Let’s be frank here, games need to look good. And many times that doesn’t always depend on graphical fidelity. My mind draws to games like Yoshi’s Island and its crayon motif, or last year’s winner Red Dead Redemption 2 and its painstakingly detailed recreation of the Wild West. A great art director can tell stories through setting and user interface sometimes better than dialogue can. So here’s a rundown of the nominees for this years Best Art Direction in a Game.
Control – People think of gray as the worlds more drab color. But Remedy’s Control reminded us that gray can be oppressive, crushing and jarring when combined with splashes of color. In this mind-bending action game, you are confronted with an ever shifting Brutalist skyscraper that houses an infinite number of rooms. The game is constantly playing with perspective, color (or lack there of) and perception. Gray is the new black.
Death Stranding – When legendary game director, Hideo Kojima, announced Death Stranding he also revealed his long time collaborator, Yoji Shinkawa would join the project as well. Known mostly for his work on the Metal Gear Solid series, Shinkawa has his fingerprints all over this game. From the caution tape that blinks when your packages are damaged in the game to the small technical warnings on machinery, the Japanese artists hallmarks are all present. Making Death Stranding one of the most unique yet familiar looking games out there.
Gris – If there was a game that was going for “prettiest game of the year” Gris would be a shoe in. This Indie darling wowed gamers with its gorgeous, flat watercolor style, and became the next entry in a long line of beautiful indie platformers. Lead Artist, Conrad Roset, tells the story of Gris through imagery as the game has no dialogue and is left up to the player to interpret. More than any other game in this list is a game so dependent on its art style to convey its message, a story about grief, loss and acceptance.
Sayonara Wild Hearts – Probably the hardest game to describe on this list, is it an on-the-rails shooter? Rhythm game? Both? I wouldn’t know what to call it totally but Sayonara is a giant cel-shaded music video in game form. Its true strength is in how much the art and music combine to form a holistic head-bopping experience. You’ll witness a ton of neon and pastels as your character battles through all female biker gangs set to J-pop. Its as visually wild as it sounds.
Link’s Awakening (Switch) – This remake of a Game Boy classic could have taken the easy way out and just ported over some upscaled pixels. But Nintendo decided to rebuild the game from the ground up with a super cute Chibi art style which really played into the fact that the original game was from a handheld.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – It was easy to write of Sekiro as “ninja Dark Souls” but it became so much more. From Software’s mastery of brooding gothic imagery some how still worked for a Feudal Japan setting. Everything is shaded, all the characters look covered in soot, grime and sweat. Its visuals are as dirty as the AI in Sekiro. Porting over the same sort of slight grotesqueness from the “Soul” series, Sekiro also made its mark with some really awesome unique boss design of its own. Great Serpent comes to mind.
Who will win – Gris. Your eyes have a hard time lying so Gris being the most “artsy” of this year’s nominees is hard to argue against. Not to say that it wouldn’t deserve it.
Who should win – Control. It’s hard to make a drab setting come to life and Control does that and more. It takes the drab and lulls you into a state of uneasy familiarity, and turns the mundane into something to be fearful of. I personally think that is a more monumental task than making some thing aesthetically pleasing.
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