Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Best of 2013 - presentation on PS3 & PS4.

As is fitting for the end of a console cycle, 2013 boasted some of the best-looking PS3 games of all time, and I'm not prepared to give a nod to less than thirteen titles.  If a game could get by on looks alone, Dead Space 3 and Beyond: Two Souls would have a place on this list, but we're not just talking about graphics.  Writing, technical prowess, art direction, voice work - even quality of menus and loading screens (or lack thereof) will bump a game up or down - and technical issues like Grand Theft Auto Online's rocky launch will reduce an otherwise beautifully-presented game's rank dramatically.

worth noting

DmC : Devil May Cry's wonderful art direction, capable script and strong performances are decently-handled by its capable tech.  Far Cry 3 : Blood Dragon's zany, nostalgic romp of a story is a grinner, and it nails the cheap, lurid aesthetic it's going for - but that aesthetic can make it pretty hard to see.  BioShock Infinite, while being less than graphically impressive, is artistically delightful as you wander the flying city of Columbia - but its narrative, steeped in philosophy and quantum physics, doesn't quite hold up and feels very disconnected from its action.


An obscenely good-looking game by any standard on PS4, Battlefield 4's visuals are remarkable, from the angry look in your squad's eyes to the ridiculous amount of environmental effects blasting around its levels.  It's not as uniformly gorgeous as Shadow Fall, with its corridors and the occasional texture being a bit bland, but it would be much higher up this list if it didn't crash with such frequency that I wasn't even able to finish the single-player campaign.

I will never get sick of using this screenshot.

Worth saying twice:
"Guacamelee in motion could pass for its own concept art. A gorgeous 2D world of sharp, bold lines and colors, its liquid animation and poppy designs are elevated by an incredible two-tone soundtrack and cheeky, winking gamer in-jokes threaded throughout its simple, catchy narrative."

ACIV on PS4 isn't as shockingly attractive as Battlefield, but it gets way, way too much right to ignore.  From the moonlight dappling its seas as the Jackdaw cuts across them to the lusty sea shanties your crew sing to the excellent performances that elevate its narrative, AC IV is the most endearing an Assassin's Creed game has been since Brotherhood.
"The turquoise waters of the Caribbean sea, a gorgeous emerald green in the shallows, has a sense of presence and physicality on the high seas that I've never seen in a video game before. The water, here, is transparent - but like real water, not infinitely so. You can read objects just below its surface - whales as you hunt them, for example - and sometimes see the hull of a ship through the wave at it crests it - but go any deeper than nine or ten meters, and the object will be lost in the murk. It's gorgeous."
-from the review-

I never finished Ni No Kuni, but there's no denying it's the prettiest JRPG since Valkyria Chronicles.  A collaboration between storied RPG developed Level 5 (White Knight Chronicles, Professor Layton) and legendary animation house Studio Ghibli (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away), Ni No Kuni nails both the general aesthetic and details. Lovingly localized in-house, the translation and voice work are both excellent. It's immaculately presented from stem to stern, and even the menus have a touch of magic to them.

honorable mentions

Didn't forget about this one, did you?  The enthusiast press seems to have - and while the game's combat left a very, very great deal to be desired, it's easily one of the most technically-astute, gorgeous games of the year.
"Graphically, Dontnod are on par with the best multiplatform developers in the biz - great devs like Visceral GamesRockstar Vancouver and Crystal Dynamics.  Remember Me presents a fantastical vision of Neo Paris, where the stunning vistas and intricate details evoke wonderful science fiction worlds like The Fifth Element, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Minority Report.  

The architecture, culture and media of this brave new world have been thoughtfully designed and painstakingly realized, and I'm very pleased to say that Nilin, our hero, is a fantastic protagonist.  She's very Ripley-in-Alien.  To sweeten the deal, common is the amnesiac plotline, but rare is one that carries the player in such emotional lock-step with its lead.

We are just as disoriented and desperate for answers as she, when she wakes up in a monstrous prison at the onset of the game - and Remember Me provides an intimate sense of her evolution from a frightened, distrustful prison escapee to a full-blown sci-fi action hero in the vein of Arnie, circa the original Total Recall.  By the end of Remember Me, Nilin has changed her entire society. 

The story is great fun, and almost worth the ticket price on its own.  The video part of this video game is fantastic." -from the review-
It's just the game part that wasn't worth remembering.

Tomb Raider is such a lovely journey from beginning to end that I actually became annoyed at how hard it is to locate a screenshot that successfully shows it off.
"Tomb Raider does excellent things with light and dark, for example - and I'm not merely talking about light sourcing and shadow, here, I'm talking about the entire color palette the game uses and how often the game presents Lara in near-silhouette against a muted backdrop.  Lots of games start with asking you to adjust its gamma correction, but in Tomb Raider it feels like a hugely important step. 

There's also countless incidentals of our heroine.  She regularly cuts a figure that recalls the iconography of her past - the back straight, shoulders strong, arms at just such an angle that she looks for a moment exactly like a high-def Lara Croft should. 

Her scramble!  Why is there no screenshot of Lara's combat scramble? 

Why is it so hard to find a screenshot that actually captures the beauty and atmosphere of her game?"-from official screenshots suck-
Unlike Remember Me, Tomb Raider's story is a bit of a yawner - aside from it being pretty darned cool that you're playing as a girl rescuing another girl - but graphically, artistically, technically, it's one of the most thrilling games of the year.

"Shadow Fall is without question the most stunning game I've thrown in to my PS4 thus far (Battlefield 4's thick effects work and animations are remarkable, but the reliably excellently rendered detail of Shadow Fall's world win out).  The game looks ludicrously sharp and runs like a dream, the quality of its textures often startling in their fidelity. 

If you want a game that shows off what the PS4 is capable of, Shadow Fall is it.

Instead of listing multiple examples, permit me one - note the puddle beneath the enemy in the middle (of the screenshot above).  This is not a bullshot. The first time you notice it, Shadow Fall's liquid effects are shocking.  The way the ground registers individual drops of rain as they hit, offering a brief liquid shine and depth before they seep into the ground.  The sheen and tangible wetness of the blood that pools from your body when you're shot down.  The way a hazy reflection of the soldier can be seen in the puddle above.-from the review-
Shadow Fall's narrative is... okay.  Its narrative presentation, the writing, the acting, are okay - they're enough to make you feel nicely gut-punched by the ending, but that's it.  The game's art direction and most of all technical accomplishments, on the other hand, are shocking - and entirely without the caveats of Battlefield 4's bugs.  It looks absolutely gorgeous and runs like a dream.

second runner-up

Grand Theft Auto V's place isn't earned in any one area.  With the exception of the cutscenes of inFamous 2 - that single realm in which they've been bested - Grand Theft Auto V is a step up for the open-world genre across every aspect of its presentation.  It is the most graphically-sharp, detailed, beautiful open-world world you've ever cruised through.  Its narrative is a soaring serial-epic, playing more like a season of a comedy-crime drama than a one-off adventure.  Its radio stations - which, I'll admit, did not grab me at first - sit comfortably among the best the series has seen in San Andreas and IV, and all the lessons Rockstar has learned through the 7th generation of consoles, from incredible atmospheric effects to comfortable gameplay to ambient events that permit you to get involved in random side-stories, are present and polished to their shiniest iteration in GTA V.

More technically accomplished than its predecessors (or, arguably, any open-world action game), the only shortcoming of GTA V's presentation came with the terribly stunted launch of Grand Theft Auto Online - but given that GTAO is basically the cherry on top of a spectacular thirty-hour single-player action opus, I'll forgive it - and give it this nod.


If you're surprised, you haven't been paying attention.  Everything about this game is beautiful.  It boasts the best art direction of the year, a fantastic original score and a mad dedication to the finest 2D art in all of video games.  Period.  The menus are slick and intuitive - even the character customization is gorgeous, as it represents your skill selection via a deck of tarot cards.

When you complete quests, you earn art.  This is a game in which the food is gorgeous.  A living, breathing painting, we shall not see a game that can match Dragon's Crown for succulent, luxuriously-realized 2D presentation until Vanillaware decides to make it.

best presentation (on PS3 & PS4)



Naughty Dog have terrible difficulty not winning best presentation when they release a game.  Even in 2011, with the hokey writing of Uncharted 3, there was nothing else that approached this developer's effort.  It's... a little ridiculous, what they do as a general rule - and with The Last of Us, they have shattered their own stratospherically high standards in every aspect of their work.
"It is nothing less than a game-changer, raising the bar for an entire industry of game developers who fancy themselves storytellers.  It's shockingly accomplished.  If it has a downside, it is only that - a bit like Joel, I suppose - I cannot genuinely hope that we will ever see writing and characters of this caliber in a video game again.  
Such hope seems foolish, and misinformed.  But my God, what a high-water mark."-from the review-

Even in a year which saw Grand Theft Auto V, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Battlefield 4, nothing approached The Last of Us's remarkable technical accomplishments.  Texture work that belongs on next-gen consoles, an incredible lighting engine, truly dynamic AI and the total lack of load times separate the game from any and all contemporaries.

The music is lovely, the writing is - bar none - the most honest and mature work the medium has ever seen, the art direction is excellent and the performances (like the game entire) set new standards for what video games can accomplish.  It reminds me of what I once wrote about Far Cry 3 - "this game is like a fist-sized cut diamond."
"It is, in each and every way we measure games, astonishing - representing the absolute state-of-the-art of its form, and doing its part to push the medium forward as a whole."-a very short review - the last of us-
I never meme.  I've earned this - and so has The Last of Us.


  1. That Joel/Antonio gif is awesome! Did you make that, or was it found in some forgotten corner of the internet?

  2. Actually, that was Naughty Dog itself - for when Joel won best character or something at the Spike VGAs this year.