Games with great art style

Some games just have great style, I think all gamers will agree on that. Not just video games-- there are plenty of board and card games with appealing, even iconic styles.

I certainly don’t want to open the “are video games art” discussion, at least not in this thread. And I also want to discuss the style separately from the “graphics”. Discussion of graphics tend to turn technical. That’s reasonable, because graphics are a technical issue.

I started thinking about this while writing about the game Immortal Cities: Children of the Nile. Most of the time it’s not really impressive to look at. The cut scenes are nothing much, IMO. Here’s one. Looks like he’s saying HEY GUYS WE SHOULD TOTES BUILD A PYRAMID THERE AMIRITE? Most of the time you’re in an overhead view, which doesn’t hurt the eyes, but is also nothing special. Like this. Not bad.

When the style gets impressive to me, though, is when you have a developed city and start moving the camera around. I used to try to get a screenshot of the sun rising over my temples, stuff like that. Something like this. That’s not a cut scene. It helps how the ground slopes and how buildings and roads adjust to elevation. Some city building games only use elevation as a barrier to where you can build.

I wish I still had my screenshots. The ones I could find with image search don’t really get it across.

I picked up the THQ Humble Bundle and I’ve been playing Titan Quest. Again, not a technical wonder for graphics-- I’d guess they’re similar to those of Diablo II. Titan Quest, if you’ve never played it, is a Diablo-like, with an Ancient Greek setting. But while Diablo’s style seems to have been drawn from Frank Frazetta-- you can see for yourself by googling “diablo 3 concept art” for images-- Titan Quest plays off its setting by borrowing from Ray Harryhausen.

I can’t really get it across by linking screenshots. Part of it is how the monsters are animated. They move like they were filmed in stop motion. Before the obvious Harryhausen link occurred to me, I was thinking they looked a bit like claymation. It was unsurprising to find out that Titan Quest’s animators watched his films while developing the game.

Several others come to mind, but I’ve gone on long enough already. Interested to see what others like when it comes to art style.

Legend of Mana. Beautiful, beautiful watercolor style with soft pastel colors that gives the whole game an ethereal, dream-like feel.

Less “art style” and more “art direction”, but Team Fortress 2. Some people might argue that the updates have made things a lot less coherent, but in what other First Person Shooter can you identify, at a glance, what class the enemy is playing at and make a reasonable guess as to what weapons they’re carrying? The official maps are also designed very organically to funnel all of the action into one big orgy of violence and death.

The 4x game Ascendancy. Music, art and alien design were all marvelously well done. Sadly game play did not keep pace - once you’d played it a couple of times it became trivially easy and worse, kinda repetitive. Which is death for a 4x game.

But still a beautiful game for what it was. I’d love for someone to remake it properly.

I don’t care for the game but I really like the comic book look of Borderlands.

I liked Freedom Force – the graphics themselves weren’t necessarily that great, but the linking material had a terrific Kirby-esque, Silver Age comic feel to it.

XIII by Ubisoft (2003) was an FPS with a great cel-shaded comic-book style to it, complete with the kind of jazzy scoring you’d hear if you were to watch it on TV in the 70s. The frame-within-frame shots of dramatic kills (done in real time) was particularly impressive in 2003.

I have never played it, but Journey for PS3 gets a ton of raves for its look.

The World Ends With You - the character designs, the enemy designs (the Noise are the most awesome enemies ever), the pin designs…

Limbo has a great style to it.

Calixto Island will make you want to step right into its beautiful-yet-tragic alternate reality.

The Syberia series. Most of the fun is looking at Sokal’s inspiring backgrounds.

A little surprised we’ve gotten this far without reference to Okami.

Out of all the games mentioned, the only one I’ve played is Borderlands, and yeah, I think so too. XIII has a comic book style as well, but one design choice I admire about Borderlands is how they put masks on all the NPCs. It fits the science fiction theme and prevents the jarring lack of sync games often have when characters talk.

I don’t admire Borderlands II quite as much for art style. I think the style was best served with a desert pallet, rather than the snow scenes in the sequel. It also seems a little slicker.

A game with slick style that I like a lot-- both the style and the game-- is Skyrim. The horned helmet they used in the promotions has become iconic, even though most players will only use it for the first few character levels. And the scenery is so great that I sometimes felt like I could frame random screenshots and hang them on my wall.

*Journey*is amazing. In fact, I think it might be the most beautiful game ever made. It’s very atmospheric – the use of light to define the emotional tenor of the levels is masterful. Even the end credits are beautifully done.

That Game Company’s previous title Flower is gorgeous too.

I also like The Unfinished Swan by Giant Sparrow, although I might be biased because I was tangentially involved in its development.

No More Heroes - great style and graphics, and very violent gameplay for a Wii title.

WET - not a particularly good game, and the art style is fairly standard 3D graphics, but the gameplay is a good facsimile of ultra-stylish John Woo slow-mo gunplay action.

Brink’s architecture deserves a mention. The whole game is stylistic, and the look of the characters is distinctive enough to be recognizable out of a random collection of game screenshots, but the architecture is what’s really remarkable. That kind of attention to detail in a multiplayer shooter is above and beyond.

Yes, every aspect of that game was wonderfully designed and meshed together to give it that unreal, silly, charming aesthetic ; from the bombastic voice work, to the music, to the costume direction, to the always alliterative description of items and enemies. It clicked.

Shadow of the Colossus was another game where every last aspect of the game meshed and played with the others in such a ways as to give the sum total a unique, moody feel. Also notable for being one of the few games out there to get horses right, both from an animation and a behaviour standpoint.

Imagine if someone told you, “You need to draw a big pile of intestines, meat, poop, colon, kidneys, etc. But make it cute.”

Well, I don’t know how, but The Binding of Isaac knocked it out of the park.

Boy, I sure have to cast a vote for Prince of Persia 2008. Every part of the big open world, animation, art, music, and story all fit together into a unique and consistent experience.

Not everyone loved this game, but wow, the designers made some unique gameplay and storytelling decisions. If those don’t upset you, it’s a really unique and beautiful game.

I kinda disagree with this; At no point during my playing of this game was I remotely struck by any aspect of the visuals. The world seems washed out and lacking in detail to me - sortof the fantasy equivalent of the greybrown shooter world. You could argue that it works, perhaps, but it’s neither particularly unique nor a “great art style” in my opinion. It’s a very familiar art style that for once is put to good use.

I’d say sortof the same for Skyrim - is it PRETTY? Sure. Is it a “great art style”? I’d say no - it’s the same “we’re striving for as much realism as possible” tactic Bethesda goes for in all their “Elder Scrolls” games, it just looks shinier because they’ve upped the graphics some more. I’d almost say that this game is practically bereft of an actual “art style”.

I DO want to agree with Joools about Prince of Persia though. A very unique and intriguing visual style that really leant some depth to its world.