As a critic you play a lot of games. Many of them are rubbish, some of them are good, fewer still achieve the giddy heights of greatness, and once in awhile you’ll find those rare gems of gaming perfection that show everyone in the industry How Things Should Be Done.
Still, even for games in the latter category, there are some features you know you’ve seen before that, when you lay eyes upon them for the umpteenth time, make you sigh inwardly. An enemy, an element of gameplay, a character’s backstory; whatever.
Here are some of my least favourites in no particular order, along with a couple of games in which I consider them to have been done ‘well enough’ that they were barely noticeable as the overused, lazy, convoluted pile of turds that they usually are.
1. “The Hero with No Memory”
You have to hand it to game writers, they really know how to flog a dead horse with enough vigour so that its gyrating corpse will look at least vaguely alive.
This character template has been plaguing games, particularly RPGs, for almost as long as I’ve been playing them. It’s an easy way to get us, as a singular audience, good and properly invested in the man/woman we’re in control of as we slaughter our way to victory in ten thousand sword strokes or less.
Piss poor examples of the Hero with No Memory litter the games spectrum in abundance, but possibly one of the worst I’ve encountered to date was in Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning, where character bonding and story are about as generic and tedious as they can get (the combat wasn’t bad, though).
One of the best games to have used the Hero with No Memory? BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic; without doubt one of the cleverest narrative twists that gave them a genuine reason to include a drab human being with no significant past. If you haven’t watched that story unfold you should be banned from the internet until you do.
2. Cover Shooter Gameplay
I know, I know, this is something about games we all think is pretty good, but this is the problem I have with it:
Gears of War came along and broke through the ceiling of our understanding on what a shooter could be, crafting an immersive and gritty portrayal of the battlefield. It was beautiful. Then other games came along and copied it… badly.
I spent many an hour trying to come to terms with how bloody stupid some of the gameplay in later and lesser titles was. Towards the top of the Recent Offenders List is developer feelplus’ MindJack, a title that made drying paint look positively thrilling by comparison with its dodgy gameplay and enemy AI that seemed to have been beaten about the head with a baseball bat.
Why the quotation marks? Why the capitalisation? Let me enlighten you, friends.
When most games come along and lay claim to the word “STEALTH”, they do so with brevity and the kind of casualness that make all fans of actual stealth games think twice. Because stealth isn’t something you simply shoehorn into a game to make it more interesting; it isn’t a clause to get stealth fans like me a little wet with anticipation south of the equator, only for the game to take a great steaming dump on our heads when we see what these “STEALTH” mechanics actually play like.
Stealth is the game. Either you’re committed to bring it to the fore of the gameplay or you’re not and if you’re not you can sit down, rewrite all press releases purporting to the contrary, and shut the f*ck up. Dishonored, in spite of its action-oriented mechanics, is a stealth-based game. The Thief series (from which Dishonored took its cue) is probably still the best example of stealth games to date.
For everything they did well, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas almost fell at the hurdle of “STEALTH”, but they made for passable attempts. The very worst game I laid hands on for its “STEALTH” segments? 007 Legends. ‘Nuff said.
4. White Protagonists
I’m calling it. I’ve had enough.
This is an ongoing issue within the industry involving fans, developers, publishers, and just about everybody else. The game hero is almost always white (heterosexual, too, but that’s another storm of political faecal matter), unless dictated otherwise by the player in a customised character model in which case the voice – if there is one – doesn’t mesh at all.
The point is, for a medium that can specialise in storytelling as much as films, shouldn’t games be representative of more than just the White Hero saving the day? When you hold games up to their film counterparts and see the headway made by different cultural protagonists, it really is appalling how underrepresented every non-white demographic actually is in games.
Basically, I’m sick of playing as white people. The games in which you don’t are few and far between, two of which are Shadow Man and Shadows of the Damned… Why they both have the word ‘shadow’ in the title is anyone’s guess.
…Really? Do I have to point out why these shambling, running, groaning, rotting, flesh-eating c***s are overused?
Arguably the most iconic monster of all time, with vampires and werewolves not far behind, the zombie has managed to infest games at every developmental level. Are you a games developer? Do you have not even an ounce of creativity in that poor excuse for a brain? Want your products to sell? Just add zombies.
It’s reached the point of being hilarious how far people will go in this regard. Take a look at the Xbox LIVE ‘Indy’ section if you want to marvel at how low our expectations for good content have fallen.
Mass Effect did a decent job of providing zombie-like opponents in the form of converted humans, right up to Mass Effect 3 where their design was altered to look less machine like. However, the best use of zombies to grace the gaming world by far can be found in The Walking Dead. After all the undead hordes you’ve slaughtered you may have to be in the mood for it, but trust me, this game will put all other uses of the zombie to shame with its interactive storytelling.