10 Video Games With Stunning Stylized Visuals

Gabrielle Gosha
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Video games have been around for a very long time, and they’ve gone through hundreds iterations and evolutions. I have a fond appreciation for video games; I grew up playing old, 8-bit video games, as did a lot of people. Video games aren’t just meant for entertainment, they’re teaching tools and powerful motivators worthy of study and appreciation. Some games bring psychological and moral ethics into play, and they also can be appreciated purely from a visual design standpoint.

Like most creative endeavors, video game conception begins with the bare bones — illustrations. Lately, we have been hit with wave after wave of hyperrealistic 3D graphics, so I find it very refreshing and exciting that there have been new video games that actually feature illustrated animated scenes. These illustrated animations are often known as motion graphics, and they carry an obvious influence from graphic novels, their paper-based bretheren.

Check out these gorgeous illustrated scenes, and hopefully you’ll find yourself inspired to explore these titles further or even create an illustrated motion graphic yourself. To view the scenes in motion, click on each image.

DC Universe Online

DC Universe Online sticks to its DC comic book roots instead of abandoning them for the usual 3D sequences. The game showcases cutscenes that have been illustrated in comic book style and coupled with motion.

Deadlight

A mix of Limbo and The Walking Dead, this side-scrolling survival/horror game truly has a unique look highlighted by the heavily-illustrated cutscenes that give the game a raw and edgy look to it fitting for the horror game.

Infamous 2

The illustrated cutscenes in Infamous serve as perfect examples of how to execute a proper motion graphic. All of the illustrations were developed as a rough storyboard and then fleshed out in Photoshop before being taken into After Effects.

Starhawk

Gorgeously created, the illustrations in Starhawk aren’t done in comic book style like those from Infamous and DC Universe Online. Instead, the illustrations are animated in a way that make you feel like you’re watching a short animated film.

Dishonored

Not actually featured in the game, Psyop created three animated webisodes for Dishonored for promotional backstory purposes. Each frame was painted in Photoshop, with nearly 3,000 frames in total for the final project.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

If you are a Metal Gear Solid fan, you probably know about the graphic novel illustrated by Ashley Woods. He helped out with Peace Walker. The images are stark and comprised of brushstrokes coupled with comic book sound effects and even speech bubbles that come to life with motion.

Alice: Madness Returns

A personal favorite, Alice: Madness Returns features a style reminiscent of cut-out/pop-ups for the cutscenes. This technique is beautifully executed, even when illustrating gruesome happenings. Plus, it works wonderfully when you remember Alice in Wonderland as a children’s book.

Dragon Age II

Another favorite, Dragon Age II is a game that features non-comic book illustrations for its cutscenes. Instead, what you get is beautifully-created, color-rich illustrations used to narrate the events of the game.

Diablo III

Like Infamous, Dishonored, and other stylized games, Diablo III uses 2.5D animation models for its opening cinematic. The illustrations are coupled with depth and motion, and it’s truly amazing to watch these drawings come to life.

Darksiders II

Just like in the original Darksiders, Darksiders II continues using the illustrated opening. Unlike Alice: Madness Returns and Deadlight, Darksiders II uses heavy silhouettes along with negative space to create detail.

Bonus

For those of you who are interested in motion comic graphics and want learn more, check out this ‘Making of’ video for Infamous that takes you behind the scenes.

What do you think of illustrated motion graphics and motion comic graphics? Do you have any favorite examples that use these techniques? Do you prefer hyperrealism or more of a stylistic, artful approach to video game narratives?

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  • Lamont Cranston

    Great article Gabrielle!

    I love Alice: Madness Returns as well! It’s one of my favorite games. I so love the art style as well as the game play, and story.

    • http://digifaceproject.wordpress.com Gabrielle

      Thanks Lamont!
      Yes the art style, story and game play really makes it one of my favorites. I really do hope that Alice 3: Welcome to Otherland isn’t just talk and will come out a lot sooner than Alice: Madness Returns did.

  • http://www.anchorstl.com michael meininger

    no dark souls?!

    That game has a very stylistic brooding and helpless feeling.

    • http://digifaceproject.wordpress.com Gabrielle

      Hey Michael, the article is actually meant to focus on video games that use motion graphic comics/illustrations for their cutscenes.
      I’m pretty sure that Dark Souls I and II are using CGI for the cutscenes but maybe I’ll do another post that covers the overall stylistic feel of games featuring dark stylistic themes and will definitely include Dark Souls.

      • http://www.anchorstl.com michael meininger

        Mea Culpa

        • http://digifaceproject.wordpress.com Gabrielle

          No worries :)

  • Nix

    One shining example is also Borderlands 1 and 2. The whole game is animated with what is (I think) called “cell shading”, so it looks like a comic book.

    I am not talking just about animations, the whole game is like that. The style is on the verge of overdoing it, but never crosses the limit. So, it is very amusing.

    The opening scene features really good music score, too.

    • http://digifaceproject.wordpress.com Gabrielle

      Hi Nix, you’re right Borderlands 1 and 2 have a great look to them thanks to the cell shading, considering Borderlands originally looked like your typical Unreal Engine 3 FPS.
      I also agree about the music too, I personally love “Short Change Hero”.

  • http://www.getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    Slightly disingenuous title perhaps? I came here expecting to see reference to Okami, Viewtiful Joe and Wind Waker, but if we’re sticking with cutscenes what about the opening to God Of War III, using animated illustrations reminiscent of the art of ancient Greece? Reliance on CGI rather than straight illustration all the way through might invalidate this again, but an interesting style nevertheless.

    Or what about the original Max Payne, with it’s graphic-novel inspired cut-scenes?

    • http://digifaceproject.wordpress.com Gabrielle

      Hi Matt, sorry if there is any confusion, the original title I had for the article was changed when it was finally published. The article is meant to be about games that use motion graphic comics/​illustrations for their cutscenes and the original article title had reflected that. God of War III and a list of other games all have great styles being utilized and would have made my list for sure. I hadn’t even thought of Max Payne at the time of writing but it would have definitely bumped my list from 10 to 15.

      I plan to do another video game roundup but this time on overall style and will include both God of War and Dark Souls. Thanks for the comment and suggestion.