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by Ethos

Best Visual Experience 2010 – Ethos

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII

Yes, we all know the game sucks.

I’m just more of a man than Riddles so I can give a deserving award to a game that doesn’t deserve any other positive award this week.

Final Fantasy XIII is beautiful. It has bustling cities filled with well-designed trains, robot dragonflies, pockets of mysterious green light, unbelievably tall buildings, yet beautiful beaches and lakes. It has rocky terrain that opens up into a small grassy haven looking over a vast ocean. It has Pulse that is filled to the brim with wild, untamed life: Massive stemmed flower giants, beautiful cavern waterways, animals chasing and eating each other, beasts the size of dinosaurs, sprawling fields with pockets of tiny paradises.

It’s almost more impressive how the game managed to drain all this beauty of any personality within the game, but from a pure visual standpoint, the graphics and art direction are top-notch. (Did I do a better job of describing art direction this time, Glenn?)

But forget the world, let’s move onto the annoying, one-dimensional, gimmicky characters. From that description, obviously I don’t care for their personalities, but FFXIII includes some of my favourite character design of the series. Snow and Hope I could do without, and Vanille is just Rikku or Selphie with a different skin, but Lightning, Sazh, and Fang are three designs that deserved fantastic personalities.

Despite the vapid story they would tell, I shouldn’t have to explain the majesty of Final Fantasy’s CGI cutscenes. The direction and detail are mind-boggling. Complete visual treats. The opening minutes of the game made me say “holy fuck” out loud. Of course, I didn’t know that the game would be so disappointing, but my response was based purely on the spectacle.

Oh, and Lightning’s cape NEVER clipping on her sword hilt as she ran? That’s a visual achievement I’ve never seen before.

Runner up: Darksiders

It was very difficult to choose between Darksiders and Super Mario Galaxy 2 for this one. Ultimately my HD-whore side won out.

Darksiders may not have the technical excellence of Uncharted 2, but it makes up for it in great use of colour, scale, and design. Darksiders takes the over-the-top nature of God of War, but inserts it into a colourful Zelda-like world and makes it all fit. Therefore, sticking a knife into a bleeding eyeball to open a door to solve the next boomerang puzzle just seems to work. War’s horse just has an epic feel, the bosses are grand and well-designed, and the world breathes personality and variety.

God of War III may have moments that are the best visually I have ever seen, but it is hardly consistent in this way. After the opening 45 minutes, nothing compares. Some moments in the game actually seem sub-par for this generation. Darksiders is visually consistent and always surprises and excites.

Best Visual Experience 2009 – Riddles

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

uncharted_2_final_box_artUncharted 2: Among Thieves

Needless to say, this one wasn’t difficult to determine.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the few games that my roomate and resident web designer Charlie will sit and watch me play. Why? Well, first and foremost, it’s just as fast-paced and entertaining as the best Indiana Jones movies. But secondly, the game is absolutely gorgeous to behold. I can say this time and time again, but it’s something that has to be experienced in order to fully understand, and those of you who have played the game know exactly what I’m talking about anyway.

So, rather than continue paraphrasing what I’ve said before on more than one occasion, I’m going to take a more direct approach and include a snippet from the truly massive review that I wrote for the game back in October:

Uncharted 2 is simply a piece of artwork. Never before have I played a game that so frequently made me (and Charlie, who doesn’t even play videogames) open my mouth and say “wow.” (Or some other, more inappopriate expletive). To put it simply, the game features the most inspired and skillful art direction I’ve ever seen in my life. Uncharted 2 defies the gritty-grey aesthetics featured in so many of today’s games, and instead presents us with a world that’s lush, organic, colorful, and above all, larger-than-life. If you don’t find yourself frequently stopping just to take in the sights, be it the view of a cityscape in Nepal, or the ruins of a tainted paradise, then you might want to do a little soul-searching.

Anyone who likes to say “graphics don’t matter” clearly hasn’t played Uncharted.

In this age of big-budget titles with brutally long development cycles, it’s nice to see that one studio, at least, knows how to spend that money wisely, and utilize the visual aspect of a game for the betterment of the experience as a whole. Uncharted 2 is 2009’s best visual experience hands-down, and these days, that’s saying a lot… because there’s no shortage of pretty games out there these days.

Runner Up: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Best Visual Experience 2009 – Ethos

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

uncharted_2_final_box_artUncharted 2: Among Thieves

Big surprise, folks! Well, actually it might be. There were a lot of pretty games this year. If only for their art style. Downloadable games like Flower and Lost Winds: Winter of the Melodias look great even if they don’t have the same complex graphical power behind them compared to games like Assassin’s Creed II or Modern Warfare 2. But nothing took everybody’s collective breath away as much as Uncharted 2 this year. The game is an absolute delight to look at. Naughty Dog was able to cram as much beauty into their gem of a sequel as they did action.

The best part, though, is that Uncharted 2 isn’t just a great looking game, it also looks great in an impressive number of locales. From the familiar jungle, to icy mountains, and a cursed paradise, Nathan Drake takes you to new gorgeous locations all the time to make sure you haven’t seen it all. Couple all that with solid animation, fluid cutscenes, and a practically nonstop framerate, the visuals in Uncharted 2 draw you into the experience and never let you back out. An easy win for this category in my books.

Runner Up: Flower