Video game graphics have come a very long way. Some of the best-looking video games are so photorealistic that at times you could reasonably mistake them for real life. What’s even more amazing is just how quickly graphics are improving – just look at the difference between 2013’s The Last of Us, which already looked amazing, and the 2020 sequel The Last of Us Part II.
Part of that is down to the move in big-budget games towards using motion capture technology to really bring characters to life, both in terms of how they move around and interact with an environment, and in terms of tiny facial expressions that say more than their dialogue ever could. Add to that a hefty sprinkle of gorgeous lighting, clever environmental physics, and the sheer imagination of games developers, and you’ve got a recipe for something amazing.
So if you’re a big fan of the photorealistic look, let’s take a look at some of the most gorgeous games that have come out in the last couple of years.
1. The Last of Us Part II
Distant vistas with tiny Infected shambling between windswept trees, rain-haze over Seattle’s ruined skyscrapers, light streaming through stained glass windows, a carpet of algae parting in front of you as you swim through it, blood pools gradually diffusing away into rain puddles on the ground… The Last of Us Part II has a bazillion tiny details in its environment that most players will never notice. We think that’s a criminal waste. Slow down and take in the view, folks.
2. Death Stranding
Seeing the famous faces of various celebrities across the stunning world of Death Stranding is enough to make you think you’re watching a movie, but what makes the game feel more realistic than ever (despite the supernatural baddies lurking at every turn) is the fact that Sam gets tired, bruised, muddy, and grumpy while walking across most of America. Even his kit wears out in the harsh terrain, and if you make him walk far enough in worn-out shoes, you’ll be treated to a toe-curlingly visceral scene involving a broken toenail and… ugh. Nope. Keep those shoes in good repair, please.
3. Detroit: Become Human
This is a world in which androids are so realistic that it’s very difficult to tell them apart from humans. It’s ironic really, because this is another game in which you often find yourself forgetting that you’re not looking at real-life footage. Whether it’s the tiny facial expressions of an android learning to think for itself or the gorgeously lit environments of futuristic Detroit, this one’s a must-play for fans of photorealistic games.
4. Half-Life: Alyx
What we love most about Half-Life: Alyx is how utterly real the world feels. Not only does it look like a feasible, breathing world, with all the signs and sounds in the environment to prove that it’s inhabited by other people, but the fact that you get to physically move around it in VR just blows our minds every time. Especially when you get to draw on windows with marker pens and rummage around on shelves. This stuff is the future, guys. It’s breathtaking.
5. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
There are plenty of fantastical elements to this one, like spirits and fire giants, but does that mean it doesn’t look real? Not a chance. The lack of a HUD to guide you through the game (something we’d love to see more of, incidentally) means you’re also that much more immersed in the environment, which looks so good you could swear there’s a camera crew following Senua’s actress around.