Monday, May 23rd, 2022

The best video game art of 2021

Game graphics have come a long way in the last decade, but graphics alone are not a beautiful game. Style, mood and emotion can all be conveyed through the art direction of the game and can be seen in everything from characters and environments to level design to menus.

These are our choices for the best video game art of 2021.

Skillful escape

Artful Escape features a surprisingly realistic yet simple paper-like environment, completely punched out in amazing colors. It’s a kind of art style that fully supports itself and the story, but it’s totally unexpected. The normally hidden eccentricity is a common theme, and you instantly feel that you are part of the Wes Anderson-Tim Burton mashup movie from the moment it begins. But the vibrant colors and stunning use of design in Artful Escape aren’t the whole awesome element. It’s also in the details. Dust particles floating in a quiet room. Top-down shot of record playback. The culmination of storytelling and musical art styles makes The Artful Escape stand out as the best art design in the 2021 game. -Jessie Wade

For more information, see IGN’s Artful Escape review.

The Arkane Studios design team has a history of adding stylish spins to familiar genres and aesthetics, from the dirty “whale punk” streets of Dishonored’s Dunwall to the Earl Deco Hall of Prey’s Talos 1, and Deathloop is on this trend. I will not go against it. The cut scene is a chic combination of spy show intros and exploitation movie inspiration, with every corner of Blackleaf Island being a mid-century modern hideout that could be Bond’s villain, or 60. A book cover that looks straight out of the movie posters and pulp fiction of the era. Watching these environments evolve in the course of a daily loop is also a fascinating pastime in itself. Just by Arkane adding PopArt’s talent to the world, the descent to complete disorder becomes much more colorful. Even the (most) chunky design of the weapon and the nature of the jury’s equipment in Cole’s technology, all combined, may not be able to redefine the entire genre, but is arguably Arkane’s most memorable. Create a very unique world that will be one of your works. -John Ryan

See IGN’s Deathloop review for more information.

Psycho Notes 2

Psychonauts were Saturday morning cartoons in the form of video games when they first appeared in 2005. Sixteen years later, the Double Fine Productions psychedelic artist did his best with Psychonauts 2. In 2021, we are completely committed to the double fine, which is the atmosphere of a mud cap produced over 10 years ago. Technological advances have only improved Psycho Notes’ eccentric aesthetics, and its mod-inspired secret spy bases, nervous mental hospitals, and especially distracting dental nightmares are the most memorable of 2021. Part of a visual treat. -Matt Kim

For more information, see IGN’s Psychonauts 2 Review.

Ratchet & Crank: Lift Apart

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is arguably one of the most beautiful games of the year, and Insomniac’s skilled team has already provided a benchmark for a new generation of muscle bending and all PS5 games to meet. I am. However, Rift Apart’s visual style does not succeed with technical skills alone. Insomniac’s art and design teams create candy-coated visual feasts that bring so many different alien planets to life. From the old western-style mining town to the opening lobby bar of the battle arena in the lift apartment, to the destroyed laboratory. The level of the lift apartment is full of life and detail. And in a fun way, you can see two versions of many locales. At some levels, ratchets or rivets hop from the rift to different iterations of the same planet, each feeling separate from each other. It’s a difficult trick to pull it off, but Insomniac makes it look so natural as you explore its many memorable worlds. –Jonathon Dornbush

For more information, see IGN’s Ratchet & Clank: RiftApart review.


From dense Geiger-style tunnels to vast yet minimalist sci-fi subterraneas, Returnal is a compelling and gorgeous equivalent. Your lonely and isolated trek across the dangerous and dim planets of Atropos is constantly offset by striking color bursts, giant alien lifeforms, and a display of fantastic fireworks of light and laser beams. There are constant moments of vibrant euphoric chaos swirling around the player in a fierce firefight, rewarded by the calm tranquility that barely survives the battle. Returnal is one of the most beautiful sights on the PlayStation 5 and is a great example of what a focused and visionary art team can do with powerful next-generation hardware. -Brian Alterno

See IGN’s Return Review for more information.

All IGN Best of 2021 Game Categories

IGN’s Best of 2021 Awards was designed by:

Lead Design + Art Direction: Julia Lago

Motion graphics: Bacherer