We may be coming to the end of a generation, but developers are still wringing out eye-spanking visuals from current console hardware - so much so, that we're now seeing games that would have been inconceivable five years ago. High time, then, that we gift-wrap the best-looking games of 2012 into one handy, alphabetical list. The only qualifier? They must have been released this year. Don't agree? Comment below!
Assassin's Creed 3
The move to North America has provided a whole new visual palette for Assassin's Creed 3, as the game sweeps through snowy backwoods, bustling New England ports, and gigantic Revolutionary War battle scenes. Simply put, with Ubisoft's AnvilNext game engine powering it, the game looks absolutely stunning and an absolute cert for inclusion as one of our best-looking games of this year. Art director Raphael Lacoste had already worked on the Prince of Persia and Assassin's Creed series, as well as movies like Terminator Salvation and Death Race and you could do a lot worse than check out his personal site to see some of the gorgeous visual influences he'll be bringing to Assassin's Creed 3.
One of 2012's biggest and bravest new IPs, Dishonored's Victoriana-influenced look and steampunk stylings are ravishing; no surprise, perhaps, with some of the Half-Life 2 team on board. Dunwall, the whale-blubber powered city dystopia at the heart of the game, is a suitably gloomy, gothic setting decorated with lush, hand-painted textures and populated by enemies and architecture by Viktor Antonov, working in collaboration with Art Director Sebastien Mitton. Having gone hands- -on with the game, we can confirm few games boast such a distinct sense of time and place, and Dishonored's looks are beautifully immersive, drawing you completely into this dark, insanely twisted world. "Everything we design, we think choice," says Dishonored's creative Director Raphael Colantonio. "So we design all of it, and then we fill those areas with characters and give it a story. You build this world that has real spaces and multiple paths so it feels like a real world. We support the things that are cool - the emergent situations we didn't plan. Designing them in a simulated way creates content."
Far Cry 3
The Far Cry series has always been renowned for its beautiful looks and there's every sign that Far Cry 3 is going to be the most gorgeous entry in the series yet. The return to a tropical island paradise has certainly given Ubisoft's artists free rein to create one of the tastiest-looking open world games around, all wide open vistas, golden sand, lush sunsets and bounding wildlife. As if that weren't enough, some of the animation in the first-person scripted sequences - particularly where you're hurled face-first into the drink by Vaas - are uncanny, the fire and explosion effects drop-jaw realistic... and as for the hallucinogenic wares of Doctor Earnhardt, well, better pack a new pair of pants.
Final Fantasy XIII-2
In a series that has always been renowned for its stellar looks, Final Fantasy XIII-2 continued to set the same high standard. Although our Final Fantasy XIII-2 review may have found the game itself "an intriguing time-hopping concept hamstrung by substandard combat and unrefined level replays", there's little doubt its visual fidelity, superbly realised characters and cut scene art sets a standard of beauty by which all other games are measured. Art director Isamu Kamikokuryo, who also served as Lightning's costume designer has said there is no defining 'Final Fantasy look' and each game in the series gets its own individual treatment and art direction. Heaven knows how eyeballs are going to be caressed in future Final Fantasy titles, but with the new, next generation Luminous engine powering them, you can bet they'll look good.