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Top 5 Indie Games of 2012 – RegretZero’s GOTY Awards

by on January 7, 2013
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Last year was an absolutely fantastic year for gaming. Aside from a few bumps in the road such as THQ’s financial issues and a few cancelled games, the entire gaming industry has been doing really well. We saw a lot of interesting games released, especially in the Indie genre.

Lots of special things happened in 2012. A new game bundle with the aim of helping indie developers get their game on Steam through the greenlight program was created, called the Greenlight Bundle. We grew our indie game collections substantially with the 24 Indie Royale bundles, each including a fantastic album as well. We saw the release of TONS of fantastic indie games. We saw another awesome indie games journalism site surface by the name of IndieStatik.

Oh yeah, that’s right. 2012 was also the year when I started this site, and I created the one known as RegretZero. This is the year when I got into video games journalism, and it’s been an absolute blast so far. I’ve met a lot of fantastic people, tried a TON of new games, and learned a lot of new things.

I think we can all agree that 2012 was a great year.

We all know that a ton of great games were released last year, but which were the best of the best? The top games, the ones that you just have to play?

I’m here to answer those questions for you. I’ve worked away at it, and I’ve been able to compile a list. I’ve kept it short this year. This list contains the best 5 indie games of 2012, from 5 to 1.

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5. Cortex Command

Cortex Command is an indie sidescrolling strategy/platformer type game, in which you are a cortex, a brain that has been removed from its body and is artificially being sustained. There has been a gigantic battle over resources between races (aliens included) and Cortex Command follows the battle over one planet in this resource war. In order to win, you must utilize your cortex to control the units you have at your disposal.

It may sound simple, but really it becomes quite complicated. You also have to gather gold in order to fund your operations and order new units, and you have a huge selection of units to choose from, which come from different factions. The factions range from dummies to mercenaries to undead, and each faction also has their own weapons and gear that you can buy. You’re not even confined to only buying units from your faction, you can buy whatever you want as long as you have the cash to pay for it.

What really drew me into the game was its gorgeous art style, innovative and unique gameplay, kickbutt soundtrack and the fact that even with all that, the devs went all out and added in full mod support. Cortex Command is absolutely fantastic, and after 11 years of development it has finally been released in its finished form. Everything about this game really impressed me, and the best part about it was that you could do whatever the heck you wanted in order to complete your objectives. Want to overrun your enemies with zombies? You can do that. Want to build up a massive defence force of rocket launcher toting supersoldiers? You can do that. Want to buy a dropship and go kamikaze dropping napalm on your enemy? You can even do that. That is why Cortex Command is, on my list, the 5th best indie game of 2012.

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basketbellescreenshot | RegretZero

4. Basketbelle

Basketbelle is best described as an “experimental 2D basketball based platformer”. The game starts with you playing basketball with your sister, and then there’s a huge twist to it. I don’t want to reveal anything if I can avoid it, but the story involves a large pursuit, that takes you all the way from your neighborhood to the Eiffel tower and back.

In Basketbelle you are a normal boy… with an abnormal quest. Your sister has been captured, and you must play through the various platforming levels (that all involve basketball) in order to save her. Basketbelle is a completely unique experience, unlike any other game I’ve played before. I say this in a good way, as uniqueness is perhaps the best attribute a game can have.

Basketbelle is definitely suited to making this list, here’s why. Although you wouldn’t expect it from a game such as this one, it actually has a deep and well developed story, a tale of love. Love is something that is frequently underused and downplayed in the storylines of video games today. However, it is not a tale of love between lovers. This tale happens to be an abstract one; This tale is one of love between siblings, the love for family. And you know what? That’s incredible. I’ve never seen that type of love utilized in the storyline for a video game before, not like this.

That’s not all either. The soundtrack for this game is absolutely fantastic, to the point where it’s actually worth picking up even if you don’t like platformers. The interactive music part of the game is perhaps the best part, each time you dribble your basketball another note of the music plays.

It’s just that… absolutely everything about this game is fantastic, from the incredible story of love for family to the interactive music to the interesting art style that the experience is shown in. It is easily one of the best games that I’ve ever played, and I don’t say that lightly. And that’s why Basketbelle took the #4 spot on my list.

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FasterthanLightscreenshot | RegretZero

3. Faster than Light

Faster than Light is a space based exploration/strategy game, in which you are the commander of a ship that contains valuable intel that is needed in order to stop the rebel fleet from taking over the galaxy. It has been described by the developers as a “spaceship simulation roguelike-like” game.

In Faster than Light you start with a ship called the Kestrel, with a couple of humans (your units) which you can control by moving them from room to room. You could assign one as a pilot, put one on the weapons system, etc. None of the systems (except for the pilot’s room) actually require anybody to be there at any time, but the systems operate more effectively with somebody controlling them. You start with a weapon or a couple of weapons pre-installed on your ship, but you can collect and upgrade your ship with credits (upgrading systems, buying new weapons, acquiring more units, etc). The entire experience is very customizable, and the map is different each time you play. Oh yeah, and there’s tons of unlockable ships, which will keep you coming back for more and more.

Why is Faster than Light on this list? That’s actually a very simple question to answer. It’s on here for many reasons. The art style in Faster than Light is gorgeous to my eyes, and there’s a lot of variation in ship designs. They’re not just reskins of the same ship, there’s huge differences. Also, each ship has its advantages and disadvantages, weaknesses and strengths. Each ship also comes with a different crew, some even mixing and matching races. There’s a couple of races, which also each have their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Rock people have a lot of health but are very slow. The Mantis people are fantastic for hand to hand combat but repair much more slowly than the Engi. They also all act towards you in very different ways.

Quite simply put, the game is complex. Not overly complex to the point where it is irritating or difficult to get into, but reasonably complex. There’s a lot of variation in the way you can play, and one experience will not necessarily be at all similar to the next. You also have a lot of choice, in that on your journey you will have hundreds of dialogue choices. Oh yeah, and even the dialogue choices change, depending on the type of ship and equipment you have at the time.

Faster than Light is extremely entertaining, the art style is fantastic, the soundtrack is wonderful, and you are offered tons of choice and variation in your gameplay. What more could you ask for from a $10 game?

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torchlight2screenshot | RegretZero

 

2. Torchlight 2

 

Torchlight 2 is a role playing game in which you take control of your character from one of four character classes and… do RPG things. I’m being totally serious here, you basically make your character, choose your pet and then are cut loose, given a gigantic, vibrant world to explore and conquer as you please.

Torchlight 2 is everything the first was… except better. After playing the first game I was so impressed I didn’t even think that there was much more they could’ve done to improve the experience. I mean, it was a little quirky in some areas, but that’s actually not that bad at all considering that it only sold for $20 at launch.

They haven’t modified the Torchlight formula much when jumping from 1 to 2, but the modifications that they did make only improved on the clicky clicky gameplay that we all know and love. One of the things that they’ve fixed was the annoying gender barrier to the class types that we saw in the first, where each class was assigned a gender and you could not, for example, have a female tank or a male ranger. That’s all been fixed up in this installment of the game, where each class can be played as either a male OR a female character, which I’m sure the female players especially appreciate considering in the first there was only one female character, the ranger. They’ve also added a bunch more options to the pet selection. This combined with the former detail means… that each character is far more unique than they were in the first.

In short, there’s a lot more loot, a lot more unique enemies, a lot more songs in the soundtrack, FAR more diverse environments, and an even more gorgeous art style than they had in the first game.

Runic Games even went so far as to add the one feature that the first game was sorely lacking… multiplayer. And not just online multiplayer, oh no. There’s even a LAN (:o) multiplayer option so that you can play locally with friends without worrying about finicky online servers. This feature, ladies and gentlemen, is the best thing that could’ve happened to this game. While solo RPGs are great, is not every gaming experience better when you are able to share it with friends? You are now able to cooperate, so you don’t have to worry as much about picking that squishy (low defence)  mage or ranger character, as you can simply recruit your friend with a warrior class and together you can dominate the world.

Torchlight 2 is the best ARPG I’ve ever played. There’s only one flaw in Torchlight 2… It’s highly addicting. It’s so addicting in fact, that you won’t be able to stop playing. Ever. Until the next installment in the series is released. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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Analogueahatestory | RegretZero

 

1. Analogue: A Hate Story

 

Picking my game of the year was not easy, it was actually a very difficult decision for me. There had been so many great games that’d come out this year, and picking just one of them to be the best was extremely difficult. However, the game that I have chosen is Analogue: A Hate Story.

Analogue is best described as a futuristic, dark visual novel game. The terrifying story that is Analogue: A Hate Story is so fantastically written that it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re a fan of visual novel games (Assuming you at least keep an open mind), you will enjoy this one.

It’s extremely difficult to describe such a story driven game to you without spoiling any of the story, but I will do my very best, taking only from what information is available on the game’s steam page and website.

To summarize the context of this game simply: In the 25th century humankind decided to launch a “generation ship” into space, with the goal of developing an interstellar colony. Something happened, and the ship dropped out of contact. Thousands of years later, we have finally found this ship. Since you were the one who found it, you have been tasked with  connecting to the ship and viewing the log files to discover what happened.

You will do this with the help of two AI, one by the name of *Mute and one by the name of *Hyun-ae. Since these are AI and your communication is hindered (in ways that I cannot explain without spoiling plot, even if it is minor) you must take the information you are given with a pinch of salt, as these AI have personalities and can experience emotion. This means that they can also be biased. While you’re reading the log files and putting together the pieces of this horrifying story, you will also be interacting and building relationships with the AI.

The story even has five possible endings, which definitely adds to the replayability of the game. Similar to Torchlight 2, the only problem with this game is how much the story sucks you in. You’ll be glued to your computer screen, frantically reading log files and talking to the AI in order to find out what happens next.

Analogue: A Hate story has incredibly beautiful looking character art and animations, which work wonderfully on any modern computers but can even run on something as low power as a netbook.  The ambient soundtrack really adds to the feel of the game, especially the mystery element.

Overall, Analogue: A Hate Story is the best indie game that was released in 2012, with not any other game even coming close to its quality of storywriting. The art, animations and soundtrack really add to the experience as well… Oh yeah, and there’s a really neat gameplay element in regards to your communication with the AI, which I can’t tell you as you must discover for yourself.

Please, do yourself a favour and go buy this game. It’s one of the best story driven games of all time, and really deserves far more praise than what it has.

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Although deciding which games were going to be my top 5 games of this year was tough, I stand by all of the games that I have recommended here, especially my game of the year, Analogue: A Hate Story. However, if you feel that I’ve made a mistake, or you think I missed something, or anything like that whatsoever, just leave me a comment. Or maybe you have your own games of the year list that you’d like to share. If that’s the case, start a discussion in the comments!

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