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The indie boom has begun

With the current console generation starting its swan song and major industry players gearing up for next-gen hardware, it’s easy to be excited for gaming’s bright future. But aside from the usual triple-A projects and the promise of impending console reveals, we’d be remiss in forgetting the countless indie games in the works.

If 2012 was any indication, indie games are only going to have a bigger presence in the coming years. Here’s GamesRadar’s list of independent games to keep an eye out for in 2013–and the best part is, they won’t make your wallet weep for mercy. Without the risk-taking, novel concepts, and unpredictability of these games, the road ahead might look a lot more ordinary.

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Quadrilateral Cowboy

Developer: Blendo Games
Official website

If you’ve ever thought William Gibson’s prophetic masterpiece Neuromancer would make a great game, wait ’til you try Quadrilateral Cowboy. Inspired by a desire to move away from the more arcade-style “hacking” minigames that are all the rage in triple-A titles (connecting pipes in BioShock, for instance), creator Brendon Chung throws you into a more authentic 1980s cyberpunk universe. Portable hacking “deck” and 56k Telnet-powered laptop in hand, you’re able to manipulate the world around you by typing in lines of streamlined code. But even information thieves can get caught, so every job you pull is timed or tied to alarm systems, creating a trippy, evolving logic puzzle that’ll require a sharp mind and skilled reflexes. Sounds like the indie version of Watch Dogs, one of our 10 most anticipated games of 2013.

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Two Brothers

Developer: Ackkstudios
Official website

Just bought a Wii U and looking for something a little less mainstream? Two Brothers is a Zelda-inspired old-school RPG that looks like something you could play on an original Game Boy (if it supported 16-bit sprites, anyway). Aside from looking sharp, the limited color palette actually serves a narrative purpose: The game follows two brothers on a quest to discover and bring color into their Link’s Awakening-esque world. If you’re not into Nintendo’s new console, not to worry; the game’s release on PC and Xbox 360 should assure eager roleplayers that they won’t be left out in the cold.

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Super Time Force

Developer: Capy Games
Official website

Super Time Force is modeled on one insane, interesting idea: playing co-op with yourself. Now, we’re not talking about, say, playing Portal with two controllers–the idea here is that each time your guy takes a hit, you respawn alongside the ghost of your last life, which handily is still just as good at taking out baddies until the moment of their death. If you can run ahead and save your old self from dying, then you create a checkpoint. The kicker is that the more times you die, the more lives you have helping you survive the current round, with a selection of character classes further adding to the strategic chaos. Sounds like some dimensional rip-riffic fun.

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The Swapper

Developer: Facepalm Games
Official site

Metroidvania design gets a lot of love from the indie community, but The Swapper takes it one brainy step further by introducing existential and philosophical themes into its proceedings. While exploring an abandoned space station, you come across the titular Swapper, a gun that creates simultaneously controlled clones which prove useful for solving puzzles. Where it gets a little morally gray is that every puzzle requires sacrificing at least one clone, and, even more ominously, you can beam your consciousness from one to the next. It brings up the classic philosophical argument over cloning: Do you lose your true self in the process? Unsurprisingly, Duncan Jones’ Moon is cited as a prominent inspiration for this sci-fi adventure–and we can’t wait to find out more.

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SpyParty

Developer: Chris Hecker
Official site

SpyParty may have been a blip on the indie radar for some time now, but with its new Pixar-esque art style, it may finally see the light of day soon. For the uninitiated, SpyParty is a two-player game of cat and mouse, between a sniper and the spy who has infiltrated a posh high-society cocktail party. The game’s psychic warfare comes from the anonymity of the spy: While attempting to accomplish a series of covert objectives, the undercover agent must keep from exposing themselves to the sniper by convincingly interacting with a number of AI party guests. Meanwhile, the sniper has only one shot to guess the spy’s identity, by recognizing the moves that only a human player would make. We’re definitely on the guest list for this one.

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The Witness

Developer: Thekla, Inc.
Official site

Jonathan Blow’s The Witness is not an easy game to describe. It’s a first-person exploratory puzzle game of sorts; there are the obvious comparisons to Myst, and there’s more than a hint of the grandiose intellectualism seen in Blow’s own Braid. At its most basic, The Witness seems to be a game about exploring a deserted island, by way of solving panels of line-based puzzles that change based on various environmental factors. The sense of discovery comes from having to adapt to new brain-teasing complications, but what Blow says is the heart of the game–something Blow has staked all of his Braid earnings on, in fact–has yet to be revealed. Hopefully we’ll know more sometime next year.

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Routine

Developer: Lunar Games
Official site

While first-person dread exploration seems all the rage among independent developers, we’ll continue having no problems with it if Routine plays anything like it looks, . Set in an ‘80s vision of the future, Routine’s base of investigation is a lunar space station, where you have to find out what’s happened to everyone. This is a horror game that wears its atmosphere on its sleeve: Combat will be a last resort only, trading intensity for the anxiety of randomized environmental hazards, a lack of HUD, and–our personal favorite–permadeath. The fear of real mortality alone should be enough to make this one of 2013’s scariest survival games.

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Antichamber

Developer: Alexander Bruce
Official site

If M.C. Escher had been a game designer, he might have made a game like Antichamber. This is a puzzle game that plays with your perceptions and spatial awareness; it’s so surreal that to describe it is a challenge. Maybe it’s easiest by example: Picture walking down a stark, white hallway, having just moved on from a previous puzzle. At the end of the hall are two colored staircases leading up and down, respectively; take either one and it illogically loops you around a corridor and back to the hallway where you started. What do you do? After experimenting a bit with no luck, you try backtracking down the hallway. Then voila–you’re in the next area. And that’s one of the game’s easier puzzles.

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State of Decay

Developer: Undead Labs
Official site

State of Decay may be one of the most ambitious open-world games ever. Set in an undead post-apocalypse, you can choose to play from any number of random survivors (who become autonomous NPCs when you’re not playing them). Each wayward soul comes with its own set of skills, ranging from fixing cars and boosting survival morale to more traditional forms of combat or scavenging abilities. On top of that, your entire tribe can be lost forever to permadeath, meaning the backstories of its members might remain a mystery should their faces get chewed off ten minutes into the game. The concept driving the game is facing the long-term factors that would be needed to rebuild civilization. Put simply, Decay’s depth looks astounding.

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Prison Architect

Developer: Introversion Software
Official site

Possibly one of the most bizarre ideas for a simulation design ever, Prison Architect lets you design, run, and maintain a prison. At first, the process of keeping your inmates content is relatively easy: Can they eat and sleep? But it can gradually become more and more complex as you choose whether or not you want to run the yard with a warden’s iron fist or a more correctional alternative. And if your skills with scheduling and resource management (two key components, given the prisoners’ inability to leave their cells) aren’t up to snuff, you may just find yourself with a riot on your hands. This darkly funny sim is currently in alpha, but the full release should hit sometime next year.

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Sir, You Are Being Hunted

Developer: Big Robot
Official site

A goofy “tweedpunk” twist on The Most Dangerous Game, this survival title pits you against stiff-upper-lip aristocratic robots who are hunting you for sport. Your objective is simple: Sneak around and scavenge for supplies to escape your arcane archipelago prison. In the meantime, whatever materials you find will be used as weapons to battle your metallic predators. Given its non-linear design, complex AI, and peculiar subject matter, this should make for one worthwhile hunting party next year.

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Outlast

Developer: Red Barrels
Official site

Outlast, a new survival horror title from a group of former Ubisoft developers, seems to blend Mirror’s Edge and Condemned into one terrifying and thrilling experience. Though little is known about the game’s plot for the moment, it hardly matters. Outlast is designed to scare the crap out of you, and the idea of being chased by inhuman monsters in a dark, allegedly abandoned asylum–with the emphasis on fleeing for your life rather than combat–certainly seems to fit the bill. Check out the trailer here and try your best to maintain bladder control. Hopefully you’ll succeed where we failed.

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Republique

Developer: Camouflaj
Official site

Republique is something that feels old-school and modern at the same time. This stealth-survival adventure uses slanted camera angles and pre-rendered backgrounds, tasking you as an indirect guide for the heroine, Hope. The premise is that Hope has smuggled a contraband mobile phone with her and calls you–on the side of the totalitarian governmental forces–for help. Republique is as much about censorship and voyeurism as it is keeping Hope alive. With no killing and a minimal inventory, former Kojima Productions developer Ryan Payton seems to be taking an entirely different approach to stealth than Metal Gear.

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Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

Developer: thechineseroom
Official site

Having already created what’s arguably one of the scariest games ever in Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Frictional Games is letting Dear Esther alums thechineseroom take over the reigns for this terrifying-looking (and sounding) sequel. We don’t really know that much about the plot details, but from the trailer we can surmise that this psychological first-person horror game probably takes place in Victorian London. It also features some of the most unsettling sound design we’ve encountered in some time, and a fetish for rust-colored machinery. But just what is a machine for pigs? We’re not sure we want to know.

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Star Command

Developer: Warballoon
Official site

What if Game Dev Story developer Kairosoft made a Star Trek-esque space simulation? That’s more or less what the long awaited Star Command does, placing you in control of your own starship in a Federation-style universe. Like Game Dev Story, you can customize your crew based on various skills (science, tactical, and engineering), which will help you earn currency to spend on various ship-related upgrades and exploration. Of course, seeking out new life and new civilizations sometimes means getting into intergalactic scuffles with the locals, so ship-to-ship and crew-based combat may also occur, depending on how you choose to handle yourself. Faster Than Light has us chomping at the bit for more space quests, so you better believe that we’ll boldly go on iOS and PC early next year.

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Parallax

Developer: Toasty Games
Official site

Parallax looks like a cross between Antichamber and Portal: It’s a visually unique, monochromatic first-person puzzler that toys with spatial relationships through two dimensions. Essentially, you need to bounce back and forth between black and white dimensional doors to bypass timed-switch puzzles of increasing complexity. But the real reason you’ll want to play this one is the stunning aesthetic. The rich, thick lines of the visuals will make your monitor pop, especially when changing in real time. Artsy types are guaranteed to love this one.

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Apotheon

Developer: Alientrap
Official site

For all the stabs (pun somewhat intended) taken at adapting Greek mythology into gaming, Apotheon is the first to take advantage of the striking art style seen on the ancient Greeks’ black-figure pottery. It’s quite a sight to see: In motion, the visuals for this 2D platformer/RPG look like the Corinthian urn decorations brought to life. Alientrap hasn’t said too much about the gameplay yet, but if the idea of an open-world Mount Olympus sounds like your cup of tea (or you’re a fan of Housemarque’s Outland), then this is probably one title you’ll want to watch for. We certainly will be.

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Mercenary Kings

Developer: Tribute Games
Official site

If you liked Scott Pilgrim and you’ve got a spot spot for Contra and Metal Slug­-style shooters, it’s time to get excited for Mercenary Kings. As if pixel artist Paul Robertson teaming again with a number of former Scott Pilgrim developers wasn’t enough, Mercenary Kings also has an interesting scavenging system, letting you create virtually limitless combinations of weaponry with which to enact mayhem. With a successfully funded Kickstarter and tongue firmly in cheek, this bizarre-looking arcade blastfest can’t get here fast enough. But don’t take our word for it–watch the trailer.

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Monaco

Developer: Pocketwatch Games
Official site

Fans of classic crime capers like Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Cercle Rouge (or, for a less European flavor, Ocean’s 11) would do well to watch for the long-gestating Monaco. This is a retro top-down multiplayer heist game, that has you working together with your teammates in various class-based roles. Each co-op job is visualized as an eagle-eye architectural plan, marked with doors, environmental details, and plenty of short-sighted guards. Based on the class you pick, your task will be different–just like in the movies. Got a thing against locked doors? Play as a Locksmith. Security bugging you? Take over the system as a Hacker. Rather keep an eye on your friends? The Lookout’s your man. Your move, ace.

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Gone Home

Developer: The Fullbright Company
Official site

Gone Home is a rarity even in an indie gamespace: It has no combat, no open world, no “traditional” game mechanics whatsoever. Instead, it tells the story of a girl who has come home from a year in Amsterdam to discover her manor home empty. Where you come in is trying to figure out exactly what happened. The year is 1995, and Gone Home is frozen in the era. As you explore the estate filled with an impressive degree of environmental details (such as notes written by your sister), the technological limitations of the time period are apparent. With cellphones and the internet still not a reality for most people, you have no choice but to figure out the missing pieces of narrative on your own.

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0x10c

Developer: Mojang
Official site

Surely we couldn’t have an must-watch indie game list without including Notch, right? Now that Minecraft has become an autonomous entity, Markus Persson is focusing his efforts on his next big project, the oddly titled sci-fi project 0x10c. Like Minecraft, the gameplay is emergent, this time revolving around the issues that might occur in the middle of navigating uncharted space. While you can pilot your own ship and fight with other players, Notch has gone on record saying that 0x10c is more about disasters. The universe is on the brink of oblivion, thanks to black holes, and once again it appears that crafting and maintain will play a big role in keeping your ship intact. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to try it ourselves in 2013.

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Indie enthusiasm

Those are the indie titles that we’re most excited for in 2013, but lord knows that many more are out there that we couldn’t fit on this list. You can best believe we’ll jump on screens for Hotline Miami 2 like rabid animals, and the returns on the many Kickstarters we helped fund is sure to bear fruit. Which upcoming indie games have you the most excited?

For more old-fashioned indie goodness, check out Steam Greenlight – 20 games that need your votes and What is indie? Some top independent devs tell us.

By Steve Haske