Sometimes, the look makes the game.
One of the greatest things about living in 2017 is that games as a medium has taken off. Whether you’re an indie dev, an aspiring writer, or you just really want to play more Dwarf Fortress clones, now is about as good as ever. Steam Greenlight has made it possible for games that normally wouldn’t make it in the mainstream market to find an audience, and it seems Microsoft, Sony, and even Nintendo are taking notes.
At the same time, the amount of funding for certain games are reaching astronomical amounts, well into the hundreds of millions. That publishers can recoup that amount, and often much more, shows that games media is increasingly becoming a dominant form of media, which is good…mostly!
One area in which this has not exactly returned dividends is in the graphics department. Due to a combination of diminishing returns on graphical quality (regardless of the debate about polygons), increasing preference for retro aesthetics, the technical limitations of smaller dev teams, and the lack of curation on content platforms, the result is pretty straightforward: graphics are becoming less important to a lot of people. There’s a risk here, though, as some developers use the opportunity to get lazy, or even outright cynical about graphical fidelity. We’ve cataloged 15 of the worst modern offenders here, for reasons ranging from pale imitations to horrific abominations...and one so lazy it’s really just astounding. "Modern" for our purposes here will mean within the last decade.
These games are sure to be offensive to the eyes, but we also looked at some characters that may offend your sensibilities.
15 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct
There’s a lot of things to hate about The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. It’s barely a Walking Dead game, first off, forcing you along a spin-off “plot” that’s more road story than zombie killing. However, what’s really amazing is the utter lack of effort that went into the design, having neither the gritty realism of the show nor the stylistic flair of the Telltale series.
In itself, that might not be “worst of” worthy; after all, a lot of games use bland landscapes of brown, gray, and more brown. But the fact that Survival Instinct has the audacity to have the majority of the game based on a map—used between “stops” to navigate, and is itself not too high-quality—earns it our first spot.
14 Hellboy: The Science Of Evil
As the oldest title in our list, you might be inclined to give Hellboy: The Science of Evil a pass. Here’s my retort: this is the SECOND Hellboy game to be a complete trash fire. Hellboy: Dogs of the Night/Asylum Seeker was nearly unrecognizable as a Hellboy game, getting on many “worst of the year” lists, so I think it’s fair to say that Science of Evil deserves no pity.
It certainly doesn’t do itself any favors in having really pitiful graphics even for the time, and while the models are at least functional, the overall aesthetic represents all the worst qualities of a mid/late-2000s game. But the icing on the cake is that, despite this near-failing performance, enemy types are constrained to only a few base models. If you’re shooting low, at least be competent.
Ooh boy, this is probably a controversial entry, but hear me out. No one’s blaming Runescape for looking like crap at the turn of the millennia. Considering its model, its pioneering nature, and the sheer fact that it was an MMO before almost all of the other big names, it’s a miracle that Runescape looked as good as it did.
The problem is what Runescape looks like now. For all the genuine effort and work that Runescape puts into keeping itself relevant—it just came out with a new expansion, actually—it hasn’t done much to update its look comparatively. I say that both in comparison to the effort put forth for new content and to other MMOs that looked terrible to start with, particularly World of Warcraft. Given, WOW is funded by one of the largest gaming companies in the world, but that doesn’t change the reality that Runescape’s dated graphics really do put off a lot of players. And for 2017, the graphics just don’t compete, even on a free-to-play model.
12 Bound By Flame
Where to start with Bound By Flame? Maybe with the fact that this is a PS4 game, which is pretty astounding since it looks like it came out circa 2006. But even by those standards, at least most games in the Bound By Flame vein had the good sense to make the design of their characters passable.
There’s no such quality control here; if you’re not talking to a Final Fantasy reject, then you definitely won’t remember whatever generic Tolkienesque you have the misfortune of encountering. The saddest part is that unlike many of the games on this list, Bound By Flame actually has some solid, if blasé mechanics behind it. Unfortunately, that’s all undermined by the presentation, a variable mess of the incredibly dull and the obnoxiously outrageous.
11 Rogue Warrior
Some games are so appallingly bad that it’s hard to just point out one or two bad things about them. Rogue Warrior fits that bill perfectly, hence its inclusion on our list of the 25 Worst Xbox 360 Games of All Time. But there’s something spectacularly bad about the graphics that begs to be talked about. After seeing scores of the same cut-and-paste enemies over and over again, all as terribly designed as they are utterly brain-dead, you might imagine that the main character at least has some effort put into him. Nope!
Even as one of the older games on our list, Rogue Warrior features some of the least effort put in of any game here. The landscapes the game takes place in are also a haphazard product of its time: dull, lifeless, and unappealing.
10 Solbrain: Knight Of Darkness
Some of the games on this list—particularly The Slaughtering Grounds since it’s, you know, Digital Homicide—make...let’s call it “liberal” use of other developers’ ideas, designs, and/or assets. That’s not always bad; more than a few great games have taken pretty obvious inspiration from other games, often themselves fantastic. But few are so galling in their shamelessness as Solbrain: Knight of Darkness. Not only does the game look like crap, but it manages to look like crap while (allegedly) ripping off better games’ artwork.
The games Solbrain took “asset inspiration” from include such big-name titles as TERA and Skyrim, which just speaks to the hubris behind the game’s development. Why are we even giving this game the time of day? PlayStation’s quality control again missed something that should have obviously been excluded from its store. Is the PlayStation Store the new Steam Greenlight?
9 Dexter: The Game 2
Everything about Dexter: The Game 2 is awful. Just look at that title. Not Dexter 2, or Dexter: Subtitle Goes Here, oh no, the developers can’t be bothered to add any kind of aesthetic competence. At the very least, Dexter: The Game 2 sets you up for the experience you’re liable to get, because the game itself is about as bland and lifeless; husks of models pockmark drab environments as you drearily endure the torturous gameplay.
While the quality of the main character is not always the best indicator of a game’s quality, many games effectively portray a hero in an otherwise awful experience, a horrible one sure sets a tone! With Dexter: The Game 2, you can hardly tell if “Dexter” is supposed to be Michael Hall or Chris Pratt. That should tell you something.
8 Ride To Hell: Retribution
On one hand, Ride to Hell just keeps on giving. Any time someone mentions any "worst" game, the reference point really ought to be Ride to Hell. On the other hand...well, there really is no other hand. This game is just plain painful. It has everything the kitsch fan might desire: it’s obscene, tasteless, has horrible mechanics and nearly nonexistent gameplay, but, more than anything, it just looks disgusting.
Ride to Hell is truly repulsive to play, even if you couldn’t care less about sexism, nonsensical plots, or some of the dumbest sequences imaginable. The mere look of the characters makes your skin crawl, even despite it pathetically trying, ironically, to turn you on (with its fully-clothed sex scenes). Ride To Hell, it’s just so hard not to make fun of you; it’s our gift and our curse.
Oh, Battleborn. You could’ve been an alright game. In some respects you are, valiantly providing new content even as your user base dwindles into the singles digits at any given time. While some say it was your ill-fated challenge to Overwatch that did you in, those unfortunate enough to view some of your more egregious design flaws know better.
Your hyper-stylized aesthetic is, by itself, taxing on the eyes, but then you had to go and add approximately 1,000 indicators on your UI (which makes performance awful) along with some particularly hideous and nausea-inducing scopes. And as someone who suffers from motion sickness, let me say that you do your fans no favors there either. Maybe instead of being “badass,” you ought to start with being less of an eyesore.
6 The Slaughtering Grounds
There’s no jokes to be had about The Slaughtering Grounds. It is a straight-up, no-holds-barred, hands-down awful, pathetic, inexcusable mess of a game. Due to the fact that the developer at Digital Homicide decided to sue Jim Sterling for rightfully calling the game bunk, only then to sue one hundred steam users for also talking trash about the game, The Slaughtering Grounds has come to represent all that is wrong with the Steam Greenlight system (although to be fair to Steam, they did pull DH’s games for abusing their terms of service).
However, it’s often forgotten why this whole thing started anyway: the game looks like trash. The major concern behind Sterling’s criticisms was that this very clearly looked like random assets smashed together without a lick of creative effort put behind it. And I mean, well, look at it yourself.
5 Vroom In The Night Sky
Is this a joke? I’m being real here. How in world is Vroom in the Night Sky on the same platform that brought us Breath of the Wild? And more importantly, since this is clearly a joke, why would Nintendo allow such a trite, banal joke on its console, especially this early in its life cycle? The trailer, which looks like it was put together in Windows Movie Maker, reads: “Magical girl.” Dramatic pause. “Riding a motorcycle.” Another dramatic pause. “Flying in the sky!”
Clearly, the developer is in on the fact that this game is going to be terrible which should be clear enough by the dreadful PS2-era graphics and that’s apparently supposed to be enough to sell the game. We're not laughing; it made our list of the worst games for the year's first quarter. Steam Greenlight—excuse me, Steam DIRECT—better watch its back, it might lose the title for largest purveyor of shovelware!
4 The You Testament
Everything about The You Testament is absolutely bizarre. The story is nuts: you’re a new disciple of Jesus who tells him to get off his lazy ass (biblical pun!) and get to work being the messiah and all. Your disciple follows the game’s nonsensical character creation, relying heavily on randomization which results in models that look closer to Goliath than your average Joe. Oh and it’s hardcore too, as a single death—did I mention there’s gore?—deletes your save, causing you to start the whole miserable experience over.
And yet, in spite of all that awfulness, the absolutely foul graphics stand out as the worst part of the game; at least there’s fun to be had in all the silliness, despite taking itself seriously. The You Testament is one of the few games where it’s not hyperbole to say that it hurts the eyes.
What do you imagine when you hear of a game called “Test?” A school simulator, perhaps, ala parts of Persona? A wistful look at youthful depression like Night in the Woods? Maybe some avant-garde project trying to prove “games are art?" The cynical among you might have already guessed the true answer: It’s a “game” that is literally a black screen fading to the word “TEST.” Can you guess where such an experimental project took place? That’s right, Steam Greenlight!
No doubt, TEST (that I have to italicize this is painful) is a very, very bad joke intended to highlight the horrible state of Steam’s content curation, and to be honest, its inclusion is a bit of a stretch, considering it's not yet for sale, but it is nonetheless a monument to inanity.
2 Life Of Black Tiger
Of all the many games vying for the most prestigious awards the gaming community has to offer, Life of Black Tiger (sic) has the dubious honor of attaining one of the more…competitive titles out there: Jim Sterling’s Worst PS4 Game In The World. To both his and my surprise, this horrendous mess isn’t a Steam Greenlight game! It even appeared on the official PlayStation YouTube channel, which the company apparently thinking this game was worth advertising.
Even without getting into the absolutely atrocious gameplay, the trailer for the game says it all! Horribly implemented Unity models are haphazardly strewn across this shambling corpse of a game. Put plainly, the models for the animals wouldn’t pass for a PS3 game, the snowfall look straight out of Indigo Prophecy, and the humans are even worse.
1 Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine
Go watch the trailer for this game. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Did you notice something odd? No, not the fact that the models are glitching out IN THE TRAILER or that this looks like a failed term project for an online design course. Notice who uploaded the video. Do you see the “verified” mark and the 5.5 million subscribers?
That’s right, PlayStation is genuinely advertising Skylight Freerange 2: Gachduine on its platform. You may have noticed that several big names have thus far tried to pawn off games that would’ve been an embarrassment at a game jam, but none this bad and none this blatant. Skylight, though worse in nearly every conceivable way than the rest of these games, is better for one reason only: it heralds the new era of shovelware to come. Who knows? At this rate, Skylight might look like a masterpiece in a few years!