There’s a whole world of PC gaming beyond the dark borders of Valve’s gaming platform. Yes, much of it is just DRM guff like EA Origin and Ubisoft Connect, designed to tether you to a respective publisher’s corporate ecosystem, but there’s more wholesome stuff out there too: like the wonderful world of itch.io.
Itch.io is very much the ‘good guy’ of gaming platforms – a huge repository of indie games designed for up-and-coming indie developers to promote their projects. Many of the games here eventually go onto Steam and other storefronts, but others stay on itch and flourish there. The great thing is you can download them all, DRM-free, directly from the itch website.
So we’ve decided to dive on into the itch.io hoard and dig up some great indie games you won’t find anywhere else. Many are free too!
1. Remnants of the Precursors
If you think that itch.io is a place strictly for cutesy indie platformers and cheap-scare horror games, this will make you rethink that stereotype. Remnants of the Precursors is a ‘modernization’ – essentially a remake – of the classic 1993 4X game Master of Orion.
You pick from one of 10 unique galactic races, and pursue galactic domination by means of diplomacy, war and technology. This version polishes and improves the game for modern PCs, with better AI, beautiful artwork, and a much-improved UI that’s more palatable than the nearly 30-year-old original.
This is unquestionably the best way to play the turn-based strategy classic, and (for now at least) it remains free.
2. Power Drill Massacre
Spend enough time around the back-alleys and underbellies of itch.io, and you’ll soon become familiar with the name ‘Puppet Combo’. This developer is responsible for a bunch of wonderfully 90s and delightfully scary games, all presented with the gritty panache of a video nasty.
It’s worth checking out Puppet Combo’s whole collection, but if we have to pick out one game we’ll go for Power Drill Massacre. This stylishly surreal horror game has the feel and claustrophobic perspective of the original Silent Hill.
Gloomy and atmospheric, and often lit up only by the faint glow of your torch bouncing off the walls, this is a showcase of just how much horror you can squeeze into a small budget and retro aesthetic.
3. Occult Crime Police
If you’re a fan of Phoenix Wright and other games where you build up a case, solve crimes and yell ‘OBJECTION’ at the top of your lungs, then this indie investigation game is worth a look.
Occult Crime Police casts you as Sheriff Miranda Warren, a no-nonsense woman who’s trying to redeem her reputation by unravelling a mysterious murder case. It’s part point-and-click, part visual novel, and part criminal investigation game that delves into the paranormal, and will scratch an itch for conspiracy nuts everywhere.
FTL: Faster Than Light is the obvious reference point here. The spacefaring roguelite was all the talk of 2012 thanks to the story-generating potential of its endless simulations – engine room fires, crew deaths, space pirates, all of it combining into a glorious systemic space opera.
Why all this talk of FTL? Because Tachyons is pretty much – and by its own reckoning – a multiplayer FTL. The aesthetic, systems and flow of the game are much the same, but now you control just a single crew member, and play it with friends. It even adds a few extra features, like the ability to leave your ship.
One caveat is that it hasn’t been updated in a while and maybe development’s ground to a halt. But what’s there is already a good time – especially as it’s free!
5. If On a Winter’s Night, Four Travelers
This one looks set to come to Steam sooner or later, but in the meantime you still download it from itch.io for free. If On a Winter’s Night, Four Travelers is a beautiful pixel-art point-and-click adventure follows four different people as they meet at a masked ball on a train in the 20s.
It’s gloriously stylized, dabbling in a bit of mystery, high-society mingling and even hints of the occult. Everything from the art and animations to the classy musical score oozes class. You may soon be hearing about this as one of best indie games of the year, and if you grab it now you can say you ‘were there’ before it got all big and famous – which is always a fun thing to brag about.
Now we’ve set you on your indie game fetch-quest, why not look into gifts you can buy for your buddy who owns a Nintendo Switch? Or if you want to keep exploring the world of offbeat PC games, how about this list of the best Pico-8 games you can play right now.