10 visually stunning next-generation games

As well as lavish triple-A games, platforms like Steam have given small independent studios a platform for their creative projects. The arrival of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One means a lot of new games are heading our way in the coming months. Here are some of the most visually striking.

01. Destiny

  • Console: Xbox One, PlayStation 4
  • Release: 2014

This is Bungie’s first project since creating the world-conquering Halo series. Destiny combines science fiction and fantasy to create a distinctive universe, with futuristic masked soldiers whose armour designs are based on mythical creatures including ghosts, vampires, and angels.

It’s a first-person shooter with a multiplayer focus, and Bungie say the world will be ‘alive’, shifting and evolving around players. Whether or not it’ll be as popular as the adventures of Master Chief remains to be seen, but the rich, evocative art style and the legacy of the developers certainly has us interested.

02. The Witness

  • Console: PlayStation 4, PC
  • Release: 2014

The latest game from Braid creator Jonathan Blow is The Witness, a puzzle game with a focus on exploration. Set on a peaceful, idyllic island, the world shifts from golden autumnal forests, to sandy beaches, to shimmering oceans.

The environments are vividly colourful and wonderfully stylised, and if Braid is anything to go by, the puzzle design will be similarly impressive. The Witness is coming to PC and iOS, but for next-gen consoles it’s a PlayStation 4 exclusive. Blow has said the game is inspired by surreal ‘90s CD-ROM puzzler Myst, and it definitely shows.

03. Mirror's Edge

  • Console: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
  • Release: TBC

The original Mirror’s Edge is still a beautiful game, set in a gleaming white futuristic city accented with bold primary colours. Mirror’s Edge 2 - which is only a tentative title at this point - seems to be continuing this style, but using developers DICE’s gorgeous Frostbite 3 engine, which was recently used to power Battlefield 4.

The new Mirror’s Edge will be a prequel, revealing the origins of hero Faith, a ‘runner’ who evades government surveillance using free-running. Dystopian sci-fi usually opts for bleak, dark settings, but Edge’s shining city is a unique twist on the theme.

04. SOMA

  • Console: PlayStation 4, PC
  • Release: 2015

Frictional Games are one of the most talented horror developers on PC, with 2010’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent being the terrifying highlight of their catalogue. But while their previous games have always been set at the turn of the century, SOMA is a dark sci-fi inspired by the books of authors like Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick.

In the reveal trailer we see the hero exploring a bizarre alien environment straight from the mind of H.R. Giger; a fusion of organic and mechanical structures. SOMA’s planned release on PlayStation 4 will be the studio’s console debut.

05. Watch Dogs

  • Console: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
  • Release: 2014

In Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs you play as Aiden Pearce, a vigilante who uses his mobile phone to hack into electronic devices and manipulate the city around him. If he’s being chased by the police, he might raise a bridge to evade them, or cause a blackout and plunge the entire city into darkness.

To visualise this hacking system, the game uses a stylish HUD comprised of white lines and geometric shapes, which connect your phone visually to the people you’re spying on, or objects you’re hacking. The promo website wearedata.watchdogs.com is a great example of this design.

06. Thumper

  • Console: PC
  • Release: 2014

The first game by new indie studio Drool, Thumper is a peculiar game that combines psychedelic visuals, racing, and rhythm action. Music is a big part of the project, and the development team includes Brian Gibson, bass player for noise-rock band Lightning Bolt, and Marc Flury, who worked extensively on the Rock Band series.

With its abstract, fractal imagery and blistering pace, it looks like a cross between futuristic racer WipEout and Harmonix’s Amplitude series. The game is due for release next year ‘on whatever platforms make sense’ (their words), but a PC version is a given.

07. Child of Light

  • Console: Xbox One, Playstation, PC
  • Release: 2014

This hand-drawn platformer/RPG is a project by UbiArt, a collective of artists and developers with backgrounds in film and cartoons. The result is a game with a magnificently unique art style, which has hints of classic Disney and Studio Ghibli.

Inspired by popular Japanese RPGs like the Grandia series, Child of Light sees you playing as Aurora, a young girl on an epic quest in a lush fantasy world. The game is built with UbiArt Framework, an in-house engine developed by Ubisoft that allows developers to create games with computers that look carefully hand-animated.

08. Titanfall

  • Console: Xbox One, PC
  • Release: 2014

Titanfall is the long-awaited first game from Respawn, a new EA studio made up of designers who worked on the multimillion-selling Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series. It’s a multiplayer game that sees players piloting robots and fighting on large maps, in a rusty, worn-out sci-fi universe.

The design of the mechs, with their exposed machinery and human-like silhouettes, are straight out of classic manga, influenced by artists like Masamune Shirow and Katsuhiro Otomo. Titanfall is a Microsoft exclusive (for now, at least), which means it’ll only be released on Xbox One and PC.

09. Transistor

  • Console: Xbox One, PC
  • Release: 2014

Transistor is the latest project by Supergiant Games, the creators of acclaimed indie hit Bastion. It’s a turn-based sci-fi strategy game set in a futuristic city, and sees you playing as Red, a girl who wields a special sword; the titular Transistor.

Anime is an obvious influence on the game’s colourful, hand-painted visuals and dystopian setting, as are the rainy, neon-lit streets of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Supergiant’s artists are incredibly talented, and the enemy designs in particular - strange, abstract robots who look mysteriously human - are particularly interesting.

10. Broken Age

  • Console: PC
  • Release: 2014

Broken Age is the game that kickstarted the Kickstarter revolution, raising almost $3,000,000 more than its modest $400,00 goal. It’s a point-and-click adventure inspired by classic LucasArts games like Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle.

Developers Double Fine have some of the most talented artists in the games industry working for them, and Broken Age has a rich, vivid art style that looks like a painting come to life. In it, you’ll switch between a boy living alone on a spaceship, and a girl about to be sacrificed in a village, whose lives become somehow intertwined.

Andy Kelly has been a video games journalist for ten years. His work has appeared in, among others, Edge, PC Gamer, The Guardian, and GamesMaster.

You can learn the secrets of game cinematic techniques in the new issue of 3D World magazine - on sale now!

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