Welcome to our followup to the "biggest games of fall 2014" list, but don't read the title designations "indie" or "lower-profile" as secondary in any way. In fact, several of the games in this spread sound vastly more intriguing than anything else out this season.
As before, keeping to my requirement that games on these lists have actual release dates, I've had to leave off a few I might otherwise have included, notably This War of Mine (still listed as Q4 2014).
The Long Dark
A first-person survival simulation set somewhere in the “Northern wilderness” after a global disaster that knocks out the power, The Long Dark taps into that almost primordial fear of being stuck in the middle of cold, dead, godforsaken nowhere, the day fading to dusk and then blackness, the raw elements (and your hierarchy of human needs) scraping at the door. Food and water are in short supply, and you’re not completely alone: there’s the wildlife to consider, and then you’ll wind up bumping into other survivors, resorting, one assumes, to the kinds of disquieting things survivors do.
The version I'm talking about here won't be final, fair warning: it's part of Steam's Early Access program, whereby you swap money with the developer in exchange for a chance to peek at the game in the throes of development, absent some of its release features.
September 22 / OS X, Windows
Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments
Arthur Conan Doyle meets Dostoyevsky, figuratively speaking, in this latest Sherlock Holmes-ian meta-fictive mashup from Focus Home Interactive. It's a contemporary adventure game with an adventure game's more sedate pace, yes, but don't let that dissuade you: developer Frogwares' past work on this off-kilter series--a Cthulhu mystery (The Awakened) and chance to square off against Jack the Ripper (Sherlock Holmes Versus Jack the Ripper)--were very well received.
September 30 / PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows, Xbox 360 and One
Costume Quest 2
Studio Double Fine and founder Tim Schafer's sequel to 2010's generally well-liked trick-or-treat sim (a.k.a. "spooky roleplaying game") adds "new costumes, features and gameplay," but since Double Fine doesn't specify what any of that means, it's probably a safe bet that it's mostly Costume Quest redux, not a radical makeover.
October 7 / Linux, OS X, PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows Wii U, Xbox 360 & One
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers
Before Nic Pizzolatto's Rust Cohle and Marty Hart scrutinized ritualistic murders, we had insouciant horror novelist-turned-snoop Gabriel Knight.
Creator Jane Jensen's groundbreaking adventure game returns under her guidance for a 20th anniversary edition, with remastered backdrops and characters, re-orchestrated music, new puzzles and a fresh stable of voice actors. Barring technical issues or quibbles with the new voice actors (I'm going to miss Tim Curry as Gabe and Mark Hamill as Mosely), this should be a treat while we're waiting for Jensen's planned continuation of the series.
Sins of the Fathers was a mammoth storytelling leap forward in 1993. Never mind King's Quest or Quest for Glory or Leisure Suit Larry, Gabriel Knight is the series Sierra deserves to be remembered for, and if you're too young to remember it yourself, here's your chance to see why.
October 15 / OS X, Windows
We celebrate Japanese studio Level-5 for games like Dark Cloud 2, Dragon Quest VIII and the Professor Layton series, but they've had a few fantasy misses, namely the White Knight Chronicles games. It's thus hard to know what to make of Fantasy Life, an older 2012 3DS game just now seeing light of day in the West.
On paper, it's an Animal Crossing-like roleplaying mashup that has you partaking in the mundane (crafting, fishing, mining) as well as the fantastic (casting, battling, exploring). Japanese and Western audience reactions don't always align, but the game fared reasonably well with Japanese tastemaker Famitsu (35 out of 40), and sold over a quarter of a million copies.
October 24 / 3DS
One of the season's rare PS Vita-only games, Freedom Wars is a third-person action/strategy shooter set in our pollution-choked, resource-starved future, where prisoners from penal colonies square off over what's left in hopes of reducing their sentences.
Fight alongside androids you can deploy as tactical aids and play with up to eight players cooperatively as you work to conquer Japan's prefectures (called "panopticons" in the game) to secure resources and climb the leaderboards.
October 28 / PS Vita
Farming Simulator 15
Wait, you're saying. Farming Simulator 15? They've made 14 versions of a game about growing crops, raising livestock and trundling around in a tractor?
Just five, actually, counting this one, and those are corresponding release years, not serial enumerations. But yes, it's a farming simulator, which sounds as riveting as simulation ideas like "Watching Paint Dry" or "Cleaning Your Cuticles." Then again, sometimes humdrum-sounding games are more than the sum of our assumptions.
Plus, Farming Simulator 15 looks kind of incredible in the trailers (the Crysis series has nothing on this thing). You're getting wood-cutting (forestry), several new brands, a new Nordic environment and "wash stations" to play with.
October 30 / Windows
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
This hard-to-categorize (kinda-sorta roguelike) game that touches on controversial topics including, in the developer's own words, "child abuse, gender identity, infanticide, neglect, suicide, abortion, and how religion might negatively affect a child," gets a remake and hops to consoles (the original version was for PCs only).
New to the game: it's rendered as a 16-bit visual tribute, includes two-player cooperative play, new music (with remixes of the original's tunes), new playable characters, fleshed out content (more items, room and enemies), plus the Wrath of the Lamb expansion as well as a new finale and epilogue.
November 4 / Linux, OS X, PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Windows
Tales of Hearts R
Another rare PS Vita exclusive, Tales of Hearts R is a remake of original 3DS game Tales of Hearts, the eleventh entry in Bandai Namco's Tales series. Like all Tales installments, it's premised on story-heavy roleplaying, and tweaks the series' action-oriented battle system slightly: in this case, adding the option to "chase" and combo-attack an enemy after knocking them skyward, thus the designation "Aerial Chase Linear Motion Battle System."
November 11 / PS Vita
A puzzle-platformer in which you alternate between Nuna, an Iñupiaq girl (Alaskan Inuit), and her arctic fox, grappling with the ramifications of a perpetual blizzard. The game's developers say Never Alone is in part about reflecting on the passage of wisdom from generation to generation by way of Alaskan stories, several of which appear over the course of the game.
Never Alone was also designed with the assistance of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, a non-profit Alaskan advocacy group that works with eight federally recognized tribes in the Cook Inlet region (Alaska's most densely populated area), and a portion of the game's sales will apparently go toward funding the CITC's education-related activities.
November 18 / PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Subtract all the really, really, really long-winded storytelling and passive explorations in the Persona games, and you wind up with something like Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, a.k.a. mostly the dungeon-crawling stuff.
In Persona Q, you can still poke around a Japanese high school (and listen to pretty bad, if endearing, J-pop). But the lion's share of your time's going to be spent navigating the game's eponymous labyrinth, fighting with up to five characters against shadow enemies, manipulating a combat system reminiscent of the Etrian Odyssey roleplaying series, but with Persona-related quirks.
November 25 / 3DS
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris
With all the attention of Crystal Dynamics' acclaimed Tomb Raider reboot, it's easy to overlook the fact that the Tomb Raider series' comeback actually started several years earlier with the studio's cooperative-angled platformer, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.
Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris revisits Crystal Dynamics' isometric approach to Lara's archaeological adventures, whisking the intrepid globetrotter off to Egypt, where she'll do the usual things--explore, fight, solve puzzles, avoid traps--on the way to a showdown with the Egyptian god of storms and violence, Set.
December 9 / PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One