The Humble Walk Cycle. How a character moves through the world can say a lot about their personality…for better or for worse. While not exactly the most important element of a good game, walk cycles can provide a lot of immersion: a carefree protagonist can move with a spring in their step, while a grumpier player may have heavier, hunched feet like Mr. Hyde. Some walk cycles happen so seamlessly that I don’t even notice them unless I’m really paying attention. Others make me spin my character around like a dog chasing its tail, unable to understand what they are doing with their bodies.
With so many games and an endless number of walk cycles within them, it was hard to put together a list of the best and worst I’ve come across in gaming. But a few still cross our minds many years later. With the help of my PC Gamer teammates, here are some of the most insane, coolest, and dumbest ways in the game the characters have gone through over the years.
To this day, I’m not entirely sure if the Morrowind Walk Cycle is completely trustworthy or the hottest thing I’ve ever seen. Vvardenfell is nothing but a podium, and our protagonist doesn’t know it. Although I don’t actually play Morrowind, the strut is etched in my memory thanks to the YouTube video aptly dubbed “The Morrowind Strut”. (opens in a new tab). “It’s a walk full of meaning, daring and style. That doesn’t make it Well, but it sure is funny to watch.
Worst: Lost Ark (2019)
I don’t even know where to start with Lost Ark. I feel like the game deserves some degree of “Korean MMO bullshit” allowance, but within minutes of trying it last year, I couldn’t figure out how my character strutted around. It’s as if Smilegate tried to shoot Bayonetta with several shots of tequila, then gave her a test drive before she could drive. It’s one of those walk cycles that creaks so painfully I lost focus on what I was supposed to do, instead I took multiple videos while laughing in pain and confusion .
Of course, it’s mostly women who fall under the walk cycle curse here at Lost Ark. Their hips and buttocks sway so wildly that they seem completely disconnected from the rest of their body. It’s so ridiculous that I tried to see if it was doable in real life without throwing myself halfway across the room with every step. It was not feasible. I know it’s a fantastic game, but even then some things are a bit too quirky.
what the fuck is this walk cycle lmfaaoooooooooooo pic.twitter.com/J8jSGLSMIWFebruary 12, 2022
Worse? Marvel’s Midnight Suns (2022)
This game already seems so weird. I can’t say whether Firaxis is begging us to take this ragtag group of Marvel superheroes seriously or treat it like a dating sim. It definitely leans into comedy at times I wouldn’t expect, though there’s at least one area where I don’t think it’s so clunky: the way my character, the hunter, works. In their defense, I guess my legs would also be a bit stiff if I were to run after 400 years in a coma. But it definitely gives some flavor, and for once, it’s the male version of the protagonist who looks a lot weirder than the female version. The two seem to share identical animations and some of them look a bit odd on the slightly bulkier male fighter frame. But in a way, it adds to the charm of what has quickly become one of the PC Gamer team’s favorite games this year.
Best: Persona 5 Royal (2022)
God, walk cycles in Persona 5 Royal. It wasn’t enough for literally every other element of this game to exude style, even the suspend menus are smooth as hell. But the way Atlus handles each character’s walk and the juxtaposition of their position inside and outside the metaverse is so cool. Take Joker in particular. In the real world, he walks around with his hands in his pockets, his shoulders hunched. Almost like, you know, he was trying to lay low while he played the phantom thief on probation for assault. On the other hand, his movements inside dungeons exude confidence. He walks through each palace, with small movements like glove adjustments on the fly while maintaining his thrusting rhythm, further emphasizing how at home he feels.
The personalities that Joker assumes in both still have a basic coolness to them, it’s just that he’s able to be a lot more expressive and arrogant when assuming his Phantom Thief form. I expected nothing less than excellent walk cycles for a game as meticulously detailed as Persona 5 Royal, and it’s still something I love about the game years later.
Worst: Mass Effect 3 (2012)
I feel like this is the first that comes to mind for so many people when they talk about weird walking and running animations. It is justified. The way Shepherd works in the Mass Effect series has always been a little clunky, but the third game seemed to up it to the max. It was much nicer to control, but the trade-off was that Shepherd’s legs were flying all over the place. It doesn’t look so terrible from the waist down, but anything below the waistline is straight body horror.
Once again, FemShep takes the brunt of the pain here, his legs looking particularly comical compared to the male Shepherd. This is especially noticeable during the opening tutorial with Anderson. She’s like a dinosaur trying to drive a little tike’s car. My favorite example has to be in this video (opens in a new tab) during the prologue though, showing just how clunky it all is.
Best: Untitled Goose Game (2019)
When I thought of games that had interesting walk cycles, many of them ended up being animals and four-legged creatures. Games like Stray and Spyro the Dragon have amazing animations, but the one that came out on top was Untitled Goose Game. Developer House House has such a simple design for its waterfowl hooligan. It has a basic silhouette and for the most part is a white patch atop two orange feet.
It’s pretty amazing as the game does such a fantastic job of showing what a bloodthirsty menace the goose is. The way he waddles, craning his neck to peek at nearby humans before committing heinous acts of theft and vandalism. The way his wings sometimes grow, ruffling the feathers. There’s a very childlike goblin quality to it all that communicates so much while still maintaining such a muted design. He conveys so much humor in his movement and it’s no wonder the game has captivated so many people. We all want to be that goose.
Best: Skullgirls (2013)
You probably don’t think much about walk cycles in fighting games since they’re only seen for a second or two at a time, but they’re home to some of the smoothest animations you’ll see in games. 2D fighters have tons of creative freedom in how their characters can move through any given space, and no fighting game showcases that better than Skullgirls. Each character on the roster has a delightfully unique walk cycle that can give you a glimpse of their personality in seconds. Retired wrestler Beowulf waves at his opponents as he walks backwards, while the giant Big Band orchestral machine shakes the entire screen as he slowly and heavily moves forward. Painwheel literally crawls across the floor as Squigly enlists the help of her parasite Leviathan to drag her backwards, then delicately tiptoes forward.
The way the whole roster moves is so emotive that just a few images can give you a good idea of each character’s mood. Skullgirls has such a wonderful aesthetic anyway and that’s helped even more by how each character is portrayed through their moves.
Best: Spider-Man: Miles Morales (2022)
If anyone knows how to do good walk cycles, it’s PlayStation’s first-party studios. You can’t have a story-driven cinematic game catalog without realistic, hyper-detailed walk cycles. Insomniac is the champ here, doing a fantastic job of animating Miles Morales for its spin-off game.
I feel like it would be unfair to call his web a type of walk cycle, although he looks very clean. But when you let Miles take to the wintry streets of New York and relax a bit, you get a rather simple yet expressive walk cycle. His running and light jogging is pretty standard, feeling quite cold like Miles himself. But I love that you can wave and point guns at pedestrians with the click of a button, or interact with some Spidey-lovers who will punch you or direct you to a crime in progress. It’s not as fantastic as the other walk cycles, but I really like how polished it is for the little time Miles is actually on the ground. Miles Morales is full of those little details that make the characters feel alive and look like the developers have thought of everything.