GOTY 2014 - Best Art Direction

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Best Art Direction - The Banner Saga

Stoic | January 14, 2014 | Windows, OS X, iOS, Android

Video games are a young medium. There are many who remember being told that the Commodore 64 was superior to the Atari 2600 because its games were more realistic. For the better part of three decades, games have been chasing the dragon that is graphic realism. Just look at the backlash to the first presentation of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker to see how much of a premium consumers put on realistic graphics versus interesting ones. The litmus test for new consoles traditionally involves sports and racing games. And while titles like Madden NFL and Driveclub look better than ever, they seem bereft of creativity. They serve a specific audience and they do it well, but it does little to push the medium in new directions.

Going back to that older era, there was game that garnered a great deal of attention. Animator Don Bluth created Dragon's Lair, which had all of the interactivity of a DVD special features menu and the riveting gameplay of a quick-time event. However, it was stunning — the game looked just like a retro, hand-drawn cartoon. Now, thirty years later, games can utilize that hand-drawn art style and have real gameplay beneath the facade as well.

The Banner Saga is a gorgeous game in a genre that rarely prioritizes visuals. It looks like nothing else on the market. The lore is what can be best described as viking-adjacent, and its style is closest to Hollywood's animated output of the late seventies (think Disney's Black Cauldron or the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit). What hurts Dragon's Lair is that the art of the game got in the way of playing; however, The Banners Saga uses the art to immerse the player in it. Each unit animates so beautifully, it's never been so lovely to be murdered on a snowy battlefield. Whether in battle or conversation, the art style is unique, arresting and beautiful. The Banner Saga is absolutely the most visually stunning game of 2014.   – Tyler Martin

Runners-up: Monument Valley, Transistor