GOTY 2018: Best Photo Mode

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This year we've brought back our category awards to recognize achievements in specific areas of game development. There are 10 awards in all, with two new ones being awarded every day this week. Keep checking back for more winners!

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Best Photo Mode: Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Ubisoft Quebec | October 5, 2018 | PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

Runners-up: Marvel's Spider-Man | God of War

What makes a good photo mode? Some may prefer the nuance of tweaking f-stop, ISO, and exposure in a game like Gran Turismo Sport, which offered the best damn photography simulation since the original Dead Rising. (He's covered wars, y'know.)

(Also, I'm kidding. Dead Rising had a god-awful proto photo mode.)

Others, mirroring modern, mobile-first photography, would rather substitute technical accuracy for point-and-shoot simplicity. Specifically, they want something like Marvel's Spider-Man, where almost every shot looks as amazing as those heavily filtered food photos you post to Instagram on your $1200 iPhone.

If you're asking me, well, I'd rather visit an entire world with a trusty, albeit semi-adequate, camera. That's how I'd describe photographing the Mediterranean landscapes and city streets of Assassin's Creed Odyssey.

Last year we recognized Gran Turismo Sport and its insane level of photographic detail. However, this year I (successfully) argued that we shouldn't only award games with the most bells and whistles. I believe that a game world that offers the most variety of snappable subjects deserves top recognition, and Odyssey is the closest I've seen to a living, breathing world that encourages exploration through a simulated lens.

Don't get me wrong: Spider-Man makes for brilliant pictures. But Odyssey is variety. Its small villages and bustling Athens offer almost limitless street photography compositions. As gorgeous as Spidey's New York is, that's all you get for the entire game: a big ol' city. Odyssey gives you mountains, volcanos, the sea—all of it waiting to be captured with an admittedly decent proxy camera; the same one seen in last year's Assassin's Creed Origins.

But I'd argue again that the point of awarding "best photo mode" is not which game looked prettiest, and not which game offered the most menu sliders approximating real photography, but it's instead about spotlighting the game that encourages your artistic sensibilities with an unmatched living, breathing world of variety. Photography, to me, is about capturing moments I've never seen. Game photography is, to me, about capturing the essence of worlds that no longer or never will exist. No other game in 2018 approximated the IRL feeling of travelling to a beautiful country and making memories with your trusty camera. — Aaron Thayer