The underdogs of E3 2017: The 10 best indie games on display this year

While AAA games tend to get most of the attention at E3, the thriving indie game scene continues to turn out titles that are pushing the gaming envelope in creative ways that don’t always require blockbuster budgets. That’s pulling many of those titles into the big umbrellas of Sony, Microsoft, and publishers like Electronic Arts, who are broadening their portfolios with smaller games that are exploring and expanding the edges of gameplay and story ideas. At E3 2017, there were lots of intriguing indie titles, some of which got the fanfare of the big publisher press conferences, and some that flew well under the radar. Here are 10 of the most promising indie games that had a presence at E3 this year.

Ashen

There are a lot of games chasing the success of Dark Souls, but our time with Ashen at E3 shows it’s bringing a new and unique twist. Much of the gameplay is similar to tough action-adventure titles often called “Soulslikes,” but the game includes a multiplayer aspect in which other people seamlessly become part of your game world. You’ll meet and team up with other players as you make your way through Ashen, spending time with their characters and beating dungeons together. Then, those characters will appear in Ashen’s hub world as non-player characters — helping you to form a bond with them when they were inhabited by another player, but carrying those characters forward in your single-player story.

A Way Out

The developers of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are back another take on cooperative play. This time, players engage in a split-screen experience in which each person takes on the role of one of the story’s two main characters. In the E3 demo we saw, both stories unfold at the same time on screen as you work together with a friend to escape prison. Each of A Way Out’s scenes is unique in terms of mechanics, so you’ll never do the same actions twice, but working together is essential to proceeding through the game and unraveling its emotional tales.

The Darwin Project

Battle Royale”-style third-person multiplayer title The Darwin Project sets itself apart from other, similar games with a few key quirks. At E3, we saw cool iterations on the core idea of pitting several players against each other in a lethal wilderness arena where only the last person standing wins. Instead of just hiding and hoping for the best, The Darwin Project adds wrinkles like making it possible to hunt other players by finding trees they’ve cut down or treasure chests they’ve looted, and tracking them from there. There’s also the Director, a floating, player-controlled camera that can mess with player and add entertainment value to the reality TV show premise by doing things like making sections of the map inhospitable. The Darwin Project looks to bring a lot of good ideas to a growing subgenre of multiplayer games, to better replicate the experience of living through The Hunger Games.

Hunt: Showdown

Crytek is back with a first-person shooter that’s full of great ideas from the multiplayer sphere. The demo we saw combined horror elements from games like DayZ and Left 4 Dead with monster hunting ideas such as those from Evolve, Hunt: Showdown pits players in groups of two against demonic forces. The goal is to team up with another person to hunt down a boss monster, kill it, and collect its body for a bounty — but there are other teams on the same map, hunting the same monsters. You not only have to survive demonic creatures in each map, you have to fight off other players to survive matches, earn new gear and level up your characters.

A Case of Distrust

Taking a page from noir detective novels, A Case of Distrust inhabits the story of a 1920s, Prohibition-era detective as she works to uncover a mystery. The point-and-click style focuses on investigations, but the meat of the story comes from first-person storytelling in the vein of Raymond Chandler, and a conversation system where you’ll choose your speaking options as you interrogate witnesses and suspects, trying to find ways to trip them up and find the truth. How you choose to work through your investigation and the conversation and story branches you follow will determine how the story plays out.

The Swords of Ditto

There’s a lot of obvious inspiration from The Legend of Zelda in the E3 demo of The Swords of Ditto, which puts players in a world where every so often, evil returns to destroy everything, and a lineage of heroes rises to defeat it. You’re that hero, and if you’re killed in the attempt to banish the baddies, the world plunges into darkness for a period before you can return to fix things. Expect to die quite a bit as your abilities and triumphs are passed to the next in the line of heroes. Drop-in cooperative play also adds layers to the Zelda-like strategy and combat of The Swords of Ditto, offering some fresh approaches to familiar gameplay.

Moss

A fresh take on the third-person adventure game, Moss uses virtual reality to let you play two roles at a time. With a DualShock 4 controller, you control Quill, an adventure-seeking, sword-wielding mouse as she works through dungeons and battles. But you also play yourself, a magical observer in virtual reality who can interact with Quill and use clever motion controls to grab and move objects around the world to solve puzzles. Our E3 demo felt a bit like playing a two-player game, except you’re taking on both roles at the same time. The mechanics add a VR layer to a well-trod genre, freshening up puzzle-solving and inviting players to form a connection with Moss‘s protagonist.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

Focused on folklore, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a road trip across America to hear the stories of its rural denizens. The game mixes a storybook look with regional music to capture a very American feeling, while players learn characters and watch them evolve over time into the mythos of a country. The game features 16 different characters to share stories with, and each of their tales was penned by a different writer, adding variety to the game that sounds very intriguing.

The Last Night

Cyberpunk side-scroller The Last Night intrigued during the Microsoft press conference at E3 with a gorgeous trailer. Invoking the look and feel of classics like Blade Runner, it puts players in a dark, neon-lit world of intrigue and flying cars. Sporting some beautiful pixel graphics, the action-platformer’s mixed low-res, hi-res look is intriguing in and of itself, and it looks to be filled with the dingy alleys and creepy future conspiracies.

The Artful Escape

The Artful Escape is a side-scrolling platformer, but sets itself apart by adding a musical angle that captures the story of an artist trying to find himself and step out of the shadow of his famous father. The game pulls the elements of music and rhythm games into a platforming structure, as you go on a psychedelic quest through the cosmos, armed with your guitar and a rock anthem soundtrack. The art style looks great and the soundtrack is captivating, making The Artful Escape look like a great, fresh take on a tried-and-true game genre.

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