smaller and/or independent publishers. This is because the majority of gamers and gaming sites tend to ignore these titles due to a low advertising budget or simply because they aren’t “name” companies. This is a shame and because so many gamers don’t look past the “A Level” titles, they miss out on a lot of great games. With 2011 upon us, I’ve taken it upon myself to put together a list of ten indie games you should be excited for this year, if you aren’t already. Now most of these are PC titles, simply because it’s easier (and cheaper) to publisher a title for a PC than for a console, but even if you mainly play video games with a controller in hand, that doesn’t mean you should discount any of these games.

The list below is arranged in alphabetical order, along with links to the game’s website and a little write-up on each. My hope is that this article will give these games some of the attention they definitely deserve and that by the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be read to plunk down a pre-order for at least one of these.


Alpha Polaris
Developer: Turmoil Games
Publisher: Just-A-Game
Genre: Horror Adventure
Release Date: Early 2011
Website: http://www.turmoilgames.com/about/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=198141862991

If you’re a longtime reader of my work, you know I’m a big fan of the original Alone in the Dark trilogy consisting of Alone in the Dark, Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet and Prisoner of Ice (Note: Any other game bearing an Alone in the Dark title is actually outside of this continuity and not part of the actual series.). It’s the last game in this trilogy I can’t help but think of when I see the plot and screenshots of Alpha Polaris and trust me, that’s a very, VERY good thing.

Turmoil Games is a relatively new development company, straight out of Finland. The game takes place under arctic conditions in Greenland aboard an American oil research station. Per the description from the game’s website:

High above, the ion storm of the century is gathering, bringing about a strange intermixing of reality and night terrors. It is up to Rune Knudsen, a Norwegian biologist, to take on a desperate struggle against fear and death, and to face the primordial force lurking beyond the veiled sky.

I’m a big fan of horror adventure over survival horror because the focus on the former is actually about a good story and instilling terror in the gamer, while the latter is just about killing things. Since the game’s story is meant to really revolve around the concepts of isolation and nameless dread, that’s a huge plus for someone like me. The screenshots from this little indie game also look great, especially for team making their first game. Go over to their website and look at the detail on those ice covered mountains in the screenshots. VERY NICE.

There’s no firm date set for Alpha Polaris right now, but it’s been in the final stages of beta testing since mid December, 2010 – so it’s a lock that it’ll be out this year. It’s just WHEN exactly that’s still up in the air.


Asylum
Developer: Senscape Interactive
Publisher: Senscape Interactive
Genre: Horror Adventure
Release Date: Late 2011
Website: http://www.facethehorror.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Senscape

Without a doubt, Asylum has one of the best websites I’ve seen for a game in a long time. Not only does it have a super freaky video that starts playing once you enter the site, but the actual website for the game has some interactive puzzles and some eerie music to keep you in the mood. The game also gives a great faux history for the Hanwell Mental Institute – the setting for the game. I also can’t forget the series of viral videos that came out for the game several months ago. If you haven’t watched them, by all means, DO SO NOW. This my friends, is a pre-release campaign done right and if you don’t want to play this game after going to the website, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Asylum is done by the same team that did Scratches, which I reviewed back in April of 2006. It definitely wasn’t my favorite horror adventure game due to some engine and crashing issues, but I loved the story and the ambience. From looking at Asylum footage, it’s obvious Senscape has improved on every issue people had with the original game and made something that is easily going to surpass it in terms of quality and popularity. My only real complaint about this game so far are the human facial models in the viral videos for the game, but that’s a minor issue since those aren’t actually a part of the game itself. If Asylum is even half as good as the pre-release campaign, it’s got a great shot at winning our horror game of the year award for 2011. I should also point out that Senscape has promised a demo for this game (Which most of these games won’t have), and that means anyone and everyone reading this should download it as soon as it’s made available to the general public.


Baron Wittard: Nemesis of Ragnarok
Developer: Wax Lyrical Games
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Genre: Point and Click Adventure Game
Release Date: February 2011 (Europe)
Website: http://www.wittardgame.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Iceberg-Interactive/44601634990

I love Iceberg Interactive, but usually it’s for the horror games they give me. The Darkness Within series, re-releasing Dracula Resurrection and Dracula: Final Sanctuary, Last Half of Darkness, Trapped Dead and more. However Baron Wittard isn’t a horror game but a first person fantasy title. Unfortunately, unlike most of the games on the list, neither a video of the game nor a trailer have been released yet. This makes NoR the hardest game on the list to recommend, but I’m doing it for two reasons. The first is the high quality of the screenshots in the game. Each one of these is stunning in design and has an amazing amount of detail for a small indie development team.

The other reason is the plot. Take a look at this description:

The eccentric architect Baron Wittard has built something really special: a city inside a building. This monumental pleasure dome, called “The Utopia”, features 1000 apartments, a shopping mall, and hundreds of offices and leisure facilities. All under one roof. Its grand opening was supposed to have been two years ago. That event never happened. A chain of mysterious events has now left the Utopia abandoned and silent. People have gone missing. Electromagnetic disturbances are increasing. These happenings all point to Wittard’s desolate Utopia. Armed with only a camera and a torch, you must journey there alone to explore its winding corridors, its secret passageways, and its gloomy halls. Local townspeople say Wittard kept a terrible secret. They speak fearfully of someone or something malevolent lurking at his city. They say it is waiting and growing in power. They say time is running out…

That seems like a pretty neat plot. This combined with the visuals also gave me a “updated Myst” vibe at first. However, it was a paragraph from the press release from the game that got me going.

“Baron Wittard is one of those adventure games that looks like it was made to be published by Iceberg Interactive. The wheels to set this project in motion was the success of other UK horror adventure games that we have released in the past such as Barrow Hill and Dark Fall, while puzzle-wise it draws inspiration from other genre classics such as The 7th Guest, “ says Erik Schreuder, CEO at Iceberg Interactive. ” We felt that this was a very promising combination and hopefully the people that finish the 30 hour trip that is Baron Wittard, will agree with us that this mix has resulted in a top notch adventure gaming experience.”

Man, what isn’t to love here? A game that is heavily inspired by one of my all time favorite PC games, The 7th Guest (also popular with a good portion of my fellow staffers BTW), but a THIRTY HOUR adventure game? Holy crap. That’s insane! That’s RPG length! That’s AWESOME. These things have me guaranteed to import (or LEGALLY download) Wittard when it comes out in February.


Bracken Tor: The Time of Tooth and Claw
Developer: Shadow Tor Studios
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Genre: Supernatural Adventure (Matt Clark, developer of the game doesn’t like the term “horror”)
Release Date: Q1 2011 (Europe)
Website: http://www.barrow-hill.co.uk/brackentor/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Shadow-Tor-Studios/140421155974371?v=wall

If you’re even remotely surprised to see Bracken Tor on this list then this must be your first time here at Diehard GameFAN. I’ve been foaming at the mouth waiting for this game to come out for a few YEARS now. Shadow Tor Studios is the maker of Barrow Hill> which won our “Horror Game of the Year” and “Adventure Game of the Year” awards back in 2006. Bracken Tor is a quasi-sequel to the game in that it uses some of the same people and locations and there is definitely continuity between the two games, but this game is very much a stand-alone title.

In the game, you play as a photojournalist sent into the wilds of Cornwall to take pictures of all the ancient Pagan bits in the area on the night of the Winter Solstice. As well, you’re there to see if you can catch a glimpse of the Barrow Beast, a creature not unlike the Loch Ness Monster, Jersey Devil and other creatures that have been seen by many an onlooker but without any viable evidence to back it up. Unfortunately for you, the creature turns out to be real and you know have a bloodthirsty beastie after you.

I think what I love most about this game is the promise that you’ll be LISTENING for clues and events rather than just watching them. The aural aspect of horror games is so under done and those that do make great use of audio effects and things that can be heard but not seen (Like Calling) tend to bite the big one in terms of gameplay. I also love the visuals we’ve seen so far from the game but most of all, I know the story is going to be as amazing as it is creepy, and that’s the biggest draw of all for me.

Bracken Tor: The Time of Tooth and Claw promises to be a first person game that gives us a nice combination of point and click puzzles, but also the potential of actual combat (something 95% of adventure games lack) where you can be disemboweled and eaten by things that go bump in the night. It’ll be interesting to see if Shadow Tor can make a game that lives up to the high quality of Barrow Hill and from everything I’ve seen so far, it certainly will.


Hyperdimension Neptunia
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Studios America
Genre: RPG
Release Date: Spring 2011
Website: http://www.nisamerica.com/games/neptunia/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/NISAmericaInc

God, I don’t even know where to begin on why I want this game so badly. Usually I’m not a big fan of Idea Factory titles. Mentioning titles like Spectral Force Genesis or Chaos Wars usually causes the staff here at Diehard GameFAN to utter profanity. However, they are also the company that gave us our PS3 game of the Year for 2010 in Trinity Universe, so maybe it just took them time to get their act together. This is also one of four games on this list actually hitting a console (This is a PS3 exclusive), so for those of you who don’t like to game via keyboard and mouse, this is where you should start to take note.

So what’s awesome about this game? Let’s see. For starters it’s named after the Sega Neptune, a never actually finished system that combined the Sega Genesis, Sega CD and Sega 32X into a single system instead of three separate Voltron like components. There’s also the fact the story is actually a Jonathan Swift-esque parody of the current console war generation. It’s like reading Gulliver’s Travels. Sure you can read that book as a guy who travels to lands filled with giants, midgets and talking horses, but it’s actually an in-depth political satire filled with tons of metaphoric commentary about the Whigs and Tories of Swift’s time. Expect something similar from Neptunia…as long as nothing is lost in the translation. For example, the world is Geimugyokai, or “Gamindusti” as it will be known in the English version. The four regions of the world are Platetume (Planeptune), Rinbox (Leanbox), Lastation and Ruwii (Lowee), which are obvious references to Sega, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo respectively. Even the repsective character you’ll be playing as sport the company’s trademark colour for their system. The Wii character is White, the Xbox character is Green and the PS3 character is black. The game is so full of little subtle references and commentaries about the game industry as a whole that I can’t help but love this game. Once you add in “cameos” from characters like Alex Kidd, Shinobi, Space Harrier and more and you can see why this game is basically SegaGaGa 2. Since SegaGaGa was never released stateside, (Which is a crime against humanity. Dammit Sega!) this is the closest you’ll ever get to playing it in English.

You’ll also be getting characters based off specific game companies like Nippon Ichi, Red Company, Compile Heart, Gust and 5pb (who has never had any of their games released stateside).

Neptunia is the console game I’m most looking forward to in 2011, if only because I adore SegaGaGa and this feels like its spiritual successor. It’s just too bad a game like this isn’t for all systems instead of being a PS3 exclusive considering the multi layered nature of the story.


The Last Crown: The Haunting of Hallowed Isle
Developer: Darkling Room
Publisher: TBD
Genre: Horror Adventure
Release Date: Easter 2011
Website: http://www.thelastcrown.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.boakes

The Last Crown is the fifth game what can be called the Dark Fall mythos. It’s a follow up to 2008’s The Last Crown which won Best Story, Best PC Game, Best Adventure Game from us that year. It’s one of the best adventure games ever made and so the sequel is the game I’ve been looking forward to most in 2011. Unfortunately very little is known about the game so far and most of what we know comes director from the developer, Jonathan Boakes’ blog. However there IS a mini adventure game/prelude to The Last Crown on the game’s website. It’s quite weird and fun, but besides that all we have to go off of is this:

Hallowed Isle lies just off the coast of Saxton, on England’s windswept coast. It is a moody, melancholy place; haunted by those who lived, worked and died there. That, in itself, is not unusual in this uncanny landscape, where everywhere has a supernatural tale to tell… should you be brave enough to delve deeper.

Hallowed Isle is different. It hides its secrets well, buried beneath centuries of bizarre history. Nigel and Lucy will need to use ALL of their new found ghost-hunting skills to unravel the mystery of who, or what, haunts the small, pine ridged island, four miles out at sea.

It sounds AWESOME, and Boakes’ prior games (save for Lost Souls have all been brilliant, but without any information or screenshots to go on, this game made it on the list by and large due to The Lost Crown rather than the actual game itself. Still, it’s definitely a game that many a PC gamer is salivating over the eventual release of and the sooner we get some more concrete information about the game, the more rabid the fanbase will get.


A New Beginning
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: Point and Click Adventure Game
Release Date: 2011 (Europe)
Website: http://www.earth-game.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/anbgame

I’m still more than a little pissed at Deep Silver/Southpeak Studios for never releasing The Whispered World in North America since it would have easily been a huge seller for them. Instead, it was handed off to Viva Media (who also gave us Mata Hari and Alter Ego) and most gamers on this side of the Atlantic never even knew it existed. For those that played it though, they knew they had their hands on something special. That’s why I’m happy it appears Deep Silver is bringing Daedalic Entertainment’s next game, A New Beginning over to US shores. Even better, there appears to be both Wii and DS releases planned in addition to the PC version of the game. I say appears as I don’t speak a lick of German. What can I say? My languages are English, French, Japanese and Mandarin…

The game’s story appears to be about global warming and time travel, which is a bit heavy handed, but it’s not as black and white as you may expect. Characters have to decide between their own ideals and their orders, how far they dare manipulate the past and other ethical issues. I also like that one of the two main characters is a middle aged man rather than the usual late teen to early twenty year olds games saddle us with as protagonists. The game takes a stark look at how sometimes what is good for business isn’t good for humanity and vice versa and where each individual comes down on social ethics. Looking through the website for the game and the biographies of each character is what really clinched my interest in the eventual release of this game. The comic book style artwork for the game helped a lot too though. A New Beginning looks like it’s going to be as pretty as it is compelling, even if it’s not going to be a high definition affair that we might see from a large company making a game for the PS3 or 360.

A demo for a new beginning is going to show up shortly at this link, so I’d suggest bookmarking that and checking it every few weeks.


The Next Big Thing
Developer: Pendulo Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Point and Click Adventure
Release Date: 03/25/2011
Website: http://www.pendulostudios.com/EN%20juegos%20TNBT.html
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Focus-Home-Interactive/238412257117?v=wall

No, this isn’t a game about three time WWE Champion and ex UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar. Instead it’s the newest adventure game from Pendulo Studios, makers of the Runaway series. Any PC gamer worth their salt has played through (and fallen in love with) the first Runaway although the series kind of disappeared off the scope of many gamers with the fall of the entire adventure game genre post Grim Fandango. Still, point and click fans on either side of the Atlantic have kept a sharp eye on Pendulo and their wonderful games with Dragon’s Lair style graphics (but thankfully not DL style gameplay). Unfortunately the English trailer in its entirety can only be found embedded on the website (Machinima has a severely cut version though). That’s bad. So instead the video for this game is ten minutes of gameplay. That’s Good! Of course, it’s also in…German I think? That’s Bad. The video does show case how beautiful this game looks and how it’s very Sam and Max -esque. That’s good! The toppings contains Potassium Benzoate. That’s bad.

In putting this piece together, I was pleasantly surprised to learn The Next Big Thing had an actual release date in North America. Of course, you’ll have to get it on Amazon.com since Gamestop seems to have all but discontinued carrying PC titles unless they are super big names like Diablo or World of Warcraft, but who cares? We get it without importing and we get it soon!


Secret Files 2
Developer: Fusionsphere Systems and Animation Arts
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 03/29/2011
Website: http://www.secretfiles-game.com/secret-files-2/index.php?lang=us
Facebook: None, surprisingly…

Although you’d never guess it from the way the North American branch of Deep Silver treats it, the Secret Files series is arguably the company’s biggest series outside of the RPG series Sacred. To say the franchise has a huge following in Europe is an understatement. The first game, Secret Files: Tunguska was brought over by The Adventure Company in 2006 and sold surprisingly well for a PC adventure game- enough that it was one of TAC’s best selling games. It was in my top ten games for the year and I was very happy that in 2010, Deep Silver finally brought the Wii and DS versions of the game stateside. Sure it was TWO YEARS after the English version was released in Europe, but it’s understandable as adventure games don’t sell very well in North America anymore and the Wii has had only a smattering of them released…which is strange as the console was built for this genre. Much like with Tunguska, we’re finally getting Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis released stateside for the PC, Wii and DS. Of course, if you’re like me, you already legally downloaded the PC version of the game through something like the Adventure Shop or Gamer’s Gate, but I’ll be picking up the Wii version of SF2 if only because god only knows what PC games I have will work the next time there is a new release of Windows (I’m looking at YOU Neverwinter Nights Diamond that I had to purchase again from Gog.com to get it to work on Windows 7…). So yes, this is a game I already own, but since it’s not released in this region yet, I can still cover it in the article while also assuring those of you reading it that it is indeed quite fun.

For those curious about the PC version of the game, the European site has a demo you can download. For Wii and DS fans, you’ll have to wait for the actual game’s release.

The plot of Puritas Cordis revolves around the premonition of the apocalypse, a series of ever growing natural disasters and the murder of an elderly vicar. Like the original game, you’re getting a plot chock full of conspiracy theories, folklore turned into a fictional (and entertaining) tale, and a good dose of humour and fourth wall breaking. The interface is one that is exceptionally easy to understand, the graphics are stunning for this genre, and it can be quite funny at times. My only issue is that Deep Silver has taken so long to release this stateside that the core audience has just downloaded it already from numerous legal sites and so they probably won’t be plopping down their money again for this. Meanwhile Europe is gearing up for the eventual release of Secret Files 3 which hopefully won’t be released Stateside two years after the fact like SF2.


Stacking
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Genre: Puzzle Adventure
Release Date: Spring 2011
Website: http://www.doublefine.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Double-Fine-Productions/39764057287?v=info

I first encountered Stacking when the main character, Charlie Blackmore, had a cameo in Grubbins on Ice, the DLC for the awesome Halloween themed RPG, Costume Quest. I was like, “Is that one of those little Russian stacky dolls?” and then once I beat the game, I looked online and found myself utterly charmed by what I saw.

Charlie Blackmore is indeed one of those “little Russian stacky dolls,” known as Matryoshka. In fact, everyone in the game is a Matryoshka. He’s a young chimney sweep whose family has been bought and sold into capitalist slavery by an evil industrialist. “But Alex,” you say, “There aren’t any such things as Chimney Sweeps in 2011. And Industrial Slavery went out in the first half of the 20th Century!” Well, you’re right on both counts, which is why this game is set in the 1930s and it’s beautiful to behold. The gameplay revolves around adventure game style puzzles that are solved by stacking (hence the name) the Matryoshka inside each other. Other you are inside a Matryoshka that is one size larger than you, you possess it like you were an evil demon in search of Regan MacNeil, except you know…not evil. Different Matryoshka have different special abilities and you’ll need to use them all to get through the puzzles and story of Stacking.

The game is definitely weird and catchy, which is par for the course for the company that gave us Psychonauts, and Brutal Legend and who has staffers that helped make things like Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango. Stacking is going to be a PS3 and 360 downloadable title, and it’s one of only two games on this list that doesn’t have a PC version (Which is odd considering I can’t help but think of Tim Schafer and PC gaming at the same time). It’ll be interesting to see how this thing plays and/or if there will be a demo, but I have a feeling this will be a day one purchase for me.


So there you go – ten under the radar games that you’ll hopefully find interesting enough to pick up once they hit shelves. Did I miss any other indie or smaller publisher titles you think the general public should know about? Are any of these games ones you’re now going to follow or even purchase? Let me know below!

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