Having seen the recent Civilization trailer and its shiny new sci-fi setting, with all of its white spaceship interiors, glowing lights and depiction of Earth as an overcrowded, polluted place which people are trying to escape from, I thought I’d run down the top 5 overused sci-fi clichés which game designers like to use over and over again.
5 – The Spooky Space Station
Lights hanging off walls, rust everywhere along with audiologs of doomed miners or engineers, the spooky space station has been done to death lately thanks to games like Dead Space. It’s always the same routine of there being some alien infestation or invasion which has murdered everyone on board and it is up to our plucky hero to shuffle his or her way through corridors after corridor of jump scares, dimly-lit research labs and shambling horrors which stop being scary after about 4 hours. Hopefully, the new Alien Isolation game which is set on a spooky space station will not trot out the same tropes over and over again but from my time playing it at EGX Rezzed, I’m not holding out too much hope.
4 – Rebels vs Empire
You can thank the original Star Wars trilogy for this one. While having a setting where you have an evil empire and a band of plucky rebels is fine, it is the boring delineation of the rebels ALWAYS being the good guys while the empire are ALWAYS the bad guys. The Red Faction series has done this multiple times, Borderlands 2 did it as well in the main story (adding quite a bit of humour) but still adhering to the rebels = good, empire = bad formula. It is just lazy characterisation and people need to stop adhering to how Star Wars did it. Plus, as we have seen from the news lately, the rebels are sometimes as evil as the regime they are fighting.
3 – Grimdark Future
Warhammer 40K takes the blame this time around. I find the whole ‘In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war’ setting incredibly dull as you get no real variety in world design or characterisation. There’s always some fanatical space religion, fascist empires and ridiculously overpowered dudes with big guns who show no emotion, instead just shouting while everyone else is either miserable or dead. Where ever the humans now live is shown as some desolate, solemn wasteland beset on all sides by horrors from the void, there are hardly any women about unless they are evil aliens/space demons or as jacked as their male counterparts and the colour palate does not go past dark green and gunmetal grey. Definitely not somewhere I want to spend my time.
2 – The word ‘Terran’
Just say humans. Please. It does not sound cool or futuristic, you just sound pretentious and now unoriginal for trying to think up a word to replace human. What is even worse is when the word ‘Terran’ is used to mean human, yet the game still calls Earth Earth, not Terra! It just grates on my ears and makes my expectations instantly drop. Either say human or think of another goddamn word. While you’re at it, stop saying Luna and Sol to mean the sun and the moon. We aren’t in Augustan Rome, just call it by its normal name
1 – Nanomachines
I hate nanomachines with a passion. Not the actual technology, they seem really damn cool but the use of them in video games is just boring and uninspired. You can leap over giant buildings? Nanomachines. You can survive ridiculous amounts of physical trauma? Nanomachines. The government conspiracy that threatens the world? Nanomachines. See Mr Kojima’s expert use of said plot device in MGS4.
They have become nothing more than a useless plot device to explain away bad writing, rather than actually crafting a story which makes sense. It is now the sci-fi equivalent of ‘a wizard did it’. If you are going to use them, actually explain what they bloody do rather than just saying it and moving on. Otherwise, they are about as interesting as Unobtainium was in Avatar.