If you ever saw someone wearing your exact clothes and face, you’d probably notice. Why, then, do video games think they can get away with artificially inflating large quantities of people with repeat after repeat? It happens often - citizens in open worlds springing from a perilously shallow gene pool, virtual gig-goers wearing bewilderingly similar outfits, Playmobil-looking crowds in sports titles reacting in almost choreographed unison.
Developers understandably recycle assets to save cost. And, make no mistake, the following games are incredible technical achievements overall. But they've been invaded by a conspiracy of clones, a secret society of sames, a veritable drove of deja vu dudes. This is to be their unmasking.
Note: I've picked from a variety of genres to avoid making this list too sports heavy, and avoided criticising older games - they're easy targets.
Hitman’s throngs are impressive - dense enough to give an agoraphobe heart palpitations. But ten years after Blood Money’s Mardi Gras stage - the series’ first flirtation with street-clogging congregations - developer IO still uses the same obvious method to stretch them out. Take this scene.
Six genetically identical white men wearing sunglasses and plaid shirts like Primark’s poster boy for ‘vacation dad’. Each one rocks a ‘I’m keeping the sun out of my eyes while embarrassing my daughter’ hat, and boringly inoffensive ‘I’ve wilfully removed myself from the dating game’ clothes. What are the odds they’d occupy the same 20ft radius in Marrakech? IO’s tremendous strides towards environmental authenticity (we’ve written words about Hitman’s brilliance) stumble when you notice one of those environments is mostly populated by interchangeable holiday Homer Simpsons.
Forza Horizon 2
I’ve exposed Forza Horizon 2's pig-faced disgusta-men (opens in new tab) before. Like Leatherface’s furniture collection. Like grown-up limbo babies. In fairness they’ve got bigger issues to take care of, such as being made of Cornflakes, but the fact they’re not even unique freaks is the real kicker. There are only a dozen or so in attendance at the festival, and they’re so shockingly recognisable I’ve given them names.
There’s Mr Thumb Face, and the Shovel-Hand Gang, and Little Miss Can’t-Look-To-The-Left, and who can forget The Sitting Down Man Who Looks Surprised That He Is Dead? My favourite, however, are the long-lost identical quadruplets quietly passing each other by the dock. I imagine their conversations, “Hold on, wasn’t that… nevermind. Let’s go and watch some cars.”
Look, I know how gangs work. The head gangster checks the register in the morning, and if you’re not wearing the right uniform you have to do a drive-by in your pants. Coordinating clothes is probably the best part about being in a gang, other than walking into a shop and being allowed to take anything you like by law I think. But crews in The Division don outfits with zero variation between them.
I've fought the guy in the red hoody with the jacket and face mask so much I think he needs to come with some sort of ‘frequent dier’ discount. Gangster rule number one: clothes should /compliment/, not copy, a bit like Destiny’s Child. Maybe roll a trouser leg up or accessorise with a teardrop face tattoo. Take this fashion advice from me, a games writer.
Where Dawn of the Dead is ///really/// about consumerism, as you make sure to remind everyone whenever possible, Dead Rising’s zombies-in-a-mall setup is about zombies in a mall. You can't begrudge its omission of metaphorical layers - a video game version of Orwell’s Animal Farm would probably be about looking after animals on a farm (a pig could wink knowingly at you once, I guess), and The Catcher in the Rye about catching things in some rye. That's why it's hard to see its reuse of zombie models as anything other than a way to avoid creating more.
I know this is a mall in the American Midwest, but one in every five undead is wearing plaid. You could read it as mass production leading to a loss of identity, or you could run around lobbing bowling balls.
It’s one of life’s cruel ironies. The three yellow-shirted triplets at the top of the screen have pulled off the one-in-a-million task of sharing a general vicinity at the same time, but being just out of sightlines, they haven’t noticed. Incredibly, the exact same scenario is happening a few feet ahead, as the black-shirted men in white trousers are separated by a single unknowing woman.
This probably has something to do with the Birthday Paradox phenomenon I remember someone telling me in a pub once. Let me Google it quickly...OK, apparently in a room containing 23 people there’s a 50/50 chance of two people sharing birthdays. In a room of 75 the likelihood increases to 99.9%. Wow. That’s literally incredible and has inexorably altered my perception on everything. But this doesn't excuse you, WWE 2K16!
In Fable 3, there are not plenty of fish in the sea. You can marry whomever you choose so long as your potential life partner is one of five people. In 2010 I spent a lot of time dancing in Bowerstone Square with my bandit cap and pointy goatee - you can use Expressions to raise your social standing and forge paper-thin friendships - attracting identical women in red ballgowns, who I could tell obviously fancied me because they had hearts over their heads.
Different actions have different effects. As in real life, high-fiving earns adoration but farting on people's heads is frowned upon. It’s like bobbing a lure in the Ocarina of Time fish pond to hook a carp, only my lure is muscle flex poses and the carp is people.
This is the least insidious example of the bunch, seeing as the thing about football fans is they all seem to wear the same tops. And, at the distant default camera, crowds in the stands congeal into jam anyway. But celebrate in front of them and you'll start to spot patterns: the guys in similar floral shirts standing next to each other, the ones in yellow tops sporadically dotted around like flecks of paint on a Jackson Pollock.
Their AI behaviour trees extend all the way from ‘sit down’ to ‘stand up’. Their brains linked like bumblebees to the hive. Their adulation meaningless, like appealing to a hall of mirrors.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s city is bloody amazing. LOOK AT IT (opens in new tab). But there’s one Truman-Show-esque flaw that rears its head after a few hours of exploration, one you can’t unsee: Ubisoft rotates the same groups of people. Not only that. I wrote an article about snooping on all their conversations (opens in new tab), and heard literally every one (there were 15).
Don’t get me wrong, I understand why Ubisoft hasn’t implemented Infinite Dialogue. It’s just weird to stand under Big Ben listening to an Aberdeen lady in a black frock complaining about English people acting “like animals in a menagerie,” just as she did outside Buckingham Palace minutes earlier. I’m now familiar with London’s entire populace: the two kids talking about fairies, the men salting fish by the Thames, and the three posh gents chatting fashion. Reality is an illusion. Good day.