Tuesday, August 17

Too Many Enemies - A Healed Rant

(Resistance: Fall of Man)

    There's something that's been bothering me with modern shooters lately, which is this basic need to make every game as epic as possible. I mean throwing as many enemies as possible at the player to make things feel intense, or throwing too many epic set pieces like fighting within a falling building or in the middle of a giant battle. It's as if epic set-pieces and fights are the only thing developers can do to make a game feel intense these days, and if you use them too much, they lose their effect. I recently posted a bit of a rant on regenerating health, but to me that's very minor compared to this.

    Flooding the player with tons of enemies isn't inherently bad, but that's all I've seen in shooting games lately. Half of the time, you see this happen when it really doesn't make any sense. For example, in Quantum of Solace your often flooded with squads of seven or eight baddies at the same time. This happens in the scene where you chase the bomb-maker from "Casino Royale", even though he was alone in the movie. Why would a bomb-maker want to take 200 armed guards everywhere he goes, especially when he doesn't want to be found? Why not just have a chase sequence instead with maybe a few of his friends shooting at you. I guess that would be too easy with regenerating health, right?

(Uncharted 2)

    I thought that by now most games would have far better enemy AI than we did last generation, and yet the AI is still the same (with a few notable exceptions.) It seems that most developers are too lazy to even attempt at making smart AI opponents, so they just throw a boatload at you in every mission. Probably an even worse offender in this category is Uncharted. Now don't get me wrong, I love the Uncharted games - the second Uncharted was my favorite game of 2009. What bothered me about the Uncharted games is how Nathan Drake, this seemingly ordinary guy with a slightly childish sense of humor is killing hundreds of mercenaries and doesn't seem to care. Also, I realize that Nathan Drake's enemies are very rich, but would they really hire over 1000 mercenaries just to dig out artifacts? Yes, these artifacts will supposedly make you powerful, but wouldn't you just hire ten or twenty mercs and a bunch of cheap diggers? I'm pretty sure these mercenaries would much rather fight than dig. A simple solution to this would to have far fewer enemies and remove the regenerating health. The entire game would make more sense, and there would still be some challenge to it. Either that, or have smarter simulated enemies.

(Gears of War 2)

    For games like Gears of War, Halo, Killzone and Call of Duty it makes sense for there to be tons of enemies because you're fighting in a war. In Mass Effect, your fighting large criminal groups and giant armies throughout the galaxy, so there's going to be tons of them. In Rainbow Six Vegas on the other hand, somehow the terrorists managed to hire 3000 ex-soldiers as a simple diversion when a few demolition experts would suffice. It really seems like throwing tons of enemies is the only way most developers can make a game difficult and/or fun, and that's really lazy when you think about it. It feels like all the budget is put into these large set pieces rather than developing a game with gameplay variety and legitimate challenge without being cheap.

    Now I said that I'm willing to forgive Gears, Halo, Killzone and COD for having tons of bad guys, but I won't forgive Resistance 1 or 2 since they have some of the most brain-dead AI opponents I've yet seen this generation. I've seen comments online arguing that the AI is actually good, but they really aren't. Half the time they just stand still with little or no cover or charge straight at you. They rarely use cover, and when they do they  pop in and out way too predictably. The aliens that use the Auger (shoots through walls) never move, even when I'm shooting at them, and nobody even tries to dodge Auger shots. In this day and age, when you have a weapon that shoots through walls but doesn't necessarily kill in one hit, you should program your AI to move the second it hits them. The enemy AI will rarely realize your allies exist and just attack you, and sometimes your allies will miss enemies as well. The only way the Resistance games can make the Campaign mode difficult is to throw floods of enemies at you, have invisible enemies with 1-hit kills, or send multiple giants your way - and even then I blew through the majority of the game with little difficulty. One might argue that they'll jump away from grenades, but that's been fairly standard since the first Halo and enemies would even do that on occasion in Hour of Victory (as useless as they were.) I could go on about the ways I hate the Resistance games, but I need to get back to my rant.

(Mass Effect 2)

    Some people might say "Well, maybe good AI can't be done!" To them I say, have you ever played FEAR 2? Fear 2 features some very impressive AI that fights differently with every encounter. They flip over cover, they flank you, sometimes they'll even wait around a corner with a shotgun and blast you the moment you walk by. FEAR 2 proves that good AI can be done. The battles in the FEAR franchise feel intense simply because the enemy is smart enough to kill you, not because there are hundreds of them at once or because your fighting them in an exploding laboratory (although the ladder happens on occasion too.) Unreal Tournament is another example of great enemy AI, even if they mostly just run around and shoot things. The whole point of the Unreal Tournament games is that it's fast paced run-and-gun action, and the bots are absolutely perfect for that. Another strong example of good AI is the Half Life series, especially HL2: Episode 2. CounterStrike: Source bots are also a great example of quality AI. The AI in Gears of War isn't particularly brilliant, but they're not stupid either. They'll make mistakes, but they'll often flank you and chainsaw you from behind if you don't watch yourself. In fact, Gears Of War 2 shows that it can make large and small battles feel intense - one major reason why I love the Gears games so much. So why can't any other developers do this? Why are all the enemies in Call of Duty and Uncharted so brainless?

(FEAR 2)

    You don't need hundreds of bad guys or exploding environments to make an in-game battle to feel intense. You simply need the player to feel like their character is in trouble. Most games these days have an over-reliance on huge environments and situations, and it's really wearing thin. Sooner or later, God of War 3 won't look so epic anymore and the biggest draw to the trilogy will be lost. Sometimes we need a more intimate battle with tough, smart enemies that will kill you using brain rather than sheer numbers. Those are the games that truly blow me away, not all these games that rely on overwhelming the player with dozens of boneheads shooting machine-guns at a wall or running in tiny circles. When are we going to get games where one single enemy with the same health as you can overcome you with a pistol because he's actually smart?

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