Chernobylite | $29.99 on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
I forget where I saw Chernobylite for the first time, but I remember being blown away by how many aspects of it seemed right up my alley. It has base-building, consequential choices, a post-apocalyptic setting, and party-building. What wasn’t there for me to love?
After picking it up and putting a few hours into it, I can confirm it is right up my alley. It has elements of survival and atmospheric horror, which may not be my favorite things, but the sum of these parts is too good, even having those two elements elevating the final product. The game is a bit on the easy side after the initial hump (by that, I mean the first non-tutorial mission) since you have all the ammo and items you need to be stable. With that said, I like playing games on Easy, especially when it is a stressful game like this one.
You play as a scientist named Igor, who worked in Chernobyl before the nuclear disaster. The plot revolves around going back into the emergency zone to find out what happened to your wife, of who you constantly have visions. There are sci-fi elements to the game, as they used the nuclear fallout to create monsters. (if this all sounds a lot like Fallout, that’s because it is. But I promise that this is not some shoddy clone; Chernobylite does stand on its own two feet.) I marketed this game to my cousins as moreso what I wanted out of Fallout 4. Chernobylite’s RPG mechanics are more enjoyable and fulfilling for me, as well as graphically better.
This game focuses on making the most of the story, with the writing and the voice acting being incredibly well done, if not the high point all on their own. To level up, your team members teach you certain skills with your ability points, having you undergo a little tutorial mission to demonstrate the new ability. They could be an awful implementation, but with each mission lasting maybe a minute or two tops, they know to not overstay their welcome. These missions lend themselves to a limited map as you go to the same sections of the emergency zone, sending your team members out to different zones for other tasks. These missions can be getting food rations, ammo, raid attacks on the resident army, etc. With the main story littered in.
Luckily, the story missions haven’t had limits such as “This task must be completed in this many days.” For each one, a day passes, and you must feed yourself and your teammates to keep their health and psyche up. The mission-based design is a bit strange, giving it an incredibly limited scope. But maybe having those limits makes it a bit easier to develop with a small indie team, and I enjoy being able to hop on, play a mission or two, and then play a game that doesn’t make me sad and stressed out.
Oxen Free | $9.99 on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. $4.99 on iOS and Android.
I think Oxen Free is the game I’d recommend to someone who hasn’t played any indie games yet. It’s a game that encapsulates everything I want out of them and everything they represent for me.
The main strength of Oxen Free is, in my opinion, its performance and dialogue system. Oftentimes, when you have the freedom to choose your dialogue in a videogame, it comes with the problem of not knowing what you’re choosing. You have shortened options that take important context out or vague ideas like “Sarcasm” or “Sincere.” These are things that could change the whole course of your game, or at least give you the illusion of it, but it makes you feel like you don’t even know what you’re doing.
This game, instead, while going down the path of the shortened dialogue as your options, always knows exactly how to do it so you’re never surprised by what your character says. But a detail very special to this game is that silence is a valid option. If you take too long to answer or you simply don’t want to, you can stay silent, and the characters will react accordingly.
But I’m not sure any of this would work without the amazing performances from the cast of voice actors. It has some of the most natural dialogue I’ve ever seen. Most games nowadays want to make everything as hyper-realistic as possible to make you feel immersed in it, which is a valid thing to do. However, Oxen Free makes everyone feel like real people while being a hand-drawn 2D game.
The setting also helps since they start as normal young adults trying to hang out on an island they went to as kids. But nothing stays simple, and they get involved in a supernatural mystery that is just delightful to play through. When things go south, you’re never actually ahead of the situation, and your only option is to be lucky enough to avoid dying. Everything is unexpected, unknown, and incredibly well handled. It creates tension and a kind of horror that a lot of games wish they could get.
I’m a sucker for haunting stories, and Oxen Free delivers on that front and pretty much everything else. If you want to start playing more indie games, this is the one to start from.