2017 was a hell of a year for games, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the eclectic variety of art styles that showed up in titles large and small. From throwbacks to the films of old to the latest and greatest in highly-detailed visuals, there were countless games this year that provided as much of a spectacle from their graphics as from their gameplay. These are the games that stood tall and showed just how diverse a visual medium games can be.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
By combining aspects of the “realistic” (e.g. Ocarina of Time) with the animated (e.g. Wind Waker), The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild creates an aesthetic that feels at once fresh and familiar. Looking like a painting come to life, Breath of the Wild ‘s world is vibrant, detailed, and incredible to explore. Enemies react and adapt to Link’s assaults and Divine Beasts roam the land in impressive, Shadow of the Colossus -esque fashion. Its world is an absolute joy to explore, and its visuals are integral to this experience.
When I showed my friends screenshots from Everspace , their first reaction was, “Those are from in-game?” No question: Everspace realizes its galaxies in fantastic detail, with hundreds of asteroids dotting the horizon and impressive lighting breaching over the surfaces of planets. Warping into a new sector is a constant treat, just to see what screenshot-worthy setting you’ll be placed in next. In short, Everspace practically defines “spectacle”.
From its first few trailers, 2017’s Prey established its beautifully creepy atmosphere, complete with derelict space stations, shapeshifting shadow monsters, and of course, that super cool prismatic helmet that Morgan wears in all the promotional material. While the game saw a bit of a mixed response, especially considering its release in place of the long-anticipated Prey 2 , there’s no doubt that it nailed its visuals. System Shock- style gameplay has rarely looked so good.
As far as I’m concerned, Nioh may be one of the best fusions of style and technical polish that I saw all year. Its phenomenal visuals draw on all manner of Japanese myths and legends to create impressively nightmarish foes and atmospheric environments. To even have a hope of standing apart from Dark Souls , I think Nioh needed to ensure that its aesthetic was both distinct and beautiful. Thankfully, if my constant poring over screenshots is any indication, it passed with flying colors.
If this list was based concept art and UI design alone, Persona 5 would probably win hands-down. Hell, if “coolness” is the deciding factor in any competition, Persona 5 has it in the bag. With its anime-influenced visuals and angular, stylish interface, Persona 5 manages to make even mundane RPG actions feel snappy and exciting. Considering how long you’ll be staring at menu screens and dialogue boxes, the impact of Persona 5 ’s style cannot be understated.
Star Wars: Battlefront II
Like 2015’s Star Wars: Battlefront before it, Star Wars: Battlefront II is absolutely stunning to look at. The term “cinematic” gets thrown around in games discussion a fair bit, but it stands as evidence that games don’t have to be movies to feel like you’re in the middle of a movie. From the glint of Imperial armor under artificial lighting to the fiery explosions of starfighters, it’s hard to imagine any Star Wars junkie being disappointed with Battlefront II ’s visuals.
Jettomero: Hero of the Universe
“What the hell is a ‘ Jettomero ’,” I hear you saying. To put it simply, a game that perhaps rivals even the almighty Cuphead when it comes to realizing an aesthetic based on a different medium. Video games using cel-shaded visuals are nothing new, but Jettomero: Hero of the Universe pulls it off with aplomb. Screenshots look like they’re scans of some long-forgotten 80’s comic strip rather than a game, practically popping off the screen with joyous color. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you’re playing an interactive comic book, it seems like Jettomero has you covered.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
I’m a sucker for mechs, particularly intricately-detailed ones. How, then, I’ve managed to stay away from Horizon: Zero Dawn for this long is a mystery. Whenever I look at screenshots of the game, I’m consistently impressed with how it looks. Its overgrown world boasts impressive vistas, and the beings that populate it (including the human characters) all show a commitment to detail and quality that never ceases to be impressive. Horizon: Zero Dawn is still considered a showcase title for the PS4 Pro, and its visuals leave little doubt as to why.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
To anyone who tries to pull the “high-quality games are expensive to make” argument, I feel that all I need to do is point to Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and sarcastically raise my eyebrows. Made on a modest budget while keeping AAA-level production values, Hellblade is a truly impressive achievement from a solely technical perspective. Detailed motion capture, atmospheric sound design, and creepy foes only add to the oppressive, yet beautiful experience that is Hellblade .
Yeah, how many of you called this one? Cuphead ’s visuals are unique and incredible to look at, even if you’re not a fan of games. Any qualms with the game’s lengthy development time and repeated delays quickly evaporate when looking at the phenomenal attention to detail in Cuphead ’s artwork. How much time and energy got poured into the hand-drawn artwork for the game? I can only imagine. All I know is that it sure as hell paid off, making Cuphead a game that will hopefully continue to stand out for years to come.