Game of the Year 2018

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

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Odyssey doesn’t wow in the way that Origins did because there are many similarities. But it’s still an impressively detailed world. I just wish it ran a little bit better.

Florence

Florence isn’t going to blow you away with its scale or fidelity. But it uses the mobile platform in brilliant ways visually and the story straight up would not work without the excellent presentation.

Pokemon Let’s Go

Pokemon has never looked so good. Bringing Pokemon Let’s Go onto the Switch in a big way was a smart move and makes me excited to see this game engine used for a brand new Pokemon experience.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy

Toys for Bob did way more work than was necessary with this one, making each rescued dragon look unique. These games legitimately look like they could be a brand new release on modern consoles.

The Banner Saga 3

The Banner Saga 3 is still an incredible looking game in many spots, but this is the third time around so it feels a bit less special. Also, the new animated map sections as you move between character stories look very dated and choppy.

5. Marvel’s Spider-Man

Spider-Man is an absolute stunner running on a PS4 Pro. The scale of New York City is super impressive, and I spent plenty of time swinging around the city not just because it was fun to do, but also because I wanted to enjoy the lovingly crafted detail.

When on the ground, the attention to detail doesn’t feel the same, but those moments come few and far between. The character animations are also Naughty Dog level of quality, and really help you dive into the circumstances and story.

4. Red Dead Redemption 2

You’ll hear me qualify my opinions on Red Dead Redemption 2 a lot in this post, because I only played about 12 hours of the game. I just couldn’t get past its gameplay, structure, and UI deficiencies, which was a huge bummer because other elements of the game are spectacular — for example, the game’s look.

Despite the big budget and real world similarities, Red Dead 2 is obviously going for something quite different than Spider-Man. It has an even more cinematic feel to its camera work and environments. All of it works brilliantly. I just wish I liked playing the game enough to see more of it.

3. Gris

Every year, a game comes out of nowhere and completely blows me away. This year, it was Gris (though Florence had a similar effect). I played the game primarily in handheld mode, which I think showcased the scale of the environments well. There are a few sequences where the camera pans out, making your character a mere blip on the screen. It really hits on the game’s theme around feeling weak and small in a beautiful way.

Speaking of beautiful, Gris plays with color in ways I’ve never seen in a game before. Each area you finish adds background layers and an additional color to everything. So where you start the game seeing mostly browns and whites, by the end, there are green trees, red birds, blue waterfalls, and a gorgeous sky behind. When it comes to pure artistic expression, Gris takes the cake this year.

2. Octopath Traveler

This comparison may fall blindly on most readers, but the look of Octopath Traveler reminds me a lot of playing Minecraft with realistic shaders on. There’s a simplicity to all of the actual pixelated design, but it’s filtered through a hyper-realistic lighting engine that both conflicts with and lends itself to a cohesive look. All of that to say, Octopath Traveler is quite unique visually.

The enemy designs occasionally feel repetitive from one area to the next, but the 2D rendering on a mock 3D backdrop looks cool. As a neat example of Octopath’s visual identity, it does this thing where all of the bosses you fight look like giant grotesque monsters in comparison to the other character and enemy designs. It’s super weird, but effective.

1. God of War

I bought a PS4 Pro after I finished God of War, but I went back and played another hour of the game just so that it could be my first experience on the more powerful hardware. I know some people complained about the game’s performance on a Pro, but as I didn’t experience any of those issues on either console, I can’t speak to them here.

But beyond just the technical execution of this game’s fidelity, the art direction stands out. There’s far more visual variety than you might expect, given the multiple realms you visit. I certainly think Sony Santa Monica could have gone farther with their imaginations, but what’s in there feels realistic in a way that’s consistent with the rest of the game. And that’s to say nothing of the character animations, which go beyond even the high expectations provided by modern technology.

Head to the next page for Best Setting!

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