15 Video Games That Are Basically a Work of Art
Making a video game isn’t an easy task. It takes a lot of knowledge, fantastic writers, designers, and tons of time. Games aren’t really something you should slap together at a moment’s notice, although some publishers aren’t afraid to do something like that. Those that do take their time create something wonderful that fans often love. Sure, we hate waiting as gamers, but it’s worth it in the end.
With that being said, there’s been a common debate about the video game industry – are video games art? Video games don’t hang in museums, but some of them definitely should. We’re talking about the Picassos, the Michelangelos, and the Caravaggios of the gaming world. These developers spend years perfecting every piece of their game for a stunning experience that pulls the gamer into their world. Hours can fly by, and the player wouldn’t even notice.
To those that say, “video games aren’t art,” I say that they clearly haven’t played many games. While there are tons of titles that could make this list, 15 stood out in particular. These are some of the most visually remarkable works of art that we could find. Let us know if we missed one of your favorites.
Okami is a decade old, but despite this, it's still one of the most visually stunning games of all time. In this game, you play a sun goddess that has taken the form of a white wolf that goes by the name Amaterasu Okami, or “Ammy” for short. It's your goal as Ammy to defeat Orochi's serpent and his monsters and return the world to peace.
The game stresses Japanese culture and a sense of balance that you rarely see in video games. Each level will leave you breathless, and the soundtrack is good enough to listen to on its own. Simply put, Okami is art that has disguised itself as a video game.
The Uncharted Series
Naughty Dog knows how to make a beautiful game. The first Uncharted had its ups and downs, but the second, third, and fourth were amazing in more than one way. The scenery is absolutely striking, and players are completely immersed in ancient worlds that make our jaws drop. Each game is visually intriguing, but we want to call out a few things. First, the beautiful narration from Uncharted 3. The best example of this occurs when protagonist Nathan Drake stumbles around in the desert looking for solace, all while an unseen narrator reads from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land.” “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
Second, we want to mention the work that went into Uncharted 4. The landscapes? Absolutely beautiful. Few studios can design a level this artistically while also telling a story that evokes intense emotions. Additionally, the facial captures and graphics kicked things up a notch. It set the bar for games in the future. Games were meant to be playable movies, and thus, they should have as much effort put into them. Thanks to Uncharted 4, games like Mass Effect: Andromeda were called out for their poor graphic design and bad facial expressions.
Flower won both “Best Independent Game of 2009” at the Spike Video Game Awards and “Casual Game of the Year” by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. Needless to say, the game is absolutely astounding.
Flower was designed to give the player a sense of relaxation and arouse positive emotions. The development team actively worked toward creating a work of art, rather than a game. As a flower petal, you have one goal: to find your flower and create greenery. Some have even called it “a video game version of a poem.”
Portal was a fantastic game released in 2007, but in 2011, we were given a new peek at the world of Aperture Laboratories with Portal 2. The levels we were familiar with from the first game changed into a wasteland where nature reclaimed what rightfully belonged to it. We worked with GLaDOS, rather than against her, and discovered more about Aperture Science than we ever thought we would.
Nature encroached on the mechanical world and gave us levels of masterful architecture that were borderline genius. Plus, in addition to solving puzzles using an array of scientific discoveries, players can actually create a level of their own. Without giving too much away, it was amazing to be able to move in and out of the testing area for Aperture Labs and explore what was beyond our little box.
The Last of Us
What even is a list of artistic video games if it doesn't mention The Last of Us? This game is gorgeous in every single way, from the storyline to the characters to the scenery. The remastered version, which came out in 2014, gave us a new look at one of the best games of the decade. The brilliantly rendered landscapes are as encapsulating as the dark, musky subways are terrifying.
The Last of Us encourages the player to explore the world around them by adding in dialogue between Joel and Ellie. While doing this, we're given extra tidbits that we would have otherwise missed. We see zoo animals escaped, scenes that tell a story (like an abandoned playground), and so much more. Overall, it's easy to see why The Last of Us won so many accolades, and the second one will be just as breathtaking.
The Bioshock Series
It's impossible to pick which installment of Bioshock is more artistically stunning. For the first two games, we're down in the depths of the sea, exploring an underground city called Rapture. Game designers used the 1950s and 1960s to inspire the music, art, and level design, and it really kicks things up a notch. Sometimes, it honestly feels like you're in a world designed by a modern-day Salvador Dalí.
Then, for the final installment, Bioshock Infinite, we move to the skies. The player explores the city of Columbia and the many hidden intricacies of the people that bustle around. The plot for Bioshock Infinite was totally unexpected and put the player in areas that can only be dreamt about. The visuals of Bioshock make you wonder how mere humans can be responsible for these remarkable designs.
Cuphead won many awards for its gameplay and art style—all of which are well deserved. The game looks unlike any others on the market; it very clearly took inspiration from old 1930s cartoons and designed a storyline around it. Many of the same animation techniques were used, including hand-drawn cel animation and watercolor backgrounds.
Cuphead also recreated original music to match the art style. It has original jazz recordings and music that kicks everything up a notch. While it’s hailed as one of the hardest games out there, it’s worth trying just to get the full experiences.
While the PlayStation 3 version of Until Dawn was incredible, the remastered PS4 version is clearly the better of the two. The upgraded graphics and altered scenes made it more like a horror movie, rather than just a mere game. The expressions of fear on the faces of the characters made for an immersive experience, rivaled only by a virtual reality headset.
Since we're talking about how genius this game is, it's impossible to avoid the fact that what you see in the game changes based on when you play through it. I'll avoid spoilers for those of you who haven't gotten around to it yet but know that your vision often lies. Don't trust what you see!
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Enslaved is an action-adventure game based on the classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West. Set on the post-apocalyptic Earth after a major global war, machines roam and rule the world. However, the colors found in this wasteland are literally eye-popping. There are deep greens and blues used in contrast with the thick rust and brown colors of the machinery.
Another huge thing we want to mention is the facial capture. The main character, Monkey, is played by Andy Serkis, aka Gollum from Lord of the Rings, so the emotions evoked and displayed in the game are on par with major motion pictures. If that isn't enough to convince you to play, Enslaved has one of the biggest twist endings in all of gaming history.
It's been 10 years since the release of Mirror’s Edge, but it still reigns as one of the most beautiful games of all time. What makes this game’s artwork truly unique is that it uses two distinct art styles. During the story, the player watches a cinematic that looks like it came right out of a comic book. The reception of this eventually led to an actual comic being created for the series!
Then, we have the playable level design. The designers used a minimal color scheme that mostly consists of black and white with shades of orange, red, and blue that pop in comparison. It's a way to tell the player where to go without explicitly doing so—something that's much appreciated in a game where you make split-second decisions. Mirror's Edge may have encouraged you to move quickly through levels, but all we wanted was to stand still and admire the landscapes.
Platformers have a lot of freedom in creating artwork for a 2-D setting, but Limbo took this above and beyond what you normally see. Even though the game only uses a monochrome color scheme, it's a stunning piece of art. Because of the limited palette, the makers of Limbo used depth, negative space, and texture to create their levels.
In Limbo, you play as a little boy who awakes in the middle of the forest on the “edge of hell,” or as Christian faith calls it—limbo. His job is to find his little sister, who vanishes at various points along his journey. To further add to the beauty of the game, it's very much physics-based. Too much weight can be your downfall or your saving grace.
No Man's Sky
No Man’s Sky had a rough start. It didn’t deliver on many of the promises it had for launch, and the game quickly became a reminder of why gamers should wait to pre-order. Putting all that aside, no one can say it isn’t a visually stunning game.
Skipping ahead to today, No Man’s Sky has dramatically improved. It’s become one of the most beautiful games you can ever play thanks to vast landscapes and stunning creature designs. Many players consider No Man’s Sky to be one of the best VR games you can get on the market—and that’s a pretty big compliment.
Ori and the Blind Forest
To this day, Ori and the Blind Forest remains of the most beautiful games you can buy. While many games focus on stunning cinematics, Ori and the Blind Forest has it all (including the gameplay). While players solve puzzles, they’re given level design that looks like a playable movie.
On top of that, Ori and the Blind Forest has a top-tier story to accompany the breathtaking art style. The game starts with the world in disarray. Ori’s guardian Naru dies, leaving Ori orphaned. It’s then up to the player to explore and return the forest to its former glory. Basically, when you start your playthrough, have tissues ready.
Dear Esther isn’t a game in the classical sense as it’s only a first-person exploration. While it doesn’t have enemies or huge conflict, it does break the boundaries of game design and storytelling. With your only task being to explore an uninhabited Hebridean Island, you hear the narration of a guy reading letter fragments.
The letter fragments are from the man’s deceased wife, Esther. They tell the island’s history, events they remember, more. What really stands out about this game is the unparalleled landscapes. It’s easy to lose track of how long you’ve been playing the game as you get lost in the story and the sprawling world.
Rime is an action-puzzle game that forces the player to think outside of the box to progress through the story. What stands out most about this title is its beautiful art design and animation. Everything feels so fluid that it immerses the player in a stunning world that they’ll never forget.
To accompany this, the game designers also wanted original music. Whether you’re an intense or casual gamer, there’s something for everyone. All of this plus an unbeatable story, and it’s no surprise that Rime was one of the best games of 2017.