The lights are on
We all love the PlanetSides and StarCrafts of the world, but some of the most exciting things happening in the PC space these days have hardware requirements that are more 2002 than 2012. Even if you’re rocking integrated graphics on the three-year-old laptop your folks bought you for college, this list should have something for you.
FTL [GI Score: 8]
This indie space game snuck its way onto some end-of-year lists, including my own Top 10, thanks to its unique gameplay. FTL puts you in the captain’s chair of a small spaceship trying to survive ion storms, pirates, asteroids, and worse as your ragtag crew flies the old bucket of bolts on a pell-mell escape from an ever-encroaching enemy fleet. The hefty challenge, multiple ship designs, and heavy randomization make FTL massively replayable on top of its initial entertainment value.
Prison Architect [GI Score N/A]
Why guide a city or character to fame and prosperity when fulfilling the bare minimum required by state contracts to house inmates is so much more profitable? Prison Architect isn’t actually out yet, but you can play the slowly progressing alpha builds by pre-ordering it from developer Introversion. Every time a new system is added to the game it changes everything, and designing new prisons to deal with the threat of escape tunnels, drugs being cooked up out of cleaning chemicals, and even full-scale riots where prisoners take over entire cell blocks is already quite fun.
Botanicula [GI Score: 8.25]
Journey through a world brought to life by Amanita Design’s incredibly detailed art and charming characters in this point-and-click adventure. This indie title is a wonderful reminder of what makes games like Myst so compelling, and the puzzle design will stretch the analytical muscles of your left brain while the intricate visuals make the other hemisphere sparkle with joy.
Avernum: Escape from the Pit [GI Score N/A]
Jeff Vogel’s Spiderweb Software has been making old-school Ultima-style open-world RPGs for decades now, and this 2012 remastering of the original Avernum is a highly polished love letter to the sub-genre Vogel has dedicated so much of his professional life to. Don’t be surprised when this seemingly simple game accounts for dozens of hours of your life with its painstakingly fleshed-out world, tactical turn-based battle mechanics, and free-form hero progression system.
Hotline Miami [GI Score: 7.75]
This imaginative but twisted top-down shooter trades primarily on its hallucinogenic presentation and delightfully incoherent storyline. Critical reaction to this odd title has been mixed, but Hotline Miami could be worth a look in the same way that The Binding of Isaac (which is another great title to play on a low-spec PC, though it didn’t come out in 2012 and so can’t make this list) is compelling despite its flaws merely on the strength of being so unique that you’ll likely never encounter anything like it in video games again.
The Trouble with Robots [GI Score: 8]
I’m currently the author of the only Metacritic-aggregated review for this simple super-indie game, but it’s my list and I’ll stump for The Trouble with Robots if I want to. Putting together a strategy based on your handful of a few cards that summon more units, blow up enemies, heal your own guys, or do some combination thereof is a timeless pleasure. This breezy strategy game is the perfect answer to an otherwise boring afternoon, and I’m pretty sure it’ll run on anything down to and including my toaster.
Eador: Genesis [GI Score N/A]
This Russian indie strategy game from 2009 was just recently translated into English at long last, and it recalls the glory days of Heroes of Might & Magic, Master of Magic, and Age of Wonders in the best ways. Building your fantasy empire is a matter of conquering neutral provinces and holding rival empires at bay until you can crush them underfoot, which we’ve all done before. The genius of Eador: Genesis is how it injects role-playing into the mix with choose-your-own-adventure random events that offer great opportunities for prospective benevolent leaders and evil overlords alike. Expect to hear more about this game in the future, particularly in the form of its in-development remake under the title Masters of the Broken World.