5 Gaming Cliches We Never Want to See Again in 2012

2. Obligatory Horde Mode and Other Copy-Cat Thinking

Horde Mode, which appeared in 2008′s Gears of War 2, was a really good idea. It was fun. Players and critics loved it. They loved it so much, in fact, that almost every other AAA shooter for the next three years did a surprising thing: they stole it.

Halo: Reach introduced Firefight; Modern Warfare 3 now features Survival Mode. They are far from the only offenders, but both are part of a disturbing new industry trend, which suggests that “if you can’t beat ‘em, become ‘em.” In an effort to keep up with competing franchises, games are willfully plagiarizing their competitors’ feature sets.

This ridiculous war of consumer attrition even extends to the basic concepts upon which new games are built. When Infinity Ward and Activision redefined the meaning of a console megahit with Modern Warfare, rival publishers rushed to follow suit, churning out modern military shooters with rote, uninspired precision. Ask the people who greenlit Medal of Honor (or Guitar Hero 5) if that was a good idea.

As it turned out, gamers didn’t want another game that was, for all intents and purposes, identical to Modern Warfare. They just wanted Modern Warfare. Gamers buy new games so they can play new games, not so they can revisit familiar gameplay recycled from popular titles they have already tired of.

Yes, video games are big business, and it will forever be in the interest of CEO’s and the shareholders they serve to go with the safe bet, the established franchise, at the expense of risky, unfamiliar games. For proof, look at the number of sequels that litter this year’s list of releases. But gamers — producers and consumers alike — ought to push back against these stultifying strictures, and they should point to the success of strikingly original games like Portal and Minecraft to make their case.

1. Omniscient In-ear Exposition Bots

Video game writing, speaking very generally, is terrible. The ideas are hackneyed, the dialogue turgid, the inevitable betrayals telegraphed, and the endings either confusing or unsatisfying. If there’s one failure that stands out above all the rest, however, it’s the consistent inability to deliver convincing drama.

When video game characters decide how to cope with the threat of imminent death — or, at best, horrible dismemberment — they do so not by relying on their personalities, their beliefs, their intellect, or their ability to understand the situation they are in. Instead, they are provided with “mission objectives,” incontrovertible mandates handed down from on high to fulfill some developer’s vision of what will eventually “look bad-ass.” Hot on the trail of thin, thinly characterized missing girlfriends, civilization hanging in the balance, they stumble from one set-piece showdown to another chasing “quest items,” a never-ending grocery list of MacGuffins cloaked in militaristic acronyms, sci-fi techno-babble, or overwrought high fantasy — pick one. If anyone dares question why we should empathize with these stolid, obedient heroes, why we should care if they survive — why we should give a shit — developers just blow up a little kid.

To add insult to death by high explosive, these uninspiring goals are usually delivered using the laziest possible method: the omniscient (usually female) voice squawking away via radio/neural interface/helmet speaker/psychic link. Is there anything less dramatic than watching your immensely powerful avatar walk around like an idiot with two fingers in his ear, listening to someone describe the plot, her unnecessarily sultry voice redolent of the vocal booth? No, I say. There is not. Would you want to watch the exploits of Hamlet or Han Solo unfold, if you knew that each protagonist had a magic A.I. sidekick in his head, telling him exactly what to do? (1. Hide behind screen. 2. Stab Polonius) No, I say, you wouldn’t. Fictional characters, like people in real life, should have to make it up as they go along — even in video games.

Honorable Mentions: Interrogation Frame Stories, Flushable Toilets

It was clever when they did it in Black Ops. It was sort of clever when they did it in Dragon Age II. Once Battlefield 3 came out, it was suddenly stupid. I realize that making video games takes a lot of time, and that coincidences do happen, but, as I pointed out in the last entry, sometimes it’s more than that. The interrogation frame story also smacks of the kind of lazy storytelling I describe in #2 above — it enables developers to deliver plot details and character motivation via a monotonous narrator strapped to a chair.

Last but not least: flushable toilets. This joke was funny exactly once, when it was first introduced. Which was when? 1997? Enough already, guys. If were the poor bastard who had to program the “swirling bowl” sound effect into a state-of-the-art piece of gaming software, I would go on strike.

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16 Comments on 5 Gaming Cliches We Never Want to See Again in 2012


On December 7, 2011 at 6:55 am

Amen to all that, brother! :-)

On my “top-five” list of irritants:

1. (The biggie) Insanely difficult boss-fights thanks to (a) ridiculously overpowered bosses or (b) wave after wave of assailants in (c) tactically-murderous killing grounds.

2. At a slightly lower level, “super-soldiers” as a substitute for better AI (MOH: Airborne, I’m looking at you!).

3. Weapons–especially handguns–with absurd ranges and accuracies (practically every “stealth shooter” suffers from this).

4. QT events that make it hard to advance short of lightning-quick reflexes. C’mon guys…QTE are supposed to advance the plot without breaking the immersion! If I have to do a QTE over more than once, how immersed do I feel at the end?!?

5. Stupidly-spaced checkpoints: you get a checkpoint every thirty seconds for every door you go through. Then you get into an insanely-hard firefight and don’t get any checkpoints until after all three, four, or more waves of attackers have been killed.


On December 7, 2011 at 9:08 am

I don’t mind the spiders, but I have to agree with you about collectibles. Imagine the game that Arkham City could have been if all that Riddler crap was replaced with story missions or what have you. Asylum handled it better, it was infinitely easier to just ignore those stupid green question marks and focus on beating up goons.

However, I have to flat out disagree with you about in-ear exposition bots. This not only something I appreciate in games, it’s something I wish I had in real life. In a world where you can’t help but be manipulated by everyone unless you’re some kind of Machiavellian genius, I’d rather the person manipulating me be on my side.


On December 7, 2011 at 11:58 am

good games


On December 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Stupidly spaced checkpoints!!! I hate them too!! I thought replaying the same section of level over and over again was a flaw with super nintendo / megadrive games back in the day. Why is it still happening??…. sort it out devs


On December 7, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Oh ye gods and little fishes…the flushable toilet cliche hasn’t died out yet?! That’s been around since the days of DOS for crying out loud. Case in point – the cult hit ZZT, which I otherwise like very much, literally has *hundreds* of user-made games with toilets that either:

A: Play an annoying flush sound.
B: Show a dopey one-line message.
C: Are plot-relevant in some “yeah, right” manner – keys hidden in the tank is a favorite.

…seriously, gamedevs, get a CLUE! This is not the 90′s and your audience is not a bunch of gradeschoolers. If you still think toilet humor is the height of humor, go work as a script writer for “South Park” or “Beavis & Butthead”.


On December 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Interrogation Frame Stories, black ops did it well.

Are you kidding me. Black ops pissed me off when they did it. Black was the first to do it and it was more than enough to me, anyone else doing it is just lazy.


On December 7, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Splinter Cell: Conviction did the interrogation very well. Black Ops was okay, apart from the voice manipulator, that drove me insane. Battlefield 3 made me throw my head at my controller. It was very poorly done and was extremely copycat-like from
Black Ops. Battlefield wasn’t a CoD killer, it was a copycat. … At least in the single player.


On December 8, 2011 at 9:32 am

A most interesting list! I agree with rather a lot of it!

Tyler rouse

On December 8, 2011 at 3:34 pm

i agree and the desighners probably didnt even go to schol they just skiped it and are idiots!


On December 8, 2011 at 6:27 pm

I tend to think Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series does a fair job with checkpoint placement. They are certainly aplenty. And at least the Arkham games have midway boss battle checkpoints. I agree with Geoff: Arkham Asylum did a much better job with riddler trophies, etc. They felt more attainable, and not near as time consuming. The scope of the Arkham City playing field is partially to blame for the problem in that game, and there are 400 something items/goals!


On December 8, 2011 at 9:19 pm

all of this true but saints row the third got the survival mode all right with fun and new ways to play


On December 12, 2011 at 8:08 am

Okay, the giant spiders are there partly because, like giant rats, their size is an artifact of the sprite days when they had to be drawn big in order to show up (also, normal-size spiders don’t look as scary), partly because of Tolkien, partly because of D & D, and partly because so many of us find killing them VERY satisfying. And you want the “fight off endless enemies until you get bored” modes gone? Why?

And another thing: Things like the toilets aren’t going away because EVERY YEAR A FRESH AUDIENCE SHOWS UP! And besides that… Dark-Star, do you frequent YouTube much? Going by their comments these people may as well be gradeschoolers. “Hur hur, tits, hur hur”.


On December 12, 2011 at 7:17 pm

ZeldaTheSwordsman If anything the way you go off makes you look like more of a gradeschooler, other than that I agree with you that tyler is in grade school. :D


On December 12, 2011 at 8:38 pm

David, I totally agree with the uber hard boss fights (Final Fantasy XIII) though I find the placement of auto-attack features in RPG games much more annoying (Final Fantasy XIII).

(I actually like FFXIII, if only it was a bit easier. =3)


On December 15, 2011 at 6:56 pm

“And another thing: Things like the toilets aren’t going away because EVERY YEAR A FRESH AUDIENCE SHOWS UP!”

Ayeah…I want to argue so bad…but you’re probably right. They wouldn’t keep resurrecting that stupid little cliche if there wasn’t a constant crop of overgrown toddlers to laugh at it.

“And besides that… Dark-Star, do you frequent YouTube much? Going by their comments these people may as well be gradeschoolers. “Hur hur, tits, hur hur”.”

Forsooth, thou dost tell the truth. I don’t usually pay attention to anything except the top-rated comment. But now that you say it…


On January 2, 2012 at 11:34 am

Ok. good list. But the thing that I REALLY Dislike in games is first off…extreme carry capacity. I just dont like how you can be playing games like RPG s and be carrying hundreds of items then suddenly pick up some tinsel by accident, and not be able to move…?! Also, in shooters such as BF3 which regardless I enjoy very much…. when the multiplayer unlocks are ordered from impossible to see down sight, slowest reload ever, unholy recoil, and peashooter ammo all the way up to no recoil, 3 shot kill, and fast reload with the best unlock able attachments. This makes it so that the gamers who spend their entire lives on the screen are automatically the best. Honestly, it should be made so that the guns just have slightly different sights, handling, and recoil so that the noobs aren’t using the same overpowered gun(Famas in BF3) WTF!