Ever since its initial mainstream conception in 1998’s Jurassic Park: Trespasser, the art of in-game ragdoll physics has undergone numerous major evolutions. The ability to make NPC’s react to impact and environmental changes has reshaped major elements in gaming, particularly in combat.
Some games have even made overcoming slippery ragdoll physics the objective of the game, such as Octodad and Gang Beasts. Other titles, however, take this commitment too far, with characters floppily hitting the deck at the slightest misstep over a curb or light tap from a vehicle. Regardless, advanced physics engines have revolutionized gaming with how we fall down hills, off buildings, and in fights, being an ever-giving source of entertainment.
8 Goat Simulator
It’s easy to see why Goat Simulator was such a hit. Launched in 2014 when goats were at peak internet stardom, just at the right time to parody other Simulator games, Goat Simulator offered players a wholly unique gaming experience.
Set in open-world environments with an excess of objectives, Goat Simulator encouraged players to use and abuse the Unreal Engine 3-powered ragdoll mechanics, with headbutting, charging, and flying into the world’s many occupants the prime goal. The fact that players get to control a customizable goat is part of the needless explanation as to why this game is so vital for inclusion on this list.
Endlessly iconic, addictive, humiliating, and hilarious, flash game QWOP is one of the all-time greats when it comes to ragdoll physics. Though a little more rigid-bodied than some of the more sophisticated, fluid, and realistic entries on this list, QWOP stands the test of time when it comes to enticing gameplay with an awe-inspiring legacy of record-breakers, including an artificial intelligence bot that still couldn’t beat the record at the time.
Players are tasked with traversing the screen as far as they can, controlling the legs of an athlete. Q and W control the thighs, whilst O and P control the calves. Sounds easy enough, right? Oh, so wrong.
6 GTA 4
Though there’s much debate surrounding the superiority between GTA 4 and 5, when it comes to ragdoll physics, 4 tends to win in the eyes of many.
Being the first game in the series to implement a realistic ragdoll system, players were amazed at protagonist Niko’s bounciness. The limits of the game’s engine were rigorously tested through head-on collisions through windscreens, parachute-less helicopter dives, and playing in traffic. Its success wasn’t just limited to GTA 4 though, seeing the ragdoll mechanic improve over the years in future Rockstar productions.
5 Skate 3
Of all the gaming sub-genres, what better field to test ragdoll physics on than one of the most chaotic sports around? The Skate series not only fully embraced the art of the slam but also encouraged it, especially Skate 3, which had a handy yet cringe-inducing skeleton setting that allowed players to see which bones they’d obliterated.
Inspired by the Thrasher magazine featurette, Hall of Meat mode became as fun as actually landing tricks. Hurtling through the air posing as planks, cannonballs, and flying karate kicks before breaking every bone upon landing made for unlimited fun when competing online.
4 Happy Wheels
Another legendary flash game, Happy Wheels was a trailblazer in enabling users to create and share their own levels online. Playing as an array of characters with disposable limbs, including a wheelchair-bound elderly man, a father, and son on a pushbike, and a man on a Segway, players were tasked with reaching the end of each side-scroller, platform-based, survival level in one piece.
The numerous hyperviolent traps designed to decapitate and destroy made the ragdoll physics extra entertaining, with arrow-impaled characters frantically pedaling towards the finish with stumps for legs and no arms. Is dark humor required? It helps.
3 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Some things in games will never cease to be satisfying. Nailing an opponent with a green shell in Mario Kart, resting your feet after a major delivery in Death Stranding, and the ultimate: the Fus Ro Dah. Over a decade later, sending soldiers, giants, bears, spiders, mudcrabs, and anything else that looks at you funny never fails to get old.
The powerful, voice-activated weapon is made all the more dynamic by the game’s commitment to fully utilizing the ragdoll mechanic, turning imposing foes into limp-limbed dummies, hurtling through the air and off mountains.
2 L.A. Noire
Albeit not the most refined and state-of-the-art of the ragdoll engines out there, the physics in Rockstar’s detective classic are unendingly entertaining. Unlike in other Rockstar games where NPC’s generally react to impact, either by protecting their injured areas or shielding themselves as they try to stay on their feet, characters in L.A. Noire seem intent on being as unresponsive as possible.
Whether it’s a head-on collision with a pedestrian on foot or a slip from a misplaced step when navigating someplace sketchy, the way the characters seem to give up entirely is never short of being hilarious. Accompanied by Cole Phelps’ wailing as he plummets to the ground is a perfect serving of hilarity.
1 Just Cause 4
Though the entire series shares a similar ragdoll system, the sheer opportunities available in the fourth installment are what sets it apart. The harpoon-like grappling hook has become a staple, quintessential part of the series and allows for some of the most inventive and chaotic ragdoll animations put to screen.
Whether you’re attaching a rocket to a cow, a pedestrian to a fast-moving car, a car with a passenger to a helicopter, and then all of that to a missile, players are almost certain to capture some great ragdoll animations singular to this series.
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