The best indie games on PC come in all shapes and sizes, so much so that what indie even means as a term is no longer easy to define. It can mean small teams making pixel-art delights under publishing labels like Devolver or Raw Fury. It can mean established developers breaking off to crowdfund massive passion projects that'd rival blockbuster releases. It can even be one PC Gamer features producer making games in their spare time from an Edinburgh bedroom.
The PC Gamer team itself has its own definitions, and in this list we've compiled what we reckon are the best indie games you can play, right now, no matter what indie means to you.
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Released: 2021| Developer: Shedworks | Steam (opens in new tab)
Sable is open world done right. It's an introspective and contemplative odyssey, sending you out into a vast, Moebius-inspired desert not to fight monsters or conquer dungeons, but to simply find yourself. This is your gliding, after all, and you needn't come back the same person you were when you left.
More than just the pastel glow of its sands or the beautifully hand-drawn look to its animations, the real heart of Sable lies in its writing. There's a warmth, an earnestness to every conversation, dotted sparsely as they are around a game that wants you to appreciate the time you have to yourself. There are ruins to explore, people to meet, errands to run and all sorts of nick-nacks to collect. But if you just want to relax to some Japanese Breakfast melodies while riding a hoverbike across a pastel desert, that's quite alright too.
Read more: Sable review (opens in new tab)
There are few games that delight me in the way that Stardew Valley (opens in new tab) does. I grew up loving the Harvest Moon series, and Stardew takes that formula and applies it to the PC space. Stardew strips away many of Nintendo's puritanical hangups—same-sex marriage and sexual innuendo aren't taboo inclusions, for example—but maintains the charm of tilling fields, planting seeds, and growing crops. There's also a vibrant town to get to know, mines to explore, and tons and tons of fish to fish.
Read more: Stardew Valley fan ditches crops for bops with these rad musical farms (opens in new tab)
Released: 2013 | Developer: David Kanaga, Ed Key | Steam (opens in new tab),
I like walking simulators, and I use the term affectionately, but sometimes I find it hard to get caught up in their stories. They can feel anticlimactic. Proteus doesn't because its story is one I tell myself. It dumps me on a procedurally generated island and lets me explore, climbing hills and chasing frogs.
There is another story in it though, in the sense that there's a sequence of events that you can experience, but it's a subtle one. (I'll give you a hint: it involves the standing stones.) If you want it there's a build-up and climax there, but even without that the relaxing strolls over its islands gave me all the satisfaction I needed.
Read more: Proteus review (opens in new tab)
Into the Breach
In the future giant bugs crawl out of the ground and ravage the world, and our only hope are mech pilots from an even more distant future who travel back to save us. As a band of three pilots in vehicles that would make very cool toys, you're humanity's last hope. Fortunately, you can see what the bugs plan one turn ahead and can dodge out of their way so they attack each other, or dodge into their way to protect a building full of civilians they were about to demolish. It's a mech vs. monster dance-off.
And it's conveniently bite-sized. Maps are small, load fast, and only have to be protected for a few turns. Into the Breach feels worthwhile even if you've only got minutes. With hours to spare you can play a full run, save the day, then take your favorite pilot and leap back into a different timeline to do it all again.
Read more: Our biggest screw-ups from Into the Breach (opens in new tab)
Darkest Dungeon 2
Released: 2016 | Developer: Red Hook Studios | Epic Games Store (opens in new tab)
Dread is Darkest Dungeon’s (opens in new tab) default state. In vague terms it’s a dungeon crawler, but the dungeons aren’t miraculously swept chasms with the odd cobweb and exhumed grave—they’re dank and gross. Add to that, the need to manage your entourage’s sanity (not easy in a game that takes some small inspiration from Lovecraft) and you have an RPG that rarely offers respite.
Darkest Dungeon 2 pivots the framing from a creepy village to a creepy caravan, but the same sense of managing doomed adventurers and sending them off on grisly quests remains, with even more ways for your party to slowly hate each other. But the dread still lingers, and as well it does, for that dread is what makes Darkest Dungeon work so well.
Read more: 9 things I wish I knew before starting Darkest Dungeon 2 (opens in new tab)
Released: 2020 | Developer: Origame Digital | Steam (opens in new tab)
Umurangi Generation will make you a better photographer, that's a guarantee. An urban photography sim set in a cyberpunk Ao Tearoa, Umurangi's handheld camera is a work of art, a wonderfully tactile, physical object that slowly bulks out with more lenses, features and post-processing effects. It's a game that loves photography, and will never judge you for a bad shot.
What it does judge, loudly and proudly, is the absolute state of the world right now. Umurangi is an unrepentantly anti-colonial, anti-cop protest piece written at the end of the world. Kaiju are killing us, and the UN's Evangelion-like protector mechs are doing no better. It's a game that sees the industy balk at being seen as political and powers on regardless, firing shots at the global response to the 2019 Australian wildfires, police response to the 2020 George Floyd protests, and the complacency of videogames in propping up violent power structures.
It is a game about being alive at the end. It is the most important goddamn game of the last decade.
Read more: Umurangi Generation is a stylish urban photography game set in a 'shitty future' (opens in new tab)
The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe
Released: 2022 | Developer: Crows Crows Crows, Davey Wreden | Steam (opens in new tab)
Are you playing the game, or is the game playing you? So much of our agency in modern games is illusory, or, more gratingly, reductive and binary. Are you going to go the nice path or the bad-arse path? The Stanley Parable is a meta-critique of gaming as a medium, but it’s also a trojan horse existential crisis (and we all love having those). When we don’t take the critical path, the one prescribed to us, what could possibly go wrong?
Originally a 2011 Source mod and then a 2013 standalone release, 2022's Ultra Deluxe takes the metacommentary one step further by asking what it means for games to be rereleased, examining our thirst for more and more "content", and recontextualising where The Stanley Parable stands over ten years after its initial debut.
Read more: The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe review (opens in new tab)
Released: 2017 | Developer: David Kanaga | Itch (opens in new tab)
Oikospiel is a dog opera game about dogs making an opera game. I think. Here’s the plot synopsis according to developer, composer, everything-er David Kanaga: “The Oikospielen Opera is developing an epic global-gaming festival called THE GEOSPIEL, scheduled for the year 2100. The opera's employees, organized by the Union of Animal Workers, are trying to integrate the game dev dogs of Koch Games into their group, but these loyal pups love their jobs and boss Donkey Koch too much! Will there be Unity, or will Multiplicity prevail?”
It’s as strange as it sounds, and it sounds strange—literally—too. With a soundtrack that mimics its frenzied landscapes, Oikospiel is a touching, psychedelic trip through videogame history with a meaningful message about labor.
Read more: Opera-writing dogs meet Celine Dion in this game about making games (opens in new tab)
Enter the Gungeon
Released: 2016 | Developer: Dodge Roll | Steam (opens in new tab)
Enter the Gungeon is an arcade roguelite about shooting bullets with bullets. In other words, the enemies are ammunition. As one of four distinct characters, you'll dodge-roll, kick furniture and, most importantly, destroy bullets with bullets. There are hundreds of distinct weapons, ranging from a bow and arrow through to guns that shoot actual bees.
Enter the Gungeon exists in an absurdly busy genre. But Enter the Gungeon is special because not only does it nail the essentials (shooting, movement, sheer variety of weapons and items), but it also doesn't complicate things too much. Other arcade-centric roguelites like Flinthook and Rogue Legacy have had a good go at mixing compelling action with a simplified approach to the genre, and while each are great they end up feeling repetitive: like a jumble of the same rooms. But it's the weaponry that keeps Enter the Gungeon fresh.
Read more: Enter the Gungeon review (opens in new tab)
Crypt of the Necrodancer
Crypt of the Necrodancer is a rhythm-based roguelike—a DDR-dungeon crawler, if you will. A head-scratching combination, to be sure, but that's exactly what it is. Dance your way through pixelated depths to the beat of an awesome, rhythmically complex soundtrack. Stay on beat to slay the dungeon's dancing denizens, and don't forget to spend some time with the opera-singing shopkeeper.
Definitely give the metal version of the soundtrack by YouTuber FamilyJules (composed by Danny Baranowsky) a listen. It's right up there with the Doom 2016 soundtrack.
Read more: This Crypt of the Necrodancer speedrun at its hardest difficulty is bonkers (opens in new tab)
A one-level first-person shooter where the level is a hellish arena, and the enemies are skulls and flying snakes and other escapees from heavy metal album art. Devil Daggers takes the speed and circle-strafing of Quake and distills it into one perfect minute, or longer if you're better at it than I am. It almost takes longer to describe than it does to play—almost.
Read more: The progressive retro style of Devil Daggers (opens in new tab)
Released: 2016 | Developer: Drool | Steam (opens in new tab)
Thumper is like an ugly, loathsome, despair-inducing industrial techno song come to life. And that's a very good thing. In our Top 100 (opens in new tab) Evan described it as "a documentary about the path you take to heaven or hell when you die" which is just about the most alluring description for a video game I've ever read. Yes, it's a tough, precision-oriented rhythm game, but it's a precision-oriented rhythm game that feels like a collaboration between Gaspar Noe and Laibach.
Read more: Why Thumper is one of the best rhythm games ever made (opens in new tab)
Sim and Survival
Don't Starve / Don't Starve Together
Released: 2013 / 2016 | Developer: Klei | Steam (opens in new tab)
Klei's 2013 survival game is a playable Edward Gorey book where you'll probably get eaten by dogs or starve during the long winter—a possibility the name does warn you about, to be fair—while learning how the ecosystem of its unusual world works. You discover the importance of the wild beefalo herd, and the value of dealing with the Pig King.
And then you do it again, with friends.
The survival games that followed Don't Starve filled their servers with desperate lummoxes all flailing at trees and rocks and each other. Don't Starve Together made multiplayer survival into something that's not as easy to make memes of, but a lot more fun. Sure, you can play it competitively but it's best as a co-operative village simulator where you start by pooling your rocks to make a firepit and eventually you're taking down bosses then crafting statues to commemorate your victory in the town square.
Read more: Don't Starve Together—the first five days (opens in new tab)
Released: 2018 | Developer: Unknown Worlds | Steam (opens in new tab)
Depending how you feel about diving, Subnautica can be either a wonderful opportunity to explore an alien aquarium or a straight-up horrorshow. Even with the survival stuff turned off so you don't have to regularly grab fish and eat them as you swim past, its depths contain claustrophobic tunnels and beasts big enough to swallow you whole. The thing is, Subnautica works as both a tense survival game about making it day by day in a hostile alien ocean and a way to drift around meeting strange sea creatures (and eating them).
Read more: Reviewing the critters of Subnautica: Below Zero (opens in new tab)
Kerbal Space Program
Whether you're seriously into the science and simulation, or just looking for some fun sending adorable astronauts into space (or watching their rockets explode before they get there), Kerbal (opens in new tab) is a near-perfect physics sandbox. One of the reasons it's such a joy to play is that there's immense satisfaction in the successes, like the first time you reach orbit, or land on the Mun, or safely bring your astronauts home from a mission, but there's also pleasure to be had (as well as lessons to be learned) from your failures.
KSP is both easy and immensely challenging: rockets can be snapped together quickly, and tweaked or rebuilt in mere moments, but conquering the solar system requires precision and know-how. Its charming looks and its detailed physics simulation make it a game for just about anyone, from casual rocket tinkerers to passionate rocket scientists.
Read more: They flew a freaking Kerbal to the International Space Station (opens in new tab)
Celeste is a tough 2D platformer with a 16-bit retro aesthetic. If I had a pixel for every time I’ve written about a game with those descriptors, I’d maybe have enough to render Crysis. So what makes Celeste special? The reasons are many and varied: firstly, it carries itself differently to other deliberately hard platformers like Super Meat Boy and N++. Studio Extremely OK Games wants everyone to finish this game, not just Kaizo Mario World speedrunners, so its pacing is careful and its attitude encouraging.
The variety is what really elevates Celeste: this is a game with set pieces that aren’t just saved for the boss battles, and while it is fundamentally a series of platform challenge rooms, it does feel like you’re navigating a world (in this case, the mountain Celeste). Not since Shovel Knight have we had a game that manages to cater for players who might not enjoy the irreverent, punishing veneer of most modern twitch platformers.
Read more: Celeste review (opens in new tab)
You're going to hate Rain World if you approach it with the wrong attitude. Firstly, it looks like a platformer, but it's not: it's a punishing survival game. The first hour or so spent in the game also lacks promise: the controls are slightly fiddly because (by necessity—this is a survival game) they aren't as intuitive as most 2D games. You have to learn them (Rain World is all about learning, but you'll still sometimes get unlucky).
Once you surmount these prickly beginnings, Rain World is remarkable. You play as a slugcat one tier above the bottom of the food chain, and you must negotiate one of the most labyrinthine and hideously broken planets of any open world game (opens in new tab) in order to survive. Rain World is cryptic, uncompromising, and once given the chance one of the tensest and most atmospheric 2D games I've ever played.
Read more: 8 things I wish I knew before I started playing Rain World (opens in new tab)
Released: 2017 | Developer: Team Cherry | Steam (opens in new tab)
The best Metroidvania in years, perhaps because developers Team Cherry didn't explicitly set out to make a game in the image of Metroid. They were making a 2D action game, sure, set in a gorgeous hand-drawn decaying bug civilization, but they were mainly concerned with building out an intricate and interesting world, and the rest followed. "The rest," in this case, is a game that feels fantastic to play, with a character who moves exactly as you want and a weapon that hits with a fast and brutal crack.
Hollow Knight (opens in new tab) rarely tells you where to go or what to do, making palpable the satisfaction and wonder of discovering new parts of the world and new abilities. And it just keeps going. The world is huge, more detailed than you ever expect it to be, and suddenly you're two dozen hours deep and wondering how much you still have to find.
Read more: Why I love Quirrel from Hollow Knight (opens in new tab)
Released: 2020 | Developer: Mossmouth | Steam (opens in new tab)
A lot has been written about the beauty of Spelunky’s interlocking systems, its propensity for creating stories, and its tough-but-fair difficulty. That’s all been said and written a hundred times before. Spelunky is a really beautiful, heartwarming game. It also was the first to demonstrate to me, personally, that a small game that originated as freeware could contain so much: so many stories, so many events, so many countless, frankly embarrassing, hours.
Spelunky 2 (opens in new tab), then, is the same but more—and while that might not reinvent the wheel the original so lovingly crafted, it's a perfect opportunity to revisit and refine the format, creating a fresh dungeon-delver that easily threatens to eat another hundred hours of your time.
Read more: Spelunky 2 player breaks the world record for gold (by blowing everything up) (opens in new tab)
Every Supergiant game deserves a spot on this list. Old timers will sing the praises of Bastion, whose narrated painted world put the developer on the map, while young 'uns will proudly proclaim Hades' thirsty pantheon should claim the spot. But you're all wrong, because it's Pyre.
Pyre is a true ballad of a game, a mythical, musical journey through purgatory by way of wizard basketball. Win or lose, every match pushes you forwards, adding another twist to a story that is as bittersweet as it is heartwarming. The Nightwings are a true family, and though your goal is to bring everyone home, having to say fond farewells to your favourite party members never fails to punch you in the gut.
Read more: Great moments in PC gaming: Sending Rukey home in Pyre (opens in new tab)
Survival horror too often devolves into repetitive efforts to fend off undead with unwieldy weaponry, but Soma is different. There’s no combat on this underwater research facility, and enemy encounters are few and far between. Most of the time you’re just looking at stuff, but that’s ok in the hands of studio Frictional. They manage to wring an overwhelming sense of dread and despair from a mere dark corridor, not to mention the sprawling sub-aquatic outdoor areas peppered throughout. And the ending of Soma—even if you’re usually ambivalent towards low action horror—is worth the trip alone. It may be more contemplative and less jump scare-oriented than Amnesia, but it’s all the better for it.
Even those typically averse to horror should give SOMA a try. Install the teasingly named “Wuss Mode” mod from the Steam Workshop to make the monsters harmless without losing much horror in the process. Sure, you won’t have to hide, but that doesn’t make their appearance and origins any less terrifying.
Read more: Taming SOMA’s monsters with the Wuss Mode mod (opens in new tab)
Night in the Woods
Some of the most noteworthy indies from the last decade have been adventure games, but it took until 2017 for one of the highlights, Night in the Woods (opens in new tab), to emerge. As endearing feline Mae Borowski, you’re returning to the sleepy rural town of your childhood after an unsuccessful college stint. The town is on the decline, and so too, it seems, is Mae’s future.
Things haven’t quite turned out the way she (or her family) had hoped, and much of Night in the Woods is about dealing with this mild disappointment. Exploring the township of Possum Springs is a joy in itself, but it’s the way Night in the Woods weaves a universal coming of age tale around an otherwise straightforward puzzle-laden adventure game that is remarkable.
Read more: Night in the Woods brings hope and joy to the rural apocalypse (opens in new tab)
Kentucky Route Zero
Kentucky Route Zero is an adventure game of the modern kind, where decisions and dialogue rather than puzzles pace your progress. It's about finding a lost highway, but it quickly buries you in a kind of American mythology where mystery roads are the least strange thing. I'd hate to spoil what you'll find, but if you get in an elevator, see a button that says "third floor (bears)" and aren't tempted to press it, then I don't even know you.
Kentucky Route Zero’s writing is gorgeous, ornamental but also able to get right at the meat of a thing. It's there when someone calls an office bureaucracy "the paperclip labyrinth" or describes topology as "the science of continuous space".
Some of the earliest PC games were about manipulating words because that was all they had. Kentucky Route Zero is about manipulating words because that's a fascinating thing to do. It's hard to explain why encountering its word-hoard has such a potent effect, but I'm just a journalist. They should have sent a poet.
Read more: Kentucky Route Zero interview: choice and introspection in the magic realist adventure (opens in new tab)
Released: 2015 | Developer: Toby Fox | Steam (opens in new tab)
Undertale first inspires curiosity at its quirkiness, then determination to solve its challenging combat without taking the easy way out, then admiration for the delivery of its jokes and the tight meshing of themes and RPG mechanics twisted sideways. Comparisons to Super Nintendo RPG Earthbound, while apt, don't do Undertale justice: it's incredibly smart in how it thinks about the way we play videogames and challenges and surprises with new ideas at every step.
It's a game I genuinely think everyone should play. You'll either appreciate the humor, or the challenge, or the freedom to play through in many different ways, or the painstaking one-off moments, or the ways creator Toby Fox bent engine Game Maker to his will, or the prospect of a "true" ending to earn. It looks simple, but there's so much under the surface.
Read more: The making of Undertale (opens in new tab)