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.