Winner: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
Brotherhood’s world is one steeped in beauty with the Renaissance proving once again an enchanting setting, (especially when moments spent clambering atop monuments like the Pantheon and gazing across the Rome vistas come a dime a dozen). The crumbling ruins of the Coliseum are another must-see attraction but the true delight of Rome can be found in its narrow streets that seem to weave with sublime naturalness into the sprawling courtyards that form the many city hubs; citizens congregate, courtesans flirt, drunks stumble and guards stab barrels of hay. The detail that has gone into creating Brotherhood’s Rome is remarkable and, testament to that, it’s enough to make this sound more like a Lonely Planet guide to the real life city.
Runner Up: Bayonetta
There are memories that demand to be savored forever. The first time Bayonetta slaughters a giant Cherub by transforming her hair into a dragon, snatching the heavenly being and chomping away at its flailing body is one of them. Her hair. Into a dragon.
Bayonetta was brilliant for countless reasons but it helped that it was a visual delight; its blitzkrieg of colour, spurting blood, raining limbs and gigantic demons not only ran super smoothly (on 360 at least) but was also beautiful to watch. Bayonetta herself was a technical marvel too, illustrated aptly with the ludicrous end-game music video (youtube it).
Runner Up: Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 is a huge game but it takes something else to make a game world feel truly huge. With the second game in the Mass Effect franchise Bioware created a set of planets diverse enough that the Mass Effect universe felt just that: utterly massive. From lush jungles strutting out into oceans to the stark bleakness of a derelict ship stranded without a crew, the Mass Effect universe chaperoned players across a wealth of planets that all looked both beautiful and unique. The cityscapes of Illium (cast against the stormy skies of The Shadow Broker dlc especially) were particularly breathtaking.