Triple-A titles like Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect and Call of Duty are well known around the globe. But some alternative games that have been made on a smaller scale with a smaller budget offer truly memorable game playing experiences, too. Bastion, Trine, Minecraft, Super Meatboy and Braid are great examples of this, but also pretty commercially successful, despite being indie games. Let's go a bit deeper and take a look at some low-flying and under-performing games that deserve some attention.
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If you're a Halo fan who also enjoys the occasional mid-90's shooter, then you'll be blown away by the Marathon series, Bungie’s spiritual predecessor to Halo. It's an intense, but smart shooter with an attention-grabbing back story, tough puzzles, colorful surroundings, frenetic action and awesome weaponry.
Released: 1994 (Marathon 2 was re-released on XBLA in 2008)
For: PC, Mac, Linux, (Marathon 2 - XBLA), iPad
This is easily the scariest first person game of all time. Seriously, there are more than a handful of gamers who have reported that its atmosphere is so foreboding that it became physically stressful to play. (I may or may not be among those gamers.) This title channels not games such as Resident Evil or Silent Hill, but rather literary works of H.P. Lovecraft as you explore an ancient castle and hope to god what hunts you never catches up.
This brief, but unique experience plays out almost as if you are in a first person film where your purpose is slowly uncovered as you make your way through beautifully rendered Source engine environments.
For: PC, Mac
Slender rivals Amnesia: The Dark Descent for its ability to provide deep chills. Just like Amnesia, you have no weapons and your only tactic is to evade. The difference is that Slender is a simple, short and more random experience. Plus it sparked this hilarious Bane-themed video.
For: PC, Mac
Andy Serkis of "Gollum" fame played a big role in the execution of Enslaved, voicing its main protagonist, “Monkey” among other undertakings. You assume the role of this barbarian-like man of the future who is tasked by a teenage girl (through threat of an exploding neck collar) to escort her through crumbling, overgrown, robot-infested cities back to her birthplace. The voice acting and motion capture are expertly executed, the character development and story arc are as gripping as they are touching and the visuals, controls and action are on point.
For: Xbox 360
Rochard takes the gravity gun exploits from Half-Life 2, the puzzle-gaming head scratching from Portal and the deep space setting from Metroid, combining them into a piece of highly enjoyable entertainment.
For: PC, Mac, Linux, PSN
OIO is a little wooden creature who wakes up one day to find all of his companions petrified by some unknown magic. So, he sets out on a quest through Tim Burton-esque woods, fiery factories and other fascinating locales to undo the evil. OIO's main game mechanic involves conjuring wooden beams to sprout forth, allowing him to advance. This sounds far simpler than it actually is and lends itself to deviously fun fast-twitch puzzle-platforming.
For: PC, Mac
Tension and fear run high as you make your way through an assortment of creepy locales, evading disturbed villagers and Lovecraftian monsters all while you try to keep your sanity. Though this is a first person shooter, you begin the game with no weapons whatsoever and remain defenseless until quite a ways in. Not for the faint of heart.
For: Xbox, PC
Created by the same people who brought us Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Penumbra is an episodic game that makes you question your sanity as you travel through a variety of oppressive settings as you fight, solve puzzles and explore. Penumbra employs clever use of the computer mouse, allowing you to treat it almost as if it were a Wii-mote and blends seemingly disparate puzzle, horror and stealth elements for an equally disturbing and captivating experience.
For: PC, Mac, Linux
This charming, quirky and engrossing game puts you in the shoes of Raz, a gifted kid with psychic abilities who travels inside the minds of his "Psycadet" camp-mates and counselors to unravel a mystery. Psychonauts features colorful graphics, hilarious characters, creative settings and imaginative gameplay.
For: PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox, XBLA, Mac, Linux, PSN
Stacking is an amusing take on what Russian stacking dolls would be like if they had their very own personalities and special powers. It has entertaining locales and characters that are equal parts adorable and hilarious, but its chief appeal is derived from a game mechanic that allows you to "stack" into other dolls and take control of them in order to use their powers.
For: PSN, XBLA, PC
This deviously difficult game harkens back to the dungeon crawlers of yore, but with modern graphics and a map! It's deeply rooted in RPG elements, yet doesn't skimp on the action.
For: PC, Mac, Linux
If you like the Portal series, then you're in for a real treat; Quantum Conundrum has ingenious time, space and mind-bending game mechanics, memorable locations and hilarious voice acting.
For: PC, PSN, XBLA
A true pillar of quintessential horror gaming, Eternal Darkness has all the elements of a successful release: excellent graphics, compelling story, absorbing musical score and a revolutionary mechanic: a sanity meter that affects you both in and out of the gameplay experience more than you could ever anticipate. Unfortunately, it was only released on the Gamecube, and sold poorly. If you're a Gamecube or Wii owner looking for a game where you explore a haunted mansion, cast magical spells in a booby-trapped temple, battle the undead in a Victorian monastery and solve puzzles in an Egyptian catacomb all while getting the living daylights scared out of you, then you need to find a copy of this pure gaming triumph.
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