Elite. That's right, those are honest-to-God 3D vector graphics on an NES.
Vice: Project Doom on the NES has a train stage with a whopping 8 layers of parallax scrolling in the background. Keep in the mind, the NES did not have that by default, and it had to be done in-software!
Blizzard is well known for their excellent cinematic work, but Diablo III sets a high water mark not just for video games but for motion picture animation as well!
Journey. Just look at a screenshot or video of it, you'll see what we mean.
While it seems dated now, the second level in Unreal was, for the time, nothing short of mindblowing. The first level was a rather standard, if well-done indoors level, which would not look out-of-place in Quake. Then, the second level, you step out of the ship into a massive, outdoors world, with no clipping or fog to be seen. The sheer difference is amazing, even now. Back then, when even the best graphics designers in the game industry where still playing with shades of brown and green and talking about "polygon counts", here comes a lush, fully 3D jungle environment in believable color. For anyone that was into PC gaming at the time, no other game graphics triumph has ever come close, mere logical progressions to Unreal's quantum leap.
Wolfenstein 3D. Real-time, texture-mapped 3D rendering on a 286 PC with stock VGA graphics — something that didn't even have a blitter, much less any sort of Polygonal Graphics hardware. Back in 1992, that was mindblowing, especially considering how weak a 286 was even then.
In 1993, expanding on the visual features that Wolfenstein 3D brought, Doom added flats (floor/ceiling textures), height and light-level variation, and a variety of sector-based effects that, combined with the realistic and gritty artwork, looked amazing. Other idtech1 games, especially Hexen, added even more features such as horizontally-moving doors (polyobjects), fog, translucency, and scripted events to further the immersion.
Mass Effect's space scenes were good, but less than mind-blowing: the technical "graphics" of the game had been toned down to fin the massive amount of content. Mass Effect 2, however, spanned 15 GB on the PC and 2 disks for the 360. The graphics, particularly those that apply to people speaking, were stunning.
What stood out was the planet from the Normandy Crash Pack DLC. It's a beautiful ice planet, with the low sunlight creating areas of both light and dark, the stars visible in the sky, and some aurorae just for good measure.
Used in the Overlord DLC, in which the Firewalker's VI prompts you to look out at the scenery when "Sensors indicate that an aesthetically pleasing view" is nearby.
The entire 'Escape from Earth' scene in Mass Effect 3. As the Normandy lifts off, you see Anderson running back to the soldiers from earlier. The camera pans across the wreckage of Vancouver, and you see shuttles being loaded with survivors (including Vent Boy). As the shuttles life off, a Reaper destroyer shoots them down with its main gun. As the Normandy flies away, you can see more Reapers landing on Vancouver, and the wreckage of the Fourth Fleet falling from the sky and burning up in the atmosphere. It's gorgeously rendered, and a brilliant Tear Jerker, set to a hauntingly sadLonely Piano Piece.
Menae is utterly breathtaking. As you make your way across the moon, you can see Reaper capital ships stomping across the surface off in the distance, and watch as husks attack the smaller turian outposts. And off in the distance, you can see the world of Palaven burning.
Then there's Thessia which manages to be both Scenery Porn and Scenery Gorn at the same time. The architecture and skyline through the mission is utterly gorgeous with an almost Roman/Greek look but with a futuristic feeling, and combined with total destructions as the Reapers lay waste to democratic center of the galaxy.
The bits of Rannoch that aren't covered with geth. No wonder the quarians were so gung-ho to get it back.
In Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3 / Shutokou Battle 01, the boss Blood Hound, when challenged in the rain, causes the rain to turn into blood. Rejected Angel, when battled, results in a dramatic shift of the screen's tones and the Saint Elmo's Fire effect to appear when going up to higher speeds.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has mind-blowingly gorgeous scenery, from a mansion burning to the ground around you to firefights in a sinking abandoned cruise ship, which as it starts to fill turns the entire environment sideways. In the special features, it was mentioned that waves were in fact rendered in real-time. You're fighting on a ship that is rocking on actual waves. The desert scenery is similarly beautiful.
Special mention goes to the facial expressions. They could have used motion capture, since they already had the actors playing the scenes. But no, they animated the expressions from scratch, and the Uncanny Valley is mostly avoided with only a few major exceptions.
"Naughty Dog outdoing themselves with the third game"? Hm. Sounds familiar.note Without counting the first game, of course. On the other hand, some levels in "CB 3: Warped" are, for lack of better words, gorgeous.
The secret jetski level and the boneyard levels are a few highlights of the visual effects.
Stop and look around the world in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Every bit of scenery, from the ground Nate is standing on to as far as the camera can see is all rendered in the in-game engine (4 is also the first and only Uncharted game to not use prerendered cutscenes; everything from start to finish is done in-engine). Liberatlia in particular is utterly awe-inspiring, with its picturesque mountain vistas. The level of background detail is unreal but even tiny things like the way Nate's hair is rendered is just spectacular. Turn on Photo Mode to truly appreciate the level of work Naughty Dog put into the visual design of the game.
Even more so is the trailer of BioShock Infinite, you'd be amazed on how much detail they put in on it.
Star Wars Roque Squadron 2: Rogue Leader boasts some incredible polygon counts and lighting effects in a game that was released in 2001. Its sequel, Rebel Strike, has the highest polygon count of any game during the last generation (in the Battle of Hoth level.)
Recca Summer Carnival '92, an NES game released only in Japan until the 3DS Virtual Console, features extremely fast-paced space shooter action as well as trippy, almost polygonal background effects.
The Prypiat missions contain some of the most gorgeous usages of gray filter.
Modern Warfare 2 keeps up the amazing displays. The exterior of the Gulag and the Rio missions are wonderful displays of beauty, but war-ravaged Washington D.C. is simply jaw-dropping, whether from amazement or sheer horror.
And Modern Warfare 3 keeps up the trend, with more war-torn cities like New York, Paris, London and Prague. The scene with the Eiffel tower collapsing is absolutely jaw-dropping.
The original Call of Duty is one of the best-looking games that use the id Tech 3 engine. Not only the visuals are quite realistic for their time, they also look beautiful. its expansion pack, United Offensive, is even better looking.
Perhaps the best example of this trope in the original is a level where you raid the German battleship Tirpitz. In the sequel, the looks of the Sicily and Bastogne levels are simply fantastic.
The way Middle-Earth is presented in The Lord of the Rings Online is a lot of the time breathtaking, especially Moria. From entering through the Hollin Gate and all the way to the East Gate, you can really see why Moria was considered the grandest of the Dwarvish halls. One could only imagine what it would look like before it's fall.
Honorable mention goes to Caras Galadhon (Lothlórien), especially by night, and the view when first entering Rivendell.
Final Fantasy XIII: It's just the little things, really. Like how they got the hair to look so nice in game, despite the fact that it's probably just a bunch of flat planes sticking out of their heads with a partly transparent texture mapped on.
Even in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, they had this policy of graphics hardware abuse. Pop in Final Fantasy I for the NES or Final Fantasy VI for the SNES sometime. The monster graphics were stunning for the time.
No matter how much Hype Backlash their games can suffer from, Square Enix are masters of FMV...particularly in the Final Fantasy series. Some of their cut scenes are so beautiful that you can almost forget you're playing a video game. The Art Evolution with each progressive game means that by the time Final Fantasy XIII came out, the gameplay was almost as beautiful as the cut scenes.
Final Fantasy XII: The views are awesome, the creatures are interesting, but for really, really neat, you can't go past the Quickenings. You will probably see each one dozens if not hundreds of times, yet they never stop being breathtaking.
Super Mario RPG. Probably the pinnacle of graphical achievement on the SNES, it puts Donkey Kong Country to shame with its digitized environments, creating a very convincing pseudo-3D world with detailed environments and character designs.
Final Fantasy Type-0: The original PSP version is gorgeous, and one of the best-looking titles produced for the console. The in-game graphics are highly detailed, massive and detailed enemies and environment are common, red tints are used to enhance the mood and atmosphere, and the art direction is great.
Final Fantasy X was the first test of what a Final Fantasy game could look like on the PS2's graphics engine and it passed with flying colors. Any scene where Sin is displaying it's full power is a technological marvel and the Aeons are nothing short of gorgeous. The FMV scenes are also stunning.
Also Tales of Xillia and its sequel. Xillia starts off in Fenmont, a city that has an eternal night and is beautifully lit up by glowing trees. Starts. The animated cutscenes done by none other than Ufotable deserve a mention too.
Panau in Just Cause 2 looks absolutely spectacular on its own, but try putting your destination on the opposite side of the map. A little marker saying "15 km" or something like that pops up... and you can see your destination. That's right, this game renders stuff over 15 kilometers away (about 9.3 miles if you're American), still looks amazing, and it's all one seamless map. Try to top that.
It's easy to take it for granted now, but Super Mario 64 was a stunning showcase title for the Nintendo 64. Expansive, colorful worlds, clever mixing of sprites with 3D environments and characters, fun animation, crisp anti aliased character models, cool particle effects (i.e. jumping into a painting) all running on an oil smooth framerate. Even though the low polygon presentation looks very dated now, the appealing cartoon art still allows it to stand tall in this day and age. The Nintendo DS port only took the presentation even further, and without compromising the cartoon charm of the original game!
Super Mario Sunshine is still considered to have some of the best water effects in a video game, and it was released in 2002.
Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel have some of the most utterly gorgeous levels in any game, a fantastic art style and color palette, and brilliantly creative areas (although many of the levels in the sequel were mostly copy pasted from the first game, even if they are pretty to look at).
Super Mario 3D World brings the Mario franchise to high definition, and it looks gorgeous as a result. The later stages of the game really show how beautiful the game can look, and it's definitely one of the best-looking games on the Wii U console.
Not to mention it showed how well HD processes on the Wii U for games like this.
And then we have the newly-announced Nintendo Switch game, Super Mario Odyssey. One look at the trailer and you'll see why people are impressed: the visuals are completely breathtaking. In terms of graphics, this game looks to be to Galaxy what Galaxy was to Mario 64.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in 3D. Even if you don't play in 3D, it is absolutely jaw-dropping. The moment when you walk out of Link's house into Kokiri Forest is truly jaw-dropping and magical. The Water Temple is so beautiful, it's hard to hate it. The pan-over of the Temple of Time when you first enter it must be seen to be believed. And then you put it into 3D....
Heck, the 3DS as a whole. Did anyone really think Nintendo would pull it off when it was announced? The augmented reality games are especially incredible.
The original Nintendo 64 version of Ocarina of Time is no less impressive. There's a reason why the game runs at just 20 FPS on stock hardware - the polygon counts are quite large for a Nintendo 64 game, and areas like Hyrule Field were so hardware-intensive that Nintendo thought it could never get the game to run at all. There are also some subtle but impressive effects. For instance, the fishing rod has real-time physics applied to it, and the mirrors in the Spirit Temple exhibit real-time shadowing (not the cheap cones of light that Link has as shadows).
The graphics for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword were inspired by Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne. It really shows, especially if you look at something at a distance - it all looks like something from a water-colour painting. Skyward Sword took the best parts of the styles previous two games, blending into the best-looking game possible on the Wii's outdated hardware with a hugely colorful, detailed world reminiscent of those paintings.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker had gorgeous anime-styled Cel Shaded art that really pushed the Nintendo GameCube to its limits, with its dazzling water, fire, particle, and distortion effects, as well as its impressive rope bridge and cloth physics engine. One cutscene features a gigantic tower rising from the ocean, complete with drying patches of water. And it's all rendered in real-time. The scene is especially impressive at sunrise or sunset.
Wind Waker HD has been announced for the Wii U. Imagine all that plus ten years of improvement and 1080p resolution.
And now we have The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Hyrule is absolutely massive in scale, and at any point you can get a good enough view, you can see practically all of it in spectacular detail thanks to the absolutely insane draw distances. Of note is the very first scene when Link runs out of the Shrine of Resurrection and with a musical swell, the camera pans up and reveals Hyrule in all of its beauty.
In the Metroid Prime games, there are two that immediately come to mind:
When a flash of bright light occurs, be it from an explosive blast or regular Scan Visor use in Corruption, you can see Samus's eyes. It's especially impressive in Corruption, since you can also see how far she's been corrupted in her eyes and the other facial features.
In Prime 1 and 3, when you use the X-Ray visor, you can see the bones inside of her hands. Prime 1 also has her hand change positions for each beam she uses, which is a very nice easter egg.
Captain Falcon's Falcon Punch was just straight awesome in Super Smash Bros.: after shouting the name, he unleashed a fiery punch complete with a 2D image of his emblem. Then along comes Melee and he keeps the punch, only now the flames morph into a falcon spreading its wings.
Many of the things in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Next time you play, go look at the trophies for the playable characters or the assist trophies and look at how detailed the skin, clothes, etc are-Peach's dress has several layers to it that make it seem like something from the real world, Ness' backpack, hat and t-shirt have real visible seams in them, denim jeans and overalls has seams, buttons, etc. to look like real articles of clothing, the Ice Climbers hoods have very well-rendered fur, Dedede, who normally just has a weird sash underneath his coat, was given a kimono, and Link's, well, everything. Character designs aside, many of the final smashes-particularly Triforce Slash, Great Aether, PK Starstorm, and Lucario's Aura Laser-look REALLY great. Some people will only turn Smash Balls on to see those final smashes.
Also, the cutscenes from "The Subspace Emissary," especially "The Great Invasion." The Subspace Gunship is pretty darn detailed.
Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U takes everything that "Brawl" did and IMPROVED upon it. Lucina has her birthmark on her eye, a detail that the creator himself admitted NO ONE WILL SEE, but had to include anyway. The crowning gem, however, HAS to be Orbital Gate Assault and The Great Cave Offensive. You can see individual threads on character clothing and the color palette is gorgeous. Special mention goes to the particle effects, which make all the animations appear MUCH smoother and the actions given MUCH more impact, as well as the colored trails from when you send a character flying, and the badass red lightning appears when you land a killing blow. It all makes the game look incredibly awesome. Specific examples include:
Peach's realistically seamed glove (where before she might as well have had a white arm) complete with a tiny ring on one hand.
All of the details on Shulk's clothes. Were he put in the game in a previous installment, his design might have been simplified.
The off-the-screen KO effects. The characters actually look like they're pressed against the glass screen.
Mega Man is clearly made out of metal plates and bolts. His design was actually given more detail than his own games! Plus, his animations actually use distortion and model trickery to match how he moved back in the days of the NES.
Fox and Falco's visors are constantly updated with scrolling bits of information. You only EVER see this in motion during their victory animations.
The big white scar on Ganondorf's chest is constantly glowing dynamically.
As far as stages go, Kalos Pokemon League is an absolutely gorgeous stained-glass masterpiece, Gaur Plain looks WAY BETTER than the source game, which is quite a feat, and Magicant captures the heart of the original Magicant perfectly. Any Earthbound fan is bound to cry when the rift tears open and starts displaying scenes from Mother 1 and 2.
The Pilotwings stage in the WiiU version is undiluted beauty. The characters battle atop a plane, starting at a landing strip and then taking off, flying around a beautifully rendered landscape while gorgeous music plays. And the Midgar stage, as showcased in the Cloud Strife DLC trailer, looks INCREDIBLE, and has some fans asking for a WiiU port of Final Fantasy VII!
All this and in both versions, the game runs at a constant unbroken 60 FPS. Yes, even in 3D on the 3DS version.
The Final Smashes. They already looked amazing in Brawl, but here, they're even better. Many characters got theirs updated, such as Kirby, who now pulls out a Super Copy Ability (previously mentioned on this page!), which looked amazing in its source game, and now it's in HD. Ness and Lucas's Starstorm covers the entire screen in enormous, firey stars. Ryu's perfectly replicates the style of the combos in Street Fighter. But the most stellar example has to be Mega Man's, which features every incarnation of Mega Man appearing for a split-second and then teaming up with him to shoot an enormous laser. Despite only showing up for a few moments, each incarnation is as detailed as any of the fighters, even though you could blink and miss them!
When you really look at it, Yoshi's Island really is a beautiful game. There's typically several layers of foreground and background, all of them hand drawn. Not to mention the fact that it really stretched the SNES's capabilities, often using Mode 7 in many different ways.
The Super FX chip certainly helped. While Yoshi's Island did have some Super FX-powered polygon graphics (the pause and game over screens, a paper effect for when the characters get flattened, and the occasional spinning platform come to mind), the chip was used mostly for rotating and scaling sprites.
Turn on Mario Kart 8. Pick a track. Any track, new or returning. The level of detail is nothing short of stunning. Nintendo really went to town for this one.
One of the main draws to the original Sonic The Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis was that the graphics looked incredible, with the genius use of parallax scrolling and vibrant colors really showing off the console. Indeed, the Sonic franchise as a whole is generally known for having great graphics with a majority of their games, given that the series was made to look visually stunning from day one.
All four (or three, counting Sonic 3 & Knuckles as one game) of the main Sonic games on the Sega Genesis had astoundingly well-drawn sprites that look great even into contemporary times. Some even had a pseudo-3D effect to them, like the trees in the Green Hill Zone or the indentations in the checkered soil. It was even more impressive that the Sega Genesis was able to draw these complex sprites very quickly, showing off the console's power. Sonic 3 & Knuckles shows the peak of the graphical capabilities of the Genesis-extraordinary pixel art, amazing parallax scrolling on the backgrounds, and loads of tiny cosmetic details to the graphics that aren't even necessary for building the game. There's also Sonic CD for the Sega CD, with dreamlike environments that range from bright, colorful, and cheery to dark, grim, and spoiled.
Likewise, Knuckles Chaotix showed what the Sega 32X was capable of. Easily one of the most gorgeous games of its time, its graphics still hold up really well, with beautiful, colorful graphics and eye-popping visual effects.
Sonic 3D Blast pushed the graphical capabilities of the Sega Genesis to their limit. It even features a Full Motion Video opening, unheard of for cartridge titles of the time. The Saturn version of the game looks great as well, with nicely-done 3D models replacing the pre-rendered sprites of the original, and being further spiffed up with atmospheric lighting/fog effects.
Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 demonstrated what the Dreamcast was capable of, and the first game blew away the competition of 1998 and 1999. The graphics may not have aged well, but they were mind-blowing back then.
The Wii/PS2 version's graphics aren't too shabby, either. The levels look pretty nice, but the Gaia Gates look beautiful.
Sonic Unleashed seemed to be a turning point in graphics when it came to Sonic games. Following Unleashed was Sonic Colors, a Wii game which looks better than a lot of games look on the 360. Following Colors was Sonic Generations, which used the same graphics engine as Unleashed, and looks incredible as well (despite actually being scaled down in some areas). The re-imagining of the original Green Hill Zone now includes huge backdrops full of amazing scenery; of particular note are the massive waterfalls and the underground river in Modern Sonic's level. The graphics become even more eye-popping on the PC version.
Sonic Generations takes all the previous games' art and turns them into wonderful HD graphics.
Sonic Lost World gives a nicely stylized and simplified spin on the the bright, colorful aesthetics of the earlier Genesis Sonic games, and translates the result into a HD setting.
Sonic Mania draws inspiration from the 16-bit classics, but takes advantage of modern tech to make the game look incredibly slick. The title screen, alone, looks absolutely gorgeous in motion.
Command & Conquer Red Alert 3 stays true to its 2.5D predecessor, and offers next to the comic style the famous long-time CG scenes of the series, realistic particle effects, very advanced shading and literally brilliant water.
It also features FMV cutscenes of the actual in-game units, all beautifully rendered — it's one thing to see, say, submarines that can turn into aircraft or floating tanks or four-story mecha in gameplay, but it's quite another to see them in live action.
The Myst series has a few. You might consider pre-rendering to be "cheating", but some of the pre-rendered graphics are incredible.
Serenia in Myst IV, full stop. It's like some Tolkien-esque fantasy world, only you get to run around in it. Haven and Spire were good, but Serenia was breathtaking.
Riven in, well, Riven. A vast world that is far removed from the emptiness of Myst.
All of the coming-in-for-a-landing clips that play when you use a linking book should rate a mention, as do the various roller-coaster animations that mark the completion of Ages in Exile or Revelation. Whoa...
Alan Wake looks fairly good on its own, and then you get the flares and flare guns. Dramatic, awesomely flickering red light? Check. Amazing-looking smoke? Check. Bullet Time if you pull one out while surrounded by mooks? Check. And, above all, safety (because Light Is Good and Dark Is Evil are literal)? Check.
Everything in both Golden Sun games was awesome. The psuedo 3D for battle scenes pushed the GBA. Nearly all of the higher level summons were multi-sprited.
And now we have Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, which manages to exceed the originals in graphical quality. Say what you will about the gameplay, this game really pushes the DS.
You can use an Action Replay MAX to ramp up the frame rate and visual quality in XGRA and it looks brilliant.
Treasure has a lot of renown for making visually stunning games, one of the best examples being their debut Genesis game, Gunstar Heroes. The game featured scrolling and rotating effects that could give games on the SNES a run for their money, coupled with explosions going off with great volume and regularity, all without a single drop in framerate.
That's not even being fair to the sheer awesomeness factor of both games. In oblivion, each area has its own feel to it, and has really good graphical effects to it, and the colors look downright beautiful. Fallout 3 starts out when you exit your vault and see natural light for the first time in your life. After the screen stops glowing you get to see this◊. Words fail to describe the awesome, and kinda sad.
The animated sequences in the Professor Layton games. Fluid, beautiful animation on the Nintendo DS, a system not known for its graphics capabilities, and they only get better in the newer games. The game itself has some beautifully done background areas.
StarCraft II actually has outstandingly cinematic graphics, and most of its cutscenes are rendered is the same engine.
It may not be the shiniest game, but Sins of a Solar Empire is impressive in that you can zoom in to see a single fighter craft in battle, or zoom out to see several star systems, and every single level in between that. All of them quite detailed and able to manipulate the camera in a 360-degree sphere.
Injustice 2 is a good looking game all around, but one area in which the game looks particularly amazing is in each character's facial animations, which are some of the most realistically rendered in any game of its generation.
City of Heroes' Ultra Mode was added to allow players with higher-end graphics cards to take advantage of their processing power. When it's turned on, detail goes through the roof, including real-time shadows and reflections in glass and water. The new areas in Praetoria were designed to take advantage of Ultra Mode, and they look amazing.
And Kirby's Epic Yarn. People argue it looks better than God of War 3! Other games, like Super Star Ultra, have beautiful looking sprites, and games like Canvas Curse have cool looking backgrounds. Kirby games are always beautiful, graphically.
Kirby games are usually the last Nintendo-published games of their respective systems, and thus tax those systems to show what they're really capable of. Case in point: the beautiful painterly backgrounds of Kirby's Dream Land 3.
The Halo series has some of the most beautiful skyboxes you will ever see (and not just in the campaign - the multiplayer maps, like Video Game/Reach's "Anchor 9", can look wonderful). The art style of the four different factions you encounter is also wonderfully contrasting - and each is beautiful/cool in its own way. Take the Forerunner designs, particularly the Sentinels.
Half-Life 2. The Source Engine has aged brilliantly (and Portal 2 is proof of this). The facial animation is great, and the water effects are flat-out amazing. Oh, and so are the fire effects, while we're at it.
Speaking of Source facial animations, Valve has taken to giving non-human characters facial animations as well despite having no visible face, and it's stunning. Just look at Atlas and P-body but especially Wheatley from Portal 2.
Portal 2 also features an absolutely stunning opening sequence where a room is destroyed and falls apart around the player character.
Some more specific examples... despite coming out in 2004, Half-Life 2 still has quite impressive graphics, and the later games (in particular, Episode 2, which was the first to use the updated version of the Source Engine used in Portal) only go even farther. Some moments that stick out in particular from the Half-Life series are the bridge from Half-Life 2 (it's... just stunning), the moment when you step out of the underground in Episode One and see the ruined city and the Citadel rising above everything, and the moment when Alyx and Gordon overlook City 17 in Episode Two after the train crash—the energy seething around the Citadel over City 17 is as gorgeous as it is dangerous.
Meet the Medic from Team Fortress 2 also counts. Yeah, it's cartoonish, but who says it has to be realistic to be awesome?
Why not the whole of Team Fortress 2? Valve set out to create a game with the visual flair of midcentury illustrations, and boy did they get it right. The stylization works in the game's favor and makes sure it's not going to age poorly.
Actually it seems a lot of Valve games seem to fall under this, due their source engine having a distinct visual flair.
Also, the Game ModBlack Mesa is just... incredible in its visuals. Examples include Surface Tension and (what little we've seen of) Xen.
Barring that, the fact that late 1940's LA is recreated with a great of accuracy is nothing short of impressive. Not to mention other details like store signs, window displays, cars and period accurate clothing. It's really hard to deny that this is a very, very pretty game.
Another Rockstar effort, Red Dead Redemption, also stands out as visually stunning. The western desert setting generally justifies the Real Is Brown approach... and when the game isn't brown and gritty, like in the snowy, mountainous forest area of Tall Trees, it's colorful, bright, and beautiful. The deserts manage to be gorgeous, too, especially when the player is riding into the sunset, and the city of Blackwater is absolutely lovely to look at. Go onto the ferry dock and watch the sun rise over Blackwater some time in the game. It's absolutely stunning.
The Donkey Kong Country trilogy. The original game was one of the first console games (it had already been done in arcades) to feature pre-rendered graphics: something that even Nintendo thought was impossible on the Super NES. In-game graphics have ultimately improved over the years, but when it first came out it was something most people hadn't seen before in a console game. Whats more impressive is that this was all done without any enhancement chips or add-ons; everything you see is done by the actual SNES.
Fast-forward by fifteen-or-so years. How do you replicate that "oh-this-game-has-the-best-graphics-ever"-esque feeling, considering that by now there's a well-established rivalry in this mediumnote Have you read the other examples above, in this folder, right?? How about taking an already beautifully-looking third game in a trilogy and using three times as many polygons?
The WiiU sequel Tropical Freeze is no slouch in the graphics department either-like the aforementioned Mario 3D World example, Tropical Freeze shows a great job at showcasing the DKC franchise in high definition. One particular graphical enhancement touted in the game's reveal and by the developer was the Kong family's fur, which now looks so detailed, it looks downright lifelike.◊
If you really want Visual Effects of Awesome, look no further than Stargate (the sequel to Defender; no relation to the movie), specifically when you use the level warp trick (by flying through a stargate with a certain number of rescued Earthlings). It's truly a sight to behold (and this was 1981; one year after the original came out).
Midway released an arcade game called "Kozmik Krooz'r" in the early 1980's. It featured a realistic looking, rotating "flying saucer" that actually wasn't part of the game itself. It was just a prop that was reflected in a mirror. Nonetheless it was considered groudbreaking for the time.
Laserdisc games are considered to be a subversion, since they're more like interactive movies than true games (e.g., Dragon's Lair, etc). On the other hand, other games tried to invoke this trope by giving more interactivity (e.g., Cobra Command). However, this usually meant creating actual game graphics to overlay onto the video.
Brain Dead 13 actually defies the whole laserdisc genre with the end of this game, combined with Scenery Porn: The confrontation scene with Neurosis has only small lights lined up in a row that light up the total blackness in the room, and it's all in Conspicuous CG (except for the characters, of course). Add a bit of the Gratuitous Disco Sequence with More Dakkafrom Fritz that lights up the scenery, and the whole thing is just awesome indeed. Whoever thought up a final confrontation to be a whole disco that takes place entirely in the dark should be very proud of themselves, like something that only Quentin Tarantino would think up.
Also, most of the resurrection scenes, such as floor panel lights that make Lance reappear if he dies during the dark disco sequence; the lightning bolts that bring him back if he dies during Moose's sequence; and the "flames of rebirth" that reform Lance's body if he dies in haunted rooms. These are just awesome indeed.
F-Zero X and F-Zero GX: Being made for the Nintendo 64, X isn't very detailed, but it never drops the framerate. GX looks wonderful, and also never drops the framerate. Why is that awesome? Because not only do the games move at a really damn fast pace, there are 'thirty' vehicles going at once, and they can all be on screen at once, without any slowdown whatsoever!
Conduit 2. The first level takes place on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. If you look down, you can see waves. Not still water with vague ripples on them, actual waves. Most PS3 and 360 games don't even have that, and the developers pulled it off on a Wii.
Good lord. The stunning pink and purple clouds of Diadem, the vibrant trees and lush jungles of Anuenue, the hallucinatory beauty of Mira and the Trail of Souls...everything in that game is gorgeous.
Then Origins came out two years later and topped it. The scenery mostly looks the same, but the character models are infinitely better, especially the battle animations. Pull off something like The Apotheosis or Crimson Skytooth and tell me it doesn't look amazing.
How about the spiritual predecessor, Chrono Cross? Sure, the PS1 graphics haven't aged that well, but it still looked fantastic back in the day.
DJMAX Technika. An arcade game running at 720p, it has some of the most stunning musicvideos to grace the Rhythm Game genre. All while the gameplay runs at 60 frames per second, no less.
When Street Fighter III first came out, many reviews insulted the sprite graphics; 3D models were becoming the norm. Indeed, a still shot of the game looks pretty mediocre by today's standards with the limited technology making it very pixelated. However, a still image misses the most important thing about Street Fighter III's graphics: The movement. Most sprite-based fighting games have very choppy movement because easy individual frame requires a ton of work, so only the ending post and start-up are given frames. Street Fighter III has tons of sprites for each character, more than any other fighting game at the time. This made all the movements and actions of the game, including ones as simple as breathing, incredibly smooth and complete looking, to the point that some retroactively consider its spritework the best in any fighting game. The sheer effort put into making all those sprites deserves a round of applause alone.
How about the Skyarrow Bridge? At first, the game's just been typical Pokemon fare and settings - small towns, forests, rivers, etc. Then, you go across this huge bridge, with trucks and boats and other things going underneath it, and the camera swooping around to show it all off, and finally you see Castelia City looming on the far side.
It seems to have become a new tradition in the Pokemon series, from Black and White onwards, to give each Legendary mascot of the game a breathtaking 3D intro. Special mention goes to when you summon Reshiram/Zekrom for the first time and are given an awesome display of their power on the environment, and in HG/SS when Lugia or Ho-Oh swoops out of the sky to face you. Even more incredible at night.
The Man-At-Legs in Pikmin 2. Similar to the Subspace Gunship example from above, in the Piklopedia the game will LAG if you get it moving. And the Piklopedia won't even show the thing firing its gun, which must be seen. It's incredible and yet grotesque at the same time.
Pick a CyberConnect2 game from the PlayStation 2 era onwards: Any of them will qualify, especially after CyberConnect2 formed the studio Sensible Art Innovation, which they used not only for movie making, but utilizing it as part of their current console generation cutscene maker. With the power of the unreal Engine, Asura's Wrath by CyberConnect2 takes the engine to it's limits to get really awesome visuals. Here's an example.
Xenoblade pulls off huge environments with plenty of wildlife with dizzying attention to detail, with fantastic draw distance near unprecedented for all but the largest sandbox games. Many reviewers actually complained that the game was on the Wii and not a High-definition system.
Then you get stuff like the colored mist in the swamp at night, the golden light from the crystals on the snowy peaks, and whenever there is a thunderstorm in a area.
Xenoblade Chronicles X fixes it's predecessor's "Not in HD" problem, bringing an even bigger game world to boot.
Undertale somehow manages to make relatively simple sprite artwork look absolutely incredible at times. Special mention goes to the black-and-turquoise areas in Waterfall, the fact that only a handful of enemies' battle sprites are actually one sprite and not multiple sprites stitched together (while we're at it, the battle sprites themselves are surprisingly detailed considering the aforementioned low-res graphics and only using black and white), and the final battle against the newly-resurrected Asriel.
No love for the X-Universe series? As an example: This game is a spaceflight game that models everything from miniscule scout ships to monstrous destroyers and stations, each of which is meticulously modeled to the last panel. And you can look at all of it. From any angle. While floating about equally beautiful planets, ranging from earth-like Argon Prime, to the ocean world of Nishala, the Boron home planet.
The graphics may not be the best (though this was done on purpose), but stand on top of a mountain in Minecraft, look out at the landscape, and tell me it isn't absolutely gorgeous.
Valkyria Chronicles looks and feels likes a World War II-inspired anime saga with very beautiful sketchbook-style flare...until you realize that everything you see is entirely rendered in-game and that you're actually playing it.
The Dawn of War games are some of the best looking PC Strategy games around, especially the sequel and its expansions. Down to the amazing detail on the unit models themselves, crafted to closely resemble their tabletop model counterparts to an exquisite degree and the incredibly good looking particle effects and Scenery Gorn. And let's not forget those beautiful cutscenes like the Exterminatus of Typhon Primaris and the Opening cutscene to both the original and the sequel.
Wipeout is not only racing, but also this trope pushed Up to Eleven. Even in the first two games, there were some EPIC visual effects for that era: in the first Wipeout, the visual effects of every weapon were incredible, and it was a 1994 GAME. 2097, with the racetracks Gare D'Europa and Spilskinanke which have sudden and blinding flashes which can distract you, and the Quake weapon which makes the road up ahead shaking like crazy, this is an high quality Fifth Gen videogame visual effect porn.
HD and 2048 push this trope even further than 2097 did with the Zone mode, in which the track and scenery become very simple with one shade of a certain or multiple colors, and the billboards and the road become also music equalizers! How cool is that?!?
Also, ALL OF THE INTRO CLIPS OF EVERY GAME fall into this trope. Just watch for example the intro for Pulse. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD.
If we weren't so busy being scared out of our wits, we'd appreciate the foggy beauty of the Silent Hill series. The first three games pushed the graphical limits of whatever console they were. Special mention goes to Silent Hill 3, where the animations where on par with current gen consoles.
P.T./Silent Hills was one of the most jaw-dropping things to come out of video games lately in terms of visuals. Some fans have watched gameplay footage and thought it was a live action movie! And this was for the TEASER, and it is a shame we may never know what the full game would look like.
Revelations famously pushed the 3DS to its limits, with detailed modeling, high-resolution texture work, superb and dynamic lighting effects, multiple CG cutscenes, tons of high-quality voice acting, and a stable framerate (bar a few hiccups during in-game loading segments). The way Capcom achieved this level of quality was via the MT Framework Mobile engine, a simplified version of the MT Framework engine used on Capcom's console titles. The similarities between the two engines allowed the developers of Revelations to deliver self-proclaimed "console quality" visuals on a smaller system. It really shows.
Syberia has some beautiful visual effects, especially when it comes to water. That it is a brainchild of an artist more than of a writer or game designer probably explains the loving attention given to its visuals.
The Metal Gear series. If there's anything Konami does best, creating impressive graphics may certainly be it. Thanks to Kojima's meticulous eye for detail, these games still look good despite their age. The HD remastering of MGS2, MGS3, and Peace Walker, give new appreciation for the visuals in these games. MGS3 really pushed the limits of the PS2, and its HD remastered version can give some games from this generation a run for their money.
New fans of the series who were introduced to Snake Eater via the HD Collection have played it thinking it was a PS3 game.
Xexex had gorgeous rendered graphics and pulled off other amazing graphical feats such as warping and zooming back in 1991. The graphics were so ahead of their time, it was impossible to port this game to the Sega Genesis or the Super Nintendo Entertainment System without a severe downgrade.
Once the game came out, everyone was impressed that the PS4 graphics shown in previews weren't dolled-up for E3 but actual in-game renders. The early trailers amazed people to the point that they believed the actual gameplay was still only cutscenes. Knight doesn't even have any pre-rendered cutscenes - everything uses the in-game engine. Rain in particular looks great, but the real kicker is seeing it land on Batman - the moving textures and the effect of the rain dripping and sliding off him looks fantastic. Some glitches show rain landing inside of buildings, but still has the same wetting effect, showing that the rain itself has physics.
Likewise the animation and Cast of Snowflakes character design with special credit going to the seamless way Joker's hallucination AI follows Batman around and appears in any areas, with myriad details of idle animation and voicework to comment on situations and events. The pathfinding of the Batmobile has also been praised.
Of course the most impressive feat is the fact that the game's large map, thrice the size of Arkham City can be traversed with no loading times, the fact that thugs and mooks can hide inside buildings (with the interiors of buildings no longer being larger than the exteriors) to escape a street brawl. Many were suspicious of the boast made by Rocksteady since a similar one made for Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Unity was proven false, but the game really does pull it off brilliantly.
Everything from Alice: Madness Returns. The facial expressions, Alice's dresses, the fighting motions...hysteria mode.
Bayonetta has some of the most stunning and beautiful environments and locations ever seen in a video game, especially on the Xbox 360 version.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed did an excellent job at recreating locations from classic Sega games in beautiful HD. You know the developers did a great job when one of the original developers of Skies of Arcadia cried tears of joy when seeing how well-made the Skies of Arcadia racetrack is.
The characters in Skullgirls are all made with HAND DRAWN ANIMATION. This is especially incredible with Double and Robo-Fortune, who constantly have things moving on them.
Studio Ghibli had a hand in Ni no Kuni, and it shows. You could be fooled into thinking you're watching some kind of Ghibli movie.
Wonder Project J featured incredibly fluid animations on the Super Famicom, looking like it was taken straight from an anime directed by Hayao Miyazaki and Osamu Tezuka. The N64 sequel, Wonder Project J2, looks even more incredible: the N64 was not well known for 2D games, but the sprite work in this game, particularly when Josette runs up to the screen to address the player directly, look phenomenal!
Sony and Guerrilla Games were so confident in the graphical qualities of Killzone 2, they used in-game rendering for a commercial. That you can download off the PSN store and run it on your PS3 in real time.
And spared no effort on Killzone: Shadow Fall to make sure that the PS4's prowess could be felt as a launch title.
Also a strange example of awesome visual effects coming out of Stylistic Suck, since the 3D models have no tween animations, creating a sort of stop-motion effect to make it look more like the 2D games, but still allows for Street Fighter IV-style dynamic camera angles during certain parts like introductions, Overdrives and Instant Kills.
Junya Motomura's presentation at GDC 2015 only adds to this, showing out-of-the-box use of existing tools and techniques to make everything look perfectly imperfect.
Jet Set Radio was one of the first games to use cel-shaded graphics, and it looked amazing when it came out in 2000. Both the HD remaster and the original Dreamcast version still look very good. Future has held up even better, being an Xbox game, and is among the early Xbox titles that holds up against modern releases.
Ace Combat Infinity: The explosions of enemy aircraft and ground targets look very detailed, the views of the battlefield (especially in "Dubai Night Assault") look really neat, the aircraft are very well detailed as well.
No Man's Sky is shaping up to be nothing short of incredible. See that mountain in the distance? You can hike toward it. Feel like swimming? The ocean is there waiting for you. Looking out at that Alien Sky above you? You can get in your spaceship and fly toward every single one of the planets in it. Looking out at the starfield while you're on patrol? Every single one of those stars you see is its own solar system, with planets waiting to be explored, all procedurally-generated.
Prior to Xenoverse, Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit held the crown for best visuals in any Dragon Ball game ever, and it's hard to argue. Just look at the opening. It's stunning.
And prior to Burst Limit Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3 was considered at the time the number one Dragon Ball game in the visual department. It's safe to say that that Dimps have a damn good record when it comes to visuals in Dragon Ball games.
Touhou games are known for Bullet Hell patterns that are Nintendo Hard, but are also absolutely mesmerizing, using intricate patterns with a variety of objects. Try watching a replay sometime and just watching all the beautiful patterns unfold before your eyes.
Armored Core as a franchise tends to incorporate extremely neat CGI introductory cutscenes for each instalment. This is really upped in the 4 era and beyond, using photorealistic CGI to new levels of cool and augmenting the game's pacing to match the overall lightning-fast feel of the game.Herearesomeexamples of such cutscenes.
Dark Souls II improves upon the original Dark Souls in many ways, a chief factor being the graphics evolution. In addition to maintaining a solid 60 frames per second at max settings on mid-to-low-end PCs, the new engine is capable of some downright gorgeous lighting and blur effects. Not only are you going to stop several times throughout your journey to stare at the glorious scenery, but also at your own clothes, many of which avert No Flow in CGI like the plague.
Bloodborne makes full use of the PlayStation 4's available graphics output and gives us a seamless experience in a Victorian-era city. Surges of electricity and the flow of the action never looked more realistic. And great care was taken to avert No Flow in CGI, with even the Hunter's Garb found early on sporting a long tail, a flowing shoulder cloak, a loose belt and a swinging pocket watch. One of the most impressive technical feats of the game is how moving past NPCs at close distance will cause their clothes to flutter dynamically.
Dm C Devil May Cry: At one point during Bob Barbas' Boss Fight, he teleports you to another place where you fight mooks, and the camera behaves like an actual helicopter camera from a news program. It makes the whole encounter look like a cutscene you're controlling.
Splatoon has one of the best color palettes out of any video game right now, which is impressive by itself, but even moreso for a shooter and a post-apocalyptic one at that. Everything moves smoothly and quickly and is just darn fun to watch, and the characters have a distinct 90s-esque style to them.
Assassin's Creed: Syndicate: The Aegis Minerva's, and later Evie's, battle armor. It's pure white, flickers like a hologram and distorts Evie the slightest bit, almost like oil in a puddle. Not to mention that it glows like an Apple of Eden.
Super Monkey Ball fits this trope to a T. the character designs are cute and well-polished, and the backgrounds of the various worlds are sometimes downright incredible, especially in 2 and Banana Splitz.
Fallout 4: In the Institute, you get to see the process they use for creating Synths. You would think that this would just be a factory line that staples metal limbs together and puts fake flesh on top of the skin, but no. You get to see a detailed process of them being put together, from their skeleton (which appears to be made of actual bones), to their flesh being woven on and their systems being kick-started by electrical shock, ending with them being dipped into a pool in which cultures form the skin on their bodies instantly.
Driveclub, a racing game for PlayStation 4, has awe-inspiring visuals. From the distant landscapes to the cars to the water effects in rain, the game is highly praised for being an absolute pinnacle of console video game graphics.
Slime Rancher, a indie game that is still in early access, is definitely going into this trope. The water looks amazing as of version 0.2.5. Not to mention the (Currently Upcoming) Indigo Quarry update, which makes the freaking monitors look amazing, just◊ look at◊it!◊
Ratchet & Clank (2016): The game is a PS4 exclusive, and is easily the best looking game in the series. It says a lot that the in-game graphics are almost as slick looking as the cinematic cutscenes.
Proving how far mobile gaming has come from its early years is Asphalt 8: Airborne from Gameloft, looking far closer to a home console game than a mobile title. Dozens of real-life cars are recreated in the game with highly-detailed models, tracks range from city streets to snowy tundras, and boast a variety of high-quality environmental and visual effects. Special mention goes to the Tokyo track's rain-dampened roads, showing off real-time distorted reflections of the cars and streetlights, as well as the sheer scope of tracks such as Buddha's Teachings and the Alps.
Alone in the Dark: Say what you will about the gameplay of the 2008 reboot, but sequences like climbing around on the crumbling building and the mad drive through New York are absolutely spectacular to watch.
Panzer Dragoon Orta was released for the Xbox back in 2002, but it somehow managed to look just as good as games released for the Xbox 360, released three years later. Scenery Porn galore, realistic body and facial animations for heroine Orta in cutscenes, and all at a rock-solid 60 frames per second.
One of the most critically acclaimed aspects of Ristar was its graphics, with great sprite art and gorgeous and colorful sceneries.
One android game called Raft Survival simulator. While the wood, scrap and other things look anormal, the hammer looks realistic despite being a mobile game. And the water. Oh my god, THE WATER.
The graphics of Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time has been favorably compared to Guilty Gear Xrd, using cel-shaded 3D graphics animated without tweening so as to emulate the animation from the anime series.