It’s not very often we find something to be a masterpiece, nor is it a term we’d go slapping on the cover of any old title that dares to be different. The truth is, it takes a whole lot more than originality to ship the label, and it isn’t something we usually stumble across at every crossroads, either. Though, with that being said, we have seen plenty of phenomenal works of art bless our screens over the years. And that’s why selecting just five for the sake of this list isn’t going to be the walk in the park I hoped it would be. In fact, there’s an ocean of remarkable works to wade through with this one. But we have to start somewhere, right?
To break it down, we’re going to delve into the shorter works that could very well be considered masterpieces in the video game realm. Sure enough, we’ll explore another batch at a later date, with a larger focal point dedicated to the lengthier titles on the market. For now, however, we’re talking bittersweet marvels, enchanting worlds and bite-sized storylines. So, let’s take it from the top.
It’s not very often a story can drop you in at the deep end and expect you to brave the depths, knowing full well you lack the knowledge to so much as paddle in such unknown waters. Journey, on the other hand, casts a wondrous line that has you wading waves just to catch a glimpse of the shore. Or in this case, a towering marvel ejecting a blinding ray of light.
Without so much as an explanation to fill the blanks, Journey uses a single focal point to guide you, a point that appears only as a glistening tower in the faraway distance. You don’t know what lies on the other side of the gleaming spire, or what will happen once you pass through the enchanting light — or even if you’ll make it. All you know is that you need to get there, and that you’ll have to cross scorching deserts and icy caverns to reach the pinnacle. What lies between you and the mysterious climax, however, is an unforgettable experience, and quite simply, a journey that you’ll want to take multiple times.
4. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
From the moment you fill the shoes of the grieving brothers on the hilltop homestead, an intriguing tale begins to unfold. Like Journey, there is very little context to help bridge the gaps between past and present. Instead, you’re left with two siblings in the here and now, a dying father desperate for aid, and a long and winding journey to the source of the cure. But with time being of the essence, the only way to reach such hope is to bind together as brothers, stoked with the determination to unite the family tree.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons fuses a breathtaking musical score with some visually stunning scenery, nestled with thought-provoking challenges and moments of serenity. Although relatively short in length, every step taken, every crevice explored, and every treasure unearthed amounts to one mesmerising experience. And you can guarantee you’ll want to do it all over again once the curtain has closed. That much we can promise.
3. What Remains of Edith Finch
Walking simulators have been known to produce some of the most genuinely inviting tales known to the gaming community, despite their lack of player interaction. But even without challenging gameplay to back them, it’s the stories themselves that draw the one filling the shoes, with lore and secrets sitting around every corner and buried in every crevice. And as for What Remains of Edith Finch, players can expect to unearth perhaps one of the most fascinating stories ever written in video game form. And what’s more — it’s an experience you can see through in under two hours or less.
What Remains of Edith Finch puts you in the boots of Edith, the last member of the Finch family, desperate to understand the happenings behind the family curse. With an enormous family estate looming in the distance and a family tree scrubbed out, it’s up to you to navigate the home and piece together the history, all whilst coming to terms with the horror that unites your heritage. With each room telling a completely new story, the Finch’s legacy pans love, loss, lunacy and everything in-between — and it’s an anthology of memoirs you’ll have to complete if you ever plan on keeping the Finch name above water.
From the art direction that brought Journey to life comes ABZÛ, an underwater marvel that sees you submerging to the deepest depths of the ocean, bound to the very heart that rifles the waves. As a lone diver in search of tranquillity, your only purpose is to descend into the darkest crevices of the ocean blue, becoming one with the sea as you spiral through enchanting shores and striking landmarks. What idles within the lowest pit, however, is something you’ll have to see for yourself. And, honestly, something you’ll probably want to see a few times after that.
ABZÛ combines the mesmerising sounds of the ocean with a phenomenol soundtrack, coming together to form an orchestral masterpiece, riddled with emotion and wonder. Fuse that with a fluid journey packed full of engaging visuals and vibrant colours and you’ve got yourself a magnificent work of art.
Again, dropping you in at the deep end with no light to guide you, Limbo pits you against the wallowing darkness as you fight tooth and nail to reach destinations unknown. The only problem is, between the darkest depths of isolation and the apex of intrigue lies a monochrome world bound to the shadows with an obstacle in every nook and cranny. Your job, unfortunately, is to hike the full distance, unsure of what awaits at the final landmark.
Limbo does an absolutely remarkable job at putting thoughts into your head without having to use exaggerated components to conjure them. The sketchbook-style backdrops, the motionless enemies and silhouetted survivors; ingredients the game puts together that keep you perched on the edge of your seat as you trudge through the mysterious underworld. It’s all there, and it’s beyond beautiful. And, it’s something we think every gamer should experience at least once. Or twice.
Do you agree with our five? What would you consider to be a masterpiece? Let us know over on our socials.