Some of the best games of the year are surely yet to come, but just halfway through 2016 a tasty game stew is already brewing. We’ve selected 32 of our favorites from the past six months, ordered newest to oldest. It'll be hard to pick just one as our overall game of the year come January—not that it's ever easy or without impassioned conference calls.
Omri Petitte, Steven Messner, and the PC Gamer staff contributed to this article.
Release date: June 2, 2016 ▪ Developer: Stellar Jockeys ▪ Our review (76%)
It’s a “pixel art paradise,” says our review—and one you get to knock over with tanks and mechs. Brigador is one of the best-looking isometric games we’ve played, and its fully-destructible neon cityscapes are host to fantastic tactical action. The intentionally cumbersome tank controls and overwhelming visual effects can tip it from deeply challenging into deeply frustrating at times, but stomping around in Brigador is nonetheless stands out for its resurrection of an under-celebrated genre and its incredible 'Miami Vice in space' soundtrack.
Captain Forever Remix
Release date: June 3, 2016 ▪ Developer: Pixelsaurus Games ▪ Our review (80%)
In Captain Forever Remix, you’re cast “as both space pilot and space pirate: you target a ship, fire a broadside into its hull until it explodes and claim its booty.” Doing so involves sifting through the wreckage and attaching enemy modules to your own. Just don’t get too close to your creations—you'll die a lot. A goofy presentation dulls the frustration: “It’s possibly the first Nickelodeon-inspired roguelike, populated by a cast of misfits and oddballs that make Ren and Stimpy look comparatively normal.”
Hearts of Iron 4
Release date: June 6, 2016 ▪ Developer: Paradox ▪ Our review (88%)
You’ll find some cracks in the simulation, but how could there not be a few holes in such a sweeping, complicated scenario? Hearts of Iron 4 is “a beautiful, thrilling wargame” that presents the entire globe as it was at the outbreak of World War 2—and everything that happens from there is up to you and the AI.
“The AI may not always be sensible, and maybe combat doesn't always seem quite historically accurate,” wrote Rob in our review, “but then, you might be playing a version of World War 2 where Italy broke away from Germany to create a new Roman Empire with Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union was plunged into civil war and Stalin was deposed by 1942.”
Release date: May 24, 2016 ▪ Developer: Blizzard ▪ Our review (88%)
A great team shooter that emphasizes positioning, teamwork and tactics over agility and marksmanship, but still leaves room for players to grow in the latter department. There are still character tweaks to be made to ensure they’re continuously viable and fun and all create interesting dynamics, but it’s the sort of game you could tweak forever. Overwatch can't replace Team Fortress 2 for us, but it’s certainly recaptured the experience of getting a bunch of friends together for night-long sessions of the current top shooter. Competitive mode is out now, and we’re keen to earn some golden guns.
The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine
Release date: May 31, 2016 ▪ Developer: CD Projekt RED ▪ Our review (94%)
With Geralt's journey into the sun-drenched vintner lands of Toussaint, CD Projekt RED capstones an RPG masterpiece, defining a standard for interactive storytelling. The Witcher 3's Blood and Wine expansion follows Hearts of Stone in adding new gear and combat abilities as well as stitching together small yet eventful scenarios into a greater web of intrigue. The wonderfully paced narrative of an ostensibly routine whodunit set in Toussaint's fairytale countryside reflects what makes The Witcher games so great: a politically divided world, superb dialogue, and distinctly memorable characters.
Total War: Warhammer
Release date: May 24, 2016 ▪ Developer: Creative Assembly ▪ Our review (86%)
The Total War series and the Warhammer franchise share a love for massive armies crashing into each other on an epic battlefield, but the latter also includes wizards with fire for hair and smelly sentient fungus. That results in more distinctly characterized armies in Total War: Warhammer emphasized by the Warhammer universe’s magic spells and flying units—all added strategy layered on the Total War pedigree of positional and tactical superiority.
Release date: May 18, 2016 ▪ Developer: Misfits Attic ▪ Our review (86%)
Piloting drones through abstract maps of derelict spaceships might not sound tense, but Duskers can be nightmarish. “Frantically typing commands into the console when things suddenly go sideways makes me feel like I’m really huddled in a darkened dropship, alone, desperately trying to save my drones and by extension myself,” said Chris Livingston in his review. Watch out for aliens.
Fallout 4: Far Harbor
Release date: May 18, 2016 ▪ Developer: Bethesda ▪ Our review (80%)
Fallout 4’s best DLC is a little pricey, but offers a great new setting and more dialogue-based solutions, which is very welcome. The only part we didn’t like much was the puzzle section—that aside, the new story, radioactive fog, and very, very large monsters are well worth the a tour of the island.
Release date: May 12, 2016 ▪ Developer: id Software ▪ Our review (88%)
Doom's reverence of a primordial aspect of FPS design—killing—borders on comical exaggeration with its fountains of demon blood and a main character who communicates by punching things. That fittingly fuels fast and fun combat indulging the nostalgia of id's run-and-gun lineage without smothering its metal brutality. Doom's first major update since launch adds a Photo mode for screenshots and ups the classic feel with an optional center-aligned weapon model.
Release date: May 9th, 2016 ▪ Developer: Paradox ▪ Our review (70%)
Paradox’s latest take on 4X space strategy isn’t perfect. In his review, Phil described mid-game as a series of “peaks and troughs, with sudden bursts of action punctuating long years of economic and military growth.” Compared to the constant wonder and mystery the early-game exploration holds, it was a slog. But the latest Asimov patch seeks to address those complaints, beefing up the mid-game a much needed dose of diplomatic opportunities. Paradox is full of perfectionists, so Stellaris should only get better with age.
Release date: April 27, 2016 ▪ Developer: Counterplay ▪ Our review (84%)
Hearthstone blazed a path by making digital card games popular on PC, and many competitors have followed in the years since. But none of them have broken so far away from the pack as Duelyst. It’s a tactics game and a CCG mixed into one, wrapped up with some of the best pixel art animations and character design of any game all year. It’s easy to pick up, but the addition of movement to largely traditional card game mechanics give it an amazing amount of depth that has kept it as one of our favorite card games all year.
The Banner Saga 2
Release date: April 19, 2016 ▪ Developer: Stoic ▪ Our review (86%)
We loved the original, and the sequel is even better. The Banner Saga 2 is a weighty tale of survival, and a brutal strategy challenge. Some interface issues carry over from the first game, but as our reviewer put it: “Yes, there’s still room for improvement, but this is a smart, worthy sequel: denser, richer, more complex and yet more intimate. Even if you’ll feel in dire need of a stiff drink once this second act draws to its devastating close.”
Dark Souls 3
Release date: April 11, 2016 ▪ Developer: FromSoftware ▪ Our review (94%)
James calls Dark Souls 3 “the most focused, potent game in the series” in his review. It has diverse and numerous enemies, masterful combat and world design, and a dense, mysterious story to every inch of stone. Most importantly, it’s not good simply because it’s hard.
Enter the Gungeon
Release date: April 5, 2016 ▪ Developer: Dodge Roll ▪ Our review (78%)
In Enter the Gungeon, a top-down roguelike shooter, there is a shotgun that will make its target love you. There are also plenty of normal shotguns that do the absolute opposite. There’s an assault rifle made from the spine of a formerly living person that shoots screaming, cursed spirits. There’s an SMG shaped like the lowercase ‘r’ that shoots bullets that spell out, well, “bullets." Hell, the enemies are cute, walking-talking bullets holding guns that shoot bullets. So while Enter the Gungeon may not have the best pacing or combat among its peers, it sure has plenty of charm and variety.
Hyper Light Drifter
Release date: March 31, 2016 ▪ Developer: Heart Machine ▪ Our review (78%)
We were captivated by its art long before the action RPG even arrived, and once it did we were pleased to discover some expressive animation and a stunning soundtrack as well. It’s a challenging combat game, at times extremely so, and it can feel quite punishing when it comes to boss fights. It’s still a stylish and beautiful journey worth taking, however, provided you’re up for the challenge.
Release date: March 24, 2016 ▪ Developer: Amanita Design ▪ Our review (87%)
The greatest work so far from Czech indie studio Amanita Design. It’s a point-and-click adventure, but puzzles aren’t as important here as imagery, metaphor, and surreal weirdness. “They're also so surreal that when I did something right, it was sometimes impossible to tell exactly what I did, or why it was right,” said Andy Chalk in our review. “I crept up behind a glowing, golden gazelle, leapt upon its back, and went for a wild ride along the side of a mountain.”
Day of the Tentacle Remastered
Release date: March 21, 2016 ▪ Developer: Double Fine ▪ Our review (87%)
Day of the Tentacle is great. Day of the Tentacle Remastered is that great game, remastered, and is also great. It holds up over 20 years later, and the modernization gives us an appealing opportunity to take another trip through time. “You can still play your old copy in DOSBox or ScummVM, of course,” noted Andy in our review, “but if you want a more streamlined, modern experience, with some fascinating insight into how the game was made, the remaster is worth investing in.”
Release date: March 11, 2016 ▪ Developer: IO Interactive ▪ Our review (75%)
Not the highest score of the group, but that’s just the Intro Pack, and doesn’t account for all the fun we had with episode two or the elusive targets. If you prefer Blood Money over Absolution, the new Hitman is aimed at you. The episodic format is a bit unusual, but as Phil says in his episode two review, if the quality stays as high as it’s been set, the full game may end up being the best in the series.
Release date: Feb 26, 2016 ▪ Developer: ConcernedApe ▪ Our review (80%)
We’re of two camps at PC gamer: those who chopped a few trees and shrugged, and those who are still running farms four months later. Stardew Valley is a charming farming and life sim, both a loving homage to Harvest Moon and a great game in its own right.
Release date: Feb 25, 2016 ▪ Developer: Superhot Team ▪ Our review (84%)
Time moves when you move in Superhot, a shooter distilling its mechanics into a polygonal portrayal of bullet-time. It doesn't take long to complete, but clearing a level without dying in a single hit is a challenging demand of mental forethought echoing the zen-like state of FPS professionals. A VR version of Superhot for the Oculus Rift is in the works, so you can make those Matrix moves in your living room without looking too ridiculous (or maybe not).
Street Fighter V
Release date: Feb 15, 2016 ▪ Developer: Capcom ▪ Our review (81%)
Street Fighter V is far from the perfect follow up to the very successful SF4. Capcom offers next to nothing for genre newcomers, instead pushing them into the deep end to sink or swim. That's definitely a problem, but SF5 also takes its most fundamental elements and tweaks them into possibly the purest expression of its fighting potential. Gone are SF4's obtuse Focus Attacks, replaced by the character-specific V-Skills that add a ton of diversity without overly complicating things. Recent updates have made SF5 more accommodating, but this still remains a love letter to its diehard fans.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Release date: Feb 18, 2016 ▪ Developer: Spike Chunsoft ▪ Our review (86%)
As a visual novel, Danganronpa's length is matched only by the ridiculousness of its premise. That 15 of Japan's most gifted students could get trapped into playing a murderous game of "Guess Who?" by a mechanical bear is certainly a very anime concept. But through that goofy setup, Danganronpa takes a dark turn and displays a real gift for taking absurd characters and making them endearing—which makes it all the more gut-wrenching when they inevitably die. There's a reason that in our review, Andy said, "the story is so compelling that I barely noticed that all I was doing was clicking through lines of dialogue."
Release date: Feb 9, 2016 ▪ Developer: Campo Santo ▪ Our review (85%)
Great dialogue, excellent voice performances, a minimal soundtrack, and some beautiful visuals brought real life to this first-person adventure game. Set in Wyoming, you play the glum and haunted Henry who is spending a secluded summer as a firewatchman. While the conclusion of the story doesn’t live up to the compelling setup, the believable relationship between Henry and Delilah, another park ranger, more than make up for it.
Release date: Feb 4, 2016 ▪ Developer: Firaxis ▪ Our review (94%)
Sid Meier once described a game as a "series of interesting decisions." And in our review, Tom said that "XCOM 2 is the purest expression of that ethos that Firaxis has yet produced." From the moment you first take up arms against your alien oppressors, XCOM 2 hits you with a relentless barrage of choices so jaw-clenchingly difficult you're going to need a cigarette after each one. The lives you sacrifice for the greater good will be etched in your mind, and the temptation to reload an old save will be overwhelming. If you can resist and embrace consequence, XCOM 2 will transform you into a grizzled commander through the fires of conflict.
American Truck Simulator
Release date: Feb 2, 2016 ▪ Developer: SCS Software ▪ Our review (80%)
On the surface, American Truck Simulator looks thoroughly dull. You play a long-haul trucker, making trips between various destinations as either a freelance gun-for-hire or the owner of your own trucking company. That's really about it. But using that mundane premise, American Truck Simulator does something beautiful by capturing the quiet serenity of the open road. Each trip becomes an extended exercise in meditation as you guide your cargo to its destination, and you begin to understand the joy is in the journey itself. Recent updates have rescaled the map, making it even closer to real life, and new places to visit are continually being added too.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Release date: Jan 28, 2016 ▪ Developer: Crystal Dynamics ▪ Our review (83%)
Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn't erase all of the mistakes made by its prequel, but it does go a long way in reducing them to a negligible annoyance. This time around, Lara's efforts are more focused on exploration and action and less on tedious quick-time events, by-the-numbers bosses, and navigating shallow set-pieces. Rise of the Tomb Raider isn't just a better game, but it also proves that there is plenty of fight left in Lara as a character.
Release date: Jan 26, 2016 ▪ Developer: Thekla, Inc. ▪ Our review (89%)
The Witness is brilliant in its simplicity. It speaks in a language without words, but uses shape and form to impart philosophical ideas that will change the way you see its world. Repetition is a stern yet fair teacher, and engaging with that silent discourse as a student begins to unravel the relationship entirely. But The Witness can also feel frustratingly vague. As Edwin said in our review, "what it ultimately seeks to offer is a vantage point, a perspective on life's mysteries, rather than answers." But even if you don't like the answer, The Witness proves questions are worth asking.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
Release date: Jan 20, 2016 ▪ Developer: Blackbird ▪ Our review (90%)
To take Homeworld and put it on the ground seems “almost sacrilegious,” wrote Rob Zacny in our review. But it works. “It's not only a terrific RTS that sets itself apart from the rest of the genre's recent games,” he said, “but it's also an excellent Homeworld game that reinvents the series while also recapturing its magic.” Deserts of Kharak is both approachable—less about production, more about tactics—and another example of all the life still flowing through the RTS genre.
Release date: Jan 19, 2016 ▪ Developer: Red Hook Studios ▪ Our review (88%)
Darkest Dungeon is cruel, probably too cruel. It's a dungeon crawler that doesn't deal in stats and loot alone but also trades on the mental well-being of the heroes you send into its festering crypts. But these heroes don't return stronger for their troubles; they come back battered and broken, a liability you're much better off dismissing. Beneath all that doom and gloom is an innovative take on turn-based RPGs that weaves the positioning of party members with an unconventional class system, that inspires experimentation despite the constant dread of what will happen if you fail.
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human
Release date: Jan 19, 2016 ▪ Developer: YCJY ▪ Our review (90%)
Our reviewer loved how Aquatic Adventure “fast-forwards through the Metroidvania template, stripping it down to its most essential parts: exploration, atmosphere, and player growth”. It’s an underwater take on the classic genre, where you putter around gorgeous pixel-art environments, collecting upgrades, taking out challenging bosses, and try to decipher how earth’s oceanic apocalypse came about. You also get to swim out of a giant sea worm’s ass, a necessary experience.
Release date: Jan 14, 2016 ▪ Developer: Night School ▪ Our review (83%)
A familiar horror setup belies a smart coming of age story with beautiful art direction and a great setting. Play it for the story and character development, but don’t expect challenging puzzles as in the adventure games of yore.
Release date: Jan 4, 2016 ▪ Developer: Daniel Mullins ▪ Our review (91%)
Pony Island is so dependent on its little self-referential gimmicks that it’s hard to explain without giving it all away. In a sense, and because there’s a pun to be made, that makes it a one-trick pony, but it does a great trick. One of its pranks near the end of the game is so devious we won’t likely forget it soon. If you like Undertale or The Stanley Parable, you’ll probably enjoy Pony Island.