With all the advancements made in graphics engines and video game development, you’d think our eyes would be spared the horrid sight of an ugly game. Whether it’s drab environments, poor character models, unattractive color schemes, or just an overall unappealing aesthetic, it’s not something we should be paying for.
Alas, it’s inevitable that a development team, independent or AAA, will craft a product that doesn’t give us anything appealing to look at. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice. Other times, it’s driven by budget and talent.
The thing to remember, though, is that ugly doesn’t mean the game is bad. If you can make out what’s happening on screen and the gameplay is solid, sometimes improved graphics simply aren’t necessary. So, as we browse this library of ugly games, remember not to write them off immediately.
To clarify, I won’t be factoring in pixelated titles not intended to look visually stunning. This is about those big-budget adventures that should have some eye appeal.
Months before Epic Games swooped in to dominate the battle royale market with Fortnite, PUBG Corporation released PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The original concept for Battlegrounds came from PlayerUnknown, otherwise known as Brendan Greene, who laid the framework with a mod for Arma 2 titled DayZ: Battle Royale.
When Battlegrounds released, it revolutionized a largely untapped genre of gaming. The successful launch and subsequent support by PUBG Corporation kept player interest, but there was one thing the game was lacking – visual appeal. As entertaining as Battlegrounds was, it wasn’t – and still isn’t – an attractive game.
Competing against the vibrant visuals of Fortnite and, later, the impressive graphics of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Battlegrounds failed to be nearly as nice to look at. Even with some tweaking in the settings, the game just barely passes as a game that launched in 2017. Along with drab color palettes, it suffered from ugly character models and an unreasonable amount of clipping.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
It’s no secret that when Electronic Arts released Andromeda, it was met with a mix reception. To some degree, it had appeared as if Bethesda gave up partway through the development and released a game that was as uncomfortable to look at as it was tiresome to play. While some aspects of Andromeda were visually captivating, character models and animations were unforgivably uncanny.
Immediately after release, video after video depicting the game’s poor graphical performance hit YouTube. Glitches were abundant as characters’ facial features were exaggerated and their movements clunky. Since release, updates were released to improve upon the glaring visual pitfalls, particularly in the character’s eyes, which were originally empty and lifeless.
Making matters worse, shortly after the game’s release, Bioware was accused of making the female characters “uglier” to reduce their sex appeal.
OVERKILL’S The Walking Dead
When Overkill released the first trailer for its The Walking Dead game, it certainly didn’t set players up for what was released six years later. Overlooking the forgettable gameplay, OVERKILL’S The Walking Dead had the promise of being a visual treat, especially considering the gory and often attractive TV series it’s based on. However, the game is just not interesting to look at. At all.
Environments are dull, repetitive, and unpolished and character models and animations could have also used a little more time in development. What’s most disappointing, though, are the undead hordes that threaten the lives of you and other survivors. There is a cartoonish and inhuman quality to them and how they’re dispatched as OVERKILL’S The Walking Dead plays more like an arcade multiplayer shooter than anything rooted in the real world.
The grit and gloom of the series are completely absent, and where the show’s costume and makeup designers shine, the game falls flat. Scarier-looking and better-designed zombies have been stalking us since games like Dead Island and Zombi proved themselves as better contenders for a The Walking Dead video game.
When an article titled “‘Battleborn’ is the Ugliest Game I’ve Ever Loved” exists, you know there is something janky about the game’s visual performance. When Gearbox Software tried to break into the multiplayer FPS genre, it did so with Blizzard’s Overwatch on its heals. In fact, if not for the wildly popular online shooter, Battleborn may have had a shot at surviving past October 2017.
Gearbox made plenty of missteps with Battleborn, but none were as glaring as its visual style. Trying to bleed in elements from Gearbox’s Borderlands series without copying its appearance entirely didn’t quite work as planned. Character models were too overexaggerated and the overabundance of color makes it difficult to focus on the action – and there is a lot of action. Not in a good way.
The aesthetics of Battleborn were just completely off. Every aspect needed a visual overhaul to at least look like it was trying to cater to a more serious crowd.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Sure, the original Link’s Awakening released over 26 years ago and isn’t the prettiest game to look at, but it’s still better than the 2019 remake. Muddied color palettes and all, the Gameboy version avoids one thing the remake grabs onto way too hard. The cartoonish style is juvenile to a fault, and there is just something wrong about the character models and the world surrounding them. The game is too polished, to a point where it looks like everything is made of plastic.
The in-game graphical style is disappointing, especially since we’re treated to a beautiful opening cut scene. While it would be unrealistic to expect the anime art style of the cinematic to carry throughout the game, it would have been a welcomed replacement for the glossy world we’re treated to. Even the dungeons look like they’ve been maintained and cleaned, just for Link’s adventure. There isn’t an iota of the grittiness you’d expect from a dungeon, which is completely possible to achieve without moving away from the kid-friendly design.