Over the years, game engines have significantly expanded, with many historical engines undergoing significant improvements and new ones making their mark in the gaming market.
In this article, we want to share what we believe are the five most visually impressive game engines on the market. These engines have provided us with breathtaking visuals, regardless of the high technical performance required. While our ranking is based on objective criteria, it remains an opinion, and you are free to express your own ideas. With that said, let’s embark on this journey.
1) Decima Engine
At the top of the list is the truly remarkable Decima Engine. Guerrilla Games of PlayStation has always been a team with great technical prowess, as demonstrated by what they achieved with Killzone on PS3. While many remember the infamous fake in-game trailer of the second installment of the FPS, to be honest, the British studio did not deviate too far from that prototype. In fact, over the years, they have even surpassed it.
With Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerrilla completely changed the game with Decima, creating an impressive open-world, third-person experience in terms of technical quality. To this day, no one has achieved the same level of visual impact in an open-world production. This level has been further elevated in its sequel, Horizon Forbidden West.
The Decima Engine has impressed designers to such an extent that Hideo Kojima himself chose to use it for the production of Death Stranding and its upcoming sequel, DS2. This indicates that the engine is highly appreciated in the development community.
It is also worth noting that the engine is highly optimized, as seen in how Horizon Forbidden West runs on PS4 or how Death Stranding runs on PC. It is unfortunate that this engine cannot be utilized by other teams, but there is no doubt that it is the most visually impressive game engine in the gaming market. We are confident that it will continue to amaze us even more in the near future.
Created by Turn10, the developers of Forza Motorsport, ForzaTech gets its name, like the previous engine, from a video game franchise. It became famous for its optimization on consoles and PC, and this game engine has also shown versatility with other types of productions.
Designed for racing sim/arcade experiences, the engine impressed with the visual quality of Forza Horizon and the flight simulator par excellence, Microsoft Flight Simulator. Interestingly, few know that the talented French team at Asobo used not only Microsoft’s cloud gaming and Azure servers but also Turn10’s engine to create the most photorealistic flight simulator experience on the market.
In October, the reboot of Forza Motorsport, which will utilize ForzaTech 2.0, will be released on Xbox and PC. It will also be used for the upcoming Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024 and, most importantly, for the return of Fable. The in-game trailer from the previous Xbox Games Showcase has already impressed everyone with its top-notch animations and stunning visuals.
3) Unreal Engine
Now we come to perhaps the most popular and widely used game engine of recent years: Unreal Engine. Named after one of the world’s most famous first-person shooters, Unreal, it also shares the official logo. Although the game franchise is no longer alive, the engine has become one of the most utilized in the AAA game industry, thanks to its versatility and visual quality.
Thousands of games have been developed using this technology, and hundreds more will arrive in the coming years. The visual quality of Unreal Engine depends on the developers who utilize and develop it. It can range from mediocre works to cutting-edge technical experiences like Gears 5 or Fortnite. In fact, the engine is primarily associated with its creators, Epic Games and The Coalition, many of whom come from the old American studio that created the Gears of War series.
The latest generation, Unreal Engine 5, was launched in April 2022. Its source code is available on GitHub, and commercial use is granted through a royalty model. Epic does not charge fees for games until developers have earned $1 million in revenue, and the commission is waived if developers publish on the Epic Games Store. This is definitely a significant advantage for those creating interactive works like video games.
Thanks to the success of Fortnite, we can expect to see numerous improvements for this engine, which we are confident will continue to impress us, perhaps starting with Hellblade II.
Another notable and versatile engine is Frostbite, developed by DICE. It was initially created for the Battlefield Bad Company series, with an emphasis on environmental destruction rather than visual impact. The ability to disintegrate buildings, fences, and more became the main feature of the BC series.
Over time, development took a different turn, focusing more on visual improvements rather than destruction, although it remains a crucial aspect of the entire Frostbite project, especially in the Battlefield series.
The success of DICE’s work led EA to consider using the engine for almost any internal production, but this sometimes became problematic for development teams. Games like Mass Effect Andromeda, Anthem, and Dragon Age Inquisition have suffered from the use of Frostbite, resulting in delays and significant issues. As a result, the American publisher had to step back and only use it for well-defined productions such as Dead Space, FIFA, Battlefield, and Need for Speed.
Despite the challenges, the engine is still highly regarded by users, and continuous improvements give hope for further upgrades in the future.
Let’s start with one of the engines that has long been a benchmark for graphical fidelity in video games: CryENGINE. Developed by Crytek, this engine first appeared with Far Cry, quickly becoming the go-to game for GPU benchmarking.
Interestingly, Far Cry was a graphical reference point until the arrival of Crysis. Crytek started developing its own intellectual property inspired by their work with Ubisoft’s game. The team was ambitious and decided not only to create a high-quality sci-fi FPS but also to do it with a new version of CryENGINE.
The result was one of the best technical and graphical achievements of all time, still memorable today because the game struggled to run on any machine at an acceptable level, mainly due to poor optimization. That’s why the famous question, «Can it run Crysis?» became a cult phrase, often used to identify a PC with high specifications.
Things have changed since then, and although CryENGINE has proven to be visually stunning, as seen in games like Ryse, others have surpassed it in various ways. This is partly due to a period of crisis that affected Crytek, slowing down their technological progress. However, Crytek now has the opportunity to return to its roots with the development of Crysis 4, which promises to once again surprise players with its top-notch graphics.