I often give game graphics a hard time because I believe the dogged technological pursuit of hyper-advanced visuals can be harmful to gaming’s attempts as a medium to grow in other meaningful directions. Videogames, however, are essentially about letting you explore new worlds, and it’s no good if those new worlds look like ass. Remember what I said about glitter? Well, in some cases, the glitter helps. With the staggering abundance of great-looking games at the moment, it can often be easy to forget that games are so damn pretty sometimes. There have been many occasions recently where my eyes have wept orgasmic tears of joy taking in the impressive landscapes games are now capable of. So, finding myself in an unusually charitable mood, I’m going to talk about some recent videogame vista loveliness.
Alan Wake’s Bright Falls, Washington
Remedy’s spooky literary flashlight-em-up may have been ambitious and confusing in equal measure, but one thing it did offer was some pretty breathtaking expanses of mountainous North-East American forestland. Soaked in an autumnal glow, the glowing sepia of a gentle sunset could quickly descend into the cold monochromatic abyss of night, and one thing Alan Wake’s visuals capture brilliantly is the jarring juxtaposition between hazy mountainside serenity during daylight hours and the malevolent, suffocating terror of dark.
Side note: How much better would this game be if it was Alan Partridge instead of Alan Wake? And you found pages of the unwritten Partridge autobiography I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan which started coming true. That would brilliant. Aha.
Assassin’s Creed 2’s Renaissance Italy
Assassin’s Creed 2 is basically Ezio Auditore’s 15th Century Italian tour, and throughout the game you’re offered the sumptuous visual feasts of stately Florence, the canals and waterways of Venice, the glorious Tuscan countryside, and even the pious grandeur of the Vatican itself. Every single frame of AssCreedParteDeux’s Renaissance Italy is gushing with exquisite period detail and gorgeous architecture, and the fact that you can parkour across the rooftops like a ninja also means you get to comprehensively experience the visual elegance of the game world.
Few games gave me as mixed feelings as Bulletstorm. On the one hand, I knew that I really enjoyed playing it, but on the other I knew that it was the narrative equivalent of watching a rap battle between twelve-year-old boys. As dumb and charmless as it was, the 2011 point-scoring sadism shooter did have some impressive graphical muscle, and the game’s alien world of Stygia was a sight to behold. Stygia is an idyllic utopian paradise with killer views and also killer monsters, and the colony on the planet was originally intended as a resort for interplanetary tourists, until the monsters rocked up and started, y’know, getting all up in their shit with monstery shenanigans. Apart from the epic scenery, the beauty of the game world comes from the crumbling grandeur of this epic shrine to capitalism: abandoned casinos, decaying malls, enormous hotels lying ravaged by electrical storms, even a gaudy theme park where the alien deathbeasts that were supposed to be the exhibits have escaped. For a game that was obnoxious and in-your-face as Bulletstorm, those kind of little background details gave the game world buckets of character.
Enslaved’s post-apocalyptic New York
Despite an ending that felt as uncomfortable and out of place as a dollop of hot sauce in a jockstrap, Enslaved had an incredibly evocative game world. You spend a large portion of the game in a New York slowly being reclaimed by the natural world hundreds of years after some kind of nebulously defined, but definitely apocalyptic, world war. The urban jungle of the Big Apple here became a literal jungle, with fauna coating bombed-out skyscrapers and trees erupting out of blasted ruins. The sense of nature dismantling the monuments of civilization was powerfully realized and gave Enslaved an added depth.
Red Dead Redemption’s Wild West
Let me just tell you now that the best moment in Red Dead Redemption is when you first ride into Mexico and that song starts playing. I swear to god, galloping along with miles of majestically arid Mexican desert unfolding in every direction, the acoustic guitar humming serenely in the background, that was amazeballs. If the main appeal of Red Dead Redemption is how awesome it feels to pretend to be a cowboy, then mission accomplished, Rockstar, I just blew my load.