Isn’t 2021 a bit bleak? However, although the outside world is gloomy and dull, video games are by no means like that.
From psychedelic mind maps and watercolor picture books to clumsy anime VHS lost behind the sofa, this year’s game takes on some serious looks. Here are some games that make us stare at the screen and shout “Wow, the game can really be like this!”
Nat Clayton, feature film producer
Unparalleled: White Label, Sable, Solar Ash, Exo One, Townscaper
Honestly, I have forgotten how often I tweeted about a new game The coolest thing i have ever seen in the past year.
If my eyes are not immersed in some brand new digital palettes, even a month will be difficult. But for me, the most exciting part is that none of the games that have stood out in the past 12 months look even completely similar.
Unbeatable is a blooming, anime-colored rhythm torn from old video tapes. At the same time, Sable is a Moebius graphic novel that comes to life with amazing dexterity. Townscaper is a very flexible island building toy, reminiscent of opening a box of Lego bricks. Although Solar Ash and Exo One both delved into the fantastic alien world, they took a completely different approach. One is a fluid, fungus-like explosion of color, and the other is incredibly beautiful and cruel.
The game has become very good at rendering the real world. But I am very excited to see how the advancement of graphics has turned into creating the impossible. It’s hard to imagine without the fantastic volume cloud that bubbled and flowed in Rei’s wake, Solar Ash. This year, I was taken aback by the games that used visual effects to break my heart, excite me, and even just help me feel calm by a campfire in some perfectly drawn desert.
Jody Macgregor, Australia/Weekend Editor
The Ascent, Resident Evil Village, Psychonauts 2, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
As a top-down double-bar shooting game with some action role-playing game DNA, The Ascent doesn’t need to look gorgeous. Players figured out how to unlock the camera and zoom on the street, and when they did, they found that its alien cyberpunk city was much more detailed than expected.
Of course, the character model is a bit low-fidelity, but the environment is Lush Every bar, alley and noodle restaurant is surrounded by holograms and flashing screens, all exuding fluorescence. This is just the aesthetics of Blade Runner, but it does a very good job. The developers responded to players’ interest by adding an official photo mode, and the time I spent in it was half of the reason why I still hadn’t finished The Ascent.
This year is also a good year for faces, from the high-polygon model that made every villain in “Resident Evil Village” behave so expressively, to the less realistic but equally full of personality Gumby head, in each of Psychonauts 2. Jingle is all lucky.
Special mention is made of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, it has a lot of sweet sky boxes that can make people stunned, but its masked face really surprised me. Although the regular old Mass Effect dialogue you have on board matches the canned animation and appears to be lip-synched procedurally, the cutscenes are clearly characters performed by real actors. Every time you pout, roll your eyes, smirk, look sideways, and sneer, it will increase a lot.
Lauren Morton, Associate Editor
Since the first Shelter game, Might and Delight has been cultivating a unique visual style, and its compact MMO Book of Travels is another offspring of recognizable aesthetics. It would be easy to call the travel notes an interactive painting and claim that my duties have been completed. I mean, look at it. Book of Travels has all Shelter’s watercolor colors in its pseudo 3D world, which is gorgeous at all times of the cycle of day and night.
Book of Travels is not a beautiful game, simply because it manages to imitate the physical art. It is beautiful in a way that only games can do, and in a way that many games are too insecure. Difficult objects such as loot bags and acorn trees do not glow or flicker, and rarely emit a slight flash to guide your eyes until you are trained to spot them. Players often mingled with NPCs until they provided an emoticon painted on top of their heads to remind you of their presence. The interface is part of the online role-playing game I often complain about, it looks like the rest of the world paper and texture. “Travel Notes” is particularly worth watching, because it is an interactive world, and I don’t always pull my eyes to the edge of the screen.
Morgan Park, contributing writer
Potions Craft, Darkest Dungeon 2
Potion Craft is a bit like Paper’s Please, a cold potion brewing simulation game with no hungry families or time constraints. All the action takes place in a neat little window, and the game has this “story book lifelike” appearance, which is better than any game I have seen. This is a warm game, it wants you to relax, pick some herbs from your garden, mash them into a paste, and use them to fill a bottle of soup. It’s still early (currently there are many buttons that say “coming soon”), but it’s already interesting and beautiful.
I haven’t played “Dark Dungeon 2” because it is difficult and I hate it, but I really don’t hate watching it. When Red Hook announced that the sequel would jump to 3D and somehow still look like the original 2D version, it took a risk, but my God, they really did. The new polygon heroes look better than ever with smooth 3D animation, and it’s worth noting that when they are not moving, they still give the illusion of a 2D sketch. This is a comprehensive upgrade.
Chris Livingston, feature film producer
Growbot, Grow: Song of the Evertree, Icarus, Valheim
Among the many surprises in Walheim, from the lights in the forest at sunset to the plains dotted with flowers, to the sudden lightning storm on the sea or the blizzard on the mountain, the weather is breathtaking. The survival game Icarus is also very beautiful, with realistic textures, terrifying flame and lighting effects, and clear soda water (when you drink it, it may poison you with microorganisms). When I met its galactic snowman and psychic octopus, the adventure game Growbot showed some beautiful and dark weird art. And Grow: Song of the Evertree is a peaceful gardening and town management game. I stop every few minutes to admire its beauty.
Andy Chalk, North American News Director
I upgraded to 4K while playing “The Witcher 3” at the end of 2020. This improvement is simply amazing-my goodness, that is a beautiful game world. But what really shocked my boat was the bold shape of The Pathless: green, blue and yellow across the forest and plains, cut with the hunter’s blood red and the fallen god she was pursuing. It’s equally gorgeous at close range: crumbling buildings and intricate attire of pilgrims, soldiers, and pagans exude a sense of long-buried history and secrets, while gorgeous weather effects shroud artificial realism in strange fantasy realms. Gloss. The open design of the game means you can wander around and enjoy the view without worrying about anything else. Go sightseeing-you won’t be disappointed.
Editor’s note: Yes, The Pathless will come out in 2020, but these screens are too gorgeous to miss.