As technology develops, so too does the absolutely beautiful art direction in gaming, from the average affair to the best the medium has to offer. That's not simply due to the straight hardware upgrades, either, as game companies continue to fine-tune game engines, which in 2018 has produced some of the best-looking games yet. Of course, the art in video games, not so much tied to technology at all, continues to grow and try new things, which has produced some awesome results.
Here's the list of nominees (and here's the list of nominees for all categories):
- God of War (Our Review)
- GRIS (Our Review)
- Octopath Traveler (Our Review)
- Red Dead Redemption 2 (Our Review)
- Return of the Obra Dinn (Our Review)
Here’s what you, the readers, chose as the winner of the Best Visuals Award for outstanding, cohesive aesthetic. Our top three follows after.
Readers' Choice - God of WarIf not for competition in Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War could easily be considered the AAA game with the best presentation this year. Still, while there is definitely competition, God of War came away with it for our readers. There's no doubt that the wonderfully-realized realms throughout the game lent to the fantasy and overall atmosphere and mood of the game. And who's going to forget the first time they used the Bifröst? Not me.
Third Place - God of War
By Andrew OttonGod of War had two of my favorite moments in gaming for 2018. Not story moments necessarily, not boss fights, or a particularly interesting part of the gameplay. Those were all great, but the moments that stand out to me the most are directly due to the game's presentation. Before getting to those awesome moments, the difficult design choice in having the entire game take place solely from Kratos' perspective, with no loading screens, is by far the biggest factor in giving weight to and creating the amazing moments in the game. Never far from the action, being right there in the middle of all of it as Kratos was gripping and immersive in the best way.
On to those moments. The first is all wrapped up in the serpent, Jörmungandr. You really get an amazing sense of his size as his body is draped all around the map, in some cases creating barriers to places you may want to explore. However, the best moment is your first encounter. A massive serpent head rising from the depths, looming over Kratos and Atreus, letting loose a roar ... that was truly one amazing moment.
The second is the first time Kratos uses the Bifröst. Magic is in thousands of games but rarely is it ever magical. Being in the middle of and seeing the Bifröst work all around Kratos was definitely a truly magical moment. For fantasy lovers like myself, the moment had the perfect amount of weight, awe, and wonder. Truly, an awesome sight to behold.
Second Place - Red Dead Redemption 2
By Robert GrossoIt is easy to give this award to Red Dead Redemption 2 by the simple fact of it being a gorgeous game across all fronts. Visually, Red Dead has reached a graphical fidelity that many games struggle to emulate, with the hard work of Rockstar Games paying off in creating a facsimile of American frontier life at the turn of the century.
Part of the reason for this is the painstaking amount of detail put into the game. Joking over the random plopping of horses is of course low-hanging fruit, but other aspects can be pointed to that add to the game's meticulous detail. The pathways through snow and desert, the details in skinning animals, even the incidental artwork featured in store catalogues that you can physically sift through are nice touches to the look and sense of realism.
What really sells Red Dead Redemption 2, however, is how it easily recreates the “grammar” of classic Westerns—long, panoramic views of vast open plains, prairies, and starry skies. The sun seeping through the trees on a misty morning, the sound of snapping twigs and galloping hooves across sunbaked mountainsides, Red Dead Redemption 2 is Unforgiven in virtual form—a visual treat that fits the part of being a Western more than the game's story does. In Western mythology, the world is as much as character as the people in it, and this clearly shows as the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 showcases the same vibrancy and diversity you would expect from the genre.
Winner - GRIS
By Andrew OttonIt's no surprise to see GRIS top our list this year. From the moment the first trailer dropped, the enthralling beauty captured many. While at PAX West 2018, the GRIS booth stood out among the rest. The game's arresting style and beautiful key art allured attendees to watch people play the demo. When something as simple as that can attract people into looking at a game—from a new studio and new IP no less—you know there's something to it.
It's impossible to talk about the game's art without mentioning its artist, Conrad Roset. Conrad's art is GRIS; his style is the rock solid foundation for one of gaming's most beautiful games. Just take a look at his works and you can see exactly where GRIS came from. Many of his works look like they could be taken directly from the game, some of which of course are. Fortunately, Conrad had an interest in doing art for games and Nomada Studio helped make that happen with GRIS as their first outing.
The watercolor wonder of the game is a perfect marriage for its gameplay, too. From crumbling statues to creating walkways made of constellations, the utility of the relatively simple gameplay is elevated by the presentation. Every opportunity to empower that sense of wonder was taken, and it paid off.
The art doesn't simply enhance the atmosphere of GRIS, either. While not playing a role in every mechanic, the different portrayals of what's on the screen are directly reflected by the presentation. In a game where part of the goal is to restore color to the world, you'd certainly hope so.
Many people could talk about the beauty of GRIS for a long time, but the game really speaks for itself. If you're looking to experience this generation's Journey, GRIS is worth giving a try.
What would your pick be for our Best Visuals Award? What do you think we got right? What did we get wrong? Let us know in the comments below!