2014 was the first full year of the next generation consoles, and while it takes more than just a year to see what developers can do with the new hardware, the leap in graphical quality from the PS3 and the 360 to the new systems was obvious. With a diverse field of games to choose from, the plethora of visual styles that made our list year range from realism, to sleek techno-minimalism, to over the top cartoonish. One thing we can say about gaming in 2014 is that our games looked great. -- Jose Alvarado
(Editor's Note: We have a tie for runner up, so both are listed as Runner Ups)
Bayonetta 2 is a testament to the fact that the most visually inspired games aren't always the ones with the latest hardware capabilities. The artistic direction and overall style of Bayonetta’s world, including its angels and enchanted mechanized demons, stands out among this year’s best looking games as both unique and unforgettable. Her smooth combat animations keep the combo-linking feeling right, while the over-the-top design of her enemies makes chopping them down to size a rewarding and compelling task. People unfamiliar with the weirder, more indulgent side of manga and anime visual styles might’ve been in for a bit of a shock with Bayonetta 2. The rest of us were reminded of why we love Japan. -- Jose Alvarado
Currently Available on: Amazon (Physical only)
Developer Creative Assembly got a few things very right with Alien Isolation and a few things very wrong. On the good side of the ledger has to be the environmental and technological design of the space ships and space station in which the game unfolds. As unlikely as it might be for a ship in 2037 to have scan line computer monitors, the retro-futurist design stays true to the world of the film, which isn’t just a question of appeasing fans, but more a step to creating a unified style and atmosphere. The foggy corridors, dark chambers, sparse lighting and clean design all create a perfect mood for the game’s stressful discomforting gameplay. -- Jose Alvarado
Runner Up : Transistor
Transistor’s visuals are easily its greatest achievement and the part in which its developers should be the most proud. Most backdrops would do well hanging on a wall somewhere. Everything is absolutely drenched in this simple style that conveys the world of the game so well.
It is not just that Transistor has wonderful pieces of art throughout, it is that they all come together and make sense. Everything is detailed, with clean lines and every color seems to pop out and make the image seem more alive. It helps convey a high tech world, while having enough of an edge to show the more sinister parts of Transistor when needed to.
In a community where “graphics” seems to be coming all the rage, games that have a clear style and well-defined aesthetic are not only a breath of fresh air, but a lesson to all games. It is not enough for each individual model and texture to look great, but that they come together into something amazing.
For that reason, there is little doubt as to why Transistor belongs on a list such as this. -- Andrew Otton
Currently Available on: Amazon (Digital - PS4)
Runner Up: Far Cry 4
Far Cry 4 is the latest iteration of the now globally known Ubisoft franchise. Its predecessor was a first-person shooter that featured an uncommonly stark narrative and infamously unhinged villain. Far Cry 4 follows the same formula to a large degree offering a new cast of characters, gripping car chases, mass explosions and a chance for players to view a scenic, foreign world.
Speaking for myself, this was one of the more dissatisfying outcomes of the Raptor Picks. Far Cry 4 was the obvious choice from the very beginning and I consider the result to stem from too many members of the TechRaptor staff not having the opportunity to play one of the best-looking games ever made. Players can say what they please regarding the plot, the tacked on multiplayer and the other weak elements that exist in Far Cry 4, but the art style stands out as the best of 2014. It is sometimes enough for a game to be appealing to the eye but recognition is earned when a development team clearly invests the time to create an imaginatively detailed environment so full of color that it sets new standards within the industry. Far Cry 4 retained second place but it was the clear winner in my view. -- Thomas Nelson
Top Pick: Metal Gear Solid Ground ZeroesMetal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes is the first game to really show off Kojima productions’ Fox Engine. Set on a base in Cuba, this prelude to the upcoming MG 5: The Phantom Pain offers plenty of opportunities to wow the player with detailed environments that change dramatically according to the island’s simulated weather patterns. Graphically the game performed slightly better on the PlayStation 4 than the Xbox One, but on both systems the game looked gorgeous. The world and characters show off the engine’s ability to handle lighting effects rendered in the rain and at night. Facial animations and skin textures also stand out as particularly well done. All the actions happened at 1080p and 60fps, without any discernible cost to the fluidity of the animation. This is, hands down, a gorgeous looking game. -- Jose Alvarado
Currently Available On: Amazon
And that's how we saw visuals in 2014. All in all, it was a good year for those who spend their time looking at these things.
What were your thoughts on Visuals in 2014? Think we missed something? Tell us in the comments below!