Games entertain and move us, they can take us to strange places and show us new things, they teach us to learn new skills and think in different ways, and they introduce us to people both fictional and real. Games can do all these things and more, but the best games do all that with style. In this category, we want to celebrate the games that excel in terms of the way they're put together, whether that be in terms of the way they look or sound or feel. Here are the best-looking and most cohesive titles of 2018.
5. GRIS / Nomada Studio
We couldn't talk about design without mentioning GRIS, the stunning game from Nomada Studio that released this month and instantly found its way into the hearts of gamers due to its artistic style, especially its use of colours. As the titular Gris, you need to work your way through this monochromatic world to restore colour and life to it, in turn finding more abilities and making the world even more outstanding to look at.
Everything is meticulously hand-crafted but elegantly simple, making platforming easy and accessible while also showing you stuff that makes your mouth drop. The camera is also used to great effect, focusing narrowly down on the details as you interact with little creatures before panning out to make you a speck on the screen to emphasise just how small you are in this world. With incredible sound design too, we couldn't fail to mention it here.
4. Sea of Thieves / Rare
Sea of Thieves is marvellous fun if you've got a crew of piratical friends by your side, but beyond the online element, it's the little details that really make Rare's nautical adventure so pleasing to play. There are few games out there that are so immersive and tactile, that draw you in and ground you in their reality so effortlessly.
From the utterly brilliant water effects through to the quirky art style, Sea of Thieves looks utterly incredible, with incredible environments to explore and menacing enemies to discover. One might argue that the game wasn't varied enough, certainly around launch, and from a content perspective, there's a lot of truth to that. However, even at launch, the game was extremely cohesive, and everything connected together and worked with such pleasing harmony that it was hard not to be impressed.
3. Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom / Level-5
If you say 'Studio Ghibli' it'll turn a lot of heads, and while Ghibli didn't return to help with the second Ni no Kuni game, their legacy remained in the art design of Revenant Kingdom, and if anything it looks even better as a whole because of the move to a newer generation of consoles. The bright and vibrant colours have more pop, everything runs a bit smoother, and it's just a visual treat in general.
Ni no Kuni II is way more than just a nice-looking sequel though, as all the systems interlink in interesting ways, with everything from side quests for civilians and RTS skirmishes feeding into how you build your kingdom, in turn affecting your research to help you in-game. It really feels like everything you do matters in some small way, and there are hours of content to get lost in here.
2. Red Dead Redemption 2 / Rockstar
Rockstar tells you exactly how seriously they're taking things at the title screen. A single bullet is fired, but the studio lets the sound effect linger in the air longer than you'd expect and you can hear just the hint of a distant echo. This is a studio that likes to take its time, and that much is made abundantly clear very early on, with Arthur and his companions braving the elements in this harsh story set around the dawn of the 20th century.
After a stunning opening sequence, the game opens up into a western adventure decorated with some exquisite visual design. You'll regularly just pause to contemplate a vista or a secluded area you just happened to stumble upon. And then you'll get back to your adventure, which is made all the more personal by Rockstar's ability to craft a tactile experience where you feel connected to events. The studio spent years perfecting this world and its contents, and the results speak for themselves. Any other year it would have walked this category...
1. God of War / Santa Monica Studio
God of War won Game of the Year from various places in 2018, including The Game Awards no less, and that's not just because of its excellent story (something we also recognised). From a design perspective, it made key changes to the series, without tainting what the series was all about in the first place. The combat system, for example, is still as brutal and heavy as before, but with less of an arcadey feel, letting you customise your weapons and armour to keep things fresh as you progress.
Everything looked incredible too, with this Norse-themed fantasy world made up of some brilliant locations and memorable characters (both friend and foe). The art is divine, the soundtrack mesmerising, and some of the environmental design is out of this world. Santa Monica Studio did a top-notch job of pulling these various strands together, and it's fair to say that all of our expectations were exceeded.
Having said all that, it was perhaps the cinematography that was the most remarkable thing about God of War. Unlike the previous games we were positioned much closer to Kratos, almost like other Sony exclusives such as The Last of Us, and it was a change that gave the combat a touch more heft. The most impressive feat, however, is the fact that the entire games runs from start to finish as one continuous take: no cuts. Extended takes can be a technical marvel in films like Birdman, but in a game, it becomes all the more impressive, especially since it gives and takes away control of the camera at key points without becoming frustrating.
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