It can be tough to keep up with all the releases that occur in a given year. Doubly so, it can be even harder to keep up with the all indie stuff that gets shoved out onto digital shelves each and every week; let alone try to work out how much of it is worth your money.
Never fear though; for we have taken it upon ourselves to shine a spotlight on the best PS4 indie games of 2016 that absolutely deserve your attention; because after all, playing Overwatch day in, day out probably gets a bit boring, right?
Let us begin!
Assault Android Cactus
The old twin-stick shooter got a nitro-powered shot in the arm this year with the release of Assault Android Cactus by Australian developer Witch Beam. In fact, “nitro-powered” might be underselling it a tad, since what Witch Beam have wrought with Assault Android Cactus is nothing short of miraculous.
An insanely fine-tuned twin-stick shooter with that liberally wears its classic inspirations on its digital sleeve, Assault Android Cactus adds to the classic template with dynamic levels that shift and change through each battle, a range of different robots to destroy and some of the most challenging bosses this side of Ikaruga.
Supplementing all this are a range of multiplayer modes, and a wholly unique take on the health systems of old, where your chosen android can’t actually take damage but instead has an ever-depleting battery which must be kept topped up. Inventive and yet fiercely adherent to its classic DNA, Assault Android Cactus is quite simply the definitive arcade twin-stick shooter.
An exercise in visual retro minimalism, Downwell might look akin to a Spectrum 48K title that fell into a time warp, but don’t let that fool you; the Devolver Digital published product is innovative, challenging and entertaining in a way that very few other contemporary efforts are. The brainchild of Japanese indie developer Ojiro Fumoto, Downwell combines vertical shooter and platforming genres in a wholly unique way; your character is in freefall on every level and the goal is to fall through the finish line at the end in order to proceed to the next area. Where things get a little more sophisticated, is in how you can not only leap from ledge to ledge, but you actually shoot various types of weapons out of the bottom of your boots.
The upshot of this (or rather, the downshot), is that not only do you need to be accurate, but every blast very briefly keeps you propelled in the air; forcing you to use your shots tactically to not only kill your foes efficiently, but to reach ledges and other such refuges safely. Chuck in an upgrade system for your weapons and roguelike mechanics that have you coming back a little more capable each time, and Downwell might stand as perhaps the most unusual of all the offerings in this article, but it also happens to be one of the most downright entertaining too.
Enter the Gungeon
Twin-stick, roguelike shooters aren’t an especially new thing, but few can lay claim to being as either impressively layered, or as outright blissful as Enter the Gungeon. Thrusting players deep into a procedurally generated labyrinth of walking bullets, vicious bombs and sentient grenades, Enter the Gungeon’s imaginative foes are duly matched by the offbeat range of guns that you have on hand to deal with them, including, but not limited to, a slime-shooting rifle, a love heart dispatching shotgun and a literal peashooter.
With its giddy marriage of pixel-art, pitch-perfect controls, sly humour and roguelike mechanics, Enter the Gungeon effortlessly stands as one of the finest twin-stick shooters of recent memory on PS4, not least because you also get to fire t-shirts at people too. See? Game of the year candidate.
Like other examples in the first-person roaming adventure genre, Firewatch is neither especially long, nor, particularly difficult, but what it might lack in traditional challenge, Campo Santo’s debut title more than makes up for with its unique setting and protagonist.
Set in the Wyoming wilderness of 1989, players are cast as Henry, a man who has left the bustle of everyday city life behind to become a fire lookout during Wyoming’s hottest ever Summer season. With his only contact being a young woman by the name of Delilah, who can only be reached via a crackling mini-radio, both Henry and the player are thrust into the heart of the wilderness just as strange happenings begin to occur that test everything they know to be true.
Generously stuffed with themes of isolation, introspection and paranoia set against the backdrop of a harsh and often beguiling natural environment, the tale that Firewatch weaves is quite unlike any other and as such, it’s something that every PS4 owner should experience.
Despite only just arriving on PS4, a protracted stint on Xbox One wasn’t enough to dull the almost overwhelming lustre of INSIDE, the latest title from Limbo developer Playdead. A potent mixture of visual and thematic nihilism, INSIDE builds on the grim, yet compelling foundation laid by Limbo to deliver an adventurous platforming effort that excels in just about every way that matters.
With it’s logical and challenging puzzles providing ample incentive for core gamers to keep their attention, INSIDE hooks the player in earnest; leading them through its eight to ten hour monochromatic spectacle until they reach one of the most divisive and memorable endings in videogame history. One of the very best games released this year (whether you attach that ‘indie’ label or not), INSIDE is an easy recommendation for anyone who likes oodles of emotion, atmosphere and intelligently told narratives in their games.
Arguably one of the most consistent developers in the industry today, Klei Entertainment has enthralled PlayStation gamers for years with fare spread over many different genres including Shank, Don’t Starve and now most recently, Invisible Inc; a wholly cerebral take on turn-based strategy that is absolutely steeped in Klei’s trademark dazzle.
Controlling a team of expert hackers from an isometric perspective, players are tasked with using their different skills to break into a variety of high tech infrastructure, using turn-based stealth and guile to get the job done rather than outright confrontation. Bolstered by a robust set of roguelike mechanics and a highly challenging (though never unfairly punishing) level of difficulty, Invisible Inc. is a best in class turn-based strategy title that remains an essential purchase for any fans of the genre.
Layers of Fear
First-person horror titles aren’t anything new. Indeed, with the likes of SOMA, The Amnesia Collection and Outlast all doing a reliable job of squeezing the brown stuff into our pants, it’s fair to say that it’s genre which isn’t short of card carrying members. Where Layers of Fear shakes things up a bit is in its setting, as it casts players as painter who, in his eerie Victorian mansion, must complete his not-at-all creepy looking painting by seeking out clues and solving puzzles strewn about the place.
In addition to boasting a load of nerve-shredding jump scares, Layers of Fear has an all-pervading atmosphere that is at once terrifying and foreboding in equal measure, while three different endings throw a substantial amount of longevity into the bargain. In short, if you’re looking for your next first-person horror fix, Layers of Fear could be just what the doctor ordered.
Imagine Gordon Ramsay decided to create a local cooperative multiplayer game on PS4 where you each control a little cartoon chef with the goal being to rustle up increasingly complex dishes for your customers before they storm away in a huff; that’s basically Overcooked! in a nutshell, and it’s one of the most engaging couch co-op experiences we’ve ever had on PS4.
Furiously intense and amusingly rib-tickling at every turn, Overcooked’s sublime level design coupled with its bite-sized challenges make it a sure-fire mainstay in the PS4 local multiplayer scene; something that we don’t see changing for a good while yet. And let’s be honest, there’s something quite liberating about screaming at your mates because they haven’t cooked a particular ingredient quickly enough. Mister Ramsay himself would approve, I’m sure.
A beautifully told coming of age tale that casts players as Alex, a teenager who visits an abandoned island with a group of friends for a spot of late night partying, Oxenfree is quite rightfully recognised as one of the most intriguing and unusual adventure titles to come out in the past year.
Very much in the mould of a point and click adventure, Oxenfree boasts a branching dialogue system that is ably bolstered by some absolutely belting and cleverly understated voice work, while Alex can leverage a trusty handheld radio can be used for everything from solving puzzles, to communicating with spirits.
Though smaller in scope, more mechanically simplistic than many of its genre peers and clocking in at just a few hours long, Oxenfree nonetheless has charm in spades. Its cast of characters are an eminently likeable bunch and the potential for multiple playthroughs is compelling given the large amount of variance that the branching dialog system permits. In short, if you’re up for an inventive point and click adventure with a touch of the beautifully strange, you need not look any further.
It should come as little surprise that the practiced hands behind 2013 indie hit Guacamelee! would follow it up with something equally as eccentric in the form of Severed, a first-person hack and slash adventure title that stands as one of the best PS Vita titles ever released.
Making grand use of the Vita’s oft-overlooked touchscreen capabilities, Severed casts players as one-armed girl who must become a living weapon to save her family from a nightmarish world and the fiendish denizens that inhabit it. Cribbing from such titles as Dungeon Master, Metroid and Infinity Blade, Severed’s masterful level design continually teases the player with areas that they cannot reach initially, but encourages them to return when they possess the necessary ability to do so.
With its colourful South American visual stylings, strategical encounters and rewarding ability system, Severed might well be the last masterpiece that PS Vita bears witness to, and if that is the case, I cannot think of a finer swansong for Sony’s muscular handheld than Drinkbox Studios latest effort.
Being able to replicate the formula of the classic farming RPG is one thing, it is quite something else though to soar beyond its template; a feat that the immensely talented team over at Chucklefish Games have been able to do with Stardew Valley. One of the most critically acclaimed titles to release on PC in the last few years, Stardew Valley puts players in charge of a plot of land which must be cultivated. Where Chucklefish Games makes its mark however, is in the incredible breadth and depth by which the developer expands upon its classic inspirations.
With a massive range of activities to get stuck into such as fishing, cooking, undertaking quests, building a house and raising a family to name just a few, Stardew Valley’s almost abyssal depth is complimented by a wealth of charm and character that surpasses just about anything else on the market. Of all the games in this feature, Stardew Valley is perhaps the one with the most universal appeal; a title which simultaneously relaxes and challenges, while also being generously stuffed with enough hidden depth that newcomers and veterans alike will find themselves staunchly entertained for years to come.
Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure
Sometimes, just sometimes, you want to stop blasting your mates skulls to pieces and instead engage in something a little less… violent with them. Cue then Stikbold!, an hilariously Danish take on the popular sport of dodgeball, Stikbold! takes the tenets of that classic sport and puts them in dynamic arenas, where waves can wash you away, trucks can run you over and dangerous typhoons can sweep you into the sky.
With a frequently amusing single player campaign, colorful aesthetic and easy to learn controls, Stikbold! cements itself as a game that just about anybody can pick up, while its local multiplayer mode easily proves to be a reliably entertaining way to while the hours away.
Coincidentally, Stikbold’s cartoon style visuals, easy going humour and relatively pacifistic gameplay also make it a great choice for a local multiplayer game to play over the holidays, proving the fact that when the drink starts flowing and all the snacks get crunching, there are fewer more entertaining local multiplayer efforts than Stikbold! A Dodgeball Adventure.
The Banner Saga
Vikings meets Game of Thrones meets Fire Emblem sounds great doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what ex Bioware developers Stoic have been able to achieve with the first two instalments of their epic strategy RPG trilogy, The Banner Saga.
Mixing in turn-based, tactical beats along with resource management and a maturely told branching story which is accompanied by some striking Don Bluth inspired art and animation, The Banner Saga is a brave and compelling venture; a trilogy of strategy RPG efforts the like of which has never been seen on PS4 (or PS Vita for that matter), and one that absolutely demands and deserve your attention.
In spite of what Battlefield 1 might seek to teach us, the Great War wasn’t contested solely in the glitzy realms of Hollywood infused spectacle porn. Instead, much of it was spent in distinctly unglamorous, tense and prolonged exchanges of trench warfare, where each side spent most of their time crawling through the mud and detritus of their trenches, in the hope that they weren’t spotted by the enemy and instantly killed.
One of the most intense first-person shooters out there this side of Rainbow Six: Siege, Verdun channels that perilous threat to create a white-knuckle take on trench warfare that no other title has been able to match to date. More than that, it also forces a players to place a premium on teamwork too, with the winning side being the one that makes the best use of flanking and crossfire tactics to eliminate their foes.
Don’t let the slightly rough around the edges visuals fool you, Verdun is an intelligent WW1 shooter effort that begs to be experienced in all its unsettling and nerve-wrecking glory; just remember to keep your head down.
Now here’s something a little different. A first-person adventure title, Virginia puts players in the shoes of Anne Tarver, a graduate FBI special agent who is tasked with investigating the disappearance of a young boy in a fictional version of the same state that the game shares its name with.
Completely devoid of any kind of spoken dialogue, Virginia instead relies on physical performances from its flat-shaded cast to evolve the interactive narrative in a fashion that we just haven’t seen before. Beyond such performances, the hands of a master auteur are also present in how each scene transitions from one to another; the result of which is intended to juxtapose different situations and moments for powerful effect.
Though more of an experience than a bonafide videogame in the traditional sense, Virginia’s lack of puzzles and true player agency might grate with some, but the focus on a strong narrative and atypical storytelling devices make it a marvel that deserves a place in the collection of any discerning PS4 owner.