Some of the most interesting, innovative, and challenging video games come from independent developers. While some of these games find a publisher, the understanding is that the deal is for distribution more than funding, and developers are beholden only to their own vision and, occasionally, the backers who supported them via crowdfunding projects.
Indie games can be found on all platforms, but for this list we focus on those you can play on PC, and specifically: can activate on Steam.
|Baba Is You||2019-03-13||Hempuli||32%|
|Hellblade Senuas Sacrifice||2017-08-08||Ninja Theory||84%|
|Valheim||2021-02-02||Iron Gate Studio||23%|
|Loop Hero||2021-03-04||Four Quarters||59%|
|Frostpunk||2018-04-24||11 bit studios||87%|
|Frostpunk Game Of The Year||2018-04-24||11 bit studios||85%|
|Superhot Vr||2017-05-25||SUPERHOT Team||66%|
|One Finger Death Punch 2||2019-04-15||Silver Dollar Games||86%|
|A Hat in Time Steam||2017-10-05||Gears for Breakfast||56%|
Without further ado, let’s take a look at 15 indie video games you can play on Steam.
Baba is You
One of the most ingenious indie games of recent years, Baba is You uses a very simple premise and complex systems to build very challenging logic puzzles. Each level is built around several rules built out of blocks, which you can manipulate, changing how the level works. For example, if you have a rule “wall is stop” and push out the “stop” block you’ll be able to move through walls.
At first, the rules are simple, and solutions are relatively straightforward, but the complexity climbs up quite fast, with rules evolving into three-block structures, some of which are immutable due to their placement, etc. Baba is You is unique, fascinating, incredibly fun, and the simplistic graphics hide ingenious programming which makes the rule manipulation work in the first place.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice doesn’t look like an indie game. It has great graphics with incredible motion and performance capture, it’s an action-intensive TPP game, and its story involved a lot of research. And yet, developer Ninja Theory made it under its own funds instead of pitching it to publishers. The result is a fascinating game about a serious subject matter.
The plot follows Senua, a Pict warrior suffering from psychosis, who goes on a journey attempting to free the soul of her lover from the underworld. The journey involves a lot of hacking and slashing, but it also puts the players in the mind of Senua, experiencing the voices in her head, and experiencing the same blurred line between what’s real and what isn’t.
Wildermyth is a fascinating game which does a very good job emulating the experience of playing a tabletop role-playing game. It accomplishes it in several different ways. One of them is through its characters: they are procedurally generated (but very customizable), and described by a complex array of stats, traits, and possible relationships. They define the way the characters interact with the plot.
Speaking of plot: it’s told via small story vignettes, with player characters having trait-dictated conversations, while the player decides the next course of action. Finally, combat is turn-based, and takes place on procedurally generated maps which look like 3D paper models. On top of that, PCs are saved to a legacy and can return in future campaigns, retaining their items and transformations.
One of the most well-received role-playing games of recent years, Disco Elysium was developed by a Lithuanian studio ZA/UM and puts you in the shoes of a complete disaster of detective who not only has to solve a murder case, but also get through a mind-splitting hangover. On top of that, in DE your skills and traits come across as NPCs in your head, and each skill has its own idea of what you should do.
Disco Elysium is as interested in your player character’s internal life as in the story going on around him. Most of the game revolves around dialogues and skill checks, with no combat in a traditional sense. Over time the detective will slowly develop political positions, which, in conjunction with opinionated skills will define what kind of conversations you’ll have and where the plot takes you.
|Developer:||Iron Gate Studio|
A quick hit of 2021, Valheim is a survival game about Viking afterlife. No, not the Valhalla, you can’t enter Valhalla until you deserve the honor by killing several bosses you can find on procedurally generated islands of Valheim. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it alone: Valheim supports multiplayer, which makes it a bit less of a hassle to build a sustainable base of operations for your Vikings.
There’s hunting, there’s sailing, there’s deadly wood-cutting, and survival systems, which are less frustrating and bothersome than in many other survival games. You don’t need to pursue the actual goal of the game if you don’t want to, the bosses aren’t going anywhere, so you can mess around with crafting and improving your skills to your heart’s content.
Loop Hero is a very weird game. On some level it plays itself: your character walks along a single looping path and fights enemies on their own. You have a limited, but impactful influence over the game. First of all, you control the hero’s equipment, swapping weapons, armor and more as you find new items with traits you need. You also get to upgrade your home base, unlocking new options.
The most interesting bit is that you get to create the map for every loop, using cards dropped by enemies. Locations can provide buffs, spawn more enemies, give you quests, and more, but there’s a finite amount of space and some cards synergize. Building a good map out of randomly received cards can be a neat puzzle you have to solve if you want to reach the boss of the chapter.
Hades puts you in a mythologically unenviable position of trying to escape from Hades, both as the realm of the dead and as your father, the god of Underworld. As young god Zagreus, you have your personal reasons for trying to get out which involves fighting your way through legions of enemies across several regions of the afterlife. Thankfully, you have mighty assistance.
First of all, Zagreus has access to six different weapons, each with four powerful aspects. Second, Zag’s Olympian family grant him powerful divine boons which tweak, both mechanically and visually, young god’s attacks and maneuvers. Finally, Zag can increase his traits between attempts, so he doesn’t have to start fully from scratch, making the game more of a rogue-lite than a rogue-like.
|Developer:||11 bit studios|
Frostpunk, coming from 11-Bit Studios, the creators of This War of Mine, is another game which forces the players to make drastic choices. Frostpunk is set in an alternative version of the 19th century, where a new Ice Age descended upon the Earth. You play as The Captain, a leader of a community of survivors seeking a new safe, warm place to live, and a coal-powered heat generator might be it.
The thing is, the frigid wasteland is unforgiving, the coal mines need people to work in them. It won’t take long before you have to make morally questionable decisions in service to survival of your community. Lowering the minimum age for coal miners, establishing strict curfews, making difficult judgement during random events… Frostpunk pulls no punches, and doesn’t allow you to either.
Originally created for 7 Day FPS Challenge, Superhot is a first-person shooter like nothing you’ve played before. In Superhot time moves when you do. If you stand around, you see everything in extreme slow motion, giving you time to come up with a plan: shooting back, side stepping the bullet flying at you, chucking you weapon at your enemies, etc. Everybody dies in a single hit, so plan accordingly.
Superhot has a very clean graphics, using only three colors, minimal environment, and low-polygonal enemy models. It creates a distinctive aesthetic which allows you to focus on gameplay and clearing each stage. Your reward will be a fluid replay of the mission editing out all the moments you spent thinking about the next move. And you can be sure the replays will be cool as hell.
One Finger Death Punch 2
|Developer:||Silver Dollar Games|
One Finger Death Punch 2 is a game with wonderfully simple gameplay: you press either “left” or “right” buttons when enemies get in range for your stick-person’s fists or weapons. That’s it. Of course, things being simple doesn’t mean they’re easy. The game is happy to throw hordes of enemies at you, and while some of them die in one hit, others require a more complex sequence before they drop.
The regular playstyle occasionally gets interrupted with mini-stages, such as riding a horse through legions of enemies. Over time you also unlock new abilities, such as more resilient weapons or a blast which clears all enemies on one side of the screen. In addition to a lengthy normal campaign there are also other game modes, including, of course, infinite Survival mode.
Among Us was a completely unexpected hit of 2020, suddenly spiking in popularity several years after release. Like with many other indie games on the list, Among Us’ premise is simple, but opens a way to very engaging gameplay. But the real draw is that while the world was coming to grips with an epidemic Among Us offered a very social kind of competitive multiplayer.
Among Us can hold up to 15 players in a single game, and certainly it works best in such circumstances. Leaves more room for the murderous Impostors to sow discord and sabotage the real crew’s repairs. It’s like John Carpenter’s The Thing, except way sillier. Among Us peaked in 2020 but remains a fantastic indie title adapting a classic party game.
Stardew Valley is so indie it was mostly created by a single person. Inspired by the classic Harvest Moon series (also known as Story of Seasons), Stardew Valley is a game about restoring an old farm to full capacity and becoming a valuable member of a local rural community. It’s a lovely, friendly, relaxing game, but it also puts a schedule on many things to provide a solid sense of time and structure.
You’ll start with cleaning your farm of overgrown bushes and meeting the villagers for the first time, but before long you’ll have a thriving farm with many different crops and facilities for creating various produce. You’ll help the local museum, explore the cave complex, and find love with one of the villagers. It’s not a real life simulator: it’s a simulator of an idyllic, fruitful (get it?) life. Just play it.
Unpacking is another highly satisfying game on the list. Its premise is very simple: the character whose life you’re following has just moved, and you have several boxes of stuff to unpack and put in a proper place. Books go on a shelf, shampoo goes in the shower, a family photo goes on the desk, etc. It’s amazing how games turn things tedious in real life into calming, relaxing experiences.
On top of the pleasant gameplay idea, each location and each box of things reveals something about the owner, a person we never meet directly. We can only infer things about them from the books they read, photos they keep, and many other small clues. Unpacking is really good about environmental storytelling, and the fact that we help create this environment is a lovely bonus.
Much has already been said about Undertale, but it’s always a good idea to bring up Toby Fox’s creation, especially in the context of notable indie games. Undertale is a 4th wall-breaking role-playing game whose minimalist presentation hides a great story with interesting themes… and all of that is well-integrated with gameplay. There are even multiple endings!
On top of that, the game knows what you did, and will call you out if you try to trick it to change certain outcomes by reloading an earlier save state. Certain endings are only available after you’ already experienced a different one. It isn’t easy to say more without spoiling too much, so let’s just end it by saying that mercy is important… and we’ll leave you to find out why on your own.
A Hat in Time
|Developer:||Gears for Breakfast|
A Hat in Time is an action-adventure game with more than a few platforming elements. It also happens to be, in the words of developers, “cute as heck”, starring an alien child with a cool hat, who was robbed of Time Pieces fueling her spaceship and now has to get them back. It involves visiting several distinct levels and facing the challenges they pose.
A Hat in Time was inspired by platforming classics such as Super Mario 64 or Banjo Kazooie, and it does a great job upholding their legacy. There’s even a progression system, because the Hat Kid can turn Yarn Balls into cool, useful headwear, and purchase new skills with the in-game currency. If you’re looking for a nice, highly entertaining, funny platform game, A Hat in Time is exactly that.
This concludes our list of indie games on Steam. There are thrilling adventures, relaxing experiences, and some puzzling headscratchers to wrinkle your brain over. Most of the are for a single player, but there are multiplayer options are well.
There’s a lot to like about each of these games, so hopefully you’ve found something that sparked your interest.