The Best Indies At Gamescom

Gamescom is over and everyone is heading home. My heart, however, remains there. I played more games in that week than I have all year, and while some didn’t stick with me, there are others I’ve put in my calendar and wishlisted on Steam already. So, for this week’s Indie Spotlight, I’ve chronicled the best indies made by small teams that I played at Gamescom.

Chants of Senaar

I’ll start off with my favourite, Chants of Senaar. While aesthetically a mashup of Sable and Journey, Chants of Senaar ditches the wandering aimlessness of its inspirations in favour of a more focused, puzzle-solving narrative. The story is inspired by the Tower of Babel – the one so big it was seen as a hubristic affront to God, and the denizens were all forced to speak different languages so that nobody could communicate. As legend has it, that’s why we all speak different languages.

The core of the gameplay involves climbing the tower and figuring out the languages spoken by its inhabitants. Everyone speaks and writes in a series of glyphs you have to guess the meaning of. It starts off simply, with a lever that opens and closes a door, and escalates to someone asking you to open gates while they wait and vice versa. After each set of puzzles, you’re able to try and match the symbols with their actions to confirm the words.

Gradually unlocking meaning and seeing alien phrases and sentences take shape is thrilling, and deeply appeals to the puzzle-solving part of my brain. Chants of Senaar is developed by just two people, but you wouldn’t be able to tell. It looks gorgeous, the puzzles are tricky but not frustrating, and there are multiple languages to learn. I’m utterly fascinated by this game – both its puzzles and the reason these people constructed this tower in the first place.

Chants of Senaar is available to wishlist on Steam and is due to launch on PC and Switch in 2023.

Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop

What do you get when you cross 1950s-era Utah Americana with cartoonish aliens? A spaceship repair sim roguelite, which also happens to be the developer’s exact description of this game. You play as the owner of a franchised interstellar garage, working for the corporate hologram of Uncle Chop. This isn’t a cute mom-and-pop place, it’s corporate and evil, and if you don’t pay rent on time you will quite literally be murdered for it. That’s right, this cutesy alien Americana game is a satirical take on capitalism, and it rocks.

Every day you wake up and have a morning to get your bearings, wander around the diner and chat, and plan for the day ahead. Once you exit the diner and clock in, you get eight minutes to repair as many ships as you can to earn enough money to pay rent and improve your garage. Repairs range from the expected fuel rods and oil changes to the downright bizarre, like feeding the slugs on a mini planet that provides oxygen to a ship, or setting the right mood for a sentient AI that controls a craft’s systems. It leans heavily into the alien absurdities and fun quirks of the cosmos – it’s the kind of garage Finn and Jake would end up at in Adventure Time.

The actual fixing gameplay is a lot like FixFox’s – you even play as a four-eyed fox. It’s wild how many find their calling repairing spacecraft, the ones near me just nick my bin bags… You have to trawl through manuals to work out what order to take things off, put them back, how to refill them. The difficulty ramps up when you start dealing with homebrew setups that combine different parts from multiple ship brands or customise wiring configurations.

The roguelite elements come in due to the impending corporate death. Big events happen on the same day each cycle, so once you know about them you can try to prepare. The aim is to align yourself with one of the five major factions in the galaxy – do you choose a sentient black hole or the hive mind that builds donut franchises everywhere?

Uncle Chop’s Rocket Shop is being made by three wonderfully creative and potentially damaged people, you can wishlist it on Steam now – it’s coming “soon(ish)”.

Decarnation

I have no idea how to pronounce the name of this French game, and I played it for far too long to ask now. Decarnation is a witty and visceral look into the relationship creators have with their art, especially when that art is the product of one’s own body – the game asks how much your art is you. It follows a few terrible days in the life of dancer and model Gloria. She sees the sculpture she posed for molested by a museum visitor and spits out that, “the disgust now outweighs the pride.”

Gloria is on the cusp of turning 30, which is ancient in the world of cabaret. As well as playing through her day-to-day life, you also descend into the depths of her psyche, meeting twisted versions of herself and those around her. Although game director Quentin De Beukelaer told me the closest people to him are women, he’s also made sure to work with women on the creation of Decarnation too. It’s co-written by Liz Kelly, with more words and art provided by more female creators.

In the demo I played, I got to play sections of Gloria dancing, exploring her inner self, and fighting with her demons. De Beukelaer told me that he wanted to ensure Decarnation wasn’t seen as a walking simulator, so there’s a solid mix of rhythm minigames for the dancing and out-of-the-ordinary combat for the more psychological sections.

De Beukelaer also said the game is heavily inspired by the works of David Lynch, something that is clear in its visuals and symbolism. While the narrative itself is straightforward, there’s more meaning to unlock for those willing to look below the surface.

Decarnation is a game about the body, patriarchy, art, and our connection to it all. It’s available to wishlist on Steam and is expected early 2023.

Conscript

Finally, there’s Conscript, a WW1 survival horror game made by solo developer Jordan Mochi. It’s made in the style of the original Resident Evil games, and even though I’ve never played them I found it incredibly easy to get to grips with. It certainly has that old-school feel to it, but with a smoothness and ease of use that solidifies it as a modern game.

The intentionally slow controls add a fitting weight and tenseness to the trench exploration and combat. Enemy soldiers scream and grunt as you fight, constantly reminding you these are human beings you’re killing. Twisted by war, but still human.

There’s nothing supernatural about the horror on display here, the atrocities of war are more than enough. There were monsters in an older build of the game, but Mochi removed them to keep the game grounded in the reality of conflict. "Humans are forced to act like monsters in war,” Mochi tells me. “That's the scary part.”

You can play the demo for Conscript and wishlist it on Steam now.

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