By Jason Herring, December 1 2015 —
Exceptional video games have dominated 2015, with titles like the post-apocalyptic Fallout 4 and the endlessly addictive car-soccer game Rocket League experiencing massive critical and commercial success.
But while major studios put out spectacular games over the past calendar year, Canadian indie developers are releasing experimental projects that push the boundaries of artistry, gameplay and narrative.
Platforms like Steam’s Greenlight are making it easier for independent studios and developers to bring their ideas to the public. While these platforms house a seemingly endless number of worthwhile projects, these are three of this year’s best homegrown releases.
(Released May 12, 2015 on Steam for $21.99)
A masterful combination of tactical turn-based strategy and espionage gameplay, Invisible, Inc. gives you control of a spy agency under attack by a faceless corporation. You’re given 72 in-game hours to complete covert missions and collect gear to prepare for a final infiltration of the corporation’s heavily-guarded headquarters.
The game is developed by Vancouver-based studio Klei Entertainment, who released the immensely popular survival game Don’t Starve last year. On each mission, you take control of different agents with unique skill sets to take out guards and disable alarm systems on maps that change with each playthrough.
One of Invisible, Inc.’s few flaws is its short length and consequently low replay value. But with some new downloadable content recently released and the promise of more to come, Klei have produced a top-notch game that’s sure to entertain for years to come.
(Released Oct. 21, 2015 on Steam Early Access for $10.99)
In NOCT, a survival horror game by Toronto developer Chris Eskins, Earth is transformed into a post-apocolyptic wasteland ruled by a dark force known only as ‘the Nocturnal.’
NOCT is visually striking, with all gameplay taking place through a top-down infrared view. As a nameless and featureless protagonist, you must make your way through the ruined environment with minimal knowledge of whether objects in your path are weapons for you to use, allies to assist you or rogue creatures looking to cause harm.
One of the game’s best mechanics is the scarcity of weapons and ammo, which forces you to be more prudent with resources as the game progresses. NOCT also features exceptional online multiplayer — you can meet other players to team up, but you also have to be prepared for them to stab you in the back and take all of your weapons.
(Released Oct. 20, 2015 on Steam for $16.99)
Pulse puts you in control of Eva, a young girl who became blind at an early age but can now ‘see’ her surroundings through sound. The visual side of the game reflects this, with pulses rippling through the screen to reveal the expansive world around you.
The game, developed by Vancouver’s PixelPi studio, features a pastel colour scheme that’s fittingly childlike. But the saccharine environment is deceiving — the enemies encountered throughout the journey may not be particularly harmful, but their appearances are disconcerting.
Pulse’s unique gameplay doesn’t always work. It’s easy to get lost or find yourself running in circles when exploring the open-world due to some minor problems with the mechanics of sound-vision. But when it works well, Pulse is a smart adventure game from a young studio that should be watched in the coming years.