Mass Effect. Uncharted. Deadly Premonition. The list of classics from the last generation of consoles is too numerous to count, and the gaming landscape is more vast and varied now than its ever been. But even with all of the fantastic moments found on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and yes, even the Wii, we hope that this next generation leaves some of the past behind it.
Things become cliche for a reason: a particular design element or aesthetic worked once, then everyone else decided to copy it because it was successful. But now that we're on to a new set of consoles, perhaps its time to drop some of these cliches like a bad habit. Oh, who am I kidding? This stuff isn't going anywhere, and I'll tell you why.
Conveniently placed chest-high walls
The cliche: No matter where you go, whether it's a space station, an ancient tomb, or 19th-century England, if there's a fight breaking out, there's a well-placed chest-high wall to hide behind. Thanks to the popularity of cover-based shooters like Gears of War and Uncharted, their appearance has skyrocketed, and shows no end in sight.
Why it won't go away: It's pretty easy to fill up a level with a few fallen pillars, brick barriers, or other obstacles for the hero to hide behind, and since cover-based shooters aren't exactly going anywhere, we're likely to see more of this in the future. Hopefully game developers will at least make these protrusions feel like an extension of the world, rather than a conveniently placed set of granite rectangular prisms (looking at you, Mass Effect 2).
The cliche: The music builds, the tempo quickens, and suddenly: THE DROP. Now, the klaxons are blaring, and what sounds like the soundtrack for a robot apocalypse plows into your eardrums. The first time you heard dubstep, it was thrilling in its aural audacity. But now that everything from amateur YouTube Call of Duty videos to Enrique Iglesias songs (opens in new tab) has some kind of dubstep breakdown, it all seems to have lost its edge.
Why it won't go away: Despite becoming the butt-rock of electronic music, dubstep is still surprisingly popular (hence all the YouTube Call of Duty videos and Enrique Iglesias songs). It's almost become a joke at this point, thanks to games like Borderlands insisting on not letting this music genre die already (though I have to admit, the dubstep gun in Saints Row 4 was pretty funny).
The cliche: It's the year 20XX, and it's the apocalypse. Whether the world has been taken over by fast zombies or slow zombies doesn't matter; the undead roam the Earth, and they're going to take a bite out of you. Which, of course, turns everyone else into a zombie except you (must be all those leafy green herbs you've been munching on).
Why it won't go away: Zombies are such an ingrained part of pop culture at this point, even outside of games, that you can probably get a game greenlit by saying it's like "[insert game name here] with zombies. Plus, it's comparatively easier to devise an AI that simply hunts down the closest warm body and eats it than it is to make an enemy that moves and reacts to your attacks. And by spending fewer resources on AI, you can just fill the screen with loads of undead.
Stupid industry buzzwords
The cliche: Slap two words together, combine them into one glorious bastardization of the English language, and you've got a brand new buzzword to trot out in front of an audience of thousands. It's gotten so bad that we heard "drivatars" and "levolution" within a few hours of each other at E3 2013. In case you don't know, those are fancy words for "player-created AI" and "stuff blows up real good."
Why it won't go away: Because publishers never learn. You watch, E3 2015 is going to roll around and Ubisoft will break out words like "clambineering" to describe the new climbing physics for their latest Assassin's Creed title. Hey, at least we get to chuckle a little bit while we watch executives and paid presenters say these words unironically.
DLC not included in the Season Pass
The cliche: That game you just picked up? Well, there's going to be a mess of content coming for it in the next year or so. Sure, you can buy all of it individually like a sucker, or you can grab them all with this handy Season Pass for only $30! Except for this character pack; that's a pre-order exclusive. And that set of weapons. Oh, and we're making stuff to come after the Season Pass has run its course. You'll have to buy that separately, too.
Why it won't go away: It's all about money. While Season Passes are nice and all, there's no clear demarcation for what constitutes a "season" of gameplay. And everything released after that season is over requires a separate purchase. I'm all for paying for content, but I think that if the DLC ends up costing as much as the core game, maybe make that Season Pass all-inclusive. Or at least offer a 'Season Two' Pass.
Unnecessary crafting systems
The cliche: Wandering around a zombie-filled apocalypse? Or perhaps you're marooned in a mysterious forest? Whatever game you're playing, you can scrounge around for pieces of wood and some scraps of metal and convert them into a crude implement of pain, or find some rags and make a set of magically sterile bandages. It doesn't matter if you're playing a Super Mario-esque platformer, if there's an excuse to combine two items into another, better item, we'll find a way to fit it in.
Why it won't go away: Minecraft sold about a gazillion copies, so clearly every game needs to feature some kind of crafting system. And what better way to pad your game out than requiring players to hunt down five different herbs every time you want to craft a potion?
The cliche: OK, soldier, we need to dump a whole bunch of lore on you and give you directions to your next mission, but we don't want to put all of this in an expensively-designed cutscene. So we'll just slow your walk speed down to geriatric levels and force you to inch your way forward while you listen to us over your walkie-talkie.
Why it won't go away: It's a storytelling crutch that lets players have some semblance of control while other characters talk at them. And because games like The Order: 1886 make frequent use of the cliche even now, it's likely not going anywhere any time soon.
Gruff bald dudes
The cliche: Our heroes are conflicted, deep individuals who want to help out, but must also confront the hidden dark side buried within their souls. Sometimes, you must embrace the evil within to defeat the enemy without, and shaving your head is the only way you can come to terms with your anti-hero status. Or something.
Why it won't go away: Everyone can relate to a brooding male protagonist! Well, except for half of the global population, but who's counting? Plus, everyone knows that shaving your head is like a shortcut to Badass Town (Badasston?), and it essentially raises your coolness level by at least 20 points (which is actually rather difficult to do, at least from my experience). Hair's really hard to animate, too.
Climbing a tower to reveal more of your in-game map
The cliche: Perched high up on top of a massive cathedral lies a magical spot that will let you attune your spirit with the Earth and give you the location of all the hidden collectables on the map. All you have to do is climb up there to access it. Oh, and you can replace 'cathedral' with 'radio tower' and 'attune your spirit' with 'break the radio tower', depending on the game.
Why it won't go away: People like climbing stuff, and it was fine when Assassin's Creed did it. But then every other Ubisoft game had you climbing towers to unlock bits of the map; yes, even the open-world racer The Crew had you drive to hidden satellite dishes to unlock new races. It's so prevalent, it's bleeding out of Ubisoft games and into other titles, and even games like Dying Light are featuring some kind of tower climb. Whatever happened to buying a map?
I have hope that by the time we leave the PS4 and Xbox One behind we'll have a whole different set of cliches to jettison. Until then, keep a look out for the game about the zombie space marine with the dubstep DLC pack, and you can be the first to shout 'Bingo!' when you spot it. Are there any last-gen cliches you want gone? Let me know in the comments!
Looking for more? Why not read this list of everyone that Sonic the Hedgehog hates (opens in new tab) or why we need more stand-alone DLC (opens in new tab).