Today’s twinned Game of the Year awards could easily be seen as being on opposite ends of the spectrum, and they so often are, brought together here in a marriage of convenience and timing, more than parallel topics a we did yesterday.
Graphics in games are getting ever more advanced, especially if you compare games that came out in the primitive age of 3D to those that came out recently. It’s been 20 years since the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and to a lesser extent the Sega Saturn; all popularised gaming in with 3D graphics. Polygons with hard edges were once the norm, the sign of quality developers who were taking full advantage of their platform of choice.
Today, the visual design found in games is not merited solely on technical performance, but also its artistic design and how well it syncs with the game’s theme and mechanics. Of course, being really pretty certainly helps.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
When it comes to visuals, Uncharted 4 has every base covered. From the intricate design of its sweeping locales down to the tiniest of details, there’s a consistency here that few games can ever hope to achieve. With seamless transitions between cutscenes and gameplay, it often feels as though you’re directing a blockbuster with each rope swing and burst of gunfire. Needless to say, Uncharted 4’s set pieces are some of the best we’ve ever laid eyes on.
It’s also another example of Naughty Dog’s mastery of performance capture. Since Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, the studio has always made a point to have actors interact organically instead of stuffing them into recording booths. Uncharted 4 sees that dedication pay off once more, with its characters displaying a lifelike dynamic that helps anchor every ounce of emotion woven into the game’s script.
Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV easily ranks amongst the best looking console games of all time. With it’s mixture of an expansive open world, modern technology and often breathtaking architecture, its unique visual design made it a delight to experience.
Equally, despite the game’s immense undertaking, FFXV’s strength was often in its smaller details, from the creases in the character’s clothing to stitching on your vehicles leather seats. Taking advantage of the latest display technology, and of the processing power of PS4 Pro, the game’s ability to display a 4K, HDR picture lifted the game’s impressive visuals even further.
Much like the audio design, Inside’s drowned out visual style is frankly oppressive, yet this is entirely the point. No game this year has done so much by having a bleak, emotionless vibe. The absence of colour is what stands out.
Yet despite this, those who have played it will know that this is a game all about showing you the world. A particular sequence where the boy in a red shirt, the only vividly coloured item in the entire game, is marching in time with the drone-like humanoids, just so he isn’t discovered by the robots, was one of the most striking things in the trailer. As it turns out, this is just scratching the surface of the 1984/communist dystopian setting.
Our 2016 award for Best Visuals goes to:
Runners-up in alphabetical order:
- Final Fantasy XV
- The Witness
As much as console and PC gaming has been the cornerstone of our hobby, it’d be foolish to ignore the dominance of mobile gaming. In a year where Nintendo properties found their way onto mobiles, either through Nintendo developed apps or via another developer entirely, more games have been downloaded onto smart phones than ever before. It’s not just Nintendo games either, as others have found success on mobile platforms.
That, of course, isn’t to say that more traditional handheld gaming has been a slouch and not kept up. While the PS Vita is rather disappointly looking like a legacy system here in the West, seeing only indie games and JRPGs taking full advantage; the 3DS has had a year of many great RPG experiences, as well as some unexpected surprises. Outliving its console companion – the Wii U, is a testament of just how successful the 3DS has been.
It became a worldwide phenomenon as history repeated itself with a new Pokémon craze, only this would be found on mobile phones and in the real world. Its concept, while admittedly a little shallow at launch, was a novel one. Instead of controlling an avatar wandering across an expertly designed world, Pokémon Go used GPS technology and put you as the trainer.
Since the launch period where the amount of pressure on the servers was so extreme that features were scaled back, conveniences such as mass transfer of Pokémon into candies, as well as a constantly evolving tracking system and increased encounters in rural areas have gone some way to address criticism from fans, and the foundations have been laid for the future with second generation Pokémon now appearing in eggs.
If anything else should be considered for why this game is important, we were encouraged to get fit, even if it was for a Pikachu in a Santa hat.
Fire Emblem Fates
Fire Emblem Fates marks the culmination of Intelligent System’s years of work in the turn based tactics genre. Alongside the much-missed Advance Wars, Fire Emblem’s appearances on Nintendo’s handhelds have continually sapped hours and hours from players as they attempt to dismantle opposing armies across a network of squares.
Fates is a sprawling epic, spread across three alternating narratives which offer the action from a different position. Birthright, Conquest and Revelation each have a huge amount of content, and for those who picked up all three, an introduction to a wide cast of interesting and varied characters that you’ll genuinely enjoy spending time with.
Pokémon Sun & Moon
Yes, Pokémon Go became a sensation, but for many it was just a stop-gap. We already knew that Generation 7 was around the corner and the rumblings were that everything we knew was going to change. What we got was the best main-series, non-remake Pokémon game in years.
Gone were the gyms and in their place were the more dungeon-like Island Trials. Some Pokémon designed 20 years ago were given new forms exclusive to the Alola region, some taking full advantage of the tropical setting, while others had adapted to new lifestyles.
Sun and Moon also pushed the 3DS to its absolute limit with visuals that looked amazing. Multiplayer is as addictive as it’s ever been, new features make smart use of both the touch screen and the Pokémon in your PC, and most surprisingly of all, the games have the best stories since the Gameboy Advance days. It felt like an eternity waiting for them, and despite the spoilers found in the trailers, it was well worth the wait.
By doing so much to change up the series’ established formula, our 2016 award for Best Handheld/Mobile goes to:
Runners-up in alphabetical order:
- Bravely Second
- Clash Royale
- Fire Emblem Fates (Birthright, Conquest and Revelation)
- Pokémon GO