Game of the Year 2016

Best Looking Game

This isn’t best or most graphics. These are the games that I liked looking at the most. Some of these games are on the more realistic, technical showpiece side of visual design, while others lean in a more artistic direction. Either approach qualifies for this list — I just want to highlight the games that deliver best on what they’re trying to achieve visually. To me, these games are the best combination of artistic idea and technical execution.

Honorable Mentions

Firewatch
Ratchet & Clank
The Witness

5. Inside

When it came out, Limbo was one of the most striking games I had played in years. Inside feels like a smart step forward in a similar visual style. It obviously has more color (though it’s still a drab game), but the most impressive aspects are the other-worldly fluid nature to the movement and the depth of the backdrops. You’re playing primarily on a 2D plane, but the backgrounds often feel as if they go on forever and are incredibly detailed. There’s a bespoke nature to many elements of Inside, where you can tell that it’s all hand-crafted. That attention to detail comes shining through in its visuals.

4. Battlefield 1

From a purely technical perspective, it’s hard to argue that Battlefield 1 doesn’t take the cake this year. It’s always astounding to me that an online multiplayer game can look so smooth and polished, but DICE and their Frostbite engine always rise to the task. Some of the settings in Battlefield 1 aren’t the most visually interesting, primarily being made up of battle-worn towns that we’ve seen a hundred times before. But the desert settings in particular are pretty epic in both scale and action. 

3. DOOM

The speed at which DOOM moves is its most impressive visual aspect, in my opinion. There’s a visceral sense of destruction and momentum that’s propped up by the smoothness of the graphics. The creative design of the enemies doesn’t hurt, either. The larger enemies really sell a sense of dread whenever you come across them, and it’s always clear where on an enemy is the best place to land a shotgun blast. Some of the environments feel a bit like generic sci fi lab stuff, but the scale of the hellscape is often impressive.

2. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

What can I say about Naughty Dog’s games that I haven’t said already? They are constantly raising the bar in how actors are able to convey emotion and storytelling in games through motion capture, and the technical side of their world design is industry-leading, as well. The only graphical disadvantage that makes me less excited about Uncharted 4 is that we’ve seen a lot of these environment types before. There have been three other world-spanning adventures already, so it’s a bit harder to be blown away by yet another amazing looking jungle or jeep chase sequence. 

1. Abzu

Best Looking Game was a really difficult category for me this year, as the differences between “artistic” and “technical” have never felt more muddied. There were many games this year that had a unique style to them, as well as excellent technical execution. Abzu is the best example of this in 2016. There’s a pure sense of wonder you feel as you explore the surprisingly varied underwater environments. I’m also terrified of the open ocean, and Abzu captures the deepest dark depths in way that gave me chills while playing. Without spoiling where the game goes, I was constantly surprised by the creativity and color of the creature design, as well. Abzu’s art is art.

Beyond just graphics, how did I feel about 2016’s video game worlds? Read on to find out! 

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