3. Destiny (Bungie / Activision)
Despite the many flaws of Destiny - and there are flaws - one thing that's hard to look on disapprovingly is the visual design of the worlds built by Bungie. From the splendour of The Tower and its stunning vista where we can gaze out over the last stronghold of humanity, to the different planetary environments showcased in the game's sandbox worlds, Bungie's design nous once again shines through.
The Moon might not be the most exciting of the bunch, but the network of caves that burrows down down down under the surface is a hugely interesting feature. Similarly Mars is very red and very dusty, but the different enemies you'll face and the architecture you'll scurry through sets it apart from the rest. Our favourites are Old Russia and the rusted cosmodrome where the game starts, and then Venus, with its angular structures and weird fluorescence.
On top of the stellar world building, the same quality of design is also present in the enemy types and in the various assets - guns, armour - that populate the world. Once again Bungie has demonstrated the brilliance that helped them establish Halo as the dominant sci-fi shooter series. From the designs of the weapons through to the garb that you dress your respective Guardian up in, there's plenty of variety and, for the most part, it all fits together very well.
The enemy types encountered along the way are nearly all allegorical to something you'll have already seen in Bungie's last series (even your friendly ghost - or the Dinklebot as we've taken to calling him - is a fusion of Cortana and Guilty Spark), and so it'd be unfair to call Destiny wholly original. But it does look great, and the different designs all gel together with admirable cohesion. There's plenty of issues with Destiny, but Bungie's world-building and design isn't one of them.
2. Child of Light (Ubisoft Montreal / Ubisoft)
Making brilliant use of the UbiArt Framework engine (Rayman Legends, Valiant Hearts: The Great War) Ubisoft Montreal created a game that looked the part of a children's book come to life. Seemingly painted with watercolours, the quality of the art, the attention to detail and the wonderful animations managed to sweep us away even if the story was rather predictable and formulaic. The perspective play with moving backgrounds and foreground created a very special atmosphere and we've rarely seen a 2D game this full of life.
Inspired by the work of Studio Ghibli and Yoshitaka Amano that art of Child of Light presented a happy marriage between Western fairytales and Japanese aesthetics. The flowing red hair of the main character Aurora made for a great point of focus and the weird landscape painted in the background made us wonder what else there was in the world of Lemuria outside of the areas that made up the game world. Overall, Child of Light relies heavily on its artstyle, and 2015 marks yet another year with an UbiArt Framework title near the top of this category.
1. Alien: Isolation (Creative Assembly / Sega)
It's the attention to detail that Creative Assembly has woven into the Sevastopol space station that puts them on top of the pile this year. Sure it looks great in the traditional sense; the visual finish is crisp, the character animations are mostly great, the locations are distinctive and they're populated with lovely little details, and the Alien is fantastically constructed and full of menace. However, all these things, even considered together, don't fully explain the brilliance of Alien: Isolation's visual design.
Simply put, Creative Assembly has managed to build a wonderfully detailed and fully authentic game-space, and their reverence to their source material has given us one of the best realised settings ever. It's clear that CA loves the Alien movie, because everything they've done in Isolation, from the chunky retro-futuristic furniture, to the old-school 80s style computers, screams homage. The same level of detail is present in the audio design, and while we're not taking that into account in this category, its another layer of authenticity that only adds to the level of immersion.
In terms of palette, perhaps it's a little limited, but then again, too much colour would most certainly have stood out and worked against the atmosphere that CA has worked hard to achieve. However, the studio has balanced it just right when it's all said and done. The film that serves as inpsiration has massively informed the design of this game, and Creative Assembly has perfectly captured the atmosphere of that classic sci-fi movie. The design team at the studio has created a masterpiece that matches its predecessor in terms of quality, and for our money, it was the best-looking game of 2015.
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