You hear it all the time. "That game is so generic and boring, don't buy it." We've recently been hearing it with games like Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel and Fuse, but it could also be used for games like FEAR, Max Payne 3, The Force Unleashed despite it never being raised. At least, that's what we're lead to believe based on how casually the term is thrown around. Which raises the big question -- is anything truly "generic" anymore? And if there is, what is it and why do people keep associating it with other games?

I'm back...

The entire concept that a game will be 100% original is a foolish one. Game developers constantly come up with similar ideas on their own along with reusing old ideas in new ways. If we didn't allow for recycled concepts, then bullet time would never have been used in Max Payne because Requiem: Avenging Angel would have beaten it to the punch. Similarly, we would have never gotten games such as KotOR, Fallout 3, Mirror's Edge, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, or Halo if we never looked back to old ideas and tried them in new, exciting ways. By using familiar ideas that we maintain genres and styles of play that can be approached and fit consistently on a controller.

Which would you prefer being the paragon of bullet time?

However, a unique concept alone doesn't seem to be necessary, if certain games are any indication. Halo's biggest changes were mainly in response to limitations of the Xbox in order to keep the game playing like an arena shooter but with some more user friendly design sensibilities. At its core, all it cared about was shooting varied enemy types in large, varied environments with physics, vehicles, and a mix of regenerating shields and health-pack restored health bars. The two weapon use, the back of the head melee stealth takedowns, the checkpoint system, and the varied grenade types wouldn't have mattered to most gamers if the core of Halo hadn't held up.

Similarly, Uncharted isn't much to speak of in terms of innovation. Its platforming is borderline without challenge, its melee combat is standard quick time events, it's shooting is by the numbers in terms of weapons, strategies, and enemy types; and yet many a gamer (excluding this one) loved it despite all of that. However, the sheen of impressive graphics, the incredibly low bar to entry, and the aggressive competitive multiplayer keep gamers coming back even though there's little new to offer.

Some argue that's the main point of what makes a game generic, a lack of polish and focus, and while this may be the case of some games (Deadlight, I'm looking at you), I can't believe that's entirely the case because of the game I'm presently reviewing that is being dubbed generic -- Fuse. I've sunk over eleven hours into Fuse as of this writing, and there is only one point of contention that I can imagine that truly makes it any more stereotypical (as it certainly has polish, despite some bugs) than any other game is the simple fact that it involves guns.

Guns, apparently, are what some people define as the reason games are so generic and disinteresting. Violence, gore, sex, and guns are what some use as their means of describing whether a game is generic now or not. For instance, this quote from Zelda Informer:

"Immersion has made violent and grotesque video games all the more common. So much so, it almost seems a standard. It’s brought about a wave of games that utilizes this new immersion to bring about the most rabid and neanderthalic senses found in the depths of our Limbic System. Developers know this, as it really is just a common sense principle: violence and sex sells. Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Saint’s Row, are all games that deserve the praise it receives, but all of which are too similar in their mechanic. Yet seemingly every game a top tier developer makes is centered around a violent protagonist who uses violent means to eventually reach its goals; as if a break from this newly established norm never crosses their mind." -- Zelda Informer, Jonathan Barstow

Lets take the main statement of this sentence for what it is. Call of Duty (a reflex shooter), Grand Theft Auto (an open world third person adventure action game), and Saints Row (same as GTA) are all the same game, apparently, due to the fact they are violent and involve shooting. A game isn't generic because of similar gameplay or experience, it's because they continually use guns and have violent acts that makes them generic, because this is, according to the writer, all that game developers produce anymore beyond Nintendo and a few other studios like Thatgamecompany. This isn't an exclusive point to Zelda Informer though -- there are indeed many gamers who lament for older days when the shooter was not the most popular genre on the market. Except, we encounter a problem with this argument, as is well orchestrated by another quote from the article:

"The gaming scene wasn’t always dominated by figures like Nathan Drake and Marcus Fenix. You only have to go back 10 or 15 years to find a completely different scene where the Nathan Drakes of the world were replaced by Crash Bandicoots and Spyros. Marcus Fenix and Master Chiefs were instead Sonic, Banjo and Kazooie. “Triple A” gaming was not always defined by the ESRB rating. Hardcore gaming was not always confined to a first person shooter. Mature players were not men who could stomach playing as an immoral pimp." - Zelda Informer, Jonathan Barstow

So it's fine if we repeatedly produce the same experience in a seemingly non-violent manner? During the days of Mario and Sonic, the platformer was the default genre like shooters are today. Movie and TV tie-ins were platformers. Ducktales, Batman and Robin, Disney's Castle of Illusion, Lei Lo and Stitch: Trouble in Paradise, Ren & Stimpy -- you name it, they probably made some kind of 2D or 3D brawler or fighter of it. Mario and Sonic were effectively Call of Duty and Battlefield. Is this really what it comes down to? Is the crisis of generic games merely a need for less guns? The answer is both yes and no in that respect. We do need more games outside the genre of games involving shooting, but we still have games that defy the standard in action games. Max Payne 3 was just a third person shooter but did some new things with its bullet time mechanics and featured a brand new multiplayer using those same mechanics. It still involved shooting, it still was a third person shooter, and it still sold millions of copies and wasn't called generic.

Now back to Fuse for a moment.

Fuse wants to reinvigorate four player co-op shooting by including four distinct weapons that make each playable character fit one of many roles in a combat situation, enhancing teamwork and encouraging creative kills. It's still a third person online shooter with a cover system. It still has the genre standard of regenerating health. It's certainly got more ideas going on for it than other games, and it has polish, but it has far to go before it lights the world on fire. Many have compared it to developer Insomniac's earlier work, which they argue is far more creative than Fuse, even though fans were very eager and excited for the game when it was under the art style and title of Overstrike, the original pitch of the game. Lets take a critical look at the original pitch and the final product.

The Original:


The Final Product:

Now, at first you're probably going to say the original looked more interesting, but stop and re-watch it. For one thing, the only significant changes to Dalton are his beard and his voice -- he still has the same weapon. So does Jacob, and technically so does Isabella. Naya gets the addition of the nanorifle that gives her the ability to create blackholes around enemies. Savager assault rifles, the ability to use stealth, the Mag shield's burst fire ability, the pinning ability of the crossbow, the rocket from the middle of the game's campaign, the excess of same-looking goons to smack down upon, and for a milisecond the Firefly SMG are all still in the final product. There is a distinct art style lost in the translation and the tone is changed, but outside of these, from all that we can tell, the game is actually rather close to its original concept. Despite this, many argue the final product lacks the originality of Overstrike and that Fuse is, guess what, GENERIC. So apparently not keeping an iconic look can devolve something to generic even if it's relatively the same car under the new coat of paint.

One final point I'd like to make is that of the case of Legend of Zelda. Many of the series critics' biggest complaints relate to how that series has stuck to a similar formula for over a decade now. The same structure, level navigation, tools, and cast of characters have appeared in some form or another across every entry in the series. Maybe there are four protagonists or maybe the game features a changed camera perspective or the ability to shoot a crossbow with motion controls but after all that we've come to understand as generic, it doesn't change things up outside of gimmicks (motion controlled crossbow in Twilight Princess, little exploring bug in Skyward Sword, writing down notes on the map with the DS games, sailing in Wind Waker) or changing the art style (which with Fuse was a big no-no so it's the same here too for Wind Waker and the DS games!), it includes violence (Wind Waker has you stab someone straight through the chest quite clearly even though you're only playing a child), and it's a genre used a lot these days (action-RPG with puzzles). So, by all that we have gathered, Zelda is one of the most generic series in existence. And yet, you don't hear anyone call it that, do you? Sure maybe a detractor or two but really, most people don't call Zelda generic -- and they'll give you a bunch of reasons that apparently for any other game, make a game generic (I'm not saying these are the only defining characteristics of your franchise, cool your jets Nintendo fanboys, I'm making a point here).

So in the end, what game isn't generic? Apparently... basically anything by Thatgamecompany -- and only by Thatgamecompany, because they literally just make whatever it is they want, and never try to conform to a single genre, and we can only say that because they've only made three games so far. Pixel Junk, Team Meat, Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony, Capcom, SEGA, even Atlus apparently are all generic because of how bent up and conveniently twisted the term has become. It's like defining Portal as a first person shooter -- you can do that, but you're missing the point. "Generic" has lost almost all meaning by this point. Is a game repetitive, bland, and unimpressive? Okay, then call it that, not generic, because it could be something as out there as that wild west 3DS tower defense/action-rpg hybrid controlled solely by stylus, or it could literally be a copy and paste of Gears of War, but the criticism still stands. Saying it's generic is no longer a clear way of defining if a game is good or not, because it's very clear that it's the content offered and the experience that's far more important than if its a familiar experience or not.

Back when I got Persona 2 I was so bored of the shooter genre that I wanted something completely foreign to me, but I was still interested in Max Payne 3 even though it was a third person shooter, because it had the makings of defying what murky a line we call a standard shooter. Why? Because a game has to be considered outside of its genre along with in comparison to similar games. And by that kind of measuring stick, a game like Fuse is perfectly fine, just a bit repetitive and in need of some additional content to make its unique ideas stand out better.

As gamers and game critics, we can do better than using a single term to describe our feelings on something. Generic was once a perfectly fine word that we could understand without needing to ask what someone meant. Now, it's become so vague and so blatantly used to just dismiss something a person doesn't like that it fails to be valid. We all might still use the term in our own way, but if we can't even tell what's truly generic in the sea of games, then how can we properly use it?

I imagine more than one of you may differ on this issue or have an alternative conclusion to what has been presented. Please feel free to calm and clearly leave a reply in the comments., and discuss the issue with me and any fellow readers.