After a series of severe disappointments last year, we were worried that the game industry was stuck in a major rut. But much to our delight, 2015 turned out to be an incredible year for video games. From the viewpoints of creativity and mechanics, we saw tiny indie studios and massive AAA devs deliver the goods over and over again.
My personal top ten list this year ranges wildly from a British FMV mystery to a completely bonkers creation suite out of Nintendo, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss. Today, let’s give credit to ten of the most technically impressive games of the year. For just a moment, let’s take story and gameplay mechanics out of the mix, and focus on what game developers were able to accomplish from a technical standpoint.
Keep in mind, this list isn’t designed to count frames and enumerate polygons. We’re highlighting technical accomplishments here, but there is inherent subjectivity in the list. And since this article would be outrageously long if we mentioned every impressive release, there isn’t even room for some personal favorites of my own like Yoshi’s Woolly World and Just Cause 3. By all means, feel free to call out your highlights of the year in the comment section. With all of that out of the way, let’s jump in.
Ori and the Blind Forest
When you think about technically impressive games, it’s easy to forget about the 2D releases. Typical big budget 3D worlds are definitely flashier, but that shouldn’t overshadow what Moon Studios was able to achieve here. The quality of the art is undeniable, but the technical chops of this dev studio is what really turns this download-only game into something of a marvel.
The sheer elegance of the character animation and lighting elevates Ori and the Blind Forest to a higher plane. There are countless stylish side-scrollers on the market, but Moon Studios provides a level of excellence here that is only matched by the likes of Ubisoft Montpellier and Nintendo. Even though the Metroidvania genre holds little personal interest, I just can’t stop looking at this game in motion.
What L.A. Noire was to film noir, Until Dawn is to teen slasher flicks. It’s dumb, over-the-top, and cringe-inducing at times, but it’s just so much fun to play and watch. But truth be told, what makes this B-movie game work so well is how the developers at Supermassive Games nail the slasher aesthetic in every way imaginable.
Until Dawn has numerous problems — especially in the frame rate department. But the game wouldn’t work at all if the dramatic lighting and the facial capture weren’t so superb. The underlying tech here serves the storytelling in a major way, and that’s why it deserves a spot on this list.
Xenoblade Chronicles X
In most ways, the Wii U is a last-gen console. It simply doesn’t have the same kind of horsepower as a PS4 and Xbox One, so the fact that Monolith Soft was able to deliver such an incredible open world RPG on this underpowered hardware is impressive in and of itself.
That’s not to say that Xenoblade Chronicles X is only impressive “for a Wii U game,” though. It’s legitimately spectacular regardless of platform. Obviously, better hardware would make for a higher resolution and more polygons, but the product as it exists is kind of mind boggling in terms of scope and scale.
Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
As a follow up to Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture doesn’t possess the same level of novelty and unsettling atmosphere as its predecessor. However, it does one-up Dear Esther in one vital aspect: the fidelity of the environment. Set in a lovingly rendered fictional village, the folks over at The Chinese Room expertly showcase both the sweet and creepy aspects of the English countryside.
While it falls short of photorealism on the whole, the outdoor environments come pretty damn close on multiple occasions. And even with the added development resources from Sony Santa Monica on this project, it’s impressive that a relatively small indie studio can deliver one of the best looking games of the year.
Halo 5: Guardians
The concessions that 343 Industries made to allow Halo 5: Guardians to run at 60 frames per second were substantial. Not only was local co-op axed, but some aspects of the graphical fidelity suffered as well. But now that I’ve had some time to consider the final result, I think 343 made the right decision. 60fps Halo looks incredible, and helps to make the experience tighter than ever.
Obviously, it would be preferable if there weren’t any sacrifices made, but that’s just not possible on the Xbox One. If we ever get to see a PC port of Halo 5: Guardians, there’s no doubt in my mind that it will be one of the best looking shooters ever released.
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