Death is a very dire subject matter, of course. But it happens so often in video games as a result of “self defense”, priority or recklessness, that it’s something many gamers look at with a blind eye. But this very topic is not so much about the fact that enemies drop dead at the pull of a trigger, within a game, but it’s all about how these events transpire and what lengths an enemy will travel, to prevent the inevitable.
As a hardcore gamer it’s unavoidable to notice how many bodies will drop dead in your wake of completing a mission, achieving a goal or successfully carrying out an objective. However, as the years have passed and games have supposedly evolved, I can’t help but notice how very few games have leveled-up beyond the blatantly fearless enemies that still parade around as nothing more than targets with bulls-eyes on their foreheads.
It’s not only that enemies in games are punching bags for bullets, just waiting to happen, but it’s that they’re portrayed with equally stupefied credentials for being enemies. Now it’s obvious that games like Max Payne, Stranglehold and Crackdown are supposed to fit into the genre of bad guys who stand around so bullets can fly by them (and through them) in John Woo-esque fashion. But it’s the more serious games that give off the bad impression of achieving realism.
With the exception of the newer Splinter Cell games, the latter Metal Gear Solid titles, and a very thin, partial nod to Hitman: Blood Money, it’s horribly obvious that many newer, serious action games (i.e.,GRAW, F.E.A.R., Rainbow Six, Hour of Victory, Call of Duty, etc.,) still have enemies that charge at the player like their life means nothing or flank with no care in the world other than to die trying to kill the player. This careless, reckless approach from enemies has been something we’ve endured as gamers since the nascence of video games. Yet less than a handful of games seem to breach this consistent methodology.
If you’ll notice in the Splinter Cell games after Chaos Theory, the enemies become fearful of the unseen intruder...a blatant change from most action games . It doesn’t make them any less dangerous... though, this trait makes them much more formidable, only because they are artificially imitating a much more realistic reaction: fear, panic and caution. It results in frantic shooting and sporadic movements. But then again, that’s the same kind of reaction most players exhibit when they’re startled by a pop-up monster, or a patrol officer who sneaks up from behind. Players are normally the only hero in the game and must undertake massive opposition, yet players still react with panic, and a slight sense of fear...fear of dying, even if the situation is virtual.
When a guard knows that his duty is to protect the front gate, but he’s fearful of dying, it adds a whole new dimension as to how a player will approach him, engage him, or potentially kill him. Because the AI is now exhibiting similar traits to the player. These kind of nuances are what radically change the gaming field.
However, many enemies in [games] do not show signs of fear; if they run it’s only to shoot the player when they storm around the corner after him. How often will you find an enemy who drops his gun and scurries off to cower in a corner with the lights out in the room, and a knife behind his back? Instead of giving gamers glossy looking model files, new shaders and 1080p (which really is useless to the actual evolution of gaming), developers really need to nail down an AI who is overly competent and challenges the player on the same competitive level as the player.
In fact, it would be terribly fascinating to see a game where there’s just one AI opponent; where the only enemy is a single enemy, but it’s an AI that stops at nothing to use disguises, snipe, infiltrate, hide or outsmart players at every turn, to exemplify an unparalleled gaming challenge. That is the evolution of video games, not shader 3.0 or multi-directional soft shadows. Graphics only enhance features we’ve already become accustomed to, but a really smart AI is what pushes gamers to think coherently, comprehensibly, and competitively.
One game that started a different kind of trend when it came to enemy AI, was the renown first-person shooter by Bungie, Halo. Elites were trained to fight to the death (much like standard enemy AI), and the characters played out like so, with striking conviction. The Grunts and Shield men, however, were not quite as fearless and actually desperately ran for their lives (though they still stupidly would turn and shoot when they should have hid and flanked). Still, Halo was one of the few games to actually present players with an enemy that operated based on rank, numbers and, to some small degree, fear.
But then again, maybe developers avoid humanizing the artificial intelligence, because maybe they feel it would incite people with the same kind of moral dilemma of actually killing someone. Maybe, for the psychological safety of gamers everywhere, enemies are kept stupid so no one feels guilty about killing Guard no. 1, or the Security Officer who just can’t wait to retire and spend the rest of his life starting up a small book shop, off the ocean with his family.
In conclusion, this current generation of gaming shows some small signs of promising computer opponents. Sadly, such signs are absent from the likes of Lair, Uncharted, Blacksite, and Hour of Victory, to name a few. But hopefully Splinter Cell: Conviction, Assassin’s Creed, Metal Gear Solid 4 and Cipher Complex won’t drop the ball, and they’ll deliver the kind of enemy intelligence that isn’t just a gimmick, but a serious video game experience.