Games news is getting quieter as we venture deeper into the summer, as it typically does. The indie machine never stops, though, and we’ve plucked a few standout games you should check out this week.
You’re reading our weekly hidden indie gems feature where we highlight new and interesting games in the works, and point out a few you could actually get your hands on this weekend.
Without further ado, let’s begin.
Hot indie games week of July 13
It’s hard for a visual novel to grab me with a trailer. The genre often relies on static backgrounds, text boxes and briefly-animated character art – not the usual things that stand out in trailers. The emphasis, by design, is on the writing, but good writing isn’t typically something you can show off in trailers. But Necrobarista is different.
Although it is very much inspired by visual novels, Necrobarista is not quite a straight-faced one of those. It’s a first-person adventure where you explore a cafe called The Terminal, a sort of gateway between the realms of the living and the dead, where the latter go for their last cup of coffee before they’re off to the spirit world.
When you arrive, you’ll be free to explore The Terminal and pick which stories to follow. This is where the visual novel part comes in, but even that doesn’t take the form you might imagine. Conversations feel like scenes in a movie, with 3D characters whose emotions visibly evolve throughout, and a shifting camera angle that matches the mood.
At The Terminal, you’ll get to mingle with necromancer Maddy, who just started running the place, as well as its other patrons, including Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. As you speak to those characters, you’ll get the chance to focus on some of the words they use or the things they mention, which unlocks insight into their lives and the world the game takes place in.
Necrobarista has been in development for years, but it finally has a release date. The game hits Steam next week, on July 22, with PS4 and Switch coming next year.
Gripper is an isometric action RPG where most of the action takes place from behind the wheel of a car. It is what you use to traverse the game’s post-apocalyptic landscapes, and what allows you to fight its monsters.
That car is essentially the game’s main character and it’s what all of Gripper’s mechanics are built upon. Behind the wheel is None, who goes on a search for his sister, who goes missing at the start of the game. In Gripper’s world, androids are at war with humans. The game’s version of Burning Man is one where androids literally burn humans. Even those who survive have scars from their bouts with androids. It’s quite a grim setup.
Your car is equipped with a hook, which drags behind it anywhere it goes. The reveal trailer shows some cool, fluid action, with the hook sometimes used to fling objects at enemies, tear pieces off them, and other times seen dragging cannons you can fire. The game has 11 massive bosses, whose hearts are used to gain unique abilities.
Games you can play this weekend
Welcome to Elk: The First Stories
Welcome to Elk is a unique game about meeting eccentric characters, listening to their stories and solving a few puzzles. This description probably already made it sound like a dozen other indies you’ve heard of, but that’s only because it’s hard to describe.
Welcome to Elk has the look of cheerful indie cartoons, where you watch fun characters prance around doing silly things, and let them lovingly walk you through small tasks that are their own mini-games. It’s also one where those unassuming characters tell dark, sometimes unbelievable stories.
Before long, you realise that the characters you’ve been hanging out with are based on real people, and the stories they tell are all true. The game mixes live-action with gameplay. You’ll watch recordings of people recounting the events of a story, which reference the characters you’ve met in-game, or some of the things they alluded to.
Some of those tales are grim, others profound, and a few are intriguing anecdotes. Hearing them from zany cartoon characters on this bizarre island before watching a real person give context is not something I’d seen before in any game.
The First Stories is a sort-of demo for Welcome to Elk. It recently came to Steam. It’s free and will take you less than 30 minutes to see all the way through. I promise you haven’t played anything like it.
The full game arrives on Steam and Xbox One later this year.
Hell Let Loose
It’s been a little over a year since Hell Let Loose entered Early Access. Hell Let Loose is a team-oriented, WW2 tactical shooter that attempts an authentic recreation of the war’s biggest battles, how they were fought, and the places that got turned into battlefields.
It uses the high-level, logistical focus of mil-sims like Post Scriptum, their mechanics in weapon handling and combat lethality, and mixes all that with an approach to map design that isn’t so much interested in devising symmetric play spaces as it is in recreating historical scenes. There’s a desire to put players in situations real soldiers likely found themselves in during the war – from a tactical perspective.
It has the scale of those games, too, with support for 50v50 battles that take place in massive maps. Hell Let Loose’s approach may not always work, and sometimes all you’ll be left with is misery after repeatedly dying to unseen enemies, but the barrier to entry is low compared to some of its contemporaries. Mechanics, while realistic, aren’t overbearing.
Constant communication with squads, squad leaders and the commander is the name of the game here. So while it’s true that things could easily devolve into that death spiral – something common in this style of game – you also experience unmatched moments of triumph when coordinated tactics work out.
This week, Hell Let Loose got its biggest update yet that not only brought new content in the form of the Carentan map, it overhauled the game’s animations, weapon sounds and touched up existing maps to shake up the meta.
In celebration, developer Black Matter kicked off a free weekend on Steam that’s live now. Give it a shot if you’re curious, and if you decide to pull the trigger, you’ll also find it on sale for %25 off.