Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Sam's Take: My Case for Indie Games


PlayStation 4 PS4 Indies 2
The new Instant Game Collection for PlayStation Plus has been leaked, and once again it contains indie games. But PS4 players are a little miffed about the selection – after all, PlayStation 4 players have to buy PS Plus to play online, so feel that they should be entitled to some bigger games to justify the price. It's even got to the point where some have started hoping for titles like – choke – Knack to be included, purely for the sake of a boxed game being part of the roster. However, I'm here to tell you why this indie influx isn't such a bad thing.
It's not like I hate AAA games – it's quite the opposite. Big budgets allow developers to confidently craft enormous experiences with similarly sizeable production values, and that's a great thing. I, like many others, absolutely loved The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt when it released, losing many hours in its lovingly-crafted world full of beautiful landscapes and clipping issues; I can't wait for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Hitman, Dark Souls 3, Uncharted 4, and many other AAA games because of their ambitious visions.
But indie games exist to innovate and push boundaries because they're forced to. Many indie developers have only one shot at breaking into the industry, so they have to make it count.
If any of you've seen the brilliant Indie Game: The Movie, you'll know that indie development can be financially and socially straining, and it's a huge risk. Jonathon Blow was in huge debt after his company Bolt-Action Software folded, but he went on to create the masterpiece that is Braid, a game that uses an innovative time-travel mechanic, and has just released his next game, The Witness. Meanwhile, Tommy Refenes was forced to can an upcoming title and left his own company before going on to make Super Meat Boy, a game that distils the very essence of what makes platforming games enjoyable.
But these releases are just the high-profile tip of the iceberg; last year in terms of indies we got Rocket League, which many can agree is the definition of fun, Hand of Fate, a game that fuses the card and RPG genre together seamlessly, and N++, which was the ultimate platformer. And that's on the PS4 alone. While AAA games can be truly spectacular, it's indie games that are pushing the boat out.
Now I'm not saying that the major publishers can't be imaginative; Ubisoft showed early in 2015 with Grow Home – and the year before with Child of Light and Valiant Hearts – that it can shake things up. But then again, the French publisher's output can also be compared to a production line; in 2014, seven Ubisoft games were open world titles, all with the same basic formula. This is true for many other publishers: EA made the brilliant Titanfall that same year, but most of its other titles were sports games or sequels – some good, but not many original.
This dearth of inventiveness has mainly been caused by the demise of the so-called "AA" publishers – companies such as THQ that, while having flagship franchises, also took risks. De Blob was a kind of Splatoon prototype that tasked you with filling a grey city with colour; Stacking was a fun little puzzler based upon Russian dolls; and even the ill-fated uDraw that led to THQ's demise opened the door for many other unique releases that sadly never came to be.
The end of AA just goes to show how important indie games are to us now; the spectrum of titles is ever increasing and catering to new audiences. Don't have much money and want to buy a good value game? Buy a roguelike such as The Binding of Isaac or Rogue Legacy. Time constrained? Snap up The Unfinished Swan or Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Do you like fun? Pick up N++, because it's literally one of the best platformers out there.
The moral is that there's an indie game for everyone – and chances are it'll be a darn sight more original than what your favourite AAA publisher is putting on store shelves. I'm not saying that every indie title is good or even worthy of your attention, but by cultivating an industry in which smaller creative endeavours can thrive, we're receiving a much broader, more varied slate of software as a reward. So the next time that the PlayStation Plus lineup comes packing a selection of smaller-scale titles, just give them a try before you write them off. You never know what you might find.

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