Move, Bitch! Get Out Of The Way!
I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t the wittiest catchphrase to adopt, but adopt it I have. That’s not to say that I go around using it in polite, everyday society (well, not much, anyway). No, this is a phrase I reserve almost exclusively for the world of videogames. Who deserves such abuse and aggression? AI companions, that’s who. These witless idiots have a knack for waltzing across my field of vision whenever it’s least convenient, and it pisses me off. You sit there taking the time to line up that perfect headshot with your sniper rifle, and the next thing you know your jackass of a sidekick has planted themselves in front of your scope like a special child wandering into traffic and deciding to wave at an oncoming bus.
Yet God forbid you accidently pull the trigger, receiving a startled grunt of pain paired with an obligatory comment like ‘watch your fire’. Hang on a second, you chose to go and stand there knowing full well what I was about to do; you deserve that bullet, I hope your wound gets infected and you die, just to teach you a lesson. Worse still is when this fails the mission because of so-called ‘friendly fire’ and you have to restart the entire thing just because someone outside your control decides to act like a monumental tool.
Their most annoying tendency by far is running across in front of you when you’re firing an RPG or throwing a grenade. Why? Why wait until that exact, precise, pivotal moment to step out? It’s like they’ve planned it just for the thrill of watching you contort with rage as the RPG hits them and detonates in your face – which, I might add, kills you – but leaves them remarkably intact. The same goes for grenades; it’s not a friggin’ football so don’t head it back to me! Four seconds is not long enough to throw a grenade, have it knocked back, pick it up again and rethrow it, and it generally blows up at stage three, killing me, and you have the goddam audacity to flinch in the blast? Go to hell.
So it seems that the AIs are not only blessed by a moronic intelligence, but also with invincibility. Great. Do they use this power? No, they cower and wait for you to push forward, leaving the guy with the chance of dying to do everything. I have never understood this and I never will; I’m being forced to charge into enemy fire while Slackjaw McDumbass sits over there with his infinite lives and waits like a man trying to work up the courage to finally ask his wife for that threesome.
This isn’t just a problem in shooters though – if anything, it’s even worse in a hack-and-slash. Yes, I may have severed one or two of your limbs, but what were you doing standing that close to a man flailing around with a sword? You need to go home and rethink your life; clearly being an adventurer’s travelling companion is not working out. Don’t even get me started on standing in front of spellcasters – surely they must consider that leaping before the man conjuring fire with his bare hands will end badly, and if not then they are almost certainly the result of inbreeding.
Regardless of how good or bad a game is, those who find it necessary to burden you with some half-arsed squad mate or friend whose IQ doesn’t exceed double digits is taking a metaphorical dump on your chest. Okay, maybe that last comment was a little too far, but this is something that genuinely annoys me; why saddle me with an AI if they aren’t going to at least be moderately helpful, or alternatively not actively work against me?
By far the biggest culprit of this heinous crime is the Call of Duty series. For years this franchise has provided us with a host of crappy counterparts to take up cover, walk into fields of fire, rebound grenades off and cause all-around irritation. Regardless of whether Activision or Treyarch has the reins, surely with all their money they could develop AI that doesn’t get on your tits? Please? All they need to do is make sure they keep a decent distance away from you, provide some good cover fire and hey, if possible, occasionally kill something. Yeah, you ever notice that? For all their talk and gunfire it’s rare that they kill somebody unless it’s been intentionally scripted, so what purpose do they serve?
Skyrim was yet another offender up until recently. The game’s brand of slightly-suicidal companions will always take the first opportunity to dive in the way of your spells, shouts and physical attacks. Some would argue that they’re trying to get to the enemy to help you out; I say “stand back and let a capable person handle this”. Thankfully, these companions are mostly optional aside from a few mission-dependent ones who are impossible to kill, meaning you won’t fail the mission (there is a God somewhere). Also, thanks to a new perk in the Dragonborn DLC called ‘Companions Insight’, you have the potential to negate all damage you cause to your followers, but this still doesn’t excuse them getting in your way in the first place.
Now, I could go on and list another dozen or so games that get the AI companion horribly wrong (Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, Warhammer 40K: Space Marine and the GTA series), but what about those that get it right? Dragon Age 2 lets attacks pass through your allies to hit your opponents and whenever you’re travelling about the map they keep a respectable distance behind you and make sure they’re not under your feet, and Mass Effect lets you order your squad mates to locations, keeping them out of your way. Those are honestly the only ones I can think of, leaving me with the conclusion that BioWare are the only ones who have the whole AI thing down.
As for everyone else, they seem intent on lumbering players with sidekicks, squad-mates, friends and whatever other fancy-dancy names they can come up with for their AI toolboxes who make Kerry Katona look like she should have a PhD in comparison. Sadly, this looks set to continue until every game developer in the world finally acknowledges BioWare for the AI gods that they are (God bless you BioWare).
For the time being at least, the realm of video games will continue to be plagued by these sheep-like AI puppets, destined to wander endlessly before our virtual faces in ceaseless mockery. Though, that’s not to say I have overtly anything against sheep. Hell, I doubt even they would wander in front of a man with a gun, but you look a sheep in the eyes and then stare into the soulless optical orifices of an AI companion and tell me that there aren’t any similarities…
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