These games are not what you think they are

Some games can't be trusted. Labelled as a particular genre, sold as a particular genre, hell, maybe even be designed as a particular genre, they nevertheless refuse to do as they're told and instead play as something completely different in reality.

Sometimes it's a good thing, introducing players to genres they'd ordinarily never touch, hidden under the guise of something else. Sometimes it kills the game's chances dead, leading to its evaluation on the wrong terms entirely. And sometimes... Sometimes it's just plain old confusing. Read on, as we unmask the real games hiding underneath some of our favourite facades.


Perceived genre: FPS

Actual genre: RPG

If there's one criticism that keeps coming up amongst the Bioshock doubters, it's the fact that the shooting mechanics don't hold up against the likes of CoD and Half-Life. And they don't. In comparison, Bioshock's shooting is a clunky affair, lacking the immediacy of the former and the variety of the latter. But that's not the point. In fact that line of argument is like criticising the combat in a Zelda game for not being as sharp as that in Devil May Cry.

The thing is, as much as Bioshock was sold as a shooter, the shooting isn't its primary focus, just as combat tends not to be the focus of most action RPGs. Because it is an RPG. Now before you go comparing it unfavourably against the choice-driven likes of Fallout 3, consider the trappings of the more traditional Japanese RPG.

A linear story with only light explorative deviation allowed from the game's main "route". Character customisation, but only within the confines of attack, defense and a couple of abilities. Enemies and locked areas which react to progressively learned new attacks. Progressive levelling up. An emphasis on tone and narrative above all else. A mysterious male hero on a voyage of self-discovery? And speaking of which...

Final Fantasy

Perceived genre: RPG

Actual genre: Interactive movie

Just where is the role playing in the average Final Fantasy game, exactly? Yes, there's a story. Yes, there are engaging characters. Yes, there is weapon and armour customisation. But the actual playing of a role? Nope. Barely any.

What we have in Final Fantasy games are essentially interactive storybooks, wherin the narrative progresses completely independently from the player's input. You might have defeated that boss and saved that town, but everything that happens as a result is a pre-scripted scenario during which 'your' character becomes the possession of the developer once again, saying and doing only what they wish.

The player input lies only in reaching the next point at which the story is advanced, and never in actually advancing it first-hand. Random battles can neither be picked nor avoided. Character choice never comes into it. The tale is always epic, but it contains little more role-playing than pressing play on a DVD remote.

Resident Evil

Perceived genre: Survival Horror

Actual genre: Point and Click Adventure

Ah, Resi, the series which cemented the survival horror genre as the freshest new export of the 32-bit age. 3D zombie killing, tense scenarios, thick atmosphere, dripping, isolated fear... All good stuff, but all peripheral elements disguising the fact that the early Resident Evil games were actually just an extension of a much, much older genre.

Take away all the shadows and gore from Resident Evil, and what are you left with? Fetch quests, highly obscure logic puzzles and a fairly pedestrian pace. It might all be broken up with the occasional zombie attack or boss fight, but essentially what you're doing in a pre-4 Resident Evil game is the same as we were doing in the PC point and clicks of old, just in 3D and with shotguns.

Viva Pinata

Perceived genre: Virtual Pet

Actual genre: RTS

Oh how we groaned when we saw Viva Pinata. We knew that Microsoft had very probably bought Rare with the intention of absorbing some of the N64's bright, shiny, family-friendly fun into the Xbox 360, but was an animal-collecting Pokemon rip-off the best they could come up with? And lo, Viva Pinata did bomb amongst the hardcore. Which is ironic given how stupidly hardcore a game it actually is if you want it to be.

It's basically an RTS in reverse, where instead of trying to wipe out an external threat, you're juggling a tactical balance in order to keep your own units alive. Because unlike the average RTS army, they'll eat each other to bits given half the chance.

It's all about resource management (Can you afford that fence? Are you making enough money from your Pinata produce output?), understanding unit relationships (Want that Pretztail? Better start breeding Quackberries as bait then. Want a Quackberry? Better dig a pond) and dealing with the terrain around you (Did you remember to keep the gate shut? Why haven't you got enough land to keep your Pinatas safely separate?), making it as RTS as it gets. Many people don't realise that of course, as VP cleverly lets the player set the pace at every step of the way, but crank things up and you'll be drowning in micro-management within minutes.

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  • coolip - December 3, 2010 10:53 a.m.

    Really good article David.
  • DontEatRawHagis - February 25, 2009 12:59 a.m.

    Apparently my friend got pissed off at this article for Bioshock. His definition of RPG is limited to games like DnD and Final Fantsy. I however feel that any game that allows people to take on a role and change the story(however so limited). In my eyes both Bioshock and Deus Ex are RPGs not shooters.
  • Till - February 21, 2009 8:20 a.m.

    lol, nice article:D
  • noobeater - February 20, 2009 3:20 p.m.

    lol at cwf2008...too true great article
  • Spybreak8 - February 20, 2009 5:30 a.m.

    Nope, we'll soon be around the times where people will not classify one genre for a game and that's a good thing. Although the people that don't like other genres might not agree but you get exposed to new things and you may like it, growing your gaming love. Look at Battlestations Midway, GTAIV, Fallout 3, Banjo Kazoie and others.
  • super-saint - February 20, 2009 2:42 a.m.

    i agree with your assestment of far cry 2, however a resonable majorty of the game is more of "use the envorment to save the day in a way that leaves you exposed". the molotovs are a surefire way to have every hostile trying to kill you, but also give you a huge advantage, enemys will run into your line of sight to excape fire (kudos to the fire engeine) and more importently, stop that sense in can also let you revert to stelth, while enemys are busy focusing on the fire you can hide and wait to things to get calm again...and before another person says "the AI is way too agressive for stelth" its not, its ment to be challanging(imangen your a soldier in africa, yea id be pretty attentive too) and most of the time its you own blunder for gettnig cought, you diddent take the time to look for ALL the snipers or you dident analyise the patrol routes, you can almost alweas trace it back to yourself... bravo GR, i thought i was the only one who spooted that
  • Marshmellow - February 19, 2009 3:28 p.m.

    Mirrors edge: perceived genre:FPS Actual Genre: platformer This one really bugs me because how could it ever be a shooter did any one actually ever fire a gun more than 3 times yet it says FPS everywhere. I mean come on LBP has more shooting than this and the paintball gun is easier to use.
  • Diamondis - February 19, 2009 3:02 p.m.

    "When played with the right mind-set, the lack of plot is more than made up for with...and the knowledge that you're outmanned and outgunned by some of the foulest monsters ever to drool the blood of the innocent." Felt this way on the second to last levl of CoD: WaW on Veteran. lol.
  • NadaNuff - February 19, 2009 12:15 p.m.

    I was half-expecting the Space Channel 5 series to be downgraded to "Simon" clone from music game
  • Elbo444 - February 19, 2009 6:32 a.m.

    god I hated Doom 3, you can't see anything unless you have your flashlight out, and then you can't shoot, so you can't shoot the imp that appears behind you for the 50th time because it takes so long to switch to a gun, you just have to memorize where all the enemies spawn, so dumb
  • Rhesus - February 19, 2009 4:47 a.m.

    @Kruiser My hands are as high as I can put them. But, then again, you'd have to read them to find out if they were 100 words or not.
  • Wuddle - February 19, 2009 4:31 a.m.

    hah. Clever use of Starcraft 2
  • Robusken - February 19, 2009 3:59 a.m.

    Ill never look at viva pinata the same again
  • Kruiser - February 19, 2009 3:49 a.m.

    who reads user comments above 100 words? hands up
  • Daywalkr - February 19, 2009 2:50 a.m.

    Also, another for the list, I dont know if everyone else thought that Left 4 Dead was a FPS. When I first popped the disk in and watched the (one and only) cutscene and knew I was wrong. The cinematic makes me wish that the game had a strong story. It is actually a Survival Horror game with tons of co op gameplay. That game has some amazing memories with my friends and I. You should at least rent it.
  • Daywalkr - February 19, 2009 2:43 a.m.

    GTA IV did suck, Far Cry 2 was awesome. Yet I paid 60 bucks for "crap on a disk" and paid 9 bucks to rent Far Cry 2 for a week. Bad move. Far Cry isnt all a stealth game, it has some great fighting elements to it too. Also Bioshock is NOT a RTS. You commanded no units, did not wage war with your army against the enemy. To me, Bioshock was a perfect mix of RPG and FPS. Fable 2 DID suck, another waste of 60$. If you dont think Bioshock is an RPG, you are probably comparing the game to a larger scale RPG like Oblivion. Bioshock and Oblivion are different in many ways. I dont want to talk about the game but if you havent played it yet, buy it, its still great now. If you played it and liked it, there is a Bioshock 2 in development, see you on release day
  • DeadGirls - February 19, 2009 2:34 a.m.

    Interesting article. I have probably been talking down Bioshock more than it deserves lately. It was really good game. But I don't really agree that it was advertised and introduced as just an FPS. There was alot of talk about a 'dynamic world' and how it was part RPG before it was released. In actuality the character cusomization was nothing more than picking which weapons/powers to use and the world was almost entirely scripted. I do agree with your assessment of FarCry 2. I think that it is a highly underrated game. I know that there is almost zero friendly (or even neutral) AI outside of towns, and that it could have been more interesting had there been civilians or friendlies to work with. But the enemy AI was actually quite good (though not always perfect) and I dare anyone to mention a recent open-world fps with better. The fun really was in scouting and planning each encounter for the best possible results, and not just going in guns blazing every time (although when you had to blaze some guns, it was top-notch gun blazing). FarCry 2 was way WAY better than Crysis, and it deserves more credit than it gets.
  • AzRedsk1n - February 19, 2009 2:21 a.m.

    Fable 2 perceived genre:RPG Actual Genre: stupid Waist of time and money
  • gmilf71 - February 19, 2009 1:26 a.m.

    No GTA is crap. they're fun, but they eventually get boring. It's true, though FF is like a giant cut scene with gameplay trown in. I do like the doom3 one though. "behind you, n00b" hillarious article, GR.
  • RedBandit - February 19, 2009 1:25 a.m.

    just the pics werre enough to make this article a win. Nice Job