In the last few years, with incredible technology more readily available to ever-more-experienced game designers, games are increasingly taking on the characteristics of cinema. Character development, narrative arcs, and beautiful visuals are all becoming the norm in the gaming industry. The top notch games often take hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, but the most engaging and visually impressive games often prove so popular that the financial returns are stratospheric.
Technological advances allow game designers to build enormous, deeply realistic environments and populate them with anything they desire; and exponential improvements in processing power and game engines will only see this phenomenon grow. The result of all this is that the most interesting area of entertainment in the future may well be found within the interactive worlds of gaming. The following are 10 prime examples of the incredible artistry now witnessed in video games; the level of cutting edge graphics on display in these games, in combination with Facebook's financial backing of technologies like the Oculus Rift, make for an exciting future for the gaming world.
10 GTA V : Rockstar Games, 2013
The developments for the fifth instalment of the Grand Theft Auto franchise started soon after the 2009 release of GTA IV, meaning that it took Rockstar Games over three years, (and $265 million) to create this enormous gameplay landscape. The world was closely modelled on the state of California, and to ensure verisimilitude the production team took regular field trips during the early stages of development.
The incredible island landscape contains an urban sprawl, LA-style skyscraper clusters and swaths of hick-filled desert, and warrants hours of exploration via dirt bike, plane, and scuba gear. The game's success was unprecedented, earning US $800 million on the day of its launch and an incredible US $1 billion in its first three days.
9 LA Noire : Rockstar Games, 2011
1940s LA provides the backdrop for Rockstar's stylised, noire-film inspired game. LA Noire made use of the company Depth Analysis' 'Motionscan' technology, meaning that the movements of the cast were captured by 32 separate cameras; this allowed for detailed facial expressions, which allow gamers to make decisions based on their AI suspect's reactions.
The development was notoriously fraught with delays, management changes, and platform expansions, and it took a total of seven years to construct - which is impressive when you consider the tech changes which must have occurred in that time period. As part of its homage to the noir genre the game has the option to limit the colour scheme to black and white, though if you do you'll be missing out on the kind of beautiful aesthetics displayed above.
8 Fallout 3 : Bethesda Game Studios, 2008
Fallout's open ended post-apocalyptic world is largely centred around the 'Capital Wasteland'. Following a Sino-American war, the DC area is now a nuclear wilderness populated with various human and non-human survivors. This desolate landscape is well suited to the ongoing human obsession with ruins and fallen civilisations, and features the crumbling remains of the White House, Washington Monument, and the Arlington Cemetery.
Much of the game involves navigating a network of underground tunnels in order to avoid the dangers of the surface and the blocked roads. These systems are loosely based on the modern Washington Metro, which can make for disconcerting game play for gamers who've lived in the city. In its initial month the game sold over 600,000 units, despite being met with controversy in Japan for some of its plot points relating to nuclear bombs.
7 Red Dead Redemption : Rockstar Games, 2010
Following the release of the fourth GTA, Rockstar set themselves the challenge of creating the 'ultimate open world game'. The result of this attempt was the widely lauded Red Dead Redemption, the sequel to the hugely popular Red Dead Revolver.
The gameplay takes place in 1911 frontier America, (think cowboys, gunfights, and train hijackings) across two fictional American states and one Mexican. A positive GamesRadar review points out that the 'sprawling landscape' could have lead to 'joyless' treks between towns, but instead the landscape is peppered with Wild West activities and staggering visuals.
6 Badland : Frogmind, 2013
Massive urban spaces, mountains, and plains are all very well, but a list of games that limited itself to the powerhouse playstation and xbox consoles wouldn't be representative of the situation today, as smartphone and tablet games have progressed in leaps and bounds since the days of Snake II.
Although the premise for Badland is as simple as the age old Helicopter games (the environment scrolls sideways, and you have control over the vertical movement of your character), it updates the familiar form with a stunning set of backdrops and enemies. The atmospheric visuals and audio in combination with a retina screen earn this modest game a position on this list alongside games that required hundreds of millions of dollars investment.
5 Skyrim : Bethesda Game Studios, 2011
This fifth instalment of the Elder Scrolls series moved away from its predecessor Oblivion in several ways: The developers decided to step up the level of detail in the world, and discontinue the use of generated landscapes. A hundred developers were involved in the creation of the province called Skyrim, and although the map is of a similar size to Oblivion's, its mountainous terrain lends its a much grander feel.
Whilst there was a single developer tasked with the creation of Oblivion's dungeons, with Skyrim this was upped to eight separate designers and developers, and the added detail makes for an almost tangible environment. The open world style means that the gamer can travel in any direction, delaying the storyline for as long as they see fit to spend time exploring the fictional provence. The developer's work was clearly appreciated, as the game sold over 20 million copies across three platforms and the impressive graphics have inspired several hugely popular mods which enhance the gaming experience.
4 4.Walking Dead : Telltale Games, 2012
This episodic graphic adventure game takes its notes from a range of sources; the original comics, the Walking Dead TV series, the game Heavy Rain (which makes use of similar cinematic techniques), and wild card inspiration from Game of Thrones and Mad Men (which the developers looked at to understand swift character development). Although the game is more focussed on dialogue and choices over action, the environment is still richly interactive, and - as the screenshot above shows - the comic book style graphics don't detract from the atmosphere in the slightest.
One of the driving forces behind the game's striking appearance is its art director Derek Sakai, who moved away from unrealistic depictions, instead creating more authentic asymmetrical faces, and incredibly human expressions. During the creation of the central character of Clementine he even went so far as to draw inspiration from his own daughter.
3 BioShock Infinite : Irrational Games, 2013
The floating city of Columbia provides the setting for Irrational Games' Bioshock 3. Rather than graphical fidelity, the game depicts characters and environments in a partially stylised form, meaning that the gameplay is a little like being immersed in a Pixar movie.
At its best in moments the game displays scenes like the one depicted above, when the clockwork, 'quantum levitation', and a breathtaking use of light in the turn of the century world come together to form an awesome playground. The weight of history behind Columbia is only added to by the fact that the game is littered with audio logs (Voxophones) and film projectors (Kinetoscopes) which expand upon the city's past.
2 Assassin's Creed IV : Ubisoft, 2013
Whilst most games have to choose between committing to either a modern or historical setting, the Assassin's Creed franchise's storyline allows the game to straddle both periods. Although the third instalment was seen by many critics as a bit of a 'dud', a small part involving the crossing of British controlled sea was seen as a great success. Ubisoft clearly clocked this enthusiasm, and created a fourth instalment which takes place on both land and sea.
Indeed, the game is at its best on the high seas. Although the focus is on moving the story forward, the player is free to simply explore the West Indies setting, or act the pirate and attack the British and Spanish ships which dot the landscape. Particularly interesting visual aspects of the game are showcased during the various scenes set under the 'crisp, clear, and incredibly inviting' water.
1 inFamous Second Son : Sucker Punch Productions, 2014
Although inFamous Second Son's map is markedly smaller than that of Skyrim or GTA, it is still rendered in enough detail to make the players feel as though they could spend days exploring. It's set in a version of Seattle in 2016, which is easy to explore as a result of the main character's 'bevy of superpowers' and impressive free running skills.
The hyper-real next generation game is stunningly beautiful, and scenes like the kind displayed above are particularly well-represented on a large 4K display.