PAX 2017 (More) Top Indie Picks

I know what you’re thinking, “didn’t you already do a top PAX 2017 indie picks list??”, but no – that was Kieran with an A. I am Kieron with an O, and that means that I have the right to my own opinions about this year’s indie showcase at PAX Australia. So, without wasting any more time, here are my favourite indie titles from the show this year!

Dead Static Drive

Dead Static Drive immediately caught my eye on the PAX show floor with its subtle but very pretty art style, and and seemed to be attracting a decent crowd. I struck up a conversation with Melbourne developer Mike Blackney who described his game to me as ‘Grand Theft Cthulhu’. It was at that moment that I realised I was looking at something special. Looking like something between the old-school isometric GTA games and a survival sim, Dead Static Drive has players embarking on a road trip across America through towns that are slowly being overrun by (you guessed it) some Lovecraftian-looking beasties. Your character and other NPCs need food, bed and supplies to survive and your car needs gas, so much of your time is spent foraging and exploring while also fending off some creepy-ass creatures.

The real hook, which I’ve hopefully retained with some degree of accuracy, is that the game takes place in a month-long ‘Groundhog Day’ style time loop. Should either a month pass, or your character perish, time resets and the whole roadtrip starts again – albeit now with some extra knowledge about the events to come. Attacks on towns can be predicted, and NPC deaths even prevented, affording you extra help in building your base in defence against all those nasties.

Mike is still hard at work on the project, and no release window was given, but he’s hopeful that he can bring it to all PC and console platforms when it’s ready. I’ll be waiting in anticipation for that day.

The Gardens Between

Another title that caught my attention with its looks and kept me hooked with exactly the kind of approach to quirky puzzle games that I absolutely adore, The Gardens Between is currently well into development at Melbourne-based studio The Voxel Agents. Best friends Arina and Frendt fall into a world made up of mysterious islands formed from objects and locations that have some sort of significance in their lives and their pasts. Rather than control the two characters directly, players have power over time, and can stop, start and reverse the flow of time as well as manipulate parts of the environment as the pair traverse each island. The Gardens Between has a powerful and evocative look that reminded me a little of Monument Valley – only far, far richer.

In a surprising turn, The Gardens Between was also just featured in Sony’s PS4 showcase at Paris Games Week, which is a wonderful result for an Australian-developed title. The game is expected to hit PC and Mac first in 2018, with the PS4 release following not long after.

Paperbark

Now, full disclosure, I’m not the biggest fan of ‘Australiana’, as it were. I almost immediately dismissed Paperbark as I walked by the booth, decorated with native flora and a smattering of children’s picture books, but a friend of one of the people involved in its creation assured me that it was worth a look-in. Heavily influenced by iconic Australian children’s literature such as Blinky Bill and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Paperbark tells the story of a wombat who loves to explore and forage, and does so with the guidance of some simple inputs from the player. Gameplay isn’t terribly involved, providing more of a relaxed and curiosity-fuelled experience than any kind of challenge, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that would appeal to parents with young kids or anyone with an appreciation for or interest in Australian nature.

Paperbark is coming in 2018 to iOS, PC and Mac.

Florence

Publisher Annapurna Interactive is making a name for themselves by curating some truly affecting and unique gaming experiences such as critical indie darling, What Remains of Edith Finch? and the upcoming Ashen and Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition. Coming from Ken Wong (of Monument Valley fame) and his new Australian studio, Mountains, Florence is billed as an ‘interactive story about love and life’. Feeling similar to a visual novel, albeit with no text of any kind, Florence plays out like a series of mini-games in which the mechanics riff quite strongly on the situations and feelings involved in each chapter of the story. If this is sounding quite similar to Edith Finch, it’s not an entirely inaccurate correlation, but Florence definitely comes across as a much more personal experience inspired by ‘slice-of-life’ type literature. It’ll also appeal to a slightly different demographic thanks to its themes of love, and release solely on iOS platforms.

PAX Australia certainly delivered the indie goodness this year, as it does every year, and there are so many more titles that I played and would love to write about, but these four stood out to me as shining examples of the industry and especially the sorts of experiences coming out of our local studios. I look forward to playing all of these as soon as they are done, and I hope that everyone involved in them is as proud of their work as I am in awe of it.

See ya next year, PAX!

Kieron started gaming on the SEGA Master System, with Sonic the Hedgehog, Alex Kidd and Wonder Boy. The 20-odd years of his life since have not seen his love for platformers falter even slightly. A separate love affair, this time with JRPGs, developed soon after being introduced to Final Fantasy VIII (ie, the best in the series). Further romantic subplots soon blossomed with quirky Japanese games, the occasional flashy AAA action adventure, and an unhealthy number of indie gems. To say that Kieron lies at the center of a tangled, labyrinthine web of sexy video game love would be an understatement.