We all like lists – top five or top ten on a variety of topics. Well, we have a new one to share. Selling this list is going to be a difficult job. Compiling it wasn’t exactly a cinch, either. One should never give a graphic designer the job of compiling a top 10, or 50, of movie posters, game covers, or album sleeves, because they get easily offended by the thousands of tropes and cliches they have to sort through. I know this to be true because I got offended pretty fast, and also because I like to go around claiming to be a competent graphic designer. Great covers are a-plenty; bad ones even more so. Tackling either would’ve been laughably easy – in fact, PY and I even cracked our knuckles with the latter – but we like a good challenge once a-while; as such, PY and I decided to go with drop-dead beautiful covers that seem to exist in a league of their own. Imagine my surprise when more just an expected couple of strikingly gorgeous covers propped up left and right… and before I knew it I had quickly finished my top 10, with nearly 50 honorable mentions eating away at my conscious. What followed next was hours and hours of staring at covers and endless comparisons late into the night. My tea-stained shirt serves as proof – image upon request.
So now that you know why I had such a trying time with this list, here comes the more difficult task: justifying my selections to the audience. It’s not because I wouldn’t be able to fully express my thoughts on as to why I selected the cover: but rather due to the label we used as the title of the list. You see (in case you missed it) it’s called ‘beautiful’, and that’s just about the most subjective perspective out there. What’s beautiful (or gorgeous, or resplendent, or attractive) to me may not be so much for you. You might miss out on the point, scratch your head, let out a long “huh?”, and then let loose a tirade of comments chastising me for my selections. That’s perfectly fine as I don’t intend to win everyone over nor do I see my top 10 as some sort of be-all-and-end-all of beautiful covers: it’s a subjective list that reflects the mind of one individual. I hope you enjoy!
1. DOOM 3: BFG Edition
A.K.A the catalyst for this list’s fruition. The covers for the original Doom and Doom II are beyond iconic: they’ve become so ingrained into our subconscious that if someone shows us a small portion of the artwork, we’ll be able to recognize it on a whim. Doom 3 wasn’t so fortunate. It just has a horribly outdated hellspawn with the title lazily sprawled in front of it. Final Doom (a compilation of levels designed by fans) has a good-looking cover, the use of yellow making it all the more stand out (though I wish they had used a brush-type font for “Final”). All the other Doom games play it safe and just slap the logo carelessly in the middle. I don’t blame them: the Doom logo is so flawlessly iconic and timeless it’s the IBM of video game logo designs. But still, without a clear sense of direction and lack of initiative even a recognizable identity can come off as mundane, and it’s little wonder why all Doom games after the second are quite monotonous. All except BFG Edition, that is.
An HD re-release of Doom 3, this game in my opinion makes the single best use of the logo since the original. Dripping with haunting curiosity and poetic ambience, the minimalist take on a Doom cover, where previously all had featured hellspawn(s) and/or hell motifs, is not just a bold move – it reeks of confidence. It reminds me of a similar move done by Origin Systems on Ultima VII: The Black Gate. By the time BFG Edition came out the original game was nearly 2 decades old, and Doom 3 was nearing its first. Suffice to say that was more than enough time for the logo to reach its iconic status… and the designers made great use of it. Too bad, then, the game wasn’t much fun!
2. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Game covers and movie posters featuring an ensemble cast of characters ‘bleeding’ into each other is nothing new, but tell me this: do any of them feature a lazer-shooting dinosaur in the background? Designed and composed by James White (one of my all-time favorite modern graphic designers; second perhaps only to Olly Moss), this cover is vintage-White. Nearly all of his work echoes the neon-infused, retro-futuristic imagery of the 80’s, and this cover to Far Cry 3’s standalone expansion pack is amongst his finest work. A perfect parody of the OTT, cheesy action scene of the 80’s, there’s a great blend of serio-comic going on in here (Michael Biehn has never looked this comically cool before, ever). I love every little aspect of this cover. It’s… perfect!
3. Halo: Anniversary
It’s customary for action shooting games to feature the main protagonist front-center of the cover. After all, they are the main character of the story, the one person guaranteed to make it through the very end of the game. The cover for the original Halo is iconic, yes, but now it stands out as much as a little kid in a mosh pit. Don’t get me wrong, I personally love it… but since this is a list celebrating beautiful covers, it’s the HD remake that makes the cut.
Black and white is never not cool. And when used in conjunction with the selective color highlighting a specific color range from the design, the final effect is crystallized eroticism for the eyes. Rendered in beautiful b/w (something that is difficult to achieve; trust me, I’m a designer), the only part that’s in color is Master Chief’s visor – and that there is this cover’s stroke of genius. Why don’t we see more examples of this style, one wonders.
4. Dark Souls II
The game terrifies me. The music soothes me. The cover makes me want to frame it and adorn it on my wall. Unlike the (official) covers for Dark Souls I and III, the second game’s cover is poetically melancholic. There’s nothing original about the composition: a character walking away (or toward) the ‘camera’ has all but been done to death, but given the game’s brutal nature this approach seems the most appropriate. The desaturated colors, the grainy, scratched textures, the ambiguity of the environment (where is he going? where’s he coming from?) – they all come together beautifully to create a visually stunning masterpiece. Never has bleak looked so hypnotic.
For this entry, it’s all about the perspective. Think about it: how many covers feature a top-down view? Not too many… and Wasteland uses this to great, dramatic effect. Everything is covered in gorgeous duo-tone, the accentuated shadows contributing much to the drama and tension to the standoff. The thick borders and the heavy, square font (in yellow, no less) are also a nice touch.
Talk about an arresting cover that stops you in your tracks. Rarely has a video game cover made me want to know more about the game, but BioForge is one of the few that successfully did it. While the game, unfortunately enough, isn’t much fun, the cover is arguably one of the finest ever conceived in the medium. I like how it looks more like an industrial band’s album cover more than that of a video game. The alien, hazardous, glowing green gives off an ominous feeling of something off-worldly sinister a la System Shock – and that spells winner in my book.
7. Bioshock: Limited Edition
The cover for the original Bioshock is all right, I guess. It wasn’t exactly the most good looking of covers, even at the time, but in retrospect it now seemingly has a character all of its own. The intimidating, borderline threatening poses of Big Daddy and Little Sister has become a classic image of the duo, ingrained in our subconscious like iconic things tend to do. However, it sends off wrong vibes – it makes BioShock look like a claustrophobic, gun-and-ammo driven experience in the vein of Metro: 2033 – which is just about as far from the truth as can get. The Limited Edition is by and far one of the most saliva-inducing covers ever to grace a video game, and one I believe that should’ve been used in the original game as the original cover in the first place. The lovely use of minimalism and monotone is highly commended. Designed by Adam Meyer, this cover is the winning entry in a contest held by 2K Games back in 2007. I highly recommend that you take a look at the other entries, as most of them are really well done, and also might’ve looked good as the official cover.
8. The Last of Us: Remastered
This is the 4th time in which I ignored the vanilla game and instead focused on an update on said vanilla game. I personally think the cover to the original The Last of Us is just great: the uncertain expressions, the skewed perspective, the hint of danger lurking just beyond the boundaries of the frame. The much more dramatic and confident poses of Joel and Ellie in the Remastered may not speak accurately about the two in general (at-least for the majority of the game) – but given that it’s in gorgeously minimalist black & white, anything less just would not do. This is the other cover I wouldn’t mind hanging on my bedroom wall.
9. Need for Speed: Most Wanted
Sharp. Vibrant. Eye-catching. Fresh. Striking. This, ladies and gentlemen, is great graphic design in motion (literally). Everything about this cover is so satisfying – it pleases me. I absolutely love the killer use of red, black, and white, and the appropriate use of the skewed perspective that doesn’t feel forced or, you know, a last minute attempt at fusing kinetic energy to the composition. Most installments in the series have had actually pretty good covers – Shift, II: SE, Porsche Unleashed, Nitro – while quite a few have been genuine stinkers – The Run, Undercover. The much, much earlier titles get a free pass due to being released in a time when cheesy, cringey 90’s graphic design was the new wave.
Once again I seem to be ignoring the vanilla game – but, yet again, it’s for the reason I mentioned in my preamble. Sure, the “Most Wanted” typography has become iconic, as has the blue-striped BMW that adorns the front cover, but I can hardly call the cover beautiful or even remotely attractive. It kinda looks cool, granted, but compared with 2012 MW’s impossibly sexy minimalist take, the 2005 MW miserably pales by contrast. The new and modern, angled typography might not be instantly grabbing, but it’s in consistent tone set by the design of the cover. Overall, this is the type of graphic design I want more racing games to adopt, or in the ery least attempt.
10. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
The granddaddy of all and any beautiful modern video game covers, the game’s just as romantic (in the same violent way True Romance and Natural Born Killers are, naturally) as the sublime, ink-stamped cover. Such stark minimalism would come off as either pretentious or plain lame in other games; but here it fits like the corner pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. The first Max Payne itself had an awesome cover – brimming with neo-noir atmosphere – and it still shows up in most “best” and “greatest” lists. Say what you will about the gameplay of the sequel, but the cover is perhaps the most quintessential piece of artwork in the entire industry of video games. Everything works, and works extremely damn well.
The naked black and white; the effigy of Max and Mona staring at each other, holding their guns aloft; the bold, chiseled text; the white, just as naked background… everything is 100% flawless in execution. I absolutely cannot think of any way to improve upon it, and only an utter fool would attempt it. And because I’m that fool, here’s an alternate ‘reworking’ that I did not too long ago [http://scanline-thoughts.tumblr.com/post/139892417658/max-payne-2-alt-cover]
Honorable Mentions – Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Ico, MadWorld, Metro: Last Light, Astonisha Story, Batman: Arkham City, Sine Mora, FFXV, American McGee’s Alice, Burnout Paradise, Body Count, DemonStone, Limbo, Scurge: Hive
Article by Hamza