ByMarcus O'Shea, writer at Creators.co
Resident RPG nerd and SoulsBorne fanatic. Can be spotted by their floofy hair.
Marcus O'Shea

Video Games are rife with clichés. Though we love our games, there's no escaping the tropes that haunt them. Secret labs, gruff soldiers with families that died tragically and endless zombies.

On our new column 'Gaming Clichés', we're going to be paying tribute to the good, bad and ugly of #VideoGames. Today, we're going to be talking about one of the most common #GameCliches of all: the sewer level.

Why We All Love A Sewer Level

'The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion' started you off in a sewer, which technically made the whole rest of the game look better in comparison. [Credit: Bethesda]
'The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion' started you off in a sewer, which technically made the whole rest of the game look better in comparison. [Credit: Bethesda]

I mean, why wouldn't you love a sewer level? The moment the path descends below sweet level and the walls turn brownish grey, you just know you're in for a treat. Who can hate an area that makes such efficient use of the earth tones in the color palette? The rich, turdish browns, the sickly yellow browns, the acrid greenish browns, sometimes, if you're lucky, some rusty reddish browns. It's an aesthetic that really reinvigorates the senses, you can almost smell the stench of that unusually large sewer.

Of course, it's not just the appearance, there's so much variety in the design of sewer levels. There's dozens of slight variations on long, straight hallways that lead to small rooms.

'Bloodborne' improved the monotony of a sewer by filling it with awful, hideous things that screamed constantly [Credit: Sony]
'Bloodborne' improved the monotony of a sewer by filling it with awful, hideous things that screamed constantly [Credit: Sony]

Sometimes they even mix things up by putting in so many long hallways leading to straight rooms that you get hopelessly lost, because you're a fool who doesn't notice the slight differences between the various sewer pipes you've just run through.

There's also a right variety of enemies you'll face in the sewers; mutated rats, mutated spiders, mutated alligators, mutated mutants. The sky's the limit as long as it's probably (properly?) mutated!

Okay, so maybe we don't love sewers.

Why Are There So Many Sewers In Games, Anyway?

'Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines' featured one of the all time worst sewer levels in games, especially if you were a Ventrue and couldn't restore blood from rats. [Credit: Activision-Blizzard]
'Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines' featured one of the all time worst sewer levels in games, especially if you were a Ventrue and couldn't restore blood from rats. [Credit: Activision-Blizzard]

The amount of games that feature a sewer sequence is staggering, even games I don't remember having a sewer at all turn out to include a subterranean section when I replay them.

Even medieval fantasy games, set in an approximation of a time period where people just kinda threw their shit out of windows, feature massive and complicated sewer systems beneath the city. I guess sewers get more of a pass on being ahistorical than women being allowed to do things.

So why are they so common? Is there a terrible goblin that comes at night and codes sewers into your favorite games? Probably not, although that would be pretty cool.

'The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt' for a way out of this sewer level. [Credit: CD Projekt]
'The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt' for a way out of this sewer level. [Credit: CD Projekt]

The main reason sewer levels appear in games is a practical issue. Sewer levels are easy. They don't require too much texture work, you can reuse a lot of assets and they're not that taxing on the level designers or the system hardware. They're a perfect stopgap for when you need to insert a quick gameplay section.

As much as we like to think about games as perfect, magical jewels that arrive fully formed, they're usually the result of dozens of different groups often being given conflicting orders on what to put in a game. When the publisher or producer tells you at the last minute that a game needs an extra hour of gameplay, a sewer level's the perfect answer.

For every. [Credit: Bandai Namco]
For every. [Credit: Bandai Namco]
Single. [Credit: Valve]
Single. [Credit: Valve]
Game. [Credit: Lucasarts]
Game. [Credit: Lucasarts]

So here's to the sewer level, we may not love them much, but they save the butts of overtaxed programmers. Plus, at least they're not underwater levels, those come stuffed with sharks.