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Top 10 Games With the Freakiest Character Faces

VO: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Fred Humphries
Nothing unsettles us quite like a virtual face stuck deep in the uncanny valley. Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Games With The Freakiest Character Faces. For this list we're looking at the video game character creation nightmares and games where the design of the NPC faces really didn't do the graphics any favours. Written by Fred Humphries

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Top 10 Games With The Freakiest Character Faces (Uncanny Valley)

Nothing unsettles us quite like a virtual face stuck deep in the uncanny valley. Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Games With The Freakiest Character Faces.

For this list, we take a look at games with facial design or animation that evokes feelings of uneasiness, fear or downright repulsion. This may occur through an attempt to create unrivalled realism or by trying an unusual art style: as long as it makes you feel vaguely queasy, we’ll consider it.

#10: “Rock Band” (2007)

Graphical prowess may not be the main draw for a peripheral-based rhythm game, but you would still expect the virtual incarnations of huge groups or your customized character to be a little less creepy than they are. As you drum, strum or sing to Metallica or Kiss, you might not truly appreciate the unsettling nature of the weirdly smooth or overly caricatured facial features. However, once you watch someone else play, you won’t be able to un-see eyebrows that have a mind of their own. It’s gotten slightly better as the series has grown, but it still frequently delves into the uncanny valley – just look at the brows on John Lennon and co.

#9: “Shenmue” (2000)

At the start of the millennium, facial realism in gaming seemed a long way off, as great games like Deus Ex remained, at best, blocky. Then came this $47 million open-world title that included over 300 unique character models and a degree of detail that may well have intimidated and unsettled sixth-generation gamers. Every sailor, chef or shopkeeper Ryo comes across looks like they’ve had a real face stretched uncomfortably over a robot’s angular head as the technology of the day couldn’t quite match Sega’s groundbreaking ambition. We don’t know for sure what the residents of urban Japan actually look like, but we can safely say they’re not as uncanny as these guys.

#8: “Dishonored” (2012)

Arkane Studios’ artistic team wanted to create a dark, politically incorrect tone for their steampunk stealth title, and a disconcerting anatomical design hugely contributes to that desired feel. They corrupted or distorted illustrations and mugshots from the Edwardian era while they also consulted an expert in British anatomy, producing a realistic yet somehow cartoony facial aesthetic. Each social class within the plague-gripped Dunwall has its own distinct proportions, each as unnerving as the next: whether it’s the looters’ long, rat-like features or the thick, stout faces of city guards, you won’t be wanting to maintain eye contact with anyone for very long.

#7: “Xenoblade Chronicles X” (2015)

Anime in general can frequently inhabit a place within the uncanny valley, but its expressive, over-the-top animation usually means you’re not given time to focus on any potentially freaky features. In this enormous ARPG, however, cutscenes and conversations are so static that character’s typically oversized eyes begin to stare right into your soul. To compound the problem, facial animation is nearly non-existent, lip sync is completely off and your created character is awkwardly silent when engaging any other of Mira’s inhabitants. At best it’s just cringey, at worst it seems unbearably inhuman.

#6: “Metal Gear Solid” (1998)

Hideo Kojima’s stealth title is rightly regarded as one of the greatest games ever, yet it certainly didn’t earn that accolade through any grand breakthroughs in facial design. In fact, it’s an eerie lack of facial features that earns Metal Gear’s first 3D game a place on this list. When Snake – whose face is based on Christopher Walken if you understandably couldn’t tell – speaks to other characters, his mouth doesn’t move, instead his blockhead and invisible eyes simply jerk awkwardly around the screen. Oddly, other graphics in the game are pretty good for a PS1 title, leaving you wondering how every face ended up like Tom Cruise’s mask in Vanilla Sky.

#5: “Ride to Hell: Retribution” (2013)

You have to wonder if Eutechnyx, the developers of this famously broken third-person adventure title, have ever actually seen real human beings before; such is their misunderstanding of basic emoting. This is an especially uncomfortable issue during the notorious, fully-clothed sex scenes where Jake and his numerous conquests flit between soulless stares, gawping derpyness and flat out anguish. It also doesn’t help that characters speak as though they’re aliens hiding among us, using a brand of English that’s technically correct but completely wrong in everyday speech. Don’t get us started on the hair design either – who knows how those wigs stay attached when riding your bike.

#4: “Nancy Drew: Stay Tuned for Danger” (1999)

If Nancy Drew is really such an adept amateur sleuth, should she not be a little concerned that normal people are gradually turning into horrifying 3D wax-works? In a change from the hand-drawn animation of the first game in this point and click series, perfectly smooth 3D models robotically interact with you and their nightmarish heads are photoshopped onto family pictures of real people, giving us a reference point for just how off these creations are. Why this change in design approach was implemented is likely the real mystery here as this relatively light-hearted investigation is accidentally transformed into something rather more sinister.

#3: “L.A. Noire” (2011)

Rockstar always nail the atmosphere of wherever or whenever their latest game takes place, and for this detective title, revolutionary motion-scan technology captures the faces that could believably inhabit 1940s L.A. This technology is central to the game’s interrogation mechanic and you have to closely examine subtly shifty and unsettling expressions by suspects that come scarily close to the real thing. There’s also something particularly creepy about seeing actors we recognize from TV recreated from 32 points of reference as our brains will quickly pick up small discrepancies in design. If this was what we were capable of six years ago, who knows how long it’ll be until man is indistinguishable from AI.

#2: “Mass Effect: Andromeda” (Pre Patch) (2017)

They say you get what you pay for and this third-person sci-fi sequel proved that old adage undeniably true. Its five-year development cycle cost a paltry $40 million, resulting in facial animation that attempts to be hyper-realistic, but ends up belonging in the mid 2000s. Although patches have addressed many blatant issues and glitches, at the time of release gamers had a field day with derpy, oddly smooth faces that pulled expressions utterly contrary to what the situation demanded, creeping you out and removing you from the action. If these were cyborg characters we’d praise Bioware for capturing subtle inhuman giveaways, but there’s definitely nothing deliberate about the disturbing, emotionless design of the Ryder twins.

#1: “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” (2006)

There must be some contagious condition going round Cyrodiil as the face of every resident seems dreadfully swollen. We often like to call out uncanny faces for being bizarrely blocky but these chubby-cheeked characters take the top spot for their concerning absence of defined features - unless they’re an elf with eyebrows halfway up their forehead. It was certainly a memorable improvement over Morrowind – Bethesda implemented their Radiant AI system to enhance NPC personality – but Oblivion’s plasticine mugs will always linger longest in the dark recesses of your mind. At the start of the seventh generation we thought this could be the pinnacle of gaming realism – for all our sakes, thank god we were wrong.

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