PC gaming is becoming a sea of console ports, with exceptions like The Witcher 2... and the rise of indie games. Games developed by small teams (sometimes even just one person, like in the old times) but that are taking lots of hours of sleep from me in exchange of great and innovative entertainment.
Sure Call of Duty will satisfy my adrenaline hunger when needed, but since the first game, it only refined exactly the same concept with increasingly appealing and expensive graphics. 5-6 hours of single player campaign, and then almost everything narrows to playing online games once and again.
Well, I've been playing for months Minecraft, and it has probably given me already as much gaming hours as an old Final Fantasy. The first day I tried Defense Grid (at 11 PM), when I checked the clock it was already 4 AM. A 5 player DEFCON game lasts less than one hour but the tension of watching the nukes flying and wishing your defenses will destroy them is almost unbearable.
Anyway, how better than giving a small list as proof that you don't need a big budget to create a nice game on PC? Here are 20 games that I am currently playing and I think are a must have (if you like the genre, that is). Enjoy!
Audiosurf: Remember the old game Klax? Audiosurf takes its mechanics, adds a spaceship that you handle and uses your MP3s to generate the tracks to race/travel, trying to get the best score in the game's multiple modes. Plays out simple but well done, and with the online highscores you can try to beat everyone else on your favourite musical tracks :)
Jamestown: A bullet ballet arcade with beautiful pixel graphics and tons of bullets at any time in the screen. Up to 4 local players cooperative mode and quite a few unlocks to get once you play the game in higher difficulty levels.
Shatter: What about grabbing Arkanoid and playing with how you slide your ship and allow to change the angle of the ball? You will be in the bottom, in the sides, in an arc (really hard at first, specially when the ball bounces), and changing the angle to build combos and keep cleaning the screen. Bosses, two-player endless mode... A nice twist of the classic.
Minecraft: The king of indie games right now. A sandbox, LEGO-like blocky game in which you generate a random world and craft in it, from blocks (wood, brick, sand...) to tools and weapons to defend yourself from the monsters that appear at night. Millions of copies sold and is still in beta. Soon will have an "adventure update" with NPCs and more meaning to playing the game (currently exploring and building stuff). Multiplayer is also present although also in beta/unfinished. Official mods support is on its way too.
Penumbra: A thrilling 3D first person adventure in which we move objects, open drawers and simulate many other actions using the mouse in a fantastic 3D engine with great physics. It is not an FPS because most monsters will kill you easily and the main focus is puzzle solving and exploring. Has also two stand-alone expansions with more adventures.
Terraria: Initially a 2D pixelated copy of Minecraft, soon you will find out it contains a quite complex world, with tons of gardening, building and even summoning options. This one contains NPCs, bosses and in general more things to do in the world, plus a simple and yet efficient multiplayer mode.
AI War: Space battles simulator with heavy strategy: Turn-based combats to try to conquer all worlds in a galaxy and defend them from attacking fleets. Thousands of units sometimes and much needed planning are other highlights. Oh, and up to 8 players can join forces online to try to defeat the enemy AIs.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth: A tower defense game with a twist: You are not the defending towers, but the attacking units (troops trying to pass through enemy alien structures and weapons). Fun to play switching the side for once.
Defcon: Remember War Games movie and the nuclear warfare the computer had? Defcon is exactly that game. With AI or real players, move your naval and air fleets, deploy your nukes and launch them when you arrive to DEFCON 1 to obliterate your enemies.
Defense Grid: Ah, Tower Defense games: One of my favourite genres, and yet one not properly monetized until recently. Defense Grid provides nice 3D graphics representing aliens, maps and defense turrets. One of those games you start to play at noon and end up in the morning next day without noticing.
Frozen Synapse: A tactical shooting game. Similar to the old Laser Squad or X-COM series, but with vectorial top-view graphics. Highly tactical and with both a single player campaign and multiplayer modes.
Gratuitous Space Battles: Tactical spaceship battles simulator, with nice graphics and an impressive array of ship building options, from hulls to weaponry, engines, shields... And then impressive battles to fight giving formation orders to your ships.
Revenge of the Titans: A mixture of RTS and tower defense, lovely graphics and a lenghty campaign mode.
Uplink: A hacker simulator. Intense simulations as you have to accomplish hacking missions and upgrade your software and hardware. Curious and supporting mods for fully customization.
Cortex Command: A Marvelous 2D pixel engine of battles, similar in concept to the beloved Worms but with realtime, with resource building options and quite impressive physics. Still in development and already quite fun (but a bit hard to handle at first). Supports up to 4 local multiplayer. Not only supports mods but also includes an editor.
Desktop Dungeons: A roguelike RPG that started as a free windows desktop game and now has a paid browser-based game in development (currently in beta), has a nice strategy component as you have to fight enemies and you only regain health with potions or exploring new map tiles (so eventually you cannot heal).
Legends of Yore: A classic isometric RPG, but built with 6x6 pixel images. Like a micro-Zelda. Frequently updated.
Project Zomboid: Still in quite early alpha stage, and this zombie survival RPG already has nice looking features, like having to block your house to avoid zombies getting in (including closing windows to prevent line of sight), random map generation and tons of details like food rotting, starvation, getting sick... Looks very promising and soon will have mod support.
Space Pirates and Zombies: Having some arcade fragments, this spaceships RPG has quests, ships to fix, buy and upgrade and insanely huge universes also randomly generated.
Note: Many of this games can be bought (for a limited period) in the Humble Bundle pack.
As you might have noticed, two terms appear in most games: random/procedural generation, and mod support. Two things common in the past in PC games and now getting forgotten due to the desire of money via DLCs or expansions.
Those games that will make less money per unit sold (5-15$ compared with 60$ of a commercial game) pack exponential amounts more of replay value. Instead of paying for that new multiplayer map, you just click "generate new map" and jump in with some friends.
It's the videogames world upside-down: Providing you with probably more content that you'll ever use, more innovative game mechanics and fresh gameplay, and all of this asking you way less money.
Or has the world become a greed nest and as consoles have less piracy than PC nobody cares about it except those that can't access a console dev-kit but ironically have great ideas?
Feel free to drop your feelings as a comment, or to point out more great indie games I forgot to mention ;)