Having merely a technically impressive and realistic design used to be how we in the games industry determined which was the best looking game of the year, like some kind of weird variant on Crufts where all the dogs look the same. This year more than any however, it’s more like judging the Best In Show, showcasing not just those that go for realism, but also those that dare to do something different.
We’ve seen lots of games that push many boundaries, whether that’s hardware capabilities, sense of style, or the obvious amount of man hours that go into creating what’s on screen. The worlds we’ve seen have not only been gorgeous to look at, but show that this interactive medium has the capability to wow purely from the artistry on display. Many games were in contention and it was hotly debated, but really there could only be one winner…
Much like the winners in other categories, Cuphead does something beyond being an overall good looking game – it does so with style. By taking 1930’s Max Fleisher cartoon as inspiration, this was a hand drawn project of passion that was delayed for years and years. While I personally lost patience with the delays, I fully understood why. To create not only the aesthetic, but emulate a hand-drawn art style long gone with such quality takes time.
Characters bounce in rhythm, show exaggerated expressions when attacking or changing their phase, and yet still keep their distinctive look. At times it does give the illusion that you are just watching the action in front of you, rather than being the person controlling Cuphead and/or Mugman.
On top of this, Cuphead even gives hidden unlockable options to change the colour palette to more closely resemble the cartoons of the day. The fluid gameplay is accomplished and fun thanks in no small part to the distinctive hook that Cuphead presents us with right off the bat. It was well worth the wait and it is my personal privilege to award it Best Visual Design of 2017.
Horizon Zero Dawn – Runner Up
While technical accomplishment isn’t the be all and end all for this award, Horizon Zero Dawn has it in spades. Running around this post-apocalyptic world, a place where humanity has reverted to living in small tribes and isolated cities, you’re surrounded by stunning scenery and battling huge and menacing robots, all of which have outstanding designs. Guerrilla Games made some of the best looking games on PlayStation 3 with the Killzone series, but they didn’t miss a step when broadening the horizons for an open world game.
All of that is only amplified by the Frozen Wilds story expansion. Aloy heads further north than before, with Guerrilla realising these freezing conditions with some fantastically rendered snow drifts, but they also worked to refine their performance capture techniques and polishing the visuals further.
The game looks fantastic on both standard PlayStation 4 and with the enhancements that PlayStation 4 Pro offers. In fact, it could easily be said that this was the first game to really make 4K and HDR gaming feel like a meaningful pursuit for Sony and Microsoft with their mid-generation hardware updates.
Persona 5 – Runner Up
While the previous games in the franchise have shown that Persona is capable of some neat touches, Persona 5 oozes a suave charm that somehow even makes its menus look cool. The comic book feel to how the game presents itself is unlike any other game in the franchise, but it’s also the design of the dungeons and locales within Tokyo you’ll visit, as well as the monster designs.
Perhaps most impressive of all is how the developers use fables, fiction, and Manga as influences for the design of each party member’s default Persona. The original gentleman thief Arsene, serves as inspiration behind the protagonist’s default Persona, while other members of the Phantom Thieves having Persona designed around Milady from The Three Musketeers, Zorro, and even Carmen from the opera of the same name.
Each detail is well thought out, looks awesome, and adds to the general sense of coolness that Persona 5 emits. Any other year and Persona 4 could be a shoe in for this award, but in a year of stunning games, it has to settle for a runner up position.
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
- Assassin’s Creed Origins
- Super Mario Odyssey
- What Remains of Edith Finch
Are there any other characters in games that have been overlooked? Did your favourite not even get a mention? Feel free to sound off down in the comments below!