PC has long been seen as the premier platform for indie games. The vast majority of heralded indies are available on PC, and even multi-platform indies often start out on PC before migrating to consoles. That said, the substantial uptick in popularity of indie games in recent years has led to more and more titles being available on consoles and PC. And the Nintendo Switch is becoming a bonafide indie destination itself.
When putting together our list for best indies for PC, we gave preference to games that are either PC exclusives or had a long life on PC before being ported to other platforms. While not quite a “PC exclusive” list, many of these great indies showcase why PC is still the first, and sometimes, the only destination for innovative indies.
‘Return of the Obra Dinn’
Lucas Pope’s follow-up to the magnificent Papers, Please! (hint for later) is one of the most dazzling puzzle games we’ve ever played. Return of the Obra Dinn places you into the shoes of an insurance adjuster circa 1807. Your task is to board the mysterious Obra Dinn, a merchant ship that was previously declared lost at sea, and identify the bodies of the 60 crew members.
All you have at your disposal is a notebook with the ship manifest, a couple supporting documents, and a magical pocket watch that transports you to the moments before a crew member’s unfortunate death. Return of the Obra Dinn forces you to play the long game, as identifying even a single person takes careful observation.
It’s basically an elaborate logic puzzle and a ridiculously brilliant one at that. Rendered in classic Macintosh 1-bit graphics, Return of the Obra Dinn has a unique aesthetic that will stick with you long after you’ve put 60 names to 60 very dead bodies.
‘Into the Breach’
Developed by Subset Games, the studio behind FTL: Faster Than Light, Into the Breach is a bite-sized tactics game with a deceptive amount of depth. Each level in Into the Breach occurs on a small grid-based map. Unlike other turn-based strategy games, you only control a few units and face off against several others.
Your main goal, however, is protecting the buildings from nefarious insect-aliens called the Vek. The name of the game is staving the Vek off for a small number of turns in order to move onto the next mission. If all of your units are eliminated, however, you have to start the whole game over again, rogue-like style. Brilliantly designed, invigoratingly challenging, and relentlessly charming, Into the Breach is a tactics masterpiece.
‘That Dragon, Cancer’
A beautiful, heartbreaking, and ultimately inspiring game from Numinous Games, That Dragon, Cancer takes players through the Green family’s experience with childhood cancer. Ryan and Amy Green’s one-year-old son Joel was diagnosed with terminal cancer but far outlived his prognosis by surviving for four more years.
That Dragon, Cancer lets you see snippets of what the Green family went through during Joel’s battle with cancer through a point-and-click adventure game. Though the subject matter grapples with some serious themes, Numinous Games created That Dragon, Cancer as an ode to Joel’s brave and inspiring battle. It will make you cry, but it will also instill you with hope.
Quadrilateral Cowboy puts you in the role of a hacker in the 1980s. You work alongside multiple other agents to gain access to buildings to steal important documents and other items. As the hacker, though, you don’t actually go inside to complete the job. Instead, you assist via a computer terminal, entering commands to help open doors, turn off cameras, and manipulate other objects.
Because heist jobs are time-sensitive, you have to be quick-witted to succeed. The commands (hacking inputs) aren’t always clear either. Before each mission, you have the chance to do a mock version of the ensuing events in “virtual reality,” which lets you devise strategies and figure out what each agent will do and how they will do it. Quadrilateral Cowboy is an all-around impressive feat and a truly novel experience.
Her Story‘s Steam page calls it: “A video game about a woman talking to the police.” And that’s technically true, but you have to play it to truly understand its greatness. A FMV (full motion video) game, Her Story contains video clips of police interviews with Viva Seifert, an actress and musician, whose husband has disappeared.
You sit down at a desk and type in phrases to view footage of Viva discussing those pieces of information with police. Why are you watching these clips? What happened to her husband? Her Story tells a tantalizing story in an unconventional manner. If you’re at all interested in storytelling in games, you should absolutely check out Her Story.
Back to Papers, Please, please. Much like Return of the Obra Dinn, Lucas Pope’s other renowned game let players step into the role of a relatively ordinary person. Set at a border crossing inspired by East and West Berlin, you check papers of those who pass through to make sure everything is in order and that they pose no threat during this tumultuous period of history.
Playing as an immigration officer may sound boring, but you’d be surprised how much depth Pope was able to jam into this odd “puzzle” game. There’s a much deeper meaning to be found in Papers, Please than just its quirky premise. It’s a wondrous experience that makes you think about the people and world around you differently.
Studio MDHR’s Cuphead has it all. At first glance, you’re captivated by its visuals, which are inspired by 1940s cartoons. Once you start playing, though, you realize it’s far more than just a great looking game. Designed mainly as a boss rush, Cuphead features a wide array of interesting and pretty darn tough bosses leading up to Cuphead‘s eventual fight with the Devil himself.
Each of the three worlds contains five well-designed boss fights with multiple phases. But wait, there’s more. Cuphead also has two run and gun side-scrolling levels per world, each of which requires great platforming skills and a keen awareness of your surroundings. Cuphead is by no means an easy game, but it’s well worth the struggle.
One of the best games of 2018, Celeste is a precision platformer with a surprising amount of emotional depth. You play as Madeline, a young woman determined to scale Celeste Mountain to overcome her own demons. Over the course of a handful of chapters, you have to jump, climb, and think your way across each screen.
With expert platforming design, a moving story about mental illness, a brilliant soundtrack, and charming retro visuals, Celeste doesn’t have a low point. We awarded it a rare 10/10 in our review. It’s one of the best platformers we’ve played in a long, long time.
Spelunky had humble beginnings as an open-source game creator Derek Yu shared on forums. The original version was officially released in 2008, but it only gained widespread popularity with the enhanced version in 2012. In our estimation, Spelunky is not only one of the best indie games of all time, but one of the greatest games ever made.
A rogue-like sidescroller, you play as an adventurer who works their way down procedurally generated rooms, avoiding baddies and acquiring gold and useful items along the way. Once you die, and death comes often, you have to start from the beginner.
Spelunky only has four worlds with four levels apiece, but it’s littered with secret areas. Add on the fact that each playthrough is different and Spelunky has some serious legs. It’s a truly remarkable game that should be played by anyone with a remote interest in 2D platformers.
Before making waves on the Nintendo Switch, Hollow Knight began its life on PC. Starring an insect knight holding a needle sword, this 2D Metroidvania is one of the very best around. With an absolutely massive map and a progression system that compels you to explore, Hollow Knight has a feeling of wonder that few games in the genre have been able to replicate.
The dodge-centric combat is reminiscent of Dark Souls — tough but fair. Over the course of the 30-plus hour adventure, Hollow Knight offers some of the most rewarding combat and platforming sequences seen in a Metroidvania.
Like Hollow Knight, Dead Cells started on PC before migrating to consoles much later down the road. And also like Hollow Knight, it’s not comfortable being cast as a single genre. At face value, it’s a Metroidvania with a spacious map that opens up the more you play.
But it’s also a rogue-lite, in that you lose your progress — save for stored upgrades, weapons, and blueprints — with each death. Dead Cells is all about chipping away at a challenging task over time. Deaths are teaching lessons for what to do differently. The combat is comparable to Dark Souls but in 2D; though the real reason to stick around is the alluring art style, captivating world, and rewarding loot system.
Read our full review of Dead Cells
Owlboy is now available on all major consoles, but it’s vibrant, brilliant life began on PC. D-Pad Studio worked on Owlboy for nearly a decade before its launch, and that dedication shows. You play as Otus, a young owl whose hometown has been invaded by sky pirates. Now it’s up to Otus and the friends he meets along the way to save the day.
Owlboy has a gorgeous 16-bit art style that harks back to SNES platformers. The world slowly opens up as Otus and his companions solve smart puzzles and fight off baddies. The puzzles are every bit as good as the ones seen in The Legend of Zelda series and the exploration is on par with that of the best Metroidvania titles. Endlessly charming and joy in motion, Owlboy will keep you grinning to its awesome conclusion.
Undertale captures a rare sort of magic not seen since Earthbound. Starring a nameless child thrust into an underbelly filled with monsters, this JRPG is all about subverting your expectations. Undertale shines in its writing and characterization.
It’s supremely funny, heartbreaking, and wondrously written. Without spoiling anything, Undertale has one of the most poignant messages we’ve seen in a game. And if you enjoy Toby Fox’s exquisite creation, you can play its follow-up, Deltarune, completely free. It’s also, unsurprisingly, amazing.
Eric Barone designed Stardew Valley as somewhat of an ode to Harvest Moon, but for PC. The influence is clear. In Stardew Valley, you leave the city to start a quiet life on the plot of land owned by your grandfather. From there, you harvest crops, fish, explore less savory places at night, and develop relationships with the AI in town.
Stardew Valley can very easily eat up hundreds of hours of your life. The 16-bit visuals, great dialogue, and engaging progression system make Pelican Town a tantalizing place to spend your time in each day. If you want a relaxing and rewarding simulation experience, look no further than Stardew Valley.
‘Where the Water Tastes Like Wine’
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine was, sadly, a commercial failure, according to the developers. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play it, though. In fact, if you want a bold narrative-focused adventure, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is one of the best in recent memory.
Set during the Great Depression, you simply walk around and listen to people tell you their life stories. While that may sound boring, it winds up becoming a fascinating snapshot into the minds of people across America during this tumultuous period in history.
Some gameplay elements do exist other than talking, though. You can earn money to buy food and to travel. It’s very much an experimental game in that there isn’t much game here. If you want something a bit different that’s words will stick with you after the credits, you should give it a shot.
‘FTL: Faster Than Light’
FTL: Faster Than Light from Subset Games is one of the greatest real-time strategy games of all time. Seriously, it’s that good. In this top-down experience with rudimentary but pretty graphics, you control a spacecraft that needs to bring info across space to your allies. The trouble is that enemies are chasing you down.
When in combat, it plays like a standard RTS, but you can pause combat to think through your next moves. Meanwhile, you also need to worry about upgrades and bringing new crew members aboard. FTL, like Subset’s Into the Breach, has a rogue-like element to it. If your ship is destroyed or everyone is killed, the game starts over again. Thankfully, each area in FTL is randomly generated, so each voyage feels like a brand new game.
Frostpunk, a hybrid management sim/survival game, is extremely grim. But that’s not all too surprising considering the studio behind it was responsible for This War of Mine. Set in an alternate 1886, a volcanic winter has led to the deaths of millions and decimated food sources.
You play as a leader of a city tasked with keeping the people alive. Frostpunk has four different scenarios, each of which presents new challenges. What’s interesting about Frostpunk is it goes beyond the standard “management sim” territory. The AI that you reign supreme over can grow disappointed if you make poor decisions. Each time you play through a scenario, you’ll face new challenges, such as vastly varying weather and political strife that makes your task an uphill battle at all times.
‘The Stanley Parable’
The Stanley Parable is a clever, bizarre game. A walking simulator, you play as Stanley, who works in an office building as basically a cog in a machine. He looks at a computer screen and presses buttons when told to. That’s it. What a life. But when the screen goes dark, Stanley realizes his office building is rather empty.
All throughout The Stanley Parable, the narrator breaks the fourth wall and talks to you, the player. Where Stanley’s tale winds up is largely up to you, with six different endings depending on your choices. By the time you finish The Stanley Parable, however, you’ll start to question how much choice you truly had. The Stanley Parable does a marvelous job commenting on free will, but it’s also just a wonderfully unique experience that we thoroughly recommend.
‘The Beginner’s Guide’
Developed by Davey Wreden, the developer responsible for The Stanley Parable, The Beginner’s Guide is even more peculiar. In The Beginner’s Guide, Wreden wants to show you fragments of games created by someone he calls Coda. We recommend playing The Stanley Parable first, but The Beginner’s Guide is arguably even more discussion worthy.
Throughout the short experience, Wreden takes you on a stirring journey through a friendship that fell apart. There are multiple theories as to what The Beginner’s Guide is trying to say. We’ll let you interpret it for yourself.
An old school point-and-click adventure, Unavowed is set in a fictional New York City. Your character (male or female) was possessed by a demon for a year before the start of the game. After it’s rid from your body, you join the eponymous group specializing in paranormal activities to look for answers.
Rendered in visuals seen in classic adventure games, Unavowed feels like a mix of old and new thanks to a choice-based system that comes into play throughout each of the investigations. With a colorful cast of characters and strong writing, Unavowed makes the case that point-and-click adventure games can still offer riveting experiences.