The twilight years of a console generation and the beginning of a new console generation both usually bring about marvelous technical accomplishments in games from a visuals perspective, and when the two coincide like they did in 2020, the number of absolute lookers you get to play over the course of many months can be a bit too much to handle.
This year was jam-packed with excellent looking games- some that astounded with their technical fidelity, some that wowed us with beautiful art design, and some that took our breath away with a combination of both. Here, we’re going to recognize the games that did that better than all the others, before crowning one of them as what we feel is the best looking game of 2020.
NOTE: The nominees and winner were decided by an internal vote held among the entire GamingBolt staff.
RESIDENT EVIL 3
Resident Evil 3’s remake may have been a bitter disappointment on multiple fronts, but as far as graphics are concerned, it was an absolute tour de force. Capcom have been putting out excellent looking games thanks to the incredible RE Engine for a few years now, and Resident Evil 3 showcased the strengths of that engine once again. Raccoon City’s decrepit environments were brimming with detail, character models, zombies, and monsters were brought to life with startling authenticity, and things such as lighting and particle effects were hard not to be amazed by.
MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN REMASTERED
When Marvel’s Spider-Man released for the PS4 in 2018, though it was a good looking game, it wasn’t anything to write home about. Its remastered release on the PS5, however, is an entirely different story. Thanks to higher density of traffic and crowds in the streets of Manhattan, much more detail on things such as Spidey’s suit and the character models, and the immense boost that the addition of ray-tracing provides to things such as shadows, lighting, and reflections, Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered is easily one of the most impressive visual accomplishments of the year, especially considering the fact that technically this is still a two year old game.
MAFIA: DEFINITIVE EDITION
Say what you will about how horribly Hangar 13 bungled Mafia 3, if there was one thing no one could fault that game for, it was its visuals. This year’s Mafia: Definitive Edition was a vastly better game in terms of polish and gameplay, and just as impressive as Mafia 3 in terms of its graphics. Lost Heaven was brought to life in spectacular fashion in this remake, which turned out to be an admirable technical feat crammed with a level of detail that lent an incredible amount of atmosphere to the game and its setting.
Half-Life: Alyx would have been deserving of praise for its visuals even if it had been a conventional PC/console release, but the fact that the game looked as good as it did while being a VR exclusive made its accomplishments that much more admirable. Valve really didn’t cut any corners with this game. Every inch of Alyx was overflowing with tiny little details that added immensely to its breathtaking immersion factor, nearly everything you can lay your eyes on could be picked up or interacted with in some way, and in spite of all of this, Alyx constantly looked amazing and ran like a dream.
MICROSOFT FLIGHT SIMULATOR
Video games have been striving to achieve photorealism in visuals for a long time, and will continue to do so for many more years to come, but never before has the medium come as close to photorealism as it does in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Usually when a game of such massive scale attempts to scale heights like this in the visuals department, it ends up making sacrifices in other areas, but Microsoft Flight Simulator is the rare exception to that rule. You need a pretty beefy rig to be able to get the full experience as far as graphics are concerned, but if you have the hardware for it, you’ll be able to experience one of the best looking PC games to date.
ASSASSIN’S CREED VALHALLA
Assassin’s Creed still hasn’t managed to reach the heights of visual fidelity that it did with 2014’s Unity (which obviously came at a cost), but Valhalla comes pretty damn close to doing so. The uncanny plasticky faces endemic to Ubisoft games still show up in the background every now and then, but by and large, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a beautiful game. It paints 9th century Norway and England in a gorgeous light, and exploring its massive open world never gets old thanks to how consistently great it looks.
ORI AND THE WILL OF THE WISPS
While the bulk of the games on this list have made it in thanks to technical accomplishments, Ori and the Will of the Wisps succeeds more because of its gorgeous art. That’s not to say it’s a slouch in the former department, but given the pedigree of its predecessor, it’s not at all surprising to see the excellent artistic talent of Moon Studios shining through in this game once again. Every nook and cranny of Will of the Wisps’ vast and varied world is a sight to behold, from haunted and dying forests to vibrant thickets full of lush trees, from sparkling pools of water to snow-capped mountaintops. Even after you’ve spent well over a dozen hours with it, Will of the Wisps will still continue to astound you with its beauty- and that’s the mark of true artistic excellence.
THE LAST OF US PART 2
Naughty Dog have garnered a reputation for themselves over the years that not most other developers can only dream of- each of their games is a visual spectacle, and The Last of Us Part 2 is no different. In true Naughty Dog fashion, it is brimming with an almost obsessive amount of detail, with tiny touches that you might not even notice at a glance. From the way the characters animate to the tendrils of smoke that drift off of a gun after you fire a shot to the way bright red fountains of blood shoot out of enemies, The Last of Us Part 2 works overtime to provide its players with an unbelievably impressive visual experience. Add to that the excellent art design of Naughty Dog that brings their depressing, post-apocalyptic world to life in thoroughly convincing fashion, and what you have is yet another game made by this developer that looks far better than it has any right to given the hardware it’s on.
Hades doesn’t have the technical wow factor that many other games on this list do, but as anyone who’s played it would tell you, it’s hard not to be impressed by the game’s visuals nonetheless. The aesthetic Supergiant’s roguelite action title employs is immediately appealing, and from the environments to the character models and the flourishes that make its flashy combat pop that much more, Hades constantly impresses players with its sense of style and visual flair. Whether you’re making your way through the lava fields of Asphodeal or the lively locales of Elysium, Hades is a visual delight from beginning to end.
GHOST OF TSUSHIMA
Ghost of Tsushima might not have the hyper-realistic visuals and obsessive attention to detail that games like The Last of Us Part 2 or Red Dead Redemption 2, but it’s still easily one of the best looking games we’ve played this generation. Sucker Punch let their artists run absolutely wild when they were designing the open world of Tsushima, and it was a choice that paid off. Ghost of Tsushima is full of moments of startling beauty, of vibrant colours and lush environments, of sweeping vistas that can take your breath away, of artistic flourishes that make even the most mundane scenes come to life in breathtaking fashion. It might falter a bit under scrutiny from a technical perspective, but given how unbelievably gorgeous this game is in all the ways that matter, those slight stumbles are easy to ignore.
FINAL FANTASY 7 REMAKE
The dream of a full-fledged remake of Final Fantasy 7 only became a thing when, in 2005, Square Enix showed off a tech demo of the game’s opening to show off their new development tools and what they could do with the PS3’s hardware, so it’s fitting that the eventual remake that we finally got this year is an absolute looker. Final Fantasy 7 Remake brings the decaying city of Midgar to life in ways that we could never even have imagined, with every dirty alley and every dark corner brimming with unbelievable attention to detail. Yes, the game sometimes does buckle under the weight of its technical ambitions (looking at you, door to Cloud’s room whose textures refuse to load), but in the grand scheme of things, those are really just minor nitpicks.
MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN: MILES MORALES
Given the fact that Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales launched as a cross-gen title for the PS4 and PS5, it was never really going to be a next-gen technical showcase. In spite of that, it manages to look surprisingly excellent on the PS5. The snowy streets of wintery Manhattan are full of technical flourishes and little details that lend the open world a new level of authenticity, while the addition of ray-tracing contributes to the game’s visuals significantly as well. The next mainline Spider-Man game will probably be a much better game to look at (especially if it’s exclusive to the PS5), but already, Miles Morales hints at some exciting things for the future.
The horrifying, decrepit world of Demon’s Souls is one that has stood out in our memories for over a decade at this point, and the timeless art style of the original game is largely responsible for that enduring legacy. And though Bluepoint Games could have easily messed up their recreation of that iconic world, the Demon’s Souls remake is a blessedly gorgeous game. It’s a technical marvel in every sense of the word, and a great way to show off what the PS5 is capable of right out the gate. At the same time, however, it also sports an excellent art style, one that surely differs from the sensibilities of the original game in some key ways, but is no less impressive.
WATCH DOGS: LEGION
Like pretty much any Ubisoft game that releases in today’s day and age, Watch Dogs: Legion is not without its technical glitches and bugs, and as we mentioned when speaking about Assassin’s Creed, things such as texture pop-in and facial models that look like they’re made of clay do pop up every now and then. What makes Watch Dogs: Legion so good to look at, however, is the creative choices the game makes with its setting. Watch Dogs: Legion, you see, goes all-in on the cyberpunk aesthetic that the series has always toyed with, and delivers a neon-drenched, bright, and flashy reimagination of a near-future London. It strikes the perfect balance between virtual tourism and far-flung fiction, and the excellent art design deserves a lot of credit for that.
When it comes to games like DOOM, good visuals are most definitely not what people are most concerned about. As such, DOOM Eternal could just as easily have gained all the plaudits in the world even as a much worse looking game- but id Software are known for their technical proficiency, and in DOOM Eternal, their talent shines through once again. This is a gorgeous game to look at, whether it’s its varied environments we’re talking about, or the imaginative monster design, or the morbidly beautiful explosions of blood and bits.
Let’s get one thing out of the way before we talk about anything else here- Cyberpunk 2077 on consoles (especially the base last-gen consoles) is absolutely not one of the best looking games of the year. Hell, it’s not even a good looking game, period. On PC, however, especially if you have a good, up-to-date setup, it tells an entirely different story. Night City comes to life the way it was always meant to, the cyberpunk dystopia of 2077 shines through thanks to excellent art design and the technical chops to back it up, and the immersion factor touches the kind of heights that the game’s console version never even comes close to. It’s a shame that so many people won’t be able to experience the true beauty of Cyberpunk 2077– because if you have the hardware for it, this can be a real visual treat.
Bluepoint Games are masters of the remaster (or remake, as the case may be). They earned that title with 2018’s Shadow of the Colossus, which was an absolute beast from both a technical and artistic perspective, and they’ve achieved even greater heights with this year’s Demon’s Souls. As the only true major next-gen exclusive game so far, Demon’s Souls looks appropriately stellar, from the excellent design of every single nightmarish enemy you come across to the crisp visual quality that works wonders to bring its gothic art style to life to the more granular yet no less impressive accomplishments of the lighting, animations, and particle effects. We’re barely weeks into the 9th console generation, but with Demon’s Souls, it has already given us one of the best looking games we’ve ever played.