Happy fifth birthday to ID@Xbox! Xbox's indie-focused program has made it easier for smaller studios and publishers to release their games, often even self-publishing them. The total number of ID games currently in the program numbers several hundred, but as it's the fifth anniversary, we thought it would be a good time to look at the best games of each year so far.
It's naturally pretty tough to get down to just five games out of hundreds, so we made it slightly easier by including each year's best game as well as the runner-up — or so they are in our minds. Okay, that was still pretty tough too. If you'd like to make your own list, you can follow along by going to the games page on TA, and filter by both ID@Xbox and release year. Here are our favorites.
Outlast is the debut horror from Red Barrels, and among an ever-crowded field of hide-and-seek horror games that have come out lately, it's the best in the business. Relentless villains, an environment oozing with atmosphere and real dread, and that iconic night vision camera have made the series a household name for horror fans. For those reasons, it just edged out Warframe, the free to play game that many say is what Destiny should be. It's still going strong today, with updates and content drops coming regularly since day one. It doesn't have the name recognition of its competition, but among fans, many say they'd pick it over anything else like it.
There's no shortage of roguelites and platformers available via the ID@Xbox library, but 2015 may have seen the very best of both genres release not far apart. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and Shovel Knight both stand as recent entries into genres that have withstood the test of time. A few years on from their respective launches, they're both considered not just some of the best recent genre titles, but some of the best ever, and that's really saying something for these kinds of games.
These two games couldn't really be more different, but they go to show you how varied and awesome ID games can be. On one hand, you have the coolest sports title to come out in a long time, combining rocket-boosted RC-like cars with real-life sports like soccer, hockey, and basketball. On the other hand, you have a farm life simulator in the vein of Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing that is so quaint and addictive, it's hard to know when you've done enough for the day.
Just like how the overall console generation hits its stride typically three to four years in, so too has the ID@Xbox program, as evidenced by these two top-tier titles. Cuphead's animation and audio is enough to merit several awards all on its own, but it definitely helps that it's also a hard-as-nails run and gun game sure to delight (and alternately destroy) genre fans. Edith Finch, meanwhile, reimagines the "walking sim" genre by bringing to it more involved gameplay elements that constantly shift and make for a truely unique experience.
Here's another pair that couldn't be farther apart. Hellblade is a Norse dark fantasy about a woman venturing into Hel to save the soul of her loved one. Full of unflinching imagery and very adult themes, it's not for the faint of heart but it's one of the best games of the generation, ID or otherwise. Overcooked! 2, meanwhile, is an arcade cooking sim that makes for maybe the best co-op experience this generation of games has seen. It'll have you laughing with and lamenting about your partners in nearly equal parts — but mostly laughing!
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