Indie of the Year: The Forgotten City, Black Book, Loop Hero

Fifth place – Noita

What happens if you force the fairy witch to reckon with the physics of the real world and the consequences of her destructive magic? The result will be Noita – a merciless but damn addicting roguelike, where one fireball can burn half of the dungeon, and a random pool of blood can easily conduct an electrical discharge directly into an unwary sorceress. Magic is magic, but ignorance of the laws of physics does not absolve anyone from responsibility.
Noita wins over not so much with the total destructibility of the environment, but with its depth, scope for self-expression and scale. The number of possible spell combinations is limited solely by the player’s imagination, the mysterious dungeon becomes more and more dangerous with each passed stage, and the carefully hidden secrets gradually acquire a truly global scale. You can explore the world of Noita and experiment with its mechanics for hundreds of hours, but she will always have something to surprise. True, enjoying the process can be very difficult at times: Noita throws a categorically unfair challenge to the player. Almost any race sooner or later slips into sheer chaos, and the gameplay includes so many variables that it is simply impossible to control them all. However,

4th place – Inscryption

Daniel Mullins, who gave the world Pony Island and The Hex , is known for his love of destroying the fourth wall, deceiving the player’s expectations at the most unexpected moment. His new project, Inscryption , in this regard does not change the author’s handwriting, but at the same time offers something that has never been in Mullins’ work before: addictive, unexpectedly interesting gameplay.
Inscryption locks the player alone with a maniac, who offers to play a strange card game: the winner will receive a reward, and the loser will become another victim of an unsociable madman. The rules are quite simple, so that the depth of the mechanics of Inscryption does not reach the standard of deckbuilding roguelikes, but the game fully compensates for this shortcoming with incredible work with the entourage. Every detail – from visual to music – works to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of a nightmare, and mechanics and narrative are masterfully linked in a tight ball of intrigue.
The gatherings in the gloomy hut impressed the audience so much that many players perceived Mullins’ inevitable turn of the narrative towards any meta as an overkill. Say, this time everything was fine even without philosophical research on the topic of media: there is no need to break something that already works great. The claim is somewhat fair, but Inscryption will still surprise you whether you’re looking for a good card game or a postmodern piece.

Third place – Loop Hero

Domestic roguelike with indirect control Loop Hero– a real ode to minimalism. The little pixel warrior turns circles along the endless road; there is a continuous emptiness around, but each passed circle helps the hero to remember new details of the environment. Here, a dense forest and a gloomy cemetery grow out of the darkness, a mountain range appears on the horizon, and a den of vampires materializes among the swamps, who are not averse to feasting on the inhabitants of the nearest village. The more such memories come to life on the way, the more difficult it will be for the hero to complete the next circle: each new stroke is a new threat, but also a new chance to become stronger. It remains only to find a middle ground and build the correct obstacle course: profitable enough for the hero to gain experience and useful items, but not so dangerous that he dies halfway.
Loop Hero gets the most out of this simple concept. There was a place in the game for creating builds, and clever combinations of memories, and quite a good storyline. The dialogue and soundtrack are so surprisingly good.

Second place – Black Book

The Black Book won the hearts of gamers (and not only Russian-speaking ones) thanks to the incredible work of the authors with Russian folklore. In the performance of the Morteshka studio , folk music, pagan rituals and monsters from children’s fairy tales come to life like never before, and the Perm province feels like a completely magical place – painfully familiar and completely alien at the same time.
The entourage of the old Russian hinterland and gloomy Slavic folklore ideally complement the strong central plot about an aspiring witch who is trying to bring her deceased lover back to life. In addition, during the journey, the heroine constantly encounters other interesting stories: either a fishing village will appear on the way, where drowned people walk along the streets, the devil will offer to play cards on someone’s sinful soul, then the devil himself will appear in the nearest forest. The excellent narrative and detailed card engine of Black Book are so well combined with each other that it is worth getting to know the game even if you are not too fond of Slavic mythology.

Worthy of a Mention

As usual, not all noteworthy projects found a place in the top, but this is not at all a reason to bypass them. While the following games have not made it to the top spots, they certainly are among the pleasant indie surprises of the outgoing year.
HighFleet by Konstantin Koshutin is a hardcore strategy game about battles of aeronautic ships for the skies over a futuristic Afghanistan on the verge of a civil war. The thing is deeply for an amateur, but certainly a piece of work: the fictional conflict is presented extremely realistically in everything, from the physics of the behavior of aircraft and ending with the navigation of the fleet, weapons, management and the political nuances of war.
Severed Steel is a fast-paced shooter for those who have long wanted to know how Hotline Miami would be played in the first person, and even with bullet time, acrobatics and neon cyberpunk. There is absolutely nothing superfluous in this short shooter, and all the constituent elements work perfectly to give the player as much drive as possible.
The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante is a rare example of a good interactive book. Sir Brante’s story is full of intrigue, forks, tough questions, tough decisions and, of course, suffering. While not all of the authors’ decisions are equally successful, the plot is engaging enough to make you want to read The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante at least once to the end.
Cruelty Squad is a joke that got out of hand. A scathing statement about capitalism in vomit aesthetics and perhaps the strangest game of the year. Cruelty Squad is deliberately disgusting, but behind its unpleasant appearance hides one of the best immersive sims of recent years, which is definitely worth trying to play. If, of course, you can digest a very specific visual series.
DOM RUSALOK is most easily described as “Stranger Things” in the USSR. This is a long nostalgic tour of a bygone era, full of eerie paranormalism straight from the pioneer horror stories. With horror, everything turned out not entirely unambiguous, but the entourage of perestroika childhood was conveyed gorgeous: gum from tar, homemade carbide bombs, courtyards of small provincial cities – this is not a game, but a real time capsule.

First place – The Forgotten City

The Forgotten City turned out to be perhaps the most unexpected discovery of the year. The custom mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim , modified to the scale of an independent game, can be safely called one of the best detective puzzles in the genre. It is also the most thoughtful time travel story of all that came out in the last few years.
In The Forgotten City, everything revolves around the plot: there are practically no battles or puzzles, there are no pumping or other role-playing elements. But the script is written so well, and the small open world seems so rich that the player doesn’t need anything other than dialogues and exploration of the city. Touching stories of the inhabitants, memorable characters, curious intrigue, carefully designed environment and real detective investigation – non-linear, confusing, allowing you to make mistakes – captivate more than any battle. Even if the game is not replete with gameplay mechanics, and the technical side leaves much to be desired, the adventure is remembered for a long time.
For many, the outgoing year has surely been challenging, but it is gratifying to see that the indie gaming industry continues to evolve and grow even in the face of the pandemic. We can only hope that in the future we will have even more bright independent projects: there are never too many of them.

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