It’s common knowledge that just because a game has beautiful graphics, it doesn’t mean that it’ll be any good. Some titles look breathtaking but are, for want of a better word, a bit shit. On the other side of the coin, you have games that look like they were made twenty years ago yet are utterly brilliant, such as Minecraft, Spelunky and Super Meat Boy. Of course, there occasionally are those titles that manage to combine looks and gameplay into one perfect game, which make up the majority of this list.
Every new year brings advancements in game engine technology, graphics card drivers (for PCs) and game optimization, meaning 2015 saw some truly beautiful titles. Not all of them were brilliant to play, and some were downright balls, but there’s no denying that we’re reaching a point where graphics in video games are hitting almost photo-realistic levels.
So here we have been the seven prettiest, most beautiful games of 2015. Yet more proof that we’ll soon never want to leave our homes, living out our lives as a virtual avatar in a picturesque world while a robot butler feeds us and our chairs double as toilets. Maybe... hopefully.
7. Child of Light
Child of Light is a magnificent RPG/2D adventure-platformer hybrid whose visuals are truly lovely. Every little bit of this game looks hand-painted by a master artist for a children’s book. It has the same graphics engine as the recent Rayman titles and its use of light and shade - something that I generally never even notice in games - adds so much atmosphere to Child of Light.
Some of the most visually impressive moments in the game come when you’re interacting with Child of Light’s many gigantic creatures, who can take up the majority of the screen. Each level’s background resembles an interactive art gallery painting, and the characters are fantastically designed without feeling childish. The aesthetics of this game will give you a warm and fuzzy sensation, often inducing feelings of childhood nostalgia (they did in me, anyway).
Child of Light is unlike most games; it’s artistic without being pretentious, child-like without being patronizing, and emotional without being saccharine. A gorgeous, incredible, magical game, and also available at a very low price. I highly recommend it to all RPG fans.
6. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The thing with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is that it’s such a good game to play, many people are oblivious to how pretty it is. What looks to be Hideo Kojima's swansong for Konami is up there with Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 as a contender for Game of The Year. Not only does it redefine the concept of what’s possible in an open-world game, but it also looks fantastic.
The two main locations of Afghanistan and Zaire are loving recreated in MGSV and Big Boss’ offshore headquarters, Mother Base, is a thing of beauty – made all the prettier thanks to the surrounding crystal blue waters of the Seychelles.
The many cinematic sections look like they’ve been taken straight out of a movie, the character and animal animations are spot-on, and the weather effects are outstanding. Metal Gear Solid V is as attractive as it is fun.
5. Ori and the Blind Forest
Not every game that’s considered to be beautiful has to feature almost photo-quality graphics; a good example of this is Ori and the Blind Forest, a 2D platformer that uses vibrant, stunning colors to make it pop off the screen.
The multiple layers of Ori’s levels add an extra element to the visuals, giving the game that sense of depth, rather than it looking like a flat cartoon. During some sections, this layering is used to great effect - especially with the rising water. And trust me when I say: there are some scenes so fantastical, you’ll feel like you're inside a real fairytale.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a brilliant, emotional game that’s made even better with its luscious graphics and a memorable musical score. Try it out, you won't be disappointed.
4. The Order: 1886
Now we get to one of those games whose gameplay doesn’t come close to matching its frankly astounding graphics and fantastic atmosphere. The Order 1886 makes you feel like you’re controlling a live-action movie with its lifelike visuals. Unfortunately, it’s one of those movies where, most of the time, not much is happening.
It’s not that The Order is a terrible game, it just should have been so much better. The huge number of quick-time events and restrictive gameplay can make it feel like a long cutscene. Overall, it just isn’t much fun.
Like a narcissistic Instagram girl, the game knows it’s beautiful and wants you to realize this. There are plenty of moments where the action takes a backseat so players can marvel at the details and high-quality textures of the game’s objects. You can almost hear The Order: 1886 screaming “Ignore my many faults! Look at how beautiful I am!” as it takes yet another selfie.
3. Everybody’s gone to the rapture
Everybody’s gone to the rapture is one of those games that seems to polarize opinion: a lot of people, especially critics, love it, but there are plenty of gamers who hate it and reiterate the old “walking simulators aren’t games” argument. But no matter what your thoughts are on The Chinese Room’s English-set mystery, it’s impossible to deny that it looks amazing.
If you’ve ever played the similar The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, then you’ll know what to expect: plenty of stunning scenery, lots of time to admire it, and tons of walking. The small, Shropshire-based town the game is set in is brought to life thanks to the gorgeous, highly detailed graphics. Atmosphere is crucial in a game like this, and EGTTR doesn’t disappoint – you can almost feel the sun on your face and smell the English countryside (which doesn’t always smell great, just btw).
Everybody’s gone to the rapture is so beautiful you’d think you could reach into the screen and touch it. Plus, it’s a damn fine game.
2. Rise of the Tomb Raider
Last month saw the release of Rise of the Tomb Raider, the sequel to the 2013 reboot of the franchise and a game that manages to capture the magic of those original Lara Croft titles from so many years ago.
Not only is Rise of the Tomb Raider an excellent action-adventure game, but it looks stunning. Mostly taking place in the snowy landscapes of Siberia, the environments really are amazing. Snow and water are never easy to recreate in games, but the designers replicate it here brilliantly.
Sadly, despite the critical and commercial praise it received, Rise of the Tomb Raider never got the attention it deserved upon launch. And why is that, you may ask? Becuase it was released on the same day as Fallout 4! As Comic Book Guy would say: “WORST. DECISION. EVER.”
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I don’t mind admitting that there were moments during the Witcher 3 that were so beautiful it almost brought a tear to my eye. Staring at the mountains over the lake at Kaer Morhen, watching the birds on the horizon as the sun comes up over Novigrad docks, standing on the bridge to Kaer Trolde with the snowy peaks of Ard Skellig in the distance – all moments that made me understand why some people get emotional when looking at world-famous paintings.
There may have been other games released this year that are more photo-realistic, and there may even have been 2015 titles that do textures better, but the Witcher 3 manages to combine so many top-quality graphical elements that it actually makes you want to be in Geralt’s world – even with all the monsters and murderers.
The lushness of the forests, the quality of the water and fire, the snow on the mountains, the birds, the weather, the sunrises, the creatures, the landscapes – I could go on and on. If anyone tells you that video games aren’t art, show them this. If I could somehow show my 10-year-old self the Witcher 3, I have no doubt that this young version of me would want to hop in a cryo-chamber and stay there until its release.
There have been some breathtakingly gorgeous games in 2015, but in my opinion none can match the Witcher 3. A stunning piece of work and my game of the year.
So, that’s it, the most beautiful games of 2015. I know the year’s not over yet, but we’re unlikely to see any of the games released in the remaining weeks of December challenge those on this list.
As the saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so not everyone may agree with my number one, but I’ve personally never played a game that made my jaw drop in awe the way that The Witcher 3 does. So thank you, CD Projekt RED, for showing that truly beautiful art is possible in video games – and so is having sex on a stuffed unicorn.