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GOTY 2016: Visual Design

We take a look back at 2016's most impressive games from a visual design perspective.

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Honourable Mentions

GOTY 2016: Visual Design
The visual design for Superhot is just as stylish as the gameplay, the rich reds producing a striking contrast against the bright white.
GOTY 2016: Visual Design
Inside is a great example that demonstrates that a unique art style can evoke powerful emotions, especially since Inside can often be so dark.
GOTY 2016: Visual Design
Killing Floor 2 looks amazing from a visual perspective, with the persistent gore effects working in an immensely satisfying way.
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GOTY 2016: Visual Design
Virginia's art style is unique and the cel-shading produces this iconic imagery that helps set it apart. Like That Dragon, Cancer, it proves that sometimes less is more.
GOTY 2016: Visual Design
Uncharted 4 pushes the PlayStation 4's tech and the end result is one of the best looking games on the system, and it looks even better on a PS4 Pro.
GOTY 2016: Visual Design
As with other titles by Fumito Ueda, art style and visual design are high points of The Last Guardian, and character models look great, especially for Trico.
GOTY 2016: Visual Design
Here They Lie's dark and menacing colours (or lack of) add to the sinister mystery of the world it creates. A stunning and atmospheric VR experience.
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3. Abzu

Abzu takes third place because, much like the ocean it's based on, it's beautiful, as is the life that lives within it. Designed to give an immersive experience of underwater swimming, you can't help but get lost in the bright colours that are all around you, whether that be the tropical fish or the radiant turquoise of the sea.

The lighting effects also help Abzu to achieve this beauty, as the bright sunlight piercing the surface of the water and illuminating the ocean floor can be truly breathtaking, although not everything in Abzu sparkles. There are moments when you enter caverns and things become darker, and here it is equally as impressive to behold.

Abzu wouldn't be half as stunning if it wasn't for the creatures that accompany you on your journey. From the smallest fish to the largest of sharks, everything is lovingly detailed whilst also boiled down to its most basic shapes, and it's great to come across turtles, killer whales, and much more on your travels, seeing them float hypnotically through the water.

The linear nature of player progression in Abzu means you don't have to worry yourself too much about where to go, and the overall lack of challenge means this is really a game where you can soak up the atmosphere and the surroundings, taking in the views and seeing what the ocean has to hold. It has a meditative feel that we absolutely love, and stopping to watch the sea in motion is something very satisfying.

GOTY 2016: Visual Design

2. Dishonored 2
Coming in at number two is Dishonored 2, and as evident from our review, we loved the game, and that's in no small part down to the amazing design offered. Attention to detail is everything here, and it took the first game's iconic design and made it bigger, better, and more ambitious.

Everything from the fashion to the environments are crafted, detailed, and carefully considered to work in conjunction with one another, so much so that Art Director Sebastien Mitton even said he wouldn't change one thing about it.

The aesthetic of Karnaca draws from European and Mediterranean architecture, and although there's a clear continuation from the first game, this new city brings something new and fresh to the series. For a start it's brighter, but by no means less dejected, and to explore this new setting is a real treat.

This really is a game to use in an argument for video games being art (well, let's face it, there's no argument to be had anymore), as every part is crafted to make a beautiful whole. Everything from the paintings on the wall to the characterful enemy designs combine to give it that extra layer polish which takes something that's good and makes it great. Everything in Dishonored 2 is a joy to take in, and even when jumping across rooftops or assassinating (or not) corrupt villains, you'll enjoy this feast for the eyes.

GOTY 2016: Visual Design

1. Overwatch
Overwatch is on this list not only because it looks amazing (which it does), but because the style it aims for is iconic, so much so that it has become hugely popular with fans, cosplayers, and artists alike. People love the colourful style, and it has made a serious impact despite not even being out for a full year.

As we said in our review, the characters (or heroes) make up a big part of this. Each hero has unique expressions and their own distinct style, meaning that there's always (at least) one that each player has a soft spot for, and the cartoonish visuals makes the charm even stronger. Even better is the visual language displayed on screen; with so many heroes swanning around the battlefield, each with their own powers, it's important that players can read any given situation, and Blizzard has achieved this to perfection.

This applies to environments as well as the famous heroes, as maps are also made with the same cartoon style as the characters. Eichenwalde, to take one example, creates an over-the-top German town with a big castle and looks almost like a fairy tale, creating a brilliant map to go alongside other greats such as Hollywood and Route 66.

There's a reason people can't get enough of Overwatch's style, as evident by Blizzard proudly showing off the art from the game with art books, films, and other merchandise. Players instantly took to its bright colours and smooth, cartoonish style, and that along with the clarity on display at every step of every match, meant that we had no choice but to give it the nod when it comes to visual design in 2016.

GOTY 2016: Visual Design

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