It’s true of games nowadays that they’re formulaic. The biggest franchises, be it Halo or Call of Duty, Fallout or Skyrim, Mario or Crash Bandicoot, Resident Evil or Outlast, all have unbreakable formulas that make them a part of their respective genres. These formulas have been used so much that they’ve become clichés, immediately recognizable, and if done well, highly enjoyable. But if poorly executed, we roll our eyes at their attempt to fool us with their faux “originality.”
But this isn’t about hating as much as it is about discussing what makes great games work. The formulas have been around for so long specifically because they work so well most of the time. We’re big believers in if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Experimentation is always welcome, of course! There are the exceptions, though, where we are just so jaded when we see some of these video game clichés.
Here at Den of Geek, we decided to dissect some of your favorite video game genres and find five clichés for each:
1. You start off with a sidearm (e.g. a pistol of some kind). You rarely start a shooter with all the gear you need to blow s*** up. Usually, you have to either acquire better weapons in-game, in stores, or through skill points.
2. You have expendable teammates. Just play through that one raid level in the first Middle East mission in Call of Duty 4. You’re a member of the Swiss Cheese Squad, whose mission is to get shot as soon as possible. Or give your space marines a jeep in Halo: Combat Evolved. Go home, guys, you’re drunk. Sometimes, developers add the doomed AI to heighten the tension on the battlefield. Other times, they want to make you feel as alone as possible. When done well, this cliché really gets our hearts pumping!
3. You lose contact with HQ. This one kind of goes hand-in-hand with number 2. Think about every time you’ve had to separate yourself from Cortana or an enemy disruptor has interfered with your comms. Perhaps that means no map, no radar, no sense of direction. The way ahead becomes a maze. When playing shooters, you have to be ready for the unexpected.
4. Quick time events. Jeez, shooters are filled with them these days. Today, developers are certainly shooting (heh) for the cinematic, saturating their shooters with slow-motion Simon-says button mashing. Tap A, B, X in that order before your enemy chops your head off or eats your face. A classic of the Call of Duty franchise, even Halo 4 is in on the Kool-Aid now. Not sure how we feel about that.
5. Thermal/Nightvision Gear. At some point, the lights go out or you’re stuck in an annoying blizzard. Now you can’t see the enemy and need to check your gear for anything that can help. Pick off whatever gives off a heat signature. We get it. To remediate the cliche a little, developers have shed the goggles and added the thermal/night vision gadget to your rifle/weapon. Pretty cool if you’re a gearhead.
1. The lights go out. Sometimes almost immediately to psych you out. Or at the most inopportune moment when the boogeyman is chasing you down a hallway. Games like Amnesia and Outlast really mastered this, but other games, like Slender, make you wish you could stay hidden in the shadows. Whatever the situation, light is definitely a factor.
2. The psych out. You know, when a game just feels like f****ing with you? You hear a sound behind you (a whisper in your ear) or you see a shadow ahead of you, or your controller vibrates, or the goddamn lights go out. You’re about to pee yourself. And then…nothing. This is the moment you want to punch the game in the face for being an a**hole.
3. The monster behind the door. This is THE classic scare of the genre. You slowly open the door to find a creeper ready to eat your face. Games like Outlast, Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and F.E.A.R. love pulling this one on you. Our favorite is probably F.E.A.R.’s random Alma scares because little girls are the worst.
4. The chase sequence. In every good horror game, there’s always that moment when you and your friends are panicking/yelling at each other, because you can’t find the way out of a hallway as a monster is chasing you, and that terrible high-pitched song is playing in the background. The door ahead of you is locked, and you feel cornered. There’s no where to hide. You turn around, and the monster is right behind you, preparing to make its killing blow. Get ready to unleash your bowels.
5. The dead come back to life. Another classic. Every time we see a corpse on the floor or hanging from the ceiling, we make sure to double-tap, as Jesse Eisenberg suggests. Or like Jamie Kennedy said, the dead always come back for one last scare. We’re ready for you, fake dead guy.
1. Hey look, a sword! How many times have you been given swords in MMOs? What happened to the creativity? Give me a god damn set of nunchucks or a pair of sais instead of the standard sword.
2. Horse Mounts. When was the last time you played an MMO and a horse mount wasn’t at LEAST offered? The strange part is that most MMOs take some sort of fantasy setting and theme, so wouldn’t other types of mounts exist? There are a few exceptions of course, Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn, for one, and the highly anticipated WildStar, which instead uses hoverboards.
3. Gold, Silver, Coppers. It’s usually in that order. There are other types of currency, such as badges and other accommodations, but for the most part, it’s the same pattern.
4. The female characters all have big jugs and a small waist. Yeah, I said it. Even WildStar‘s characters are guilty of this (and it has been brought up to Carbine about their character models unfortunately “following the mold”). A Realm Reborn’s female characters especially have dimensions that defy gravity. I’m not saying it’s a bad cliché, but it’s there.
5. Kill a spider. Kill a rat. Rinse and repeat. There are ALWAYS those quests that make you kill X amount of spiders or X amount of rats. Neverwinter was as guilty as any of the other newer MMOs. Guild Wars 2, WildStar, World of Warcraft—they’ll all have you killing spiders in no time!
1. Rescue the princess plotline – This cliché dates back to the very first Super Mario Bros. game, and it’s still prevalent in most platformer games today. There’s always some princess to fuel the need for your adventure, and she’s always really good at being taken for ransom by the forces of evil. The odds are also pretty good that she has been taken to another castle somewhere too along the way, but your hero never wises up to this ploy and has you venture through castle after castle until he finds the right one by the process of elimination.
2. The order of different world themes – Here’s a fun game for you to try: go pick up any platformer game and play your way to world two. I’ll bet you anything that it’s desert-themed, because the second world in every platformer game is ALWAYS DESERT-THEMED. The general outline goes grass first, desert second, snow fourth or fifth, and then you’ve got to be fooling yourself if fire or lava doesn’t bring up the rear!
3. Those damn swimming levels that everyone hates – I play platformer games because, you know, I want to jump on platforms and stuff. If I wanted to swim around in a lake, then I’d go and play a “swimmer” game instead. But no: every platformer these days seems to have one level completely devoted to swimming (or in the worst cases, an entire underwater WORLD), and the controls are usually nothing short of absolutely infuriating, not to mention your constantly draining air supply.
4. The fake-out ending – The Mario games seem to be infamous for overusing this cliché lately. Picture this: you’ve finally platformed your way to what you think is the very end of the game, you’ve bested what has to be the final boss, and now it’s finally time for the princess to reward you for your hard-earned efforts by baking you a sweet, sweet cake. But then surprise! The villain is actually immune to the deadly lava pit you just sent him into, and now there’s a whole ‘nother world you have to complete.
5. Incorporating other game genres – Again, if I’m playing a platformer game, then that’s probably because I want to be playing a platformer game. But more often than not, many platformers these days try to break up the traditional jumping and punching action by throwing in gimmicky mini-games or side quests that experiment with completely different genres. I’m not really sure why. In the worst cases, I’ve even seen some FPS or deeply involved racing segments squeeze their way into a 3D platformer game.
1. Handsome white male protagonist holding a gun on the cover art – This cliché couldn’t be more fitting for the majority of action-adventure and third-person shooter games out there today: a totally generic box art the features the heroic male protagonist toting a firearm or some other kind of trademark weapon around for all to see. Just pick up any game in recent years, whether Uncharted, Lost Planet 3, Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, or even BioShock Infinite, and you’ll basically see the same exact thing.
2. The bloody screen/black and white fade out – Visual health bars are SO last-gen, don’t you think? Now the whole craze has become to gradually make the game screen bloodier or have it start to turn black and white with the more damage you take. And then as you find a safe spot and your health starts to regenerate, you’ll miraculously be able to start seeing in color again.
3. Traditional good vs. evil storyline – You’d think with how far video games have come in recent years that developers would actually start to splurge on people who know how to write a decent story. But no, we keep getting the same rehashed “good vs. evil” storyline, complete with a rough-around-the-edges protagonist who has a troubled past, a love interest who wants to change him of his ways, and of course, a mortal enemy who just loves giving speeches at opportune moments instead of taking you out when he has the chance.
4. Crate puzzles – No matter how much action you’ve got in your action-adventure game, there’s usually a pretty good chance the developers will decide to throw the occasional environmental puzzle your way to keep you on your toes: and more often than not, these “puzzles” typically involve having to move various crates to help you reach some inaccessible area. Combine this one with invisible walls and intentionally locked doors, and you’ve got one headache of a cliché that simply refuses to die.
5. Longwinded tutorials – I’ll never forget the time I was forced to sit through Assassin’s Creed 3’s seven-hour tutorial at the start of the game. While players obviously need to get accustomed to playing a new game, adding a painfully slow tutorial section at the start of the game and intercutting it with constant interruptions for stories is the quickest way to lose a player’s interest.
Did we miss any? Share more video game genre cliches with us in the comments!