With God of War just two days from release (at the time of this writing), and with my fast and furious wrapping up of Far Cry 5, I have AI companions on the brain.
From all I’ve read and seen, it would appear Atreus (Kratos’ son) is a useful companion on the battlefield.
I feel hopeful of the prospect.
While I’ve certainly played games with excellent and helpful AI companions, I’ve also played games with lackluster AI companions. I’m not saying I’m playing the latter right now, but I’m absolutely playing the latter right now.
In Far Cry 5, you have access to nine “Guns for Hire.” Once you’ve leveled up enough, and completed the necessary requirements to unlock each one, you can have two Guns for Hire equipped at any given time (in solo play you are allowed up to two; in co-op you are allowed only one). I’ve used them in varying combinations to measured effect. I love Boomer (the dog) but he’s fragile and when something happens to him, it upsets me. The same can be said of Peaches (the cougar). Cheeseburger (the bear) is a freaking tank and is my go-to “Fangs for Hire.” Also he’s adorable. Also I love his name.
The human AI companions are, no pun intended, hit or miss. There are also some fairly serious glitches at work which throw a wrench in an already complicated system.
Allow me to digress here for a moment.
I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be to program sophisticated AI. It’s a marvel that games work at all, honestly. What I’m saying here comes entirely from a layperson’s position on the subject. Basically, I’ve played games with good AI and games with bad AI and all I know is which perform better and which do not.
The human companions are riddled with issues. Never mind that the game often switches my AI companions from one slot to the other on the d-pad without warning, so when I think I’m targeting an enemy for my sniper friend Grace, what I’m really doing is sending Cheeseburger in for some dangerous playtime. I always keep my animal companion on the left, and my human companion on the right. Sometimes the game will randomly switch them. I have no idea why. This has happened easily a dozen times.
The other thing the game will do is when I go to tag an enemy for an AI companion to target, it will weirdly pull my binoculars up instead. I never have trouble with my d-pad in other games, so this has to be Far Cry 5 specific.
Unfortunately, the AI system is often broken. I will tag an enemy and my companion will do nothing. Or, my companion will have a direct shot on said enemy, say they can’t take it, then I find them facing the opposite direction of the enemy I’ve tagged (this happened an awful lot a couple of nights ago). They will run into battle, then not fight. I can call them to come to me, and they won’t move. I can call them to come to me and they run somewhere else.
The system is flawed. I’m not saying I tangibly know how to fix it, but I can’t imagine the system is working as intended. It makes a cool feature a frustrating one.
Another game where I was entirely underwhelmed by my AI companion was The Last of Us.
For all the positives The Last of Us had (beautiful art direction, excellent voice acting, one of the best endings to a game in recent memory), Ellie’s AI often ruined the experience for me. In tense moments when I was behind cover trying to stealth my way through groups of Clickers, Ellie would often push me out of cover, at which point I’d be immediately spotted.
There were many times I was behind cover and Ellie would spaz out, wander into complete view of a Clicker and nothing would happen. There were times I would take cover from enemy fire and, once again, she would shove me out of cover and I’d get killed for being seen. For a game that wanted to be tense, it just made me frustrated. It took me out of the experience because of how broken her AI was.
The one game that stands out to me for having an excellent AI companion is BioShock: Infinite.
Elizabeth was an asset; she was often finding things for me during exploration, and she threw me much-needed supplies during battle nearly every time. She never got in my way or hampered my efforts. That’s quite an achievement in programming.
I am hopeful of Atreus in God of War. He seems like a useful companion; I’m excited to find out for myself on Thursday night.
How do you feel about AI companions? Which have been your favorite? Which have been your least favorite? And why on either account?