Whether they are blowing us away with gorgeous, realistic graphics, or are an emotional, abstract painting of movement, some games are nothing less than stunning when it comes to visuals. Every virtual world we love to play through is crafted by immeasurably talented artist. And it’s more often how a game looks, instead of how it actually plays, that gets us to pick up the controller for that first time.
As realistic, high-end graphics continue to be the norm, it takes something unique and special to really catch our eyes these days. And that’s where all these games come in. Blending visual flavor with the heart and soul of the games, some titles simply rise above the pack with art that is just as intriguing and thought-provoking as it is nice to look at.
Nominee – World of Warcraft: Legion
Blizzard, if nothing else, has created video games with incredible history, both within the community and in the games themselves. Coming out on top of their franchises is World of Warcraft, which manages to capture players in a way no other game really can.
Hailed as a glorious timesink, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that six expansions in, World of Warcraft feels more immersive than ever before. The new zones in The Broken Isles all take a unique spin on what lore they are based off of, and create an atmosphere that ties the story together. With unique dungeons to boot, a cast of returning characters, and raids all worth looking at, Legion’s art feels refined, sophisticated, and like it belongs in gallery’s across the world.
If that wasn’t enough for the game’s glory, taking a look at any of the art books shows off the unique style that each of the Blizzard artists have learned to develop and translate into the game.
Nominee – No Man’s Sky
Whatever faults you might find with No Man’s Sky, there is no denying just how impressive it is. A massive, procedurally generated universe not only takes some serious behind the scenes math, but also an incredible amount of artistic work. Be it the wide array of locations, from barren wastes to lush pieces of paradise, or the variety of creatures we find there, the art that makes up the universe of No Man’s Sky is an achievement in and of itself.
Creatures span the range from familiar and cuddly to grotesque and foreign. Couple this with the awe-inspiring planetary expanses and the rich colors of space, and you end up with a game that begs to be explored. Meanwhile, the Atlas stations are massive, foreboding structures, giving off just as much a sense of unease as wonder.
The glossy semi-realism of everything perfectly invokes the classic, fantastical sci-fi art Hello Games has already cited as one of the game’s greatest inspirations. But it also helps No Man’s Sky truly stand out amongst the crowded field of sci-fi games on the market.
Nominee – Dark Souls 3
Dark Souls 3 takes from the gritty gothic fantasy design of the originals, while adding its own new environments and horrifying creatures. The Lords of Cinder, who act as bosses, each have their own mysterious looks to them that work perfectly with the aesthetic.
The Dancer of the Boreal Valley, a smaller boss necessary for passage to a new zone, is woman cursed to be a beast that moves in the most horrifying ways, giving the player a sense of dread. Meanwhile, the DLC, Ashes of Ariandel, introduces the icy world of Ariandel, with new creatures. Some of the trees look like women, bent backwards and screaming in agony, and turn out to be terrifying enemies when they start hurling fire at you.
Dark Souls 3 has the same heart of past Souls games, but continues to improve upon the formula and the art, refining it to be both gorgeous and disturbing.
Nominee – Overwatch
Overwatch is the first new IP we’ve seen from Blizzard in a long, long, time. Surprisingly, the game takes us away from the fantasy and far-future atmospheres Blizzard loves so much, and instead plants us in a strange, modern world.
Taking place in the aftermath of a massive war, it’s interesting to see how the Overwatch’s world slowly continues to expand, through comics, shorts, and even the game itself. Some of the more seasoned fighters look beaten, worn, and ready to hang up their weapons – while the newer, younger ones are ready to go.
Overwatch has managed to convey a story using almost solely the art found within the game. Although the comics and shorts do shed a small amount of light into what we should expect with the lore, the game doesn’t come with a 20-hour campaign explaining everything that’s happened. Instead we get to put the pieces together on our own.
Winner – Inside
Incredible art is not hard to find in video games. Every game, even smaller indie projects, can have drop-dead gorgeous artwork. But it’s rare to find a game where any still, taken from anywhere in the title, can give you as complete a picture of a game as one from Inside.
Dark, shadowed, and delightfully grotesque, the artistic atmosphere of Playdead’s latest is incredible. From the moment the game starts, to the moment it ends, the visual flavor of Inside’s world never lets up. But instead of simply being the most detailed or the most dynamic, Inside’s art is the most effective.
The details that aren’t there, like the child’s face, are just as impactful as those that are. Even though he doesn’t have a face, the art still manages to breath life into the boy. It would have been very easy for the protagonist to come off as flat and unemotional without facial features. But through careful animation, the boy’s every move speaks volumes about his character. You can see him terrified, sad, or even joyful at times, making every piece of the game more believable.
Just like Limbo before it, Inside is a minimalist platformer, relying on smart puzzles and a unique style to bring players in. But unlike Limbo, Inside is also an intriguing post-apocalyptic story where the world itself is just as much of a character as anything else. It’s the art that brings that part of the game to life. Without saying a word, Playdead creates an entire thought-provoking narrative, just using the visuals on the screen. And whether it is the dead pigs and dilapidated farms of the beginning, or the floating bodies you discover the deeper into the facility you go, all of the visuals stick with you long after you finish the game, making Inside more than worthy of the title for the Best Art of 2016.