Top Ten: The New Gaming Cliches

By Jeremy M. Zoss in Features
Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 1:07 pm
Turok: Multiple cliches at once.
The Lava World. The Ice World. Amnesia. Collecting coins. High scores. 1ups. When games were younger, when we were younger, these were the cliches of gaming. Amongst others, these were the things that appeared in games too numerous to mention, to the point that they became shorthand for all video games. They defined video games. Many if not most of these cliches have now fallen by the wayside, often only appearing as parody. As the gaming industry has evolved, we've moved past them, but for better or for worse a whole new set of video game cliches has sprang up in their place.

Before we get to the list, a few caveats. First, "new" is a relative term. While most of the games mentioned on this list are from the current generation, several of these cliches are older than the current hardware. Most of these cliches evolved from the switch from 2D games to 3D, so as a rule of thumb anything that sprang from the 64-Bit era onwards qualifies as a "new" gaming cliche.

Second, despite what the word "cliche" connotes, not all of these are bad things. Some are great innovations that none of us would like to see go away. But even these have become so common that most gamers take them as a given. With those notes out of the way, on with the list!

In no particular order:


Bald Space Marines
Back in the day, there was a good chance that if you picked up a game it starred some cute animal character. Now there's a good chance it stars a bald, ultra-macho tuff guy, usually decked out in some sort of futuristic armor. The baldness evolved out of the fact that the current generation of machines isn't that great at rendering hair that looks as good as faces, but the space marines part of the equation likely stems from the fact that "futuristic sci-fi" settings are a cliche older than games themselves. The phrase "Bald Space Marines" has been used to describe bald tough guys even when they're not in space, such as in Splinter Cell: Double Agent and the upcoming Max Payne 3.
As Seen In: Gears of War, Fracture, Mass Effect, Too Human, Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, Crysis: Warhead, etc.

Update: The slick "Bald Space Marines" collage was created by "Zeus." You can see it at his website here.

bc deathmatch.jpg

Deathmatch (and Team Deathmatch) multiplayer is probably the best-liked cliche on this list. A good deathmatch mode is a great addition to a game - games like Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 are still racking up thousands of hours of play to this day. But far too often, deathmatch modes are included simply to add a bullet point to the back of the box. Did Bionic Commando need deathmatch mode? Did Dark Sector? No, but they were included in the games because it's expected. Had the developers not included deathmatch mode, perhaps they could have ironed out some of the issues that remained in the final version of the game. Some games wisely forgo multiplayer mode when it doesn't make sense - like BioShock. But there's always an expectation to make the sequel offer more, so developers fall back on that popular go-to multiplayer mode - like BioShock 2.
As Seen In: Too many games to count. Halo (Series), Dark Sector, Bionic Commando, Call of Duty (Series), Dark Sector, FEAR 2, etc.


Regenerating Health
Regenerating health is another one of those cliches that's arguably an improvement over the cliche it replaced: health packs. Sure, regenerating health has a tendency to make games easier, eliminating the scavenger hunt for restorative items. But what once felt like a huge innovation is now nothing more than commonplace, and those rare games that don't use it feel antiquated in comparison (Halo 3: ODST, for example). Fortunately, some developers have tried ways to make this mechanic a little fresher. For example, Batman: Arkham Asylum refills health based on experience points. The better you fight, the more health you regain - a skill-based version of regenerating health.
As Seen In: Pretty much every shooter of the current generation. Call of Duty (Series), Halo 3, Wolfenstein, Gears of War (Series), Prototype, Infamous, Mirror's Edge, Resistance 2, X-Men Origins: Wolverine (where it actually makes sense), etc.


Audio Logs
While Audio Logs first appeared back in System Shock and System Shock 2, they really gained popularity with their spiritual sequel BioShock. These collectibles (another classic cliche) relay the backstory of the world with bits of narrative about the world, minor characters, or other story elements that aren't central to the plot. They're a great mechanic that helps a game feel more like a real world, but they're quickly becoming overdone. Did the Wolverine game really need them? No.
As Seen In: BioShock, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Halo 3: ODST, Fallout 3, Dead Space, X-Men Origins: Wolverine,  etc.


Directional indicators
Truly born out of the switch from 2D to 3D games, directional indicators help the player find their ways towards a goal. Especially in open-world games, these indicators are indispensable. After all, we all need a little guidance in the big bad world. But are they really needed in more linear games? Dead Space drops a visible line on the floor of the level you're in, the PKE points the way in Ghostbusters and the Superintendent shows you the way in ODST. Maybe with clearer level design we wouldn't need flashing "go this way" icons.
As Seen In: Call of Duty (Series), Dead Space, Halo 3: ODST, Ghostbusters, Fallout 3, Wolfenstein, Prototype, Infamous, Grand Theft Auto (Series), etc.


Dual Wielding
Have you ever fired a gun? If so, you probably know how hard it is to actually hit something. Have you ever fired two guns at the same time? No, of course not. Sure it happens in real life, but not much. In video games, it's done all the time. One gun is for sissies. Or one sword, or wand, or one nunchuck. Two weapons means that you're twice the badass, right? Game developers seem to think so.
As Seen In: Halo 3, Left 4 Dead, Max Payne (Series), World of WarCraft, Wanted: Weapons of Fate, X-Blades, Too Human, Ninja Gaiden 2, etc.


Open Worlds
Open worlds are a technology cliche. We didn't see them much prior to the last couple console generations because they were hard to do. Now the machines can handle them, and its lead to some revolutionary, groundbreaking games. It's also lead to plenty of knockoffs of those groundbreaking games - duds like Roadkill, True Crime, etc. Just because developers can make open worlds doesn't mean that they should. Wolfenstein's open world sections were a dull slog. ODST's paled next to its more linear levels. Just because you can do it doesn't mean that you should.
As Seen In: Grand Theft Auto (Series), Saints Row (Series), Crackdown, Infamous, Red Faction: Guerrilla, Mafia (Series), Prototype, Wolfenstein, Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, FUEL, Dead Rising, Gun, etc.

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