Indie Highlight – Five Exciting Upcoming Titles

The maturation of the games industry is alive and well. Independent developers release a bevy of new games every day, taking influence and molding it into a unique experience involving control and response. Often, storytelling comes second to functionality with most of these releases; but the most intriguing upcoming titles strive to appropriately bond the two together.

One look no further than these five upcoming indie titles to note a sophisticated evolution of the form, the only artistic medium through which interactivity is not only permitted and promoted, but effectively required. They may not receive as much attention as notable AAA games, but are no doubt as important to the evolving efforts of the industry as a whole.

 

Cuphead:

You know the story by now: development hell, concept redesigns, consistent delays for years. It all points to an eventual worrisome release; but we remain collectively undiscouraged. No, we can’t keep away for one simple reason: the style.

What elevates Cuphead above similarly-expressive contemporaries is its deceptive simplicity. Boss fights galore, with a keen eye for detail, not only in animation but what we can assume in methodology, as well. Maintaining interest across a variety of stages, all centered around a specific battle; it’s quite a challenge. But if developer, Studio MDHR can pull it off, what we’ll be left with is an engaging venture into the realms beyond simple boss fight archetypes.

Classic cartoons from the 1930s, brought back with a vengeance. Even the titular tongue-in-cheek reference to Disney’s famous Teacup rides, facilitating a cynical adult notion to rebranding the familiar into something a bit more harrowing. The potential for greatness is boundless; its creativity something to be marvelled at, simply.

We don’t have much time left to wait. A close September 29 release date, anchored by some positive early feedback from other publications promises nothing but success for this unlikely indie icon. And we couldn’t be more excited to finally see it come to fruition.

 

Vampyr:

Dontnod seem quite enamored with stretching the limited bounds of humanity, utilizing the videogame medium as a perfect conduit to put forth its ponderous moral concepts. When given the abilities to manipulate the world and others around them, how does one choose to use these powers, and what does it say about them as individuals?

Life Is Strange gave a girl struggling with maturity the power to turn back time on a whim. It was a rather brilliant twist on the coming-of-age stories we all love to gravitate towards in our own constant stages of development; but with Vampyr, the developer is threatening the player’s sense of humanity by poisoning them with a disease of immortality. Instead of questioning the limits of time manipulation, Vampyr erases time completely, and all the restraints tied to it.

Levelling up by choosing to kill mortal innocents; promising to have the ability to complete the game without resorting to any sort of violence. The game looks to deliberately task the player with moral conundrums as an act of developing the self. Which begs the question: For the good of the self, or all of mankind?

Dontnod proved successful with their prior experiment. Here’s hoping the same rings true with this wildly-different production. If anything, it will no doubt at least prove the fundamental basis of the medium’s ability to express similar ideas through various modes of mood and tone. Not to mention player interactivity — once again, a defining characteristic of videogames as art form.

 

Return of the Obra Dinn:

Lucas Pope is one of this generation’s most notable visionaries. Papers, Please remains a marvel: reconstituting paper work as a tense, emotionally-conflicting timebomb, simultaneously challenging, fun, and remarkably bleak. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever played; establishing moral quandaries in the middle of chaotic, paranoid action all within the confines of a singular constricted space.

That sense of confined space returns in Pope’s follow-up, Return of the Obra Dinn, which seems to take more than a fair share of influence from Fullbright’s games like Gone Home and Tacoma. Taking place on a mysteriously abandoned ship, the player will utilize magic to explore the past circumstances in real time, all through the eyes of an investigator. One can assume the game will delve into the intricacies regarding individuals’ attachment to their environments, but perhaps with more sinister implications than similar ‘walking sim’ contemporaries.

For now, a demo has recently leaked to tide us over while we wait for a full-fledged release. Its artistic aesthetics compliment the haunting mode of examining ghosts from the past; the isolation promised parallels the cabin fever the shipmates assuredly endured. Frankly, it appears Mr. Pope has another thought-provoking, emotionally-resonant experiment on his hands. I’m more than eager to see how it compares to his previous masterpiece.

 

Below:

The vastness of space is consistently highlighted in Below. The player character assumes the role of a tiny figure, exploring gorgeous settings filled with waves of creatures both massive and wee. Facilitating a challenging gameplay experience akin to Dark Souls — yes I do dare to make the comparison — the player character’s meager presence indicates the most oppressive of atmospheres, even in trailers alone.

And it’s so exciting to see in action. Games that can instill this dreadful response, that promote trepidation in wild, unknown lands filled with monstrous, aggressive beings; it’s a testament to the power the entire medium has in stimulating a player’s interactivity with the work in question.

Below promises to make us feel as small as possible, while rewarding our careful decision-making to overcome a variety of formidable enemies. It’s top-down viewpoint and large-scale environments greatly influence this idea, but perhaps its most promising features lie in the brilliant visuals. Bright reds amidst dark greens emphasize flame in the flood, that universal promise of hope in the face of hardship. The eternal struggle, emphasized by interaction with setting, and response to mood.

 

Kentucky Route Zero Act V:

AKA the obligatory mention.  Because it has to happen soon, right? The magnificent Lynchian adventure title’s finale is surely deep into development as we speak. It must be. Please, Cardboard Computer, we can’t wait another three years like last time!

This is a game whose mere existence feels genuinely lifelike; gradually developing beneath the surface, hiding its development as a child shies away from the spotlight in a school play. It’s not simply stage fright: it’s an absurd sort of confidence in itself that defies any notion of necessitating attention. Because it lives, it breathes, and we can’t get enough of it. Which makes us all the more conflicted to see it’s conclusion finally unveiled.

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Andrew Gerdes

Gamer, musician, writer, film buff, 'foodie,' aspiring baker, critic, intellectual self-reliant, optimist, health-obsessed kid who only wants to explore the infinite possibilities of artistic expression. Also, people tend to think I'm an all-around awesome guy

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