Even with six months to go in 2023 and several big-time releases pending, it’s hard not to be impressed with the titles released thus far. We’ve seen massive worlds packed with things to do, incredible remakes that stay true to their original games while paving the way forward, and some earth-shattering moments. It’s all backed by some of the best visuals the industry has seen in years, even if performance issues soured some launches.
Let’s look at the 15 best-looking games of the year so far and what makes them so.
Resident Evil 4 Remake
The RE Engine doesn’t just allow for impeccable character models and environments, but there’s meticulous attention to detail, stellar lighting quality and shadows, and refined animations. The dark tone is pulled off incredibly well as Resident Evil 4 Remake’s presentation is on another level.
Dead Space Remake
There was a bit of backlash over the visual changes to Dead Space with the remake, but to say it looks so much better would be an understatement. The changes to atmospherics and the alpha effects, let alone the model quality, facial animations and environments, are very good. The new Peeling system makes it even more compelling, with realistic damage for enemy limbs as you tear through them with weapons.
Dead Island 2
Of course, it’s hard to top Dead Island 2’s FLESH system, which takes real-time enemy damage to another level. Zombie flesh melts with acid, burns with fire, is crushed with hammers or shredded cleanly with bladed weapons. That alone is enough to marvel at the fidelity. However, the rest of the game, with its character animations and detailed levels – even if they’re not too crazy in scale – is also visually impressive.
F1 23 utilizes EGO Engine 4.0, like last year’s iteration. The improvements may seem minuscule, but there are definite improvements in the lighting, car textures, illumination and weather effects. Even the skyboxes are great, with the lighting and shadows looking more natural than in F1 22. Considering it’s one of the most realistic racing simulators on the market, the overall fidelity is something to behold.
Street Fighter 6
I’m not the biggest proponent of World Tour and its pop-in issues or lowered frame rate for NPCs at a distance. But the visuals in battles where you’ll spend 90 percent of your time? Simply incredible. Whether they pull off Critical Arts and showcase over-the-top animations or take damage, each character is expressive, and the effects channel the graffiti aesthetic with gorgeous splashes and collisions. The stages are also meticulously detailed and brought to life thanks to sharp atmospherics, lighting and textures.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
At launch, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor was plagued by stuttering, HDR issues and poor performance (with PC players facing the brunt). Subsequent updates improved things, but even with those issues, the game is a visual feast. Coruscant is absolutely stunning in the opening mission with its flying vehicles and draw distance, and the characters sport incredible textures and facial animations. Later areas look better and better, presenting extensive detail without outright overpowering you in their fidelity.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores
Horizon Forbidden West was already an incredible game with its character animations, cutscene direction and texture quality, but Burning Shores up the ante. Thanks to being exclusive on PS5, there are massive cloudscapes with gorgeous weather effects, and seeing the environments from way up in the sky is an experience. The showdown with the final boss also has to be seen to be believed due to the scale and spectacle.
Listen, we know. We know that Forspoken’s open-world design isn’t great, its dialogue ranges from annoying to downright tragic, and even the combat – one of the better parts of the game – is average. However, its visuals, especially after numerous updates, actually look pretty good. Texture quality, especially in the environments, is sharp, and the effects from spells look spectacular. The lighting is also massively improved, leading to a more natural-looking world.
Final Fantasy 16
Everything about Final Fantasy 16 screams triple-A, whether you’re venturing through the fields of Rosaria and Sanbreque or marveling at the cutscenes and characters with their incredible animation. Lighting and texture quality are also on point, even if some areas can be too dark. Also, while it’s not always the most colorful Final Fantasy, it’s hard not to be entranced witnessing two Eikons clash in a massive battle of cataclysmic proportions.
Tango Gameworks’ character-driven hack-and-slash title is a big departure from its previous work, employing cel-shaded visuals and a bombastic art style. The latter is further demonstrated through over-the-top expressions and effects, whether you’re involved in boss fights or navigating expansive environments with high-speed rails. It’s an animated feast for the eyes (and ears due to the equally awesome music).
Even with all the rumored issues, Mundfish’s Atomic Heart has come out looking amazing. The chrome on its machines, the detail on their animations, not to mention the sheer range of effects – it’s a lot to take in, especially in the heat of combat. Nevertheless, when you’re venturing through Facility 3826 in the Prologue, it’s hard not to stop and stare at how gorgeous everything looks.
Say what you will about the source material, but it does have some great art direction, which Portkey Games and Avalanche Software have capably captured. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is pretty meticulously detailed, especially when viewing the Common Rooms of each House, but the surrounding environment is impressive in its scale and fidelity. It also doesn’t hurt that the characters look great, with their animations standing out amid the realistic shadows and lighting.
Layers of Fear
Layers of Fear, not to be confused with its previous name, Layers of Fears, or the 2016 original, is effectively a remake of the first two games and the Inheritance DLC with some new content. The value is up for debate, but the visual splendor can’t be denied. Thanks to Unreal Engine 5, with Lumen for improved lighting and Niagara for vastly superior visual effects, the texture quality is an incredible showcase of the studio’s skills.
Blizzard Entertainment’s long-awaited sequel hides much of its graphical fidelity due to the overhead camera perspective. Still, when you occasionally find a lookout spot, the overwhelming detail in the regions, combined with the lighting and effects, it feels special. Even when you’re casually roaming the world, the environmental textures and how realistically everything is illuminated are fantastic.
Rockfish Studios’ Everspace was already very impressive when it launched, but Everspace 2 goes a step above with its fidelity. The environments, lighting, texture quality and detail are some of the sharpest while delivering solid performance. When you venture into an Ancient Rift for the first time and fully take in all the effects and phenomena, it’s a surreal experience.