The Wii U rerelease of Pokémon Snap is out today, so we look back at the best photo modes in game history.
Games look good these days. The endless march of newer, more powerful technology has given us digital faces so lifelike we can read the ambiguity in a half-hearted smile and see the affection in a lover’s longing gaze. Virtual worlds bloom with color and bustle with life, so believable that they often get mistaken for real life. Even the most fantastical realms look so lush that you could almost reach out and touch them.
With so many gorgeous worlds to roam around in, it’s only natural that we’d want to take a few happy snaps to remember them by. In years past, that meant a lot of messing around, tweaking a game’s settings to disable its heads-up display and wrestling with the camera to hide character models. Now, though, games are starting to acknowledge our love of virtual photography through built-in photo modes, allowing us to snap and share our favorite sights with the simple press of a button. So for all you aspiring shutterbugs out there, here are the best photo modes for your digital collection.
When Nathan Drake isn’t gunning down entire armies of private mercenaries, he’s shooting panoramas of some of the most jaw-dropping landscapes ever rendered in polygonal form. From Panama to Madagascar to the Scottish highlands, Drake’s latest treasure hunt is a virtual photographer’s dream, packed with picturesque beaches, verdant forests, and majestic ruins. Aided by a deep and versatile photo mode, entire communities have come together to capture those singularly perfect moments when the interplay of light and shadow turns a merely beautiful scene into a masterpiece.
Thanks to developer Naughty Dog’s trademark attention to detail, seemingly mundane objects like apples and cereal boxes become centerpieces for stories that go beyond the game itself.
What would life be like working in the shadow of the foolhardy Drake?
After so many life-and-death firefights, how does Drake still find Nerf guns fun?
What could these guys be painting, halfway up a wall hidden from view of the main street?
The only downside to Uncharted 4’s photo mode is the fact its camera is anchored to Drake’s position. To properly immortalize the game’s visual splendor, you first have to maneuver Drake into a suitable position then wrestle with the camera to frame your shot from an angle bound by Drake’s body. Fortunately, Naughty Dog included the option to render Drake and other characters invisible in photo mode so they don’t sully your shots, but the lack of free camera movement is still a major bummer.
Watch Dogs 2
It’s selfie time!
Marcus Holloway, hacker extraordinaire, is a shameless photo fanatic. As he roams San Francisco, exposing the dark side of Silicon Valley and the dangers of Big Brother, he’s always got time to stop and snap a few pics for his photo album. Using his in-game phone, Marcus can not only take your traditional Instagram fodder, he can flip his phone around and get in some selfie action, too. Better yet, he can flair up these photos with a range of goofy gestures, from a groovy surfer pose to one heck of a flirtatious smirk. People on the street will even react to Marcus’ itchy shutter finger, flipping him off for invading their privacy or photobombing his selfies with their own hilarious poses.
Best of all, though, is the ScoutX app loaded on Marcus’ phone. It’s essentially a scavenger hunt for San Francisco landmarks, guiding you from Alcatraz to the Golden Gate Bridge to developer Ubisoft’s San Francisco offices. Snapping a suitable photo of each location isn’t exactly difficult, but scouring the city to find them in the first place helps familiarize you with the Bay Area in a way simply following the GPS from mission to mission doesn’t. Add in the cameras installed on Marcus’ RC drone and quadcopter, and Watch Dogs 2 is a game purpose-built for virtual tourism.
Photos don’t have to be bright to be beautiful. Sometimes wrack and ruin can be just as photogenic as flora and fauna. In DOOM’s photo mode, you have the power to capture the prettier side of Hell, juxtaposing the hordes of slavering demons against the sleek curves of space-age architecture or the arcane wonders of alien artifacts. Or you can just succumb to your gory side and zoom in on the sundered chest cavity of a Hell Knight as your chainsaw shears right through it. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the Cacodemon.
Racing games often pride themselves on their phenomenal visual acuity, especially when it comes to their cars. Driveclub is no different; in fact, much of its marketing revolved around the attention developer Evolution Studios lavished on making the cars as authentic as possible, modelling dashboards, car seats, and brake lights with more fidelity than most games reserve for their entire protagonists.
It’s no surprise, then, that its photo mode makes for some devastatingly beautiful imagery, the kind that screams ‘bullshot!’ despite being 100% genuine. All the minute details that blur together in the heat of a race resolve into breathtaking clarity under photo mode’s keen eye. Individual raindrops course down windshields. Puddles catch the glint of the sun peeking through the branches of wind-whipped trees. Hands clench around steering wheels, knuckles turning white as drivers push their cars into perilous drifts. Say what you will about the racing itself, but there’s no denying Driveclub is one hell of a looker.
The post-apocalyptic deserts of outback Australia might not seem like ideal postcard material, but rest assured, there’s plenty of haunting beauty to be found in them thar dunes. Fallen bridges gaze longingly across rivers of sand. The skeletons of beached ships lie rusting beneath the scorching sun. Sandstorms engulf the world in an amber haze, as foreboding as the fog that plagues the town of Silent Hill. Like the stalwart settlements scattered across Mad Max’s wasteland, these photos find life in the throes of death. Max becomes a different person in the stillness of photo mode, stripped of his snarling bloodlust and his unfeeling selfishness. Framed against an endless, unforgiving horizon, he’s just another lost soul searching for salvation.
inFamous: Second Son
Careening through Seattle as a neon blur is one of the most enchanting parts of inFamous: Second Son, both to play and to watch. Trails of purple light bathe the city in a warm, futuristic glow, and thanks to the game’s photo mode, you can preserve these blissful moments in all their luminous glory. Capturing the exact second where Delsin slams his fist into the ground and sends his enemies flying skywards is a piece of cake thanks to the versatile camera options. Whether you prefer the birds-eye view or something a little more grounded, inFamous’ virtual Seattle is a sight worth seeing.
The Last of Us
Grotesque fungus monsters aside, The Last of Us is a beautiful game. Nature’s steady reclamation of what was once a thriving America makes for a haunting reminder of how tenuous our claim on this planet is, but it also surprises us with moments of tenderness and serenity. Like Uncharted 4, TLoU’s photo mode encourages us to take a step back and see the world from a broader perspective, pondering the untold stories that lie all around us. And of course, let’s not forget the cheesy Easter eggs, either…
Firewatch takes a decidedly retro approach to the conventional videogame photo mode. Henry, the game’s protagonist, can take a limited number of photos during his adventure using a disposable camera. Straightforward enough, but the real draw comes at the end of the game, when you’re given the option to order printed copies of the photos you took, replete with delightfully authentic ‘90s-era packaging. Because Firewatch’s simple point-and-click camera lacks the versatility of other photo modes on this list, though, your shots often suffer from imperfect framing or missing the moment you actually wanted to capture. But hey, that’s how it was back in the ancient, pre-digital days of the 1990s.
Super Smash Bros.
Ever since Super Smash Bros. Brawl, taking happy snaps of Nintendo’s iconic characters beating the snot out of each other has been relatively simple, a pleasant surprise considering the Big N’s typical attitude towards people sharing its games. Just pause the game, hit one of the triggers, and you can immortalize the absurdity of Wendy O. Koopa chewing on Ryu’s foot, or the magical moment where Bowser Jr.’s clown kart licked Donkey Kong’s butt. I don’t know about you, but that’s one image I’ll never be able to erase from my mind.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
If Shadow of Mordor did one thing really well, it was making sure you felt the brutality of its gruesome executions. Geysers of blood erupt from severed necks. Chunks of green flesh fly through the air. Orcs scream out in terror as the last light fades from their eyes. All these macabre moments are laid bare in photo mode, letting you soak in the blood of your enemies for as long as you can stand. Me, I get squeamish just looking at these screenshots. I mean, look at this guy What on Middle-earth happened to him to leave him looking like that?
Honorable mention: Dead Rising 4
Two words for you: zombie. Selfies. The photo mode of Dead Rising 4 isn’t fancy or sophisticated; Frank West can use his camera to find secrets or snap pictures of his surroundings, but there’s not a lot of room for technique. He can, however, take pictures of himself in ridiculous outfits, and even grab zombies and pull them into the shot, making this one of the most entertaining, if useless, photo modes in videogames.