Indie video games are often overlooked as lesser titles than their triple-A counterparts, opting for simpler graphics and obscure gameplay. If you’re one of the people who share this opinion, we can confidently recommend all of the titles on this list and guarantee you’ll change your tune. The immense power under the respective hoods of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is certainly impressive, and triple-A titles often represent some of the best games ever, but indie titles from lesser known developers should never be ignored. They offer a different kind of experience, often removed from the conventional structure of big-budget games, that can resonate with you in much the same way, even on a deeper level in some cases. While we all enjoy realistic graphics to marvel and admire, indie games can achieve great heights—true gaming masterpieces—through simple yet gorgeous graphics that utilize vibrant colours and a strong narrative.
Even if you’re a triple-A purist, it’s worth playing these indie titles intermittently while you wait for the next big release. Just give it a chance and you’re bound to jump ship, marveling at the simplistic but expertly designed collection of games at your fingertips. And therein lies one of the best aspects of indie titles: there are tons of them. PlayStation 4 shrewdly focused a share of its resources on this from the outset, securing a handful of indie exclusives that offer truly underrated fun, plain and simple.
With that in mind, enjoy this list of 11 indie games you should be playing. Because there are so many, this isn’t necessarily the 11 best, and frankly we still have more to play, but these games should be on your radar if you haven’t booted them up yet.
11. The Unfinished Swan – Giant Sparrow, SCE Santa Monica Studio
The Unfinished Swan is a PlayStation-exclusive and another narrative experience that ditches combat in favour of personal expression. Players are set forth in a blank canvas with nothing but black ink to create different forms of art that subsequently move the game forward. This is the tale of Monroe, an orphan in an imaginative world void of vibrant colours but ripe with personal reflection. There’s a beating heart to this story, one that firmly plants the game in its own genre and demands your attention through smartly designed levels and a gripping story. This is a calming experience best enjoyed in a serene environment.
10. Terraria – Re-Logic
Terraria, available on all consoles, is an action-adventure 2D sandbox game similar to Minecraft, but it sets itself apart with a nostalgic setting while still adding plenty of depth to the experience. The world is fully destructible and encourages players to build and mine resources while fighting monsters of the night. It’s a familiar structure, perfected by the likes of Minecraft, but it also introduces platforming gameplay similar to Metroid and other classic SNES games. Terraria also allows players to build their own houses and set NPCs, which can be unlocked through various methods, inside to unlock gameplay advantages such as personal merchants.
9. Transistor – Supergiant Games
Transistor, released for the PlayStation 4 and PC, is an action RPG game set in a steampunk setting. It’s bursting with unique ideas and the isometric point of view gives it a fresh vibe. One of Transistor’s greatest strengths is weaving an intriguing story, ripe with optional side missions and scraps of information to uncover the depth the developers implanted in this project. The gameplay can be fast-paced, rewarding, and intelligently designed while also catering to traditional RPG fans with more strategic attack plans. Vibrant colours burst from the screen and keep you locked in for the addictive experience. In short, Transistor is the total package: smart gameplay, beautiful graphics, and engaging story. What else could you ask for?
8. Outlast – Red Barrels
Outlast is absolutely terrifying. Fire it up in complete darkness with a gaming headset suctioned to your ears and you’re guaranteed to be shrieking like a schoolgirl as some freakishly large monster chases you without a moment’s notice. And yet it’s all so addicting. When you feel compelled to drop the controller and conjure some thoughts about puppies and rainbows, you’ll foolishly decide to keep going. While Outlast is by no means a long game, clocking in at around five hours, it’s a reasonable length for a non-stop horror experience. By the time it ends you’ll feel a sense of relief and accomplishment. And you should… this game puts any horror movie to shame.
7. Shovel Knight – Yacht Club Games
Shovel Knight is a throwback to the NES glory days. It’s a 2D side-scrolling platform game that revolves around a knight in blue armor who wields a, you guessed it, shovel. It beautifully utilizes 8-bit graphics, resembling NES’s color palette, while bridging the gap between the old era of video games with the new. The controls expand beyond the simple two-button layout and brilliantly include a New Game Plus mode to add replay value—a feature that still eludes many modern games. If you don’t believe the hype, consider that it was nominated for numerous Game of the Year awards, standing tall with the triple-A titles, and won “Best Independent Game” at The Game Awards.
6. Child of Light – Ubisoft Montreal
Child of Light is a platforming RPG renowned for its simple yet addictive combat system and engrossing story. While the term “indie” may conjure thoughts of shallow and under-produced experiences, Child of Light epitomizes the opposite and represents the strengths of indie games and why consoles like the PlayStation 4 continue to focus on them. The 2D environments are aesthetically pleasing and expertly crafted to have its smooth animations and vibrant colors pop from the screen and capture your attention. Child of Light’s combat system, meanwhile, is celebrated for its fine balance of RPG depth and accessible action. It doesn’t boast a bloated RPG combat system but it’s not a button masher either, which compliments the 2D platforming gameplay perfectly.
5. The Banner Saga – Stoic
The Banner Saga possesses conspicuous inspiration from the likes of Game of Thrones and classic RPGs, and that’s not a criticism, it’s one of the game’s best achievements. The game revolves around a group of Vikings grounded in a strong narrative that forces players to make difficult decisions through its deep conversation choices. It’s essentially an amalgamation of established and successful games to create an emotional, deeply rewarding experience. This is accentuated with a beautiful score that blends in naturally with its fantasy setting and dark story. That this project came to light from crowdsourcing is a potentially game-changing development that may only increase the quality of indie games.
4. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter – The Astronauts
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, previously a PC-exclusive now set to release on PlayStation 4, is a unique first-person exploration game. The story revolves around a detective with the supernatural ability to see into the past and weave memory fragments together to solve the mystery of a missing boy. As the game states from the beginning, this is a narrative experience adamant in not holding your hand and forcing you to draw your own conclusions. Gorgeous graphics help sell the experience as you peruse the detailed environments. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a testament to how story-driven games don’t require combat if they’re built on a strong foundation.
3. Flower – Thatgamecompany, Bluepoint Games
Flower, a PlayStation-exclusive, is first and foremost an emotional experience that transcends basic and familiar gameplay design. There’s no dialogue or text or even combat. Enemies, checkpoints, opposition and tension, whether in the form of time limits or failure, are removed to facilitate a calming, personal experience. The player simply controls the wind and moves flower pedals gracefully through the air, absorbing the vibrant, inspiring environments and moving soundtrack. It’s a difficult game to analyze as it responds to people in different ways, or not at all. Even if you fall into the latter category, the game deserves praise for breaking conventional gaming ideas and tapping into your emotions.
2. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth – Nicalis
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, released on PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, is a randomly generated top-down 2D dungeon crawler in the vein of the original The Legend of Zelda but infused with horror elements and dark comedy with religious undertones. There’s a lesson to appreciate here for everyone, and it’s a bonus the gameplay is deeply rewarding and fresh. You’re unlikely to have the same experience twice as the developers crafted hundreds of hours of randomly generated content to keep you coming. The strong story and comedic nature of the game only strengthens its place as one of the best games available.
1. Amnesia: The Dark Descent – Frictional Games
For my money, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is the scariest video game I’ve ever played. I even yelled through it with a friend to alleviate some of the fear and, well, frequent underwear swaps were still necessary. If you think you’re a tough guy or gal, I dare you—scratch that, double dare you—to play this game and not yell at the top of your lungs even once. I spent half of my playing time refusing to move the character as impending horror waited around the corner. During the other half I ran aimlessly as something chased me from the shadows, breathing down my neck and stomping the ground behind me.