Bringing the best modern PC games to life
The best concept art stems from the illuminated imaginations of game designers, who can bring a blank canvas to life with their ideas. Often concept art isn't released until after a game is out, as it would either color players' perceptions of the game or simply be a massive spoiler. Some concept art is made with no game to follow – it's just left there in limbo as an idea of what might have been.
Limiting this list to just 10 wasn't easy, as there is so much brilliant concept artwork around. Honorable mentions go to The Witcher 3, Sunset Riders, Mirror's Edge 2, Tomb Raider… the list goes on.
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1. Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite was inspired by a screwed notion of American Exceptionalism (opens in new tab), which Canadian artist Ben Lo (opens in new tab) took to beautiful extremes. The hand-painted style is reminiscent of the Broken Sword series. We particularly love this image of the floating city of Columbia, which features an optimistic nuclear family surrounded by giant trumpeting angels. The game's ironic imagery has been so effective that the American Tea Party movement have used it as part of their online propaganda.
Concept artwork doesn't have to have cityscapes or spaceships. Welcome Cuphead (opens in new tab), an upcoming platformer inspired by 1930s cartoons and developed by brothers Chad & Jared Moldenhauer. Jared takes the helm of game design, whereas his brother Chad is the visual guru. He created these fantastic early pencil sketches, depicting Cuphead in various animated states. They're simple drawings that aren't that far from the realized artwork that appears in the trailers.
3. Battlefield Hardline
Patrick O'Keefe (opens in new tab), known to his colleagues as Senior Concept Artist on Battlefield Hardline (opens in new tab), has also provided some brilliant artwork for Dead Space 3. In addition to cityscapes and game environments, he enjoys making up ad campaigns. He first started tagging when he was in primary school and was inspired by his brother's hip hop collection and his home town of Toronto, which he describes as "a great graffiti city." But, you don't have to go all the way to Canada to see his handwork, just take a stroll around Battlefield Hardline.
4. Manifold Garden
Previously known as Relativity, this is a nod to M.C. Escher's famous optical illusion wherein people on steps appear to defy gravity. The original version featured garish colors and sharper edges. Now re-titled as Manifold Garden (opens in new tab), it's easier to see the Escher influence. The palette has been softened, and the edges more pencil-like, but still defined. William Chyr's (opens in new tab) game looks like a lithograph, its architectural drawing and brutalist utopia rolled into one.
5. Fallout 4
All Fallout games start with the same concept: mankind is almost completely destroyed by its own nuclear paranoia which leads to the horrific consequence of mutually assured destruction. Unlike the other games in the series, Fallout 4 begins when the bombs fall. Stephan Matiniere's (opens in new tab) chilling artwork captured just that moment. There are people desperately packing their belongings into cars, and a boy has just emerged from his home to see what's going on. Among the debris and panic there's a couple who are hugging each other, watching the show calmly resigned to their fate. Breathtakingly, it explains the first few minutes of Fallout 4 gameplay in one single image.
6. No Man's Sky
The understated palette of this image, crisp lines and stark landscape echo 1970s sci-fi movies such as The Black Hole or Silent Running. A mysterious crystal hovers ominously over a glowing planet and in front of a looming moon, and it's difficult to tell if it's a force for good or bad which adds to the power of the artwork. Say what you will about No Man's Sky, but you can't deny it had some of the most evocative concept art in ages – like an Isaac Asimov story in the modern era.
7. The Division
French artist Francois Baranger (opens in new tab) worked on the fantastic PS3 exclusive Heavy Rain before being asked to come up with concept art for Tom Clancy's The Division. He specifically worked on the foundations for their 2014 E3 trailer that saw a normal family home turned into a defensive base with boarded up windows and crates of uncontaminated bottled water. In this image, the cheery Christmas window decorations contrasted with a bloodstained kitchen table and window. There are still echoes of home life with the picture on the fridge, but it's a scene of desperation rather than domestic bliss.
8. Dead Star
An eye-watering amount of artwork is available for this PC and PS4 game – a fast and fun arcade-style shooter with RPG elements. The lead designer is Metroid Prime's Todd Keller, who has an eye for sleek, sexy imagery. Todd Keller, Thomas Pringle and Craig Sellars all feature but what particularly captured our eyes was the character art by Callum Alexander Watt (opens in new tab). The sketched features and costumes echo Yoji Shinkawa's famous work for Metal Gear Solid. But do check out the other artwork (opens in new tab)as it's all excellent.
9. Fable Legends
This online co-op sequel was cancelled last year even though it went to beta testing. Thankfully, artist Billy Wimblett (opens in new tab) put up a selection of concept artwork, so even if you never get to play it, at least it's possible to partially experience it. There's oodles of character art, Demon Doors and a lot of scary plants. This picture is described by Billy as, "Dormant and "oh s***" states for a lair in Darkwood."
10. Deus Ex: Mankind
The Deus Ex series of games has captured the futuristic imaginations of sci-fi and cyberpunk fans the world over for decades. The latest entry in the series, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided of 2016, had no issue inspiring the same dystopic feelings with concept art like this. Developer Eidos Montreal released a collection of concept drawings (opens in new tab) after the game's release, showing a heavy Blade Runner influence on the newly-imagined world of Golem City.