Why We Game - Enemies

FBT lists all the the bad guys who’s names he didn’t catch.

This isn’t about the bosses with the most complex behaviour or most evil acts. This is about their cronies, the bullet-catchers, the ones who pop up when you pick up the key, the nameless hordes we cut through. This is a memorial to the ones that sacrificed themselves.

The villains in No One Lives Forever are in a class of their own; the Opera-warbling Inge, Scottish brute Armstrong, the bored Elite Guard and Volkov with his constant annoyance at everything. But the real heroes are the nameless henchmen. The one-liners and rambles you overhear make you almost sad to put them down, and more than once I got shot because I waited too long, listening to them complaining about mothers-in-law and the correlation between alcohol and criminal behaviour. NOLF2’s clown-mimes were fun for a while, bleating in French and getting stuck behind invisible walls, as well as the out of shape police in India who you'd best with a banana peel, but it was NOLF1’s observations of life as a henchman that made it such a joy to play.

The bad guys in Far Cry Blood Dragon aren’t a chatty bunch, but like NOLF’s henchmen they work so well at setting the scene – this time, a classic 80s actioner; dressed in leather and a bike helmet, they look like the video cover of The Exterminator, pure straight-to-video Cannon Films bad guys which is perfect, but the real stars of the show are the Blood Dragons. When they hunker down and shimmy like a cat about to pounce … now I know what a mouse feels like. Eek. You can sneak past if you’re brave enough, but they shoot laser blasts from their eyes, change colour based on mood, chase you in jeeps like you’re in a neon Jurassic Park and bite the heads of NPCs. This might be the best game that’s named after a randomly spawning bad guy.

Sticking with Far Cry, the human enemies of Far Cry 3 aren’t anything special. They’re effective enough, and ridiculously accurate but they’re not the challenge. Nature is. Getting pestered by dingoes, chased by Komodo Dragons, even pissing off a Cassowary is bad enough, but that’s nothing compared to suddenly hearing a low growl and turning to see a Tiger about to pounce, stepping on a snake, or taking a swim near a Bull Shark. The whole place is like taking a stroll in Australia. But the ultimate experience in gruelling terror is getting too close to the river’s edge. Bloody crocodiles. Nothing tops the first time you get put in a death roll. I’ve been killed by pirates because I’m too scared to jump into a river.

I always feel conflicted killing my way through Bioshock. The denizens of Rapture are the most three-dimensional, complex characters I’ve ever murdered; they have more humanity than most games’ leads. The horribly disfigured Splicers with their regret and addictions are incredibly tragic. Until they catch sight of you. Then they’re gutting you with fish hooks, clambering on the ceiling, using Plasmids - they’re no longer tragic, now they’re terrifying.

But the ones that I feel really bad about are the Big Daddy’s, because none of this was their own doing. Forced into the deep-sea divers’ gear, pumped full of control Plasmids and allowed only one thought - protect the little sister - they’re like the mother bear and you’re between them and their cub. When you engage one you can sense their determination; it just wants to protect a little girl. To them, you’re the monster. I feel sad when I put one down - why won’t you wake up Mr Bubbles?!

I don’t know exactly why, but I love fighting the Bandit Psychos in Borderlands. There’s just something so joyous in their commitment to getting shot in the face. The larger enemies and the Skags are what they are, but the Psychos are just so insanely insane. They don’t require a great deal of tactical work to best, but they represent the only way to survive Borderlands - run towards the danger. They're no different to you really; kill everything, loot everything; the only reason you’re the hero is because you shot first.

The Replicas of FEAR are pretty much the opposite of the Borderlands Bandits. They’re alive. I know it’s scripting but the replica army is aware; the way they move and react always makes for brutal gunplay, but it’s the way they panic, desperately call for backup or only hazarding shots to keep you at bay rather than go on the offensive – and even argue with each other; “Move up!”/“No fuckin’ way!” - we actually scare them which was an awesome change from most fearless FPS foes. Alma and her secrets made FEAR a thinking-man’s shooter, but I’m still convinced the Replicas are thinking too.

They may not have the Replica's finesse, but I always found the troops in Half-Life to be great opponents. It might seem basic now but they pack a punch and they’re paced perfectly; aggressive, accurate and unforgiving, I loved taking them on. I can take or leave the Vortigaunts and Headcrabs, those guys stayed with me for a long time, they just seemed more determined than Dooms Zombie Riflemen. In Opposing Force those guys were my buddies which might have impressed more character onto them in HL replays, but either way they were the standard in military hardnuts for years.

For me, the MVPs of Doom-era FPS were Blood’s chanting monks. They looked like Jawas on crack. They seemed to really enjoy trying to kill you; hurling dynamite and using Tommy Guns, they were like some Halloween party just got out of hand. But about the only ones that top them were those flashy wizards from Heretic that would whisper incantations as they lobbed disco balls at you, looking fab in their dazzling cloaks. In an era known for its simple playstyle, the villains of Heretic and Blood were just that little bit more dramatic, like stage-school kids compared to Doom’s bullies at the back of the bus. You can imagine the monks and wizards call everyone ‘darhling!’ and love musicals.

In Oblivion you can never be sure what you’ll meet, from a bandit to a Minotaur, but it’s a prime example of enemies make a game; they’re not just there to get in your way, they help convince you the world is real. You might hear the seductive giggle of the Spriggan, encounter the Land Dreugh that looks like it escaped from Harryhausen’s studio or face any of the demonic creatures from Oblivion itself; it’s stuffed full with classic fantasy creatures that reminded you you’re not in Kanas anymore. Cyrodiil’s Great Outdoors was wonderful to get lost in, but it was what you encountered that made it real.

"I don't hate you." No, but I hate myself. There’s something so gut-wrenching (and funny) about taking out the turrets in Portal. The one that says “I’m scared” when you kill it is heart-breaking. I’m sorry! Their chatter and observations make the turrets the most endearing bad guys of all time. The way they call out “is anyone there?” sounds so innocent, like they’re the ones nervous not you but what gets me is when they try to make me feel better for killing them. I’ve never felt so bad killing something. And of course, they have a great singing voice.

Horizon Zero Dawn

So that's my list of baddies I felt bad for killing. Sounds odd to have favourite enemies. They may be expendable, but they were memorable. Nameless henchmen help you level-up and toughen-up ready for the final reckoning. Pour one out for the ones that stuck their heads out even when they knew we’d shoot it off. I even love those Daedra that pop up in Morrowind when you steal gems from a shrine. Spell ready, grab the jewel, turn and cast. Soz not soz.