Don’t you just love it when a game looks really, really good? As gamers, we’re so often drawn in first by the graphics that a game features, before we start to appreciate the other elements that make up an engaging experience.
we’ve come a long way since levels were built from asterisks, and thanks to the processing power of the current generation games now look better than they ever have before. There’s also more variation, stretching from pixel art through low-poly expressionism, all the way to incredibly realised three dimensional open worlds. In some cases there might still be asterisks, but they’re higher resolution asterisks than you’ve ever seen before.
2022 has been a great year for gaming as a visual art and here are TheSixthAxis’ top picks for those games that have stayed with us, long after the screens have been turned off. Our winner might even haunt your dreams…
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Scorn always looked amazing in pre-release screenshots and trailers, its biomechanical aesthetic taking inspiration in equal parts from H.R. Giger and Zdzisław Beksiński, but manages to combine these influences into a world that oozes atmosphere and character. Ooze is the operative word here as everything is covered in a slimy sheen and your eyes are constantly drawn to disembodied limbs or internal organs shifting and slithering all around you. While not as varied as many hoped for, the enemies in Scorn all fit into this squishy aesthetic and even your weapons and items share the organic appearance.
Whatever your thoughts on the final game – this is surely one of 2022’s more divisive releases – there can be no doubting the lasting legacy of the look and feel of Scorn. Even a quick session here leaves you needing a shower to slough off the effects of so much digital slime and ooze. Not to mention the way everything seethes as if it shares a heartbeat. Rarely has a game ever felt quite as alien and produced a world so unpleasantly beautiful to explore.
– Steve C
Pentiment – Runner Up
Some games look amazing for their raw fidelity and photorealistic details, but Pentiment is a rare case in which its core aesthetic is perfectly in line with the setting and themes of the game. You don’t just play as a late medieval manuscript illustrator; you actually inhabit the manuscripts themselves.
The cohesiveness of Pentiment’s vision, the countless nods to classic marginalia (doodles around medieval texts often featuring animals), and the dedication to the whole historical period makes it a true stand out. It won’t show off the power of your new console or push your new GPU with ray tracing, but it’s a timeless example of visual design.
– Steve C
Horizon Forbidden West – Runner Up
Following on from Horizon Zero Dawn’s blockbusting debut, Guerrilla Games were able to improve their game in almost every way imaginable. From the core robot combat to the character animations in the voluminous cutscenes and dialogues, it’s a big step forward, but through it all there remains the strength of this post-post-apocalyptic world that sees tribal pockets of humanity living in the shadow of living robots.
It looks fantastic on the last generation PlayStation 4, but absolutely shines on PlayStation 5 and Guerrilla push the boat out with more refined visual effects. Yes, it’s a cross-gen game, but it still gives the PS5 a real workout.
Tunic’s in-game manual – Bonus Round!
The adorable foxy adventures of Tunic might have plenty of reason to be in a runner up spot of its own right, but really one of the most standout parts of Tunic’s visual design comes from the immaculately conceived and reproduced in-game manual.
Tunic Team actually made this manual in real life, styled after the classic video game manuals that were once found in the box alongside your CDs or cartridges, with delightful artworks, but then mysteriously veiled behind the alien text that permeates other parts of the game.
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
Let us know which game’s visuals really stood out for you in 2021. Was it a AAA blockbuster? Or perhaps a smaller indie effort that wowed you the most?
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I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.