Following the extraordinary release of Nvidia's 900 series GPUs, game graphics have seen a big push. 2015 was one of the most impressive years yet for gamers who enjoy seeing the latest and greatest from graphics technology, and they're only getting better.
Looking back, there are a lot of games that deserve attention for pushing the envelope on graphics, but below we'll focus on the 10 that stand out most.
Note: You can click an image to view it full-size.
10. Dying Light
Dying Light was the first big budget game to be released this year. It started 2015 off right with a strong showing from a new and improved Chrome Engine. Changeable weather conditions, a physical lighting model, spherical harmonics, and atmospheric ccattering make it a progressive game visually. Its only major weakness is abusive use of chromatic aberration and lens flare which causes bleeding on object edges. Nonetheless, the game is a serious looker, which is impressive given that it's an open-world zombie apocalypse game.
9. Grand Theft Auto V
It might be cheating for this two year old game to be earning a spot in a list such as this, but it deserves it. Grand Theft Auto V's PC port was a home run for Rockstar, and is one of the best showcases for how quickly PC hardware is advancing. It uses a few technologies such as percentage closer soft shadows and TXAA, along with a wide range of graphical options to produce stunning image quality despite the massive size of its world. At higher resolution it's capable of producing screenshots that mimic real-life when taken at the right angles.
8. Mad Max
The team that made Just Cause 2 was tasked with making a Mad Max game to coincide with this year's film release. The results were noteworthy. Mad Max's environments were given a tremendous amount of attention by the studio's artists, resulting in a post-apocalyptic world that is kind on the eyes. A wide range of graphical options including point light sSpecular, parallax mapping, and fog/particle upsampling allowed for a high graphical ceiling, affording the lucky few with high end graphics cards to see something that was a monumental step above the console versions.
7. Just Cause 3
Just Cause 3's presentation is similarly impressive as Mad Max, but with a much different style. Instead of a post apocalyptic world, it is set in the colorful beauty of the Mediterranean. Zipping around using the grapple hook is made a lot better by its fantastic presentation that stretches across several islands rich with vegetation and tall vertical structures. But where it really shines is with its effects and physics. Chaos is a major part of Just Cause 3's gameplay, and it's fun to cause a series of explosions and view the resulting destruction.
6. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Kojima Productions deserves a mention here if only for how optimized Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is. As with the Ground Zeroes prologue before it, the game runs remarkably well across a variety of platforms while delivering a presentation that has been developed meticulously with phenomenal animation work and superbly defined character models. The game is limited in environmental styles, set in only two regions (Afghanistan and Africa), which held it back to some degree. That said, support for 4K and 5K resolutions, higher-quality shading, dynamic super resolution, and all-new graphical settings makes the PC version a cut above the often praised current-generation console releases.
5. Project Cars
Project Cars is the only game on this list that was crowd-funded, and also the only racing game. Despite these qualities that would traditionally hold it back, it exceeded all expectations. Provided with a wide range of graphical settings including various anti-aliasing methods, particle level and density, detail levels, and sophisticated reflection technology, it was a stunner when it released in May of this year. It remains the most beautiful racing game on the planet, capable of reproducing the thrill of racing in some of the world's fastest cars during various conditions. If only its audio was as good as its graphics.
4. Batman: Arkham Knight
While most PC gamers think of technical issues when they hear the name Batman: Arkham Knight, those who were fortunate enough to avoid its colossal list of issues remember it for its amazing presentation. Building off its predecessors, it introduced some Nvidia Gameworks technology such as the best PhysX the world has ever seen, as well as enhanced rain and light shafts. It didn't offer much in the way of graphics options, but was truly breathtaking when cranked up to maximum settings, producing the best look at Gotham the world has ever seen outside of cinemas.
3. Assassin's Creed Syndicate
Funny enough, Assassin's Creed Syndicate is considered a slight downgrade from last year's Assassin's Creed Unity. Even then it deserves a top three spot for the year, a testament to how beautiful Unity was. This year's release features temporal anti-aliasing, horizon-based ambient occlusion, and percentage-closer soft shadows, pushing image quality to a whole new level. This was accompanied by one of the two most impressive lighting effect engines in the world right now. Assassin's Creed is the king of lighting, and as a result it has been able to deliver life-like screenshots without mods.
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt took years to develop, and was built by a studio that thinks of PC first. It shows. The game is an absolute beast on PC, capable of delivering an open-world environment that gamers previously only dreamed of. Part of this was due to its support of physical-based rendering, high-precision effects, and tessellation. But where it truly set itself apart from the competition was with its Nvidia HairWorks support. With this setting enabled, every hair follicle and strand of fur was rendered individually, allowing for remarkable movement of an often overlooked element of character models. With all these technologies and attention to detail put together, its world was second to none in the RPG space.
1. Star Wars: Battlefront
Unlike all the other games on this list, most of the attention during development of Star Wars: Battlefront was focused on the visual and audio presentation. For anyone who loves beautiful graphics, that philosophy paid off. Star Wars: Battlefront is currently the world's best-looking video game. Every element of its visuals are impressive, from its texture detail, to the effects shown during combat. It doesn't require some of the fancy technologies of the other games listed, just a highly refined Frostbite engine with some of the best artists in the world behind it. However, one method used for Star Wars: Battlefront which is unique to the title is photogrammetry, which essentially uses scans made of real world objects (in this case Star Wars: The Force Awakens props) to add them to the game. This would explain why everything from Darth Vader's helmet to X-wing fighters look authentic. This attention to detail is accompanied by EA DICE's high audio quality standard, which helps make its Star Wars world come to life unlike ever seen before.