Since the dawn of time or, at the very least, the early 90s, the debate between console and PC gaming has raged on.
At one point, the idea that someone could be as into Halo as Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) was pretty unheard of. You were generally either one thing or the other: a member of the “PC Master Race” or a humble “console peasant” just trying to make your way in the world.
In terms of which is better, the arguments have ranged from frame rate and performance to accessibility but, in 2022, the boundaries between consoles and PC have never been more blurred. There really just isn’t much of a difference in hardware at this point and, increasingly, giants like Epic Games, Ubisoft and Blizzard Entertainment are catering to both markets to maximise the reach of franchises like Overwatch, Apex Legends and Minecraft.
Well, that’s all well and good for the big boys…
For indie developers, licensing a game on consoles can sometimes push costs into the red and, as a result, the PC continues to boast a much larger catalogue of “indie darlings” compared to the Xbox One, PS4/PS5 or Nintendo Switch. The lack of mouse and keyboard support also means that games like Papers, Please will remain exclusive forever.
With that in mind, here are the 10 best critically acclaimed “indie darlings” that continue to be available only on PC.
Originally funded through KickStarter and released in 2018, RimWorld is a top-down construction simulator in which players are put in charge of a colony of stranded humans on a distant, procedurally-generated planet. As the game progresses, random events – likes sieges or infestations – threaten to destroy the colony and it’s your job to survive and continue to expand.
But wait, there’s more! What’s really interesting is that the game features three pre-configured AI storytellers who dictate the frequency and intensity of the random events. Cassandra Classic is the default option, but there’s also Phoebe Chillax and Randy Random who are constantly analysing the player’s situation and devising new and exciting scenarios to keep you engaged.
Really, the game lives and dies on mods created by the Steam community. These vary from cosmetic changes to complete gameplay overhauls, which is probably why the developers don’t seem too fussed with a console release.
The Stanley Parable
Created by Davey Wreden and William Pugh and released in 2013, the Stanley Parable is a narrative-driven walking simulator in which players assume the role of Stanley – a random, non-discrete office worker – who’s tasked with uncovering a sinister corporate conspiracy. Simple enough, right?
You can “complete” the game in under ten minutes, providing you obey the omniscient, Stephen Fry-esque narrator’s every instruction and avoid deviating from the pre-set path. Offer no resistance and you’ll be guided carefully towards a somewhat cliché, yet narratively satisfying conclusion. Everything gets wrapped up in a nice bow and the game just, sort of, ends.
And then, the whole thing restarts. Well, what do you do now?
The Stanley Parable isn’t something you want to ruin for yourself. And I won’t do it for you. Sufficed to say, you shouldn’t always do as you’re told. Why this hasn’t ever been released on consoles is unclear but, what is clear, is that it’s an experience like no other and definitely worth checking out.
The Republia Times
Created by Lucas Pope, the genius behind Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn, the Republia Times is a free-to-play browser game in which players assume the role of a newspaper editor working for an oppressive, State-owned propaganda machine. Each day, the player must choose which stories to feature in the newspaper but – like Papers, Please – there’s a twist in that the government also happens to be holding your family hostage.
Do you conform to the dictatorship or rebel against the system?
The overall goal is to balance pro-government stories – to manipulate the general population – with more popular, gossip stories to increase the newspaper’s readership. Along the way, you’ll be approached by insurgents hoping to overthrow the government and, while you might be inclined to help them, doing so puts, not only puts your livelihood, but also your family, at risk.
Choices, choices, choices…
A rogue-like deck building game released in 2021 – although that hardly does it enough justice – Inscryption is a marvellous found footage, deck building and escape-the-room mash up with plenty of twists and turns along the way.
In essence, the game is broken up into three distinct acts: a first-person deck building section where players use cards to navigate a series of randomly generated dungeons; a top-down RPG section reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda; and a final chapter in which players must use the cards they’ve collected, purchased and transformed to make that final push to the end.
If you’re a fan of deck building but not so much puzzle solving – although, personally, I think the game is superb either way – there was a mod released in March that stripped out everything but the card stuff. As a result, Inscryption should pretty much appeal to anyone, depending on the version you play.
Death and Taxes
Ever wanted to know what it would be like to be the Grim Reaper? Released in 2020, Death and Taxes has the player assume the role of Death himself, bureaucratically deciding the fates of the living. Similar in a lot of ways to Papers, Please, the primary objective is to determine, from an exhaustive list of living humans, who is destined to die and who could, potentially, be saved.
All the human characters are given names and a short description and, based on that alone, you have to make the final call. Fate, the overseer – or essentially your boss – does offer guidance but, unlike Papers, Please, you aren’t penalised for ignoring these suggestions. Bear in mind though, the living and the dead can affect the world in various ways so, depending on your decisions, the end results may vary. Definitely unique and exciting.
The Beginner’s Guide
A narrative-driven follow up to Davey Wreden’s previous game – the Stanley Parable – the Beginner’s Guide has no objectives or traditional goals. Instead, players are navigated by Wreden himself through a series of abstract, half-realised game concepts created by the mysterious developer, Coda.
Who is Coda? What sort of person is he? By exploring the levels, players are challenged by Wreden to learn more about their creator. It’s all open to interpretation of course, but the core narrative deals with the real-world relationship between developers and players and, through just walking around and interacting with things, you come to appreciate the developer’s own personal struggles with success and failure.
It’s all very meta so, if that floats your boat, you’re in for a treat.
Emily is Away
A visual novel developed by Kyle Seeley and released in 2015, Emily is Away is presented in the form of an early 2000s chat client. In terms of gameplay, the player can choose between different avatars – all themed around early 2000s trends like Blink 182 and Avril Lavigne – and make dialogue choices depending on what Emily has to say. That’s about it, though.
I mean, what were you expecting? It’s a visual novel.
What’s really interesting is the story which spans five years and, depending on your choices, can end a number of different ways. Generally, if you’re supportive, your relationship with Emily will end on a high but, if not, Emily will ghost you at the very end of the game. It’s a bit of a bummer, actually.
Released in 2016, Primordia is a nostalgic point-and-click adventure game in which players navigate the world by collecting and combining items to solve puzzles and progress in the story. Sounds familiar, right? Unlike classic examples of the genre – Sierra’s King Quest and Space Quest, for example – the game uses real-world logic to create practical puzzles with sensible solutions. It’s nostalgic, no doubt, but also a lot better designed.
The story can go a number of different ways depending on the choices you make throughout the game, but what’s really interesting is the world building which sees players traverse a bleak, melancholy landscape of deserts and broken machines. The low-res graphics also give everything a gritty vibe which perfectly accentuates the oppressive, depressing themes of the story.
The original Half Life – released in 1998 – defined the genre by combining fast-paced combat and puzzles with, at the time, top-of-the-line physics. It represented a watershed moment in the history of PC gaming, perfecting the formula established by earlier FPS like Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM.
Unfortunately, in 2022, the original – and even the Source version released in 2004 – just don’t hold up. I mean, the game’s a classic but, compared to more modern first-person shooters, just doesn’t hit the same way it used to. Thankfully, there’s an alternative available exclusively on PC.
Originally published in 2012 and developed by Crowbar Collective, Black Mesa sees players return as Gordon Freeman in a fan-created remake of the classic original. Not only have the visuals been greatly improved, but even those awkward, dated sections – like the train cart and the Xen stuff – have been reworked in interesting new ways. It’s a complete overhaul, capturing the spirit of the original while innovating in new and exciting ways.
Developed by Lucas Pope – the creator of Return of the Obra Dinn and the Republia Times – Papers, Please was released in 2013 to near universal acclaim. In the game, players assume the role of an immigration officer working at a border stop under an oppressive, dystopian regime. The goal is simple: to spot inconsistencies in people’s travel documentation and only allow access to those with all the right paperwork.
Like with the Republia Times, you might be inclined to let everyone in and out, regardless of documentation, but doing so will inflict a penalty. Mistakes cost money and, if you don’t make enough to feed your family and pay rent, the game comes to an abrupt end. Sort of like real life, then.
The joy of Papers, Please comes from its mouse and keyboard controls. There’s something very satisfying about sliding papers around with the mouse and spotting inconsistencies between one document and another. Then the game makes you feel incredibly guilty for having a good time by making you separate a husband and wife, or detain a good natured old man. It’s quite cruel that way.