Look, we all know that gameplay is king, but it sure does help if the game that you’re playing looks great as well. Gameplay, physics, AI, sound design, scripting, voice and performance capture are all thrown into the melting pot of game development, but it’s the visuals that can come to define a game through screenshots and trailers as in its build up to release.
Gameplay might be king, but visual design is queen. So which game takes this year’s crown?
The Artful Escape
We all love a bit of hyper realism, we continually marvel at a refined rake on cel shading, but it’s nice when a game comes along that’s just doing things differently. The Artful Escape does everything differently, and its tale of self discovery through the power of prog-rock opera is topped off by visuals that drip with style, vision, and idiosyncrasy.
Sitting somewhere between the stylings of David Bowie, an animated golden-era comic book and animated Monty Python skits, it is truly unique, evoking a sense of newness while reflecting on the past. Alien species and interplanetary biomes are similarly distinctive, with 60s’ album cover vibes, while it’s all topped off with increasingly spectacular light shows as your musical prowess grows to match the imagery. The Artful Escape is a true work of art, and it’s one that you can, and should, take part in.
– Dom L
Psychonauts 2 – Runner Up
So many years on from the original game, Psychonauts 2’s release is just as jam-packed with sensational imagery and style. At its core Double Fine has kept that game’s core German Expressionist style, but Psychonauts 2 is able to lean on massively more powerful consoles and PCs to render it with so much more detail and solidity.
It’s also empowered them to explore more creative avenues as Raz’s adventure takes him into the minds of other people, from a mind being a world carved and formed out of the paper of books, to vibrant 60s psychedelia, puppet-filled game shows and more. Each mind is a delight to leap into, just to see what new imagery will greet you.
– Stefan L
Solar Ash – Runner Up
Solar Ash is a beautiful and unique looking game. Made up of damaged structures from a world that is being destroyed by a black hole, it’s filled with decimated buildings that tower over you, connected by voluminous clouds and risky jumps. Each area is visually distinct and gorgeous for their own reasons, whether it’s the devastated skyscrapers of the Broken Capital or the lava lakes of the Luminous Peak. More than just pretty to look at, the clouds that hold the world together bend back on themselves and often leave your head hurting as you look up at the floor you were just running on, upside down.
Then there’s the colossal anomalies – twisted, dark creatures that preside over the world before you fight them by skating across their backs as they fly around, or the giant figure that occasionally admonishes you, and then crushes you in its hand. Solar Ash is very pretty, but it’s also striking in its design, novel, creative, and innovative.
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
- Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
- Resident Evil Village
To catch up on the Game of the Year awards we’ve handed out so far, here’s a handy list!
Let us know which game’s visuals really stood out for you in 2021. Was is a AAA blockbuster? Or perhaps a smaller indie effort that wowed you the most?