Now it’s time for one of our most popular award categories: the Best Graphics of 2015. It’s no secret that games are getting prettier and prettier as the years go on and while there are some downsides to what some are calling the “graphical arms race,” it certainly is not bad that we’ve been getting much more aesthetically-pleasing games as a result as more and more games put on shinier coats of paint to catch our ever-fickle eyes. This year saw some of the most beautiful games in the history of gaming and this is our chance – and yours! – to recognize those games.
Nick Calandra, Owner (@OnlySP_Nick) – The most visually pleasing game of the year for me wasn’t actually The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (surprised, right?), but Rise of the Tomb Raider from Crystal Dynamics. The game was absolutely gorgeous thanks to some amazing lighting decisions and beautifully-designed ancient architecture.
When moving from location to location in the game, I was constantly taking a second to stop and actually explore the environment. You can read more about my thoughts on the game’s visually-pleasing adventure in our review, right here.
Kayvon Ghoreshi, News Writer (@kayvonghoreshi) – For me, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has to take this one. Not only are the environments gorgeous and varied, but the amount of detail in the game just gives it that little extra. Not to mention that the size of world and the game only makes what CD Projekt Red were able to accomplish graphically that much more impressive.
Lance Roth, Editorial Writer (@RPGameX) – There were quite a few great looking games released this year, but I think Supermassive’s PlayStation 4 exclusive Until Dawn is truly the best of the bunch. There are lots of games that with fairly realistic models and animations, but the game’s cast of Hayden Panttiere, Rami Malek, and Brett Dalton are expertly and unmistakably represented on the screen. Not only are the character models the best seen in gaming, but the environments and textures are also quite impressive. The only complaint I can offer about the visuals is in the lighting department, but even that is done fairly competently.
Tomb Raider, Witcher 3, and Halo 5 are visually fairly impressive too, but overall, I think they’re just a notch behind.
Rhys Cooper – News and Editorial Writer (@Dizzee_Rhyscal) – As each year passes the technology and advances and the games get prettier! This year we had plenty of beautiful looking adventuresm, but my honorable mention goes to Ori and the Blind Forest. Allowing Ori to glide through the gorgeous sections of the Forest was an absolute joy to behold, especially the ‘chase’ sections with plenty of action on-screen. Without trying to sound too over-the-top or pretentious, the game did feel like a piece of moving art.
However, it’s hard to look past Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for this category. Sunset on the Skellige Isles is one of the most beautiful set pieces I’ve seen in any game. For such an enormous game, maintaining the quality of the visuals throughout – from buildings to landscape to monsters and even human faces – the game never failed to impress me and the aesthetics were a huge part of that reason.
Reid A Gacke, Editor in Chief (@OnlySP_Reid) – While I don’t think that Undertale‘s retro JRPG graphics necessarily disqualify it from this award – in fact, for reasons I’ll go into in a moment, I think it’s head and shoulders ahead of a lot of games – my nomination for best graphics has to go to Ori and the Blind Forest.
Now, there definitely are a lot of games out there that have gorgeous graphics, realistic models, and all sorts of razzle dazzle environmental effects, but as gaming evolves and matures, that sort of thing is going to be less and less important. Take a look at many of the FPSes that are released today. Most of them are super realistic and detailed and flashy…and to me, they just don’t stand out. So I predict that we’re going to start looking elsewhere for our aesthetics-fix. After awhile, straight up graphics are going to become so much less impressive…because everyone will be able to produce a detailed face or gorgeous scenery. Certainly every big-name developer in the business has reached that point.
The things that are really going to stand out in the future are the Ori and the Blind Forests and the Journeys and the Shadow of the Colossuses and, yes, even the Undertales. Games that have a visual style that is unique and distinct and vibrant and make the most of it, even if they aren’t running with the biggest budgets out there. Games that stand out for more than just realistic models and big explosions. I don’t necessarily think that this means that detailed, realistic games are bad – Witcher 3 deserves all the praise it’s gotten in this article, though it certainly delivers in the cohesive aesthetics department as well – but to me, games with a more stylized approach will always be head and shoulders than those that strive for the utmost realism.
So hats off to you, Ori, and your pudgy Ghibli-esque mom figure. You are definitely one of the most visually-remarkable games of the year.
James Schumacher, Lead Reviewer (@JamesInDigital) – The great thing about this year is that were a ton of beautiful games, and with such huge differences in art direction and style. The horrible thing about this year is trying to pin down the best one! Ori and the Blind Forest, as Reid mentioned, did a wonderful job of presenting a style close to what we would expect from Studio Ghibli, right-down to their penchant for adorable characters in heart-breaking situations. It’s a beautiful game. It was also nice to see Lance mention Until Dawn. While I felt the mo-cap stuff was good but not great, their environments and lighting were fantastic. It’s very difficult to create so much darkness and yet still be able to see what you need to see in a very natural way. Great job by their team.
It would be silly to not also consider Bloodborne for its blended Victorian and high Gothic architectural motifs, as well as the amazing character design. The game creates a world that is vaguely familiar, yet completely outlandish and filled with terrifying creations. Another title to consider has to be Batman Arkham Knight. For whatever reason, this game worked for me on PC, and I really enjoyed gliding over Gotham, the rain swirling through the air, running down my cape, the neon glow of the city lights filling the screen in front of me. A good-looking game for sure. The Caped Crusader’s world is far cry from what was seen in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, a no less impressive game visually, which was dominated by brilliantly colored, natural skies before later being ruled by floating, glowing orbs of light in the growing darkness.
On the indie side of things, three titles stand out. Two are retro-styled: The Deer God and Kingdom. Both take the minimal approach, using pixel-style graphs circa the 8-bit era. Kingdom especially has some nice diversity across it’s linked environments along with good lighting. The final indie I think of, one of my favorites from 2015 is Homesick. The game presents a dying world in a mostly monochromatic fashion; the peeling and decaying of interior buildings are bleached to their core by the unfiltered sunlight pushing through windows. It makes every touch of color, every bit of life found, that much more powerful, and is all shown with sharp detail.
I was lucky to play and review a fair bit of the prettiest games of 2015, and this what I had to say about the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: “From farmer’s fields and villages to sprawling cities, and from snow-capped mountains to rocky shores and islands, the environments feel consistent, yet diverse at the same time. Short of user-made modifications, no game aside from The Order has played with a diversity of lighting styles this well.”
I’m a sucker for good lighting and The Order: 1886 nails that aspect of its visuals along with everything else. Billed and faithfully executed as a cinematic-style game, the design choices represent their intentions to the fullest. As someone with some training in game art and design, the little details are what impress me the most and this game had them in spades. “The city is governed above by the grey expanse — a mingling of the cloudy climate of London and the many plumes of black and grey smoke raising from business and dwelling alike. Below the city is a flow of narrow-streets and alleys — never-ending-tributaries weaving in and out, only stopping to meet the countryside or the harbor.” The Order gets a lot of flack, and only some of it earned. Whatever your feelings on the game, there should be no denying its quality on the graphical front. It’s my pick for the best-looking game of the year.
Gareth Newnham, News and Reviews Writer – For me, 2015 will always be the year of the particle effect – from the rain that appeared to form their own puddles in Arkham Knight, the tiny leaves that danced in the air after blowing up a tree In Just Cause 3 (along with the gorgeous smoke and fire effects of the actual blast), and the sparks being loosed from Geralt’s finger tips in The Witcher 3, The next gen has finally started to flex its forearms with the kind of games that you can happily stop and enjoy the scenery in.
But despite my Love for The Witcher 3, and the fact that the The Northern Realms just feel more like a place than a setting, my pick for best graphics has to go to Kirby and the Rainbow Curse because it is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting looking games of the year. Stylistically it has more in common with an episode of Trap Door than your typical platformer, but the attention to detail is astounding. When you look at the characters you can even see individual thumb prints as within the bounds of the game they’re plastercine models that would have been built by hand. The way that scenes pulse and move in the same manner as something that was legitimately animated in stop motion would, the bright and beautiful characters, and seeing recurring characters in a new medium, is why I’m picking it for best Graphics. The big AAA titles gave us what we expected: the next logical step, while Rainbow Curse, and to a lesser extent Yoshi’s Woolly World, were technically proficient and undeniably charming.