Marvel’s Spider-Man, No Man’s Sky, God of War: these three games have more in common than just their three-word titles. They have fantastic photo modes and they aren’t the only ones. 2018 has been possibly the best year for taking pictures in your favorite games: whether you’re trying to convey the heavy emotions of the moment, or taking a selfie with the benevolent Shirtless Spider-Man, you can now do that. This simple feature is so beloved, and it’s one that should be implemented in more games moving forward.
Let’s look at the most recent photo mode to take the internet by storm. Marvel’s Spider-Man, arguably, has the best photo mode of the year so far. It is essentially a love letter to the Marvel superhero, thanks to all the filters and borders you can use to personalize your captured moment. For myself, all I wanted to do was make comic book covers with the cover border. It also helps that it is one of the best looking games the PS4 has to offer; even up close, the details on Spider-Man’s various suits look fantastic, and the game’s photo mode only helps to bring that out more.
— Michael Boo-iz (@MikeyRooz) September 11, 2018
Before moving any more forward with recent photo modes in games, let’s take a step back. The photo modes we know and love today are a pretty recent feature, in the grand scheme of things. Ten years ago, people weren’t clamoring to take in-game pictures; that is, until Skate came along with its “skate.reel” feature. The now-retired skateboarding simulation was the first time I recall wanting to record every moment of my journey to becoming a (fake) pro skater.
What made it so great is how it was implemented; it was part of the story. Going to photo-ops for Thrasher and Skateboard Mag to be part of the publication’s cover is similar to making those covers in Marvel’s Spider-Man, but a bit more deliberate since each location was specific. Skate.reel only improved with each iteration of the game, allowing you to not only create great photos, but also videos worthy of being in Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell.
A huge part of making a great photo in Skate was the spot; this is also true in games nowadays. This is especially true with No Man’s Sky, and the game’s recent NEXT update from this summer. You do have a viewable avatar now thanks to the NEXT update, but they don’t define the experience in the same way as God of War’s Kratos or Spider-Man. It is No Man’s Sky’s environments that are the stars: how you frame each environment defines the tone of the atmosphere. Taking a photo in the nearly endless space may evoke feelings of loneliness, while a view of one of the planet’s gorgeous vistas brings a sense of wonderment.
This is also true with Forza Horizon 4, a game basically made to create beautiful pictures. It is no secret that racing games are amongst the best looking games out there, and the Forza series is probably the most beautiful of the bunch. Seeing your tire tracks in the wet mud or my Honda Civic Type R zooming through the autumn leaves is a sight to see…which is why I’ve spent hours with this photo mode in particular. Ranging from the natural beauty of England’s more secluded roadways to the lightened city streets, it isn’t hard to capture a great photo in any type of environment.
Some games, like God of War, received its photo mode after release and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Sure, you can make some pretty intense photos, but you can also make it look like Kratos is telling really bad dad jokes while he’s boating with his son. It’s a good example of how something as serious as God of War can be turned into something comical just by letting a character smile. This feature can also be found in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and can produce similar results by letting Lara take selfies with alpacas.
It’s these little additions that have made photo mode such a fun tool to goof around with, and why it keeps getting added in any game that lets you openly explore. Most recently, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey received its own photo mode that lets you capture all of Kassandra or Alexios’ incredibly long adventure through Ancient Greece.
This year has been really great for photo modes in games, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it included in some of the more annualized games, most notably in sports games. I wanted to see if I could take alright photos with FIFA 19 and Madden NFL 19’s replay functions; it turns out you kind of can.
For FIFA 19, it was a bit more difficult to capture a great moment. Since the replay camera is locked to a person – unless I’m missing something and you can freely control the camera – it was hard to get a good frame. What I have below is the best I could come up with, and I do think it looks pretty good, despite the lack of a full-fledged photo mode.
Madden NFL 19, on the other hand, does let you use the camera freely. It is a bit tricky to get a good frame since the reticle will stick to anything close to it, but I was able to capture a good picture of the Chicago Bears’ quarterback Mitch Trubisky about to throw to one of his receivers (I think it was Gabriel).
Both these games don’t have the more powerful tools that some of the aforementioned games have, like God of War or Marvel’s Spider-Man. There are no filters, borders, or depth of field options in the replay function. It is just raw gameplay, but they still look pretty decent. Just think what you can do with a decent photo mode in one of these games: you’ll be able to capture those game-winning goals from Neymar, or those big hits from Mack in all of their glory.
It is these memories that I think brings us back to these photo modes. Sure, maybe I just thought something looked great and decided I wanted to take a cool picture of it. However, these moments can be planned and strategically mapped to tell a story that is personal. Like real-life photography, these user-created photos can evoke certain emotions and look good while doing so. That is what is most important. It truly gives the player the control to create something they feel is completely their’s, and their’s alone.
To attempt to prove this point, I’ve provided a few pictures I’ve taken myself. I hope you enjoy them, and they inspire you to go back to some of your favorite games from this year.