Game of the Year 2017

Best Looking Game

This isn’t best or most graphics — these are just 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:

Assassin’s Creed Origins
Not everything in Assassin’s Creed Origins looks great when it comes to the textures and framerate, but I have to commend Ubisoft for their painstaking detail in the creation of this world.

Destiny 2
The skyboxes and armor designs aren’t enough to get Destiny 2 on the proper list, but they are great. The worlds look good, as well, but there’s just too much repetition for my tastes.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Sure, it’s just a really good looking Mario Kart game, but it’s a really good looking Mario Kart game.

Night in the Woods
The cutesy aesthetic fits extremely well with some of the more supernatural elements, and the character faces have a surprising amount of expressiveness.

The game doesn’t run great, but the colorful world is often stunning, nonetheless. The dark maze and the underwater sections were particular highlights.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole
The Stick of Truth was my Best Looking Game back in 2014, and Fractured But Whole delivers more of that goodness. The armor designs are fantastic, but there are diminishing returns.

Star Wars Battlefront 2
They sure made this game look like Star Wars, which I obviously love. But the linearity really hurts your ability to enjoy everything there is to offer visually.

Superhot VR
Easily one of the most transformative gaming experiences of the year for me. Simple polygons, but man do they look cool when they explode.

5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild quickly hits you with its color and artistic design. It has a simple look that plays well with the Nintendo Switch’s graphical capabilities, though there are some minor framerate hitches from time to time. But that’s more forgivable when considering Nintendo delivers a vast open world with very few loading screens.

All of the details are there in Breath of the Wild, from the character faces to the enemies to the armor designs to the different types of weapons. And while the food might not be as mouth-watering as what we got in Final Fantasy XV, it looks pretty damn delicious. Overall, though, there’s a sense of life that permeates throughout the game, but with a pervasive sense of dread and fear. I could go on and on about the gameplay deficiencies of Breath of the Wild — and I will in some later categories — but I can’t find much fault in how the game looks.

4. Pyre

One thing I consistently commend Supergiant Games on is their ability to create unique looking, well-developed worlds. Everything in Pyre looks like it belongs. As I said in my review, I wish there was the ability or reason to get a little more granular in your interaction with the world, but even from a distance, you can tell a lot of care and work went into developing the visual style.

I also would have appreciated some additional character stances to accompany the dialogue boxes, but even the static designs do a decent job of conveying the emotion and subtext of what you’re reading. The game looks best while it’s moving, though. With so many things going on during the rites, you’d expect a bit of visual confusion, but everything is clear and specific. But the real visual treats in Pyre are the different zones. There’s so much variation in style and color that I wanted to fly around the space for minutes at a time, even though there wasn’t much to do up there.

3. Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t stun with its visual originality the way that Super Mario Galaxy did, but the game still looks great running on Switch. Nintendo has long been masterful at getting the most from underpowered systems, and Odyssey is no exception. Some of the different kingdoms may feel a bit like rehashes of things we’ve seen before, but they all have their own graphical identity and personality that set them apart from one another.

The visual aesthetic of the game is actually quite odd. There’s a lack of cohesion that feels deliberate and really makes you feel like you’re visiting different worlds. New Donk City is the best example of this, with a more realistic representation of a city that clashes with Mario in a fun way. All of Mario’s costumes are also fun, with far more detail than any previous Mario game. As with most everything else about Odyssey, the graphics and art direction are extremely polished. However, I do hold a grudge against Odyssey for introducing me to shirtless Mario.

2. Horizon: Zero Dawn

All the way back in February of 2017, Horizon: Zero Dawn made a lasting impression in many areas, not least of which was its look. Some of this dips into the “Best Setting” category, but the entire world of Horizon seems so well-realized and thought out. In particular, the armor and weapons have a very distinctive look that combines flash with functionality. The NPC facial animations are really the only area where Horizon flirts with the uncanny valley in a negative way. Something about Horizon’s characters just doesn’t look quite right.

The rest of the game is far more varied than I would have anticipated. Sure, there aren’t as many crazy settings as something like Super Mario Odyssey, but Horizon nails the post-post-apocalypse look, where nature has retaken the earth. You start in a mostly forested area but end up traveling to desert, snowy, and more jungle environments. For me, though, exploring the ruined caves was a highlight. There’s a combination of nature and neon technology in Horizon that is rad as hell.

1. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

It’s almost unfair for Naughty Dog at this point, they’re such masters at motion capture and expressive facial animation. They constantly raise the bar for acting in video games. But they also execute so well on an artistic vision. With The Lost Legacy, they aren’t creating a brand new universe, so I can see people knocking them a few points in comparison to some of the other games on this list. However, they do take players to a place never before seen in Uncharted, with some of the most stunning platforming sequences I’ve ever seen.

I’d say some previous Uncharted games maybe had more visual variety — which makes sense because this game takes place solely in India instead of spanning the globe — but the visuals are no less amazing for that fact. I never got sick of looking at Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and I can’t imagine a year where a Naughty Dog game isn’t a top contender for this category. There isn’t a single thing about The Lost Legacy’s look that I don’t love.

Continue to the next page for Best Setting!

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