The 10 most intriguing PC gaming trends of 2016

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As December approaches like a runaway sled and we prepare to say our goodbyes to 2016, it’s natural to reflect on the year as a whole. Those reflections could easily take the form of laments but we’re keeping our focus firmly on the world of PC games, where we’ve identified ten trends that may not have defined 2016, but have certainly helped to shape it. We delve into Sorcery and synthwave, DOOM and Danganronpa, and much more besides.

To read through the entries you can use the arrows beneath or below the image at the top of each page, or using your arrow keys.

Synthwave Soundtracks

Drive gets the credit – or the blame – for this. Even in the midst of a seemingly inexhaustible, collective nostalgia for the ’80s that had already lasted more than the decade which spawned it, it took Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film to reintroduce most of us to the pleasures of brooding, neon-dripping synths and suggestive mid-tempo beats. Games have been flirting with the genre ever since – GTA V even had a radio station originally planned to be hosted by scene-legend Kavinsky – but it was 2016 that saw unprecedented levels of synergy, the aesthetic no doubt granted an extra layer of visibility by the year’s most famous title sequence in Stranger Things.

In the meantime, synthwave has been providing the soundtrack to all sorts of virtual journeys, from violent uprisings rocking pixelated post-communist dystopias in Mother Russia Bleeds, to hallucinatory road trips through glowing, shifting landscapes in Neon Drive. Even relatively low-profile releases like Blood Alloy: Reborn feature big-name collaborations with the likes Perturbator and Magic Sword, so it should come as no surprise when Furi kicks things up a notch by mobilising all of the major artists contributing to its soundtrack for a live show to celebrate the game’s release.

You may have missed: Master Spy, Until I have You, Brigador.
Be on the lookout for: Any game with a predominantly black-and-purple colour palette and/or the word “neon” in the title.

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35 Comments

  1. protorp says:

    Great semi-best-of listicle, I like the themed perspective a lot… despite reading most all of RPS most of all days, I’ve now added several things to my wishlist that hadn’t quite clicked onto my radar from their original presentation here.

  2. Darth Gangrel says:

    The thing I’m most of all pleased by is that the FPS genre surprised people by not delivering the same old stuff, rejecting the “sod it, people will buy it anyway”-mentality. Although, seems like CoD still thinks that way and they’re right about it. Anyway, it’s been a good FPS year.

    I’ve only played Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf as far as gamebook adaptations go, but I liked it a lot, especially the music. Perhaps I’ll like other gamebook adaptations. Finding new types of games you enjoy is always fun, even though my to-play-someday-list is big enough as it is.

  3. Turkey says:

    There were some good ‘lites this year. Bunker Punks was pretty cool and I liked Death Road to Canada and Curious Expedition.

    • Alexander Chatziioannou says:

      Been meaning to play Death Road to Canada but haven’t gotten round to it yet, and wasn’t aware of either Bunker Punks or Streets of Rogue mentioned by TheAngriestHobo below.

      Despite my whining I’m always up for a good (hell, even a mediocre) roguelike and I’m sure there were more than a few decent releases I’ve missed this year but, when you take a look at those titles for 2015 (and take into account several others that I’ve skipped) you gotta admit it’s not the same level of quality.

      • Turkey says:

        Yeah, you’re right. It’s been kind of an off year for the sub-genre. Enter the Gungeon was like a super polished version of Nuclear Throne, but it didn’t really grab me at all.

        It seems like there’s a lot more FTL-inspired stuff coming up next year, though. Maybe that’s the direction it’s going. Who knows.

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    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Don’t forget Halcyon 6 in the “Damn, that’s some good pixel art” category!

  5. TheAngriestHobo says:

    I never finished the last chapter of Sorcery. It was an interesting take on the RPG genre, but the way the way part 4 forced you to keep replaying the same section over and over again until you got it right bored me to the point that I just walked away from the game.

    As for the decline of the action roguelike… have you folks really not played Streets of Rogue? It’s going to break Steam when it hits full release. The demo is currently free on itch.io – I strongly encourage everyone to give it a whirl.

  6. Shazbut says:

    Good article, thanks. Probably took a bit of thinking about

  7. Frank says:

    “Metroidvanias. They’re taking over, slowly but steadily.”

    I sure hope so. I like ARPGs, but I’d gladly trade them for metroid-likes.

  8. CartonofMilk says:

    It makes me question why i define myself as a pc gamer since i seem to have missed all those trends.Well at least in terms of the games i played.

    The gamebook thing is interesting to me as a gamebook collector. But i still don’t see myself playing these books as games. The whole reason i collect and love those books is greatly linked to nostalgia.

  9. Lowenstaat says:

    Thanks for the very thoughtful article. My reflections upon the past year easily take the form of joy and thanksgiving for life, good games, and freedom. I’ve continued to enjoy the resurgence of remastered games and republishing of classics on GOG and Steam.

  10. malkav11 says:

    I’m glad to see Hex: Shards of Fate namechecked. Too often it seems like it’s going by unnoticed in broader circles even though for my tastes it’s easily the best digital TCG on the market and that’s in its still work-in-progress state. As they settle into a steady set release schedule and continue to expand the campaign (the second major PvE release is coming before end of year, with a bigger, more ambitious chunk of campaign, another talent tier for existing classes, a new class (ranger), collectible mercenaries, sailing (with customizable ship) and more), I think it’s going to get even more amazing on a regular basis.

  11. Ejia says:

    Downwell is an “action roguelike”? I always thought of it as an arcade-style platformer.

    • Alexander Chatziioannou says:

      Only in the loosest of senses (random powerups & procedural generation) but, hey, I wasn’t cheating – I included Switchcars in the 2016 roundup.

  12. Kinsky says:

    I really disagree on the point about FPS games. I find the genre still struggling to recapture its former glory after the horrible drought of the last ten years. Call of Duty and Battlefield, the avatars of the genre’s degeneration, had more interesting hooks this year but ultimately delivered predictably boilerplate reiterations of their respective franchises. Newdoom, meanwhile, was a stark illustration of how far the genre at large has fallen. It understands very little about what made the original DOOM successful; the only elements it took to heart were “violence” and “fast”. Stepping fearfully into unfamiliar territory, it clung to the sacred AAA cows of scripting and QTEs, diluting the experience as a result. Level design was extremely simple, and it relegated combat to big telegraphed arenas and killing fields with enemies spawning as you entered a la Serious Sam but without that series’ trademark scale or insanity. It was a middling attempt at an action shooter that serves as little more than a tombstone looming over the legacy of a studio who helped define an era. RIP id.

    • Alexander Chatziioannou says:

      While I partly agree on your point about Battlefield and Call of Duty (though I still think they were a significant improvement over the franchises’ efforts of the last couple of years), I enjoyed DOOM immensely – I thought it was a much more tightly designed game than you’re describing with an especially well thought-out battle system that necessitated constant tactical changes between the safety of the long-range combat and closing in for the melee kill. Haven’t really delved into its multiplayer that much, but, in terms of online versus play I don’t think there has been a game out in the last decade to challenge Left 4 Dead anyway.

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        Nu-DOOM is a great game and I enjoyed its mechanics immensely but after playing it through I shelved it, didn’t even bother to grind the secrets.
        Old Doom? I can’t explain it but I played those levels over and over prob. 20 times. I could play it now, takes only seconds to load up.
        It’s that alluring after all the time. DOOM will be forgotten in ten years.

    • Unsheep says:

      I agree the genre was better 10+ years ago, overall.

      However, FPS games seem to be just as popular today as they were before, if not even more popular since multiplayer is much bigger and e-sports has arrived.

      Look at the bigger FPS games released in recent years:
      Crysis 3
      BioShock Infinite
      Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
      Metro: Last Light
      Payday 2
      Battlefield 4
      Shadow Warrior
      Call of Duty: Ghosts
      Wolfenstein: The New Order
      Warframe
      Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!
      Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
      Far Cry 4
      Dying Light
      Battlefield Hardline
      Call of Duty: Black Ops III
      Star Wars: Battlefront
      Sniper Elite III
      Far Cry Primal
      Superhot
      Doom
      Overwatch
      Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
      Shadow Warrior 2
      Battlefield 1
      Titanfall 2
      Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

      Most of them are fun to me. I don’t play multiplayer so I’m not interested in Battlefield, Call of Duty, Overwatch and such.

      Yet there’s been a number of good single-player FPS games, like Dying Light, Far Cry Primal, Shadow Warrior, Metro Last Light and so on.

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    Dios says:

    Regarding the CCGs: The game is actually called Faeria, not Faerie. Because it has a playing area, geddit?

    Also, you forgot the best CCG, which also just went into open beta on Steam: The unfortunately named Eternal.

    • Alexander Chatziioannou says:

      Oops, thanks for pointing out the typo – fixed! And I have to admit I hadn’t come across Eternal before, is it really that good?

      • Premium User Badge

        Dios says:

        The game has been designed by a bunch of Magic pros, so the game is basically a streamlining of that game for digital, with a ton of really clever design and synergies without sacrificing much complexity. The F2P is also pretty fair. I’m a lifelong Magic-Player and have already put an inordinate amount of hours into the closed beta. I still regularly discover some new clever interactions, and that’s with just one set with a few hundred cards.

        • malkav11 says:

          Well. That certainly looks a lot like Hearthstone. But as someone who’s been irritated by people saying “that looks like a Magic clone” about Hex (which…it certainly is influenced by Magic, but it’s a very different game in practice), I wouldn’t want to judge the game on that alone.

          What I am not seeing is any mention of a singleplayer/vs AI type mode and that is what absolutely ramps Hex over the top for me. Fundamentally I am just not that interested in playing against other players, and Hex caters to that style of play far more already than any other digital card game I’ve seen on the market. I mean, Hearthstone has the “Adventures”, but they’re pretty low content and extraordinarily expensive, and the way they’re being rotated out of sale suggests that Blizzard thinks of them primarily as card dispensers for competitive play. And it does seem like some of the other games have some sort of singleplayer campaign but as far as I am aware nobody else has RPG-style player classes, or card equipment that modifies cards in spectacular ways for PvE play, and it didn’t seem like many if any have a whole suite of PvE specific cards to earn and play with solely in singleplayer that can be balanced against that content instead of the competitive meta. And that’s before their planned addition of things like mercenaries (recruitable alternate champions that have their own deckbuilding restrictions and powers), raids, guilds and so on.

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            Dios says:

            It’s been a while since i played Hex, before the RPG-Stuff, so i don’t know how good that is but yeah, it sounds like this is something Hex can boast over the competition. Eternal has Ranked PVP, Magic-style draft against others(with a asynchronous draft mechanic), constructed against AI(Beat X decks in a row to get more stuff) and a HS-style draft against AI. But hey, the game just went into open beta, i’m sure they are planning some more PVE-stuff.
            Eternal may look a lot like Hearthstone but is a lot closer to MTG/Hex mechanically. You have attacking and blocking, instants, regenerating health, resources/land, etc. You know, depth and stuff. It uses the same “color”-system as Hex, by the way. Pretty smart solution for digital without the fiddliness of Magic-lands.

          • malkav11 says:

            I don’t think that’s necessarily guaranteed. Hearthstone has been out of beta for ages and like I say, the PvE content is laughably thin. In general it seems to be a very low priority for a lot of these games.

            Also, FWIW, I dislike Magic’s resource system and while Hex’s approach is certainly a massive improvement (i.e., Hex is a game I can stand to play, which Magic no longer is), I think there are a lot of better ones in the market, both physical and digital, so that isn’t a selling point for me.

  14. Unsheep says:

    Trucking simulation somehow reached the mainstream this year with American Truck Simulator.

    It seems to have somehow validated the sim genre in the mainstream press, where previously it was usually just a subject of ridicule. A new trend for this year is that the media has started to take this genre more seriously.

    I also feel that the media has started acknowledging GOG more than previously. Perhaps it’s the increasing number of triple-a games and bigger Indie titles on GOG that is driving this. In any case, it’s a good trend, keep it up.

    • malkav11 says:

      I’m not sure which media you mean, but Euro Truck Simulator 2 was why people were excited about American Truck Simulator, and people have been taking it seriously for years now. There is arguably a bit more openness to similar sims as a whole this year, but frankly, most of them still lack what makes the SCS truck sims so appealing to a broader audience.

  15. bill says:

    Japanese developers may have embraced steam… but that embrace doesn’t actually extend to Japan.

    Many games by Japanese developers/publishers are region locked to be unavailable in Japan.
    The ones that are available are usually priced way higher than in other countries.

    Only a few indie Japanese game developers seem to have truly embraced Steam.

  16. sillythings says:

    Seasons After Fall in a pixel art list? I mean, I love the game and how it looks, so I’m glad it’s being mentioned, but the visuals feel incredibly organic – like concept art come to life. No pixels in sight.

    Great article overall though, it was a very interesting read.

    • Alexander Chatziioannou says:

      It’s definitely not pixel art in the traditional sense, but I would argue it still falls under the umbrella of the “hi-bit” manifesto outlined by Jo-Remi Madsen, one of the designers of Owlboy (as, in fact, is the case for Owlboy itself). Of course, these are not hard-and fast-definitions so it’s still largely a matter of personal opinion.

      link to dpadstudio.com

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    subdog says:

    It’s pretty sad, if predictable, that VR didn’t make this list.

    • Alexander Chatziioannou says:

      It wasn’t really a snub, I just wanted to focus on aspects of the industry that will not be talked about as exhaustively by year’s end. Also, it might have been a bit of a snub.

  18. FordTruck says:

    surprised you didn’t say anything about the explosion of survival/battle royal type games.

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