The previous generation of consoles – PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Xbox One – saw major advances in the graphical quality of games. 4K resolution, application of HDR with color enhancement and brightness intensity in increasingly complex worlds became possible. Also, realistic lighting effects have become almost standard in major productions present in the following list, such as Red Dead Redemption 2, The Last of Us Part 2, and Forza Horizon 4.
In the lines below, Techidence has selected 10 games with impressive graphics from the past generation. However, the task was not easy at all, because we had to leave out highlights such as Battlefield 5, Gran Turismo Sport, Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Unity, and more.
1. Red Dead Redemption 2
Released in 2018 for PS4 and Xbox One – the game would later come to PCs as well – Rockstar’s open-world still impresses with the level of detail and the huge map. Another highlight is the global lighting system that gives the game a realism look that is hard to find even in more recent major releases.
In Red Dead Redemption 2, the player encounters open fields, dense forest regions, riverbanks, mountainous areas, swamps, lakes, snow-covered regions, and even a large area of arid desert, all simulated with a great level of craftsmanship. The interiors of buildings and the appearance of urban areas on the map are also impressive and an invitation for fancy screenshots.
2. The Last of Us – Part 2
The eagerly awaited sequel to The Last of Us, the PS4 exclusive arrived on consoles in 2020. Following the example of what the original title did in 2013, it represented an important milestone for the generation. Its extremely detailed graphics set the tone for scenarios that are more complex, expansive, and inviting to explore than the first game.
In addition to the whimsical models and textures, The Last of Us 2 features a lighting system that accentuates the game’s often somber character. The feature also gives realism to scenes and missions that take place both outdoors and inside abandoned areas. Naughty Dog’s big hit joins the list as a representative of the studio that would go on to release Uncharted 4 (2016) and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (2017), other great examples of lush graphics of the generation.
3. Batman: Arkham Knight
The last game in the trilogy developed by Rocksteady about the character, Arkham Knight (2015) has its flaws, but none of them concern the high-quality graphic presentation that permeates the open-world recreation of Gotham City. The art direction excels at blending the modern with the traditional gothic look of Batman stories.
It is never daytime during the game and all the action takes place on a rainy night. The look of the rain falling, illuminated by the city lights, and the natural effect of the water pooling and running over the hero’s costume still impresses today. Batman Arkham Knight is available for PS4, Xbox One, and PCs.
4. The Order: 1886
Detractors of this PS4 exclusive, released as recently as 2015, criticized the game’s short story and little action. However, no one faults the graphics of the production that can easily be mistaken for cinema, with realistic images complemented by 21:9 screen aspect and effects that make the Victorian England of The Order a very realistic setting.
The game impresses with the complexity of the characters and the rich detail of the weapon models and other items the player interacts with. Lighting effects enhance the quality of materials and textures, giving a realistic look to coverings of various kinds, such as wood that is very apparent in the interiors.
5. Ghost of Tsushima
From 2020, Ghost of Tsushima has high-quality graphics, but perhaps what impresses most about the PS4-exclusive production is the art direction. Feudal Japan demonstrated in the production invests heavily in scene compositions that play with light, contrast, and shadow effects from the incidence of light through the foliage. Scenes with leaves and flowers suspended in the air are a must for those who decide to play with the game’s photographic mode.
The beautiful graphics composition of Ghost of Tsushima also invests in some level of innovation, as it allows players to apply a filter that leaves the game in black and white. The choice may seem odd, but it gives the game a classic samurai movie feel that is simply not to be missed by fans of the genre. Those who have the opportunity to test the game on PlayStation 5 (PS5) can also count on 60 FPS graphics.
6. Horizon: Zero Dawn
Guerrilla’s big hit of 2017, the open-world with RPG elements for PS4 offers graphics with vibrant colors, rich effects, and plenty of variation. There are many different biomes on the Horizon map that break the sameness common in open-world games with huge maps.
Horizon’s graphics work because they converge to mitigate the extremes of a story set in a post-apocalyptic world, with ruins of industrial civilization amidst a population without our technological mastery, further permeated with the presence of robotic dinosaurs. Lighting effects, HDR support, and upscaling mechanisms for PS4 Pro and PS5 are still an industry benchmark.
7. Forza Horizon 4
A big hit for the Xbox One, Forza Horizon 4 was released in 2018 with graphics that quickly became a benchmark not only to demonstrate the capabilities of Microsoft’s platform but also for the entire genre of racing games. Global lighting system, implementation of HDR, and the high level of detail in the car models present in the game are the strong points of FH4.
Another strong point of the arcade racing game is the varying weather environments, which contribute to highly varied scenarios. For gamers with access to Xbox One X (and above), there is also the enhanced ability to run the game in native 4K resolution with 60 FPS refresh – without any loss of image quality. Xbox One, One S, and Series S run the game in Full HD at 30 frames per second, also without any loss of quality.
8. Marvel’s Spider-Man
Another great PS4 exclusive, 2018’s Spider-Man impresses with its faithful reconstruction of Manhattan Island. The densely populated city is depicted with a great variety of skyscrapers that break away from sameness and look different from each other. There are streets, heavy traffic, high pedestrian volume, detailed parks and roads, and detailed animations of the hero’s actions.
The graphics of Spider-Man are high quality on PS4, but those who decide to try the remastered version of the game for PS5 have access to higher fidelity images. On the new console, the resolution can be native 4K – plus access to ray tracing effects that, in a city full of glassed-in buildings, give an even more realistic look to reflections.
9. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Throughout this list, we have cited titles such as Ghosts of Tsushima and Red Dead 2 for their rich detail and high-quality graphics in rendering foliage, forests in the distance, and how light interacts with elements within the game worlds. All these virtues are also highlights of The Witcher 3, even though the game is much older than the other two.
The world of The Witcher 3 is varied and compliments are not only on the way the game portrays forests and foliage, but also water, including the character diving. Cities and towns are also worth noting, with art direction that excels at the task of reproducing the look of medieval Europe to the RPG.
10. Gears of War 5
Microsoft has not invested as much in exclusive productions during the generation and this is reflected in the list with a larger presence of PS4 games. Gears of War 5, however, is an example that Microsoft’s system had the potential to guarantee games as graphically evolved as the heavyweights from Sony’s top-tier studios.
With scenes rendered in real-time like the rival platform’s successes, the game offers a visual spectacle for players with access to HDR screens. In addition to the huge leap in character complexity and detail, the environments are more vibrant, have more complex geometry, and reveal high-quality textures and materials that stand up to the best that Sony’s big-name exclusives have to offer.