The best looking games of 2018 came in all shapes and sizes. Some of the most impressive visuals came from AAA powerhouses, while others hailed from innovative indie studios. A few of this year’s standouts looked just about as photorealistic as we could imagine. A couple others had art styles that piqued our imaginations and tingled our senses.
While they all offered something different, each of our picks for the ten prettiest games of 2018 wowed us from the moment we stepped into their fantasy worlds.
Within the first few moments of Gris, all of the color washes away from the world, leaving a stark palette of white, black, and gray. The eponymous protagonist, a young woman wearing a flowing dress, must restore the color and vibrancy to her world. It’s a metaphorical journey that features no enemies or possibilities for death.
The puzzles and platforming sequences are relatively benign. So Gris‘ power comes from its presentation. Taking cues from Journey — even the fluttering of the fabric on her dress — Gris is all about the atmosphere it creates from simply walking. It’s beautiful in motion.
As you make progress, the world begins to fill with color. When you enter a reddened desert, Gris’ dress transitions to match the color. When sandstorms rage inward, she tumbles from the force and holds onto ledges for dear life. Gris‘ artsy flair and sparse environments have to be experienced to be truly appreciated. But rarely has a game done so much with so little as Gris. It’s stunning to watch the world shift throughout the few precious hours that its story holds.
Octopath Traveler looks like a pop-up book come to life. Developed by Square Enix as a retro JRPG, the graphical style is simply mesmerizing. Square Enix called the style “HD-2D” due to its pixelated visuals that have been modernized.
To give additional detail to the characters, including subtle animations, Square placed pixelated models on top of low-resolution polygons. This makes the characters look close enough to 16-bit JRPGs while allowing them more room to have distinct features and personalities.
The environments themselves, from the wide-open terrains to idyllic towns, feel close enough to touch. Rendered in full 3D, they really do pop off the Switch’s screen to create that pop-up book effect. Octopath Traveler is probably the prettiest classic-looking JRPG we’ve ever played.
‘Return of the Obra Dinn’
Return of the Obra Dinn may seem like an odd choice to include on a list of the most beautiful games of the year. After all, Lucas Pope made the game to look like 1-bit Macintosh graphics, as seen in old-school adventure games. That means everything is in black and white.
There are tons of jagged lines, and the resolution is endlessly grainy. But its bold graphical style ends up being of its shining features. You soon grow to appreciate the surprising amount of detail that Pope was able to capture, especially when time freezes and you’re investigating a death scene on the eponymous ship.
Each scene features one or more crew members frozen in time, moments from their deaths. The fact that Pope was able to make a puzzle game with this much depth with seemingly rudimentary visuals is impressive in itself. The aesthetic, however, ends up being a crucial aspect to the journey. Return of the Obra Dinn is certainly unique in just about every way, but it’s what Pope was able to do with the visual style that will stick with us for years to come.
‘Shadow of the Colossus’
Shadow of the Colossus was one of the prettiest and best games on the PS2, so it makes sense that the PS4 remake would be a visual marvel as well. As it turns out, though, the PS2 held back some of its greatness. Thanks to the power of high definition visuals, the sparse world feels simply sublime to traverse on horseback.
The true standouts, of course, are the 16 colossi. Though they’re the same mammoth creatures from the original, the PS4’s processing power affords them many more details. You can see individual strands of hair as you scale their legs and backs. The significantly enhanced visuals make each colossus that you topple feel more real.
It also adds to the power of the narrative and the pervasive sadness that permeates throughout the story of Wander’s attempt to save Mono. Shadow of the Colossus‘ beauty is marked by its environment and the mythical, towering beings that walk across it.
‘Red Dead Redemption 2’
(PS4, Xbox One)
Rockstar Games’ latest masterpiece is all about the details, both large and small. You probably heard about the certain horse parts that change size based on temperature. That’s a fine example of things Rockstar included that might not be noticed by the average player. For instance, when mud dries on Arthur’s jacket it gets lighter, his clothes dampen after it rains, and you can see speckles of snow in between the fine hairs of his beard.
The world at large is beautiful, with rolling mountain ranges, beautiful open fields, and a lifelike weather system that reflects the current mood of the story and your actions. Towns, both large and small, accurately depict late 19th-century architecture. It feels like you’re in a Western movie.
RDR2‘s visuals are heightened even more by the transitions between cutscenes and gameplay. Everything is seamless, so you’re never taken out of this impeccably rendered world. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a massive achievement in many respects, but its visuals, the preoccupation with every detail, are simply miles ahead of other AAA open world games.
‘God of War’
God of War is probably the best looking PS4 exclusive in the console’s five-year life. From the extremely talented team at Sony Santa Monica, God of War introduced players to a spacious open world inspired by Norse mythology.
In an ambitious move, the developers decided to let the entire game run from a single camera perspective. God of War doesn’t have any loading screens or camera cuts. It’s one seamless experience that lets you fully immerse yourself in the wondrous adventure of Kratos and his young son Atreus.
The absence of camera cuts makes God of War even more eye-popping in motion. Watching Kratos’ axe rip through enemies and boomerang back into his outstretched hand is endlessly satisfying. Watching the elaborate cutscenes, especially ones rife with combat themselves, gives you the feeling of watching a movie.
With the PlayStation 4 in the back half of its lifecycle, it’s possible that God of War could hold its title as best looking PS4 game for eternity (The Last of Us Part II and Death Stranding might have something to say about that, though).
Insomniac Games’ Marvel’s Spider-Man doesn’t have the level of detail in its world that the other AAA games on this list have, but it makes up for that tenfold with its dynamic combat system. Marvel’s Spider-Man may offer the most “fun” combat in a game this year. Thankfully, how it looks on screen is as satisfying as it feels.
How you want to approach fighting groups of baddies is up to you. You can beat them up on the ground, keep your attacks airborne, or mix Spidey’s gadgets to switch things up. What stands out is the fluidity of the intricate web-slinging combat. It’s incredibly fast-paced and watching Spider-Man transition between hurling a baddie across a warehouse to dodging a rocket to grabbing that said rocket and slamming it into a group of enemies is ridiculously cool.
Even outside of combat, when you’re just swinging across Manhattan, manages to visually entice. Insomniac went to great lengths to make players feel like they were actually Spider-Man. And that translates to how web-swinging looks, too.
‘Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’
(PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey‘s open world is absolutely massive. It’s so big that you can finish the 30-plus hour story without seeing about half of it. Surprisingly, none of its Ancient Greece-inspired world looks tacked on. This is one of the rare cases where the open world comes alive. The architecture of cities, which mirrors the stylings of the time, is diverse and well-detailed. Perhaps even more impressive is how each city feels real. People roam the streets, talking amongst themselves, going about their days.
The scope of Odyssey and the level of thought that went into designing its world truly comes into view when scaling to the top of a large structure to synchronize. There you can look out across the winding streets of Athens, observing both the city below and the sea in the distance.
Odyssey is easily the prettiest game in the franchise thus far. The open world is its undeniable star. From the moment you dock into a new port, ready to explore a new area, it’s clear that this unseen land will be as lavishly designed as the last.
‘Monster Hunter: World’
(PS4, Xbox One, PC)
While Monster Hunter: World‘s human characters and environments don’t really stand out, the most important component of the game does, and that’s the monsters themselves. After years of being confined to the low-resolution Nintendo 3DS, the epic monsters were finally given room to flourish on much more powerful hardware.
Each of the large monsters is rendered with great detail. When you get up close to the imposing Rathian, you can see her scales, you can watch her draw breaths before she spews fire. Each of the monsters have unique animations that separate them from all the other monsters you’ve hunted before.
Monster Hunter, unlike many action games, actually makes you feel as if you’re in a battle against a giant. These long hunts make each victory feel well-earned. Now that the monsters look even more insurmountable, the loop is all the more satisfying.
‘Kingdom Come: Deliverance’
(PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Kingdom Come: Deliverance asks a lot of players. Set in the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1403, you play as a son of a blacksmith named Henry in a fight against the king of Hungary, who has invaded the region. Not only does Kingdom Come: Deliverance‘s open world strive for historical accuracy, but the gameplay is realistic. Henry has to sleep and eat, his weapons degrade, and your food goes bad.
From a visual perspective, this level of accuracy excels. Henry’s attire is broken down into 16 different pieces, some of which overlap in layers. The world around Henry is both filled with danger and beautiful set pieces. Everything from character animations to buildings to nature is rendered in stunning detail.
You should know that Kingdom Come: Deliverance‘s amazing visuals creates longer than average load times on Xbox One and PS4. If you have a high-end gaming PC, though, you’re in for a real treat. It’s one of the best looking games of this generation.
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