Indie Game of the Year 2012

What makes an indie game? Once upon a time (i.e., until just the past couple of years) indie games were relegated to a life in the shadows, unplayed by the same large audiences as multi-million-dollar titles from large, established studios. Now that has all changed, with digital storefronts like Steam making huge global audiences aware of games from teeny-tiny studios — sometimes just one person — that they never would have given the time of day before. So it’s no surprise really that with so many great, high-profile indie games released in 2012, we’d be offering up our official picks for the best of them.

More so than ever before, there were literally dozens of contenders to choose from to make our list of 10 nominees. You can imagine, then, the difficulty we had coming to a consensus on the final five. Here’s the full list we were working from, followed by our picks for the best indie games of the year:

The nominees were:

Our Picks

5. Slender: The Eight Pages

Imagine that you’re lost in the woods, at night, with only a flashlight to guide your way. Oh, and there’s an honest-to-goodness boogeyman on your trail. That’s the setup for Slenderman: The Eight Pages, which was not only one of the best indies we played this year, but the scariest as well.

We love horror games and have played plenty of them (just have a peek at Phil’s HorrorScope columns for all the proof you need), but precious few have had us quaking in our boots like this. Sure, its premise — find eight missing book pages without the Slenderman catching you — isn’t the most creative we’ve ever encountered, but the game’s oppressive sense of constant dread more than makes up for it. The simplistic visuals are more than adequate to convey everything needed to set the mood given the low-light situation and the ambient audio puts the experience over the top. If you can play with the lights off and manage to keep your Underoos unsoiled, we salute you!

4. Natural Selection 2

We heaped a lot of praise on this hybrid FPS-RTS for its complexity and lack of shyness towards challenging players to master new concepts when we reviewed it, and our feelings haven’t change one bit since. This asymmetrical experience, in which both sides offer different types of gameplay, really won us over with its heavy strategic element — heck, it even lets one person on each side command the action a la an RTS.

Getting started in Natural Selection 2 might not be the easiest experience you’ve ever encountered in your career as a PC gamer, but take it from us: It will be one of the most rewarding. Just make sure you play with folks who value teamwork and you’ll be engrossed for weeks in intense alien versus space marine skirmishes.

3. Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is sort of like hopping in a time machine to an alternate 1989… one where someone started making a Scarface game for Sega Genesis but decided it was way too tame. Easily one of the most hyper-violent titles ever to grace a computer screen, this game isn’t trying to innovate, it’s going for the experience. A one-of-a-kind, brutally challenging voyage that oozes as much style as it does Kool-Aid hued blood.

We imagine that the experience of playing Hotline Miami is something akin to descending into a homicidal rage, only without the associated dry cleaning costs. Plus, the entire nigh-psychedelic spree is accompanied by one of the most incredibly appropriate soundtracks we’ve ever run across.

So no, Hotline Miami isn’t the least bit tasteful or even particularly polished, but damn if it isn’t fun.

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