I cannot tell you how many times in recent memory that I have been hyped up for a huge game only for it to absolutely suck.
I could stick with the obvious games like Mass Effect Andromeda, Battlefield V, and Star Wars Battlefront, but hey let’s not make it too easy and name every single game that EA has released since the beginning of time. Call of Duty has been ass for the past 5 years. The Halo series is a shadow of its former self. The Assassin’s Creed franchise got so bad that even Ubisoft realized they needed to take a year off. The teams behind Fallout 76 and Metal Gear Survive should burn in hell for what they have created. Destiny 2 and The Divison both lost over half of their player bases about a month after release due to a lack of content, and Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 were both released without virtually any content. The list of disappointments goes on and on. I know that there are a ton of great games that have been released by these big publishers in the same time period, but they are few and far between compared to the giant steaming scoop of mediocre shit we receive on our platter every year.
These guys really just don’t have any original ideas anymore. About 90% of the games they release every year fall into 3 categories: sequels, remasters/remakes, or clones. While making sequels isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the standard for what deserves a sequel has dropped off a cliff. Nowadays, if a new IP (new original game) has mixed or average success it gets at least 2 sequels, a spin-off series, and a stripped-down piece of shit mobile knockoff. The Division, Rage, Crackdown, and Just Cause are perfect examples of this. Remakes and remasters are a grab bag in terms of quality. Some have been awesome like Resident Evil 2, Link’s Awakening, and Shadow of the Colossus, but most have been exactly the same game with slightly better graphics and all the bugs and annoying features still present (see The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim). Of all of these categories, the clones piss me off the most. Once someone comes up with a new idea, everyone rushes to make their own shittier version. The most obvious example of copycatting is the current battle royale craze. Two years have passed since PUBG took the gaming world by storm and literally every single big-name company has released either a standalone battle royale game or added a battle royale mode to an existing title. Even Tetris, a game that was released in the 1980s, got a battle royale game. Tetris guys. I mean…what the fuck?
Listen, I understand that a game studio is a business at the end of the day. I get that. But there used to be a time where making a quality game was of equal importance to making money. Now, it has become very clear that these triple-A publishers just don’t give a FUCK about providing a quality product. You know why? Because they know we will buy it anyway. They know that even though Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and all the sports games haven’t made any significant changes in the last 5 years they will still outsell a high-quality game at the end of the year. So what do they do in response? They fast track games, release them when they’re half-finished, and pump millions of dollars into their marketing plans that convince us that “this time, it’ll be different”. Meanwhile, there are all these small independent studios making masterpieces that are flying by everyone’s radar. Except mine cause, ya know, I like to play good video games.
Wikipedia defines indie games as “…games typically created by individuals or smaller development teams without the financial support of a large publisher…The term may also refer to those games financed by publishers who do not exert significant creative control on the developers.” So we’re not just talking about little itsy bitsy flash games that are made by a guy in a college dorm room (I’m talking to you Gerald you ignorant twat). There’s another aspect to indie games though that separates them from the triple-A giants: failure is not an option. When a triple-A studio flops on a title, they are usually able to recover because they sit on a throne of money (that we’re still giving them guys!). But if an indie game flops, it cripples the studio and oftentimes forces them to shut down and work at Burger King. You ever heard of the saying “pressure makes diamonds”? That’s how the indie market has boomed into what it is now. They have to make a quality game or they go out of business. On top of that, you can tell that these guys are truly passionate about the games they create. I mean just look at the interviews I’ve done over the last few months. Each of these small studios care so much about their final product, and in turn, they end up creating unique and wonderful pieces of art.
While the big publishers are busy regurgitating the same mediocre crap over and over, indie studios are breaking the mold of older concepts and pushing gaming forward with brand new, original ideas. 2D platformers like Shovel Knight and Celeste are so polished, so fine-tuned, that many consider them on the same level as the elite platformers from the 80s and 90s (looking at you Super Mario Bros.). Hollow Knight is not only one of the best indie games ever made, but it reset the standard for Metroidvanias. Oxenfree, What Remains of Edith Fitch, and Firewatch are visually stunning and tell powerful, deeply emotional stories in ways that had never been done before. And let’s take a moment to recognize how Minecraft and Rocket League became international successes. Both are incredibly innovative games that were made and funded by independent studios a fraction of the size they are today. Indie games aren’t just for the nerdiest of gamers; there’s something for everyone. Like first-person shooter action? Play SUPERHOT, where time only moves when you do and you feel like a badass. Want something with a bit more depth? Play Void Bastards, where if you die you respawn as a new character with random traits like being a skilled hacker but also being colorblind. Want something more casual? Try Stardew Valley or The Witness. Are you a sick bastard who enjoys difficultly? See Cuphead, Katana Zero, Super Meat Boy and Enter the Gungeon. Want to shit your pants out of crippling fear? Outlast and Bendy and the Ink Machine are for you. How about something way out of the box? Check out Her Story, Paper’s Please, Untitled Goose Game or Hypnospace Outlaw.
Let me be clear here. I am not saying that all triple-A games suck and all indie games rule. They each have instant classics and colossal failures. But, when you look at the overall quality of games released every year, it seems like the indie titles as a whole are consistently better than the games released by the bigger publishers. The triple-A studios have gotten lazy and greedy, leaning on the names of the big franchises and depending on our brainless spending. Meanwhile, the small studios are passionate and motivated to leave their mark on the gaming industry and the world, which has produced some incredible shit. Again, I still love some of the big triple-A titles, especially because the indie scene has yet to breakthrough in a few areas like the competitive shooter scene. But if you’ve browsed through the game store recently and written off indie games because they’re “too cartoony” or “I’ve never heard of them before”, I highly recommend you try some of them out. I guarantee they will be worth your time. And if none of this has convinced you, maybe this will.