Subnautica launched very early into 2018 and, as such, has been a little under the radar when it comes to the best indie titles of 2018. Unknown Worlds Entertainment developed a beautiful mixture of survival and adventure in Subnautica, which sees players exploring the ocean of the planet 4564B, uncovering its aquatic secrets while also accumulating the resources needed to survive its various challenges.
Subnautica is positively gorgeous to look at, popping with color and life wherever the player looks. Its gameplay begins light-hearted but can quickly border on survival horror as players make their way to the murky depths of 4564B's ocean. Getting drawn into the world of Subnautica is as easy as booting the game up, and its open-world nature means players can keep returning whenever they like to try and find something new. That sense of exploration and wonder was a welcome refresher in a trying year for many, and it makes Subnautica easy to recommend to people looking for a distraction heading into 2019.
4. Donut County
Donut County is weird. Players control a hole across varying levels, moving it to swallow objects and increase its size. Described as something like an inverted Katamari Damacy, Donut County features puzzles, a colorful world, and a story that seems like it was ripped straight out of a fairy tale.
Donut County follows a human named Mina and her friend BK, who is a raccoon. They eventually uncover a plot hatched by the Raccoon King to collect more trash and, as it negatively impacts the residents of Donut County, they move to stop him. It's a wild ride into an imaginative narrative that could have just as easily gone completely unexplained, but Donut County's charm and appeal wouldn't have been the same if developer Ben Esposito hadn't been so willing to embrace its quirkiness. The gameplay is addictive and the game is available on mobile devices as well as consoles and PC, meaning it is an excellent companion for those with a daily commute looking for a little brightness and fancy on their way to work.
Celeste was originally created in four day during a game jam session before later being expanded into a full release. Developers Matt Makes Games and Noel Berry must have realized they were onto something with the title, and they were right - Celeste is one of the most immediately recognizable 2018 indie titles and has won a number of year-end awards already.
Celeste is a platforming game that sees players control a girl named Madeline as she attempts to make her way up a mountain. The story is an emotional look at mental health as Madeline learns how to cope with the parts of her she doesn't like, and it is a refreshing take on a subject that has only just started to make its way into mainstream gaming. On top of that, the game's soundtrack is one of the best of 2018, and Celeste's platforming gameplay is challenging and skill intensive. Celeste ticks all the boxes for what makes an indie game one of the best releases of the year, and the title comes highly recommended as a must-own - although lucky Xbox owners can snag it in January 2019's Games With Gold.
2. Into the Breach
Into the Breach is the second effort from developer Subset Games, who first made a name for itself with FTL: Faster Than Light. Into the Breach is a bit of a different animal, though, tasking players with controlling a team of mechas from the future as they attempt to vanquish an alien invasion. The game uses a turn-based combat system that places a heavy emphasis on coordination, allowing teams to respond to enemy moves and employ combinations to beat them.
Into the Breach has been compared to chess, and with good reason. It's a complicated game that doesn't really hold the player's hand at any point after the introduction, and it can be a bit overwhelming for those who are new to the strategy genre. All of that melts away once the moment comes where Into the Breach's intricately designed mechanics click into place, though. The end result is immense satisfaction and the knowledge that more challenges await, and Into the Breach is now available on the Switch as well, making it an ideal indie title for travel.
1. Dead Cells
Dead Cells is a rogue-like, Metroidvania title, which basically means it is tough, compelling, and has callbacks to some of gaming's iconic classics. The game was actually available in early access for about a year, including some time in 2017, but its official release happened in the summer of 2018 and was followed by a period in which Dead Cells cultivated a following of fans who saw it played on popular streaming service Twitch.
Dead Cells was developed by Motion Twin, and is based around power-up collection, deft ability use, and trying to find the best weapons and armor available. Dead Cells also procedurally generates each of its level by combining pre-designed sections in a random configuration while also randomly inserting enemies and items into areas. That, plus a combat system that has been compared favorably to the Souls series, keeps Dead Cells from ever feeling like it is getting old. Dead Cells also wisely included Twitch integration into its functionality, allowing viewers to influence the streamers' decisions by voting on upgrade paths and other similar decisions.
Dead Cells feels like the indie title of the future, combining excellent gameplay with a focus on presenting a compelling stream. Whether or not that holds true, Motion Twin's ambition and execution of that concept makes Dead Cells one of the best indie titles of 2018.