With the rapid advancement of game development tools in recent years, the indie scene has exploded beyond anyone's expectations. Maybe you're bored of AAA titles or simply want to explore what the best indie artists have to offer. Either way, we've brought you the best indie games to play on PC so you can enjoy and appreciate some remarkable, if lesser-known, works of art.
Tip: if all you want is to get some free games to play on your PC, here are some of the best free games you can play on Windows.
Limbo is, by far, one of the most unique games I've ever played. This black-and-white 2D platformer drops you into a mysterious forest after you're separated from your sister. You explore the forest and solve increasingly difficult puzzles as you unravel the nature of your predicament. The game urges you to learn the behavior of different enemies and use the environment to solve the obstacles in your way.
It is easy to die in Limbo. You can get impaled on a spike, crushed under a rock, or stabbed by a giant spider. The way to survive is to master the various environments and overcome every challenge. In parts of the game, you'll be virtually blind and have only the sound of bloodthirsty blades to help you navigate.
Limbo's monochrome aesthetic and atmospheric sound design completely immerse you into its world, despite it having a seemingly barebones visual design.
2. Cave Story
Cave Story falls into the category of retro-modern, pixel art platformers that have flooded the indie scene in the past two decades. Cave Story improves on the tough-as-nails Metroidvanias of the past. You can feel this in its tight control scheme, refined pixel art, and overall top-notch quality that belies its indie status.
You play as a robot called Quote, and your quest is to save cute rabbit-like creatures called Mimigas from an evil scientist. In a series of 15 levels with gorgeous artwork and splendid soundtracks, there's a ton of running, flying, and shooting through enemies and boss fights, and obviously, plenty of dying as well.
If the original, free version doesn't cut it for you, you can get the Steam version of the game called Cave Story+ which comes with remastered visuals and soundtracks along with bonus challenges.
3. Night in the Woods
Night in the Woods is a narrative-based adventure that deftly knits a coming-of-age yarn using an evocative, paper cutout art style. It's a "walking simulator" about a young adult (who's a cat, by the way) returning to her hometown after dropping out of college.
Through your witty interactions with the townsfolk, the game expertly handles complex themes like depression and the weight of expectations. As the protagonist Mae, you get to explore the lively town of Possum Springs and delve into a sinister plot about a friend's disappearance.
Night in the Woods is confident in its story beats and trusts you enough to explore its world in your own way. It's a great game for those who value a great story more than anything else.
4. Papers, Please
Papers, Please is quite different from the lively and quirky worlds seen in many indie games. It puts you in the shoes of a seemingly boring immigration officer in charge of differentiating spies and terrorists from regular people. Inspired by the early 80's Berlin, the sparse but weighty document-based gameplay tries to make you empathize with the plight of hapless citizens trying to cross the border.
You're tasked to protect the interests of the state with your judgement, based solely on the documents the people hand over to you. If you let a suspicious person pass, you might have brought danger to your own family. On the flip side, if you misjudged innocent citizens, that will doom them to an arrest or interrogation. Making wrong decisions can get you penalized and with enough fines, you won't be able to pay for rent, heat, and food.
Papers, Please has been widely rewarded and is considered one of the greatest games of all time. If you want an experience that's more than just a game and changes how you view the world around you, give this one a shot.
Do you know: even if you are not a fan of Windows, there are still plenty of great games available for Linux.
5. Thomas Was Alone
Thomas Was Alone proves that you only need a worthwhile story and a distinctive art style to make a great game. The 2D platformer tells the story of Thomas, a rectangle, as he befriends several other geometric shapes and navigates a series of obstacles.
The game is simple: I had to control multiple shapes to jump, float, and bounce around 100 levels. The minimalist style along with the excellent soundtrack and stellar narration managed to perfectly capture endearing themes of friendship, love, loss, and many more. Thomas Was Alone began as a Flash game but was later ported to many other platforms.
This platformer takes an engaging hook about AIs becoming sentient and embellishes it with sharp writing and charming gameplay to create an unforgettable experience. Thomas Was Alone succeeds where games worth hundreds of millions of dollars fail - crafting a story worth telling.
6. The Forest
The Forest is a tense and frightening survival game set in the wilderness. You can play solo or with friends, scavenging and escaping from the island natives who just so happen to be cannibals. The game was developed by a four-person studio and garnered wide acclaim thanks to its unpredictable enemy AI and satisfying crafting mechanics.
Most horror games fall into the trap of jump scares and other largely ineffective tropes. The Forest kept things fresh and uneasy, mixing a haunting score with unsettling environmental storytelling. The visuals look decent considering the resources that the developers had at hand. The game forces you to work together in co-op to keep your vitals stable and the cannibals at bay.
The Forest received a sequel called Sons of the Forest with overhauled mechanics, a larger map, and dynamic weather. But The Forest is where you should start if you want to play a genuinely scary survival horror game.
Tip: you don't have to buy all your games in Steam. Here are some of the best sites to buy cheap downloadable PC games.
7. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
Roguelikes are incredibly popular in the indie scene. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is unlike any other. A remake of the original 2011 title, Rebirth brings an all-new engine, soundtrack, local co-op, and 60FPS gameplay to enhance the appeal of this dungeon shooter.
You're Issac, on the run from his mother who wants to offer him as a sacrifice to God. Escaping into the basement infested with crazy enemies, tons of gore, and poop is your only choice. Your journey through the game grants you access to various treasures and insane superpowers. The dark and dreary adventure comes to a head when Isaac has to face his mother at the end.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is one of the best roguelikes you'll ever play, and certainly one of the very few with poop physics!
8. Death's Door
Death's Door is a beautiful, succinct 2.5D isometric adventure through a Zelda-inspired realm filled with monsters. If that sounds intriguing, you'll find plenty to like about Death's Door's crisp visuals, fast-paced combat, and quirky narrative. You play as a crow, part of the "Reaping Commission" and are in charge of collecting the soul of a powerful monster.
You go deep into a realm populated with undying monsters and tantalizing secrets. The action-RPG elements keep the journey from going stale and allow you to upgrade abilities and character stats.
Death's Door is a short game, and you can wrap up its story in 10 hours. What it delivers in that short span of time is a challenging yet hugely rewarding journey that is sure to stay with you.
9. The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe
The Stanley Parable is a walking simulator. It's a game where seemingly not much happens. It's also a game where the narrator speaks to you and makes you ponder over concepts like free will and the meaning of life. You play as Stanley, who's an office drone, and blissfully unaware of anything outside his cubicle. Your illusion is broken when you find yourself alone in the entire office.
The game will take you less than 2 hours to complete but that's only if you're satisfied with the ending you got. The game has 19 separate endings so you can keep replaying and make different decisions. The whimsical narrator keeps you hooked and you can't help but explore every inch of the mysterious office.
Whether you're a completionist or simply want to play something truly singular, The Stanley Parable is an easy recommendation. The "Ultra Deluxe" version brings modern visuals to the 2013 game along with new story paths and some extra secrets to unravel.
Finding the Best Indie Games on PC
Besides the indie games I listed here, there are tons of other worthy titles out there. You can check out our list of the best free PC games to play on Windows. For a more relaxed, couch gaming experience, check out the top Xbox Series X games.
Image credit: Steam. All screenshots by Tanveer Singh.
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