The 2016 indie games you don’t want to miss

There’s never been a better time to look beyond AAA titles, as these upcoming indie games show

2015 was a fantastic year for independent games, as evidenced by the release of hugely inventive and genre-bending titles such as Her Story, Kerbal Space Program and SOMA – but 2016 just might top it.

With Jonathan Blow’s The Witness arriving on 26 January, we’ve already seen the release of one of the year’s most anticipated indie games, but don’t worry: there are plenty more to come. We’ve picked out ten of the titles that have most piqued our interest, ranging from number-crunching grand strategy to blood-drenched brawling.

By the way, if you’ve noted one or two glaring omissions from our selection below (*cough* No Man’s Sky *cough*), it’s probably because they’re so darn exciting that they’ve transcended the indie tag and made it onto our overall most anticipated games list. By all means check it out, but not before you’ve perused this round-up of the gaming underdogs most likely to win your heart in 2016.

N.B. at this point just about every game here is listed only as due for release this year. As more accurate dates are announced, we'll update accordingly.

Tacoma

Gone Home, available on Steam since 2013 but recently released on consoles, earned wide acclaim for its great writing and intelligent, exploration-driven story, and the developer’s next title Tacoma looks set to continue the trend – albeit on a space station in 2088 rather than in an American house in 1995. The zero gravity environment and augmented reality-based interface will open up a lot of unusual gameplay possibilities.

We don’t know a huge amount about the plot, only that you play an engineer arriving for her first day on the job only to find that something has gone awry – and you’ll be uncovering that particular mystery by locating clues and exploring Tacoma station. In that way, it’ll be a lot like Gone Home – or perhaps Alien: Isolation without the constant threat of a xenomorph caving in your chest. We can’t wait to find out what’s going on.

Formats: PC, Mac, Xbox One

Release date: 2016

Hyper Light Drifter

The fact that Hyper Light Drifter is being designed to combine the best elements of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Diablo should alone be enough to get it blipping on your anticipation radar – and then there’s its beautiful Fez-style pixel art stylings and minimalist music to add further icing to the cake. The game will be a mix of exploration and combat, with main character the Drifter seeking the cure to an illness that’s killing him in a ruined post-apocalyptic world.


Developer Alex Preston raised almost £450,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, which has allowed him to expand the platforms from PC and Mac computers to pretty much every console around – even the Ouya and Wii U! Owners of those machines haven’t had much to get excited about in a while, so mad props to Preston for that.

Formats: PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Ouya

Release date: 2016

The Long Dark

You might have already played The Long Dark, because it’s been available through Steam Early Access and Xbox One Game Preview for some time – but it’s getting a full release this spring, in which the game’s current sandbox mode will be bolstered by a proper story.

Set in the Canadian wilderness after a geomagnetic event has torn civilisation asunder, it’s a first-person open-world game in which your main goal is simply survival against a scarily long list of potential hazards: starvation, thirst, exposure, fatigue and the local wildlife. You’ll be searching for supplies, hunting for food, scavenging for objects and seeking shelter, and basically trying to stay alive for as long as possible. Succumbing to a threat causes permadeath (i.e. your save will be deleted and you’ll have to start a new game), but the sheer number of variables means no two playthroughs will be alike.

Formats: PC, Mac, Xbox One

Release date: available now on Steam Early Access and Xbox One Game Preview. Full game due later in 2016

Mother Russia Bleeds

If you’re old enough to remember (and miss) the likes of Streets of Rage, Double Dragon and Final Fight, Mother Russia Bleeds is ready to spark your nostalgia. It might then pour petrol on it and stamp on its face, but that’s just because it’s one of the most OTT gory games we’ve ever seen.

A side-scrolling beat ‘em up that supports up to four players and takes place in an alternative history USSR, it features more stabbings, limb-snappings and head-crushings than all five seasons of Game of Thrones, all rendered in a garish, pixellated retro style that appears to have been fed through an imaginary Instagram “Narco-Haze” filter. If you loved Hotline Miami’s balls-out take on top-down shooters, Mother Russia Bleeds appears to be the same for classic 80s and 90s brawlers.

Formats: PC, Mac, PS4

Release date: 2016

Cuphead

It’s Gunstar Heroes meets Steamboat Willie! Cuphead is a run ’n’ gun platform game with a distinctive 1930s cartoon art style. And those authentic looks didn’t come easy: every frame of animation was hand-drawn, inked and coloured, just like in traditional animation; even the in-game text comes via the brush of a professional sign-painter.

The gameplay is frenetic, with some platform sections and a strong focus on tough-looking boss battles, but if you want to make things a little easier, you’ll be able to team up with a friend to tackle Cuphead in co-op.

Formats: PC, Xbox One

Release date: 2016

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