At their best, video games, as a medium, can rival any other at creating immersive narrative experiences. From thrilling plots and virtual worlds to endearing characters and gripping action, when done right video games can blow everything else out of the water. You wouldn’t see anything like Shadow of the Colossus in opera.
Unfortunately, not everything always goes right. Obviously some games are just outright terrible. Others achieve near greatness but are marred by just one character who’s not on the same page as the rest of the game. Join us now as we look at four of the most annoying non-player characters ever to be coded into life.
Roman – Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV is the cinephilic story of Nico Bellic, a troubled Eastern European immigrant trying to make a life for himself in pseudo-New York City, juggling work as– HEY COUSIN, let’s go bowling! Yes, it’s hard to remember much about GTA4 except the fact that you’re interrupted every two bloody minutes by people ringing you up asking you to do stuff with them. It’s bad enough that real people keep doing that while you’re playing, let alone when the game itself keeps wanting to distract you from playing it to go and do pointless side-games. The most annoying of these callers is Nico’s cousin Roman, a gregarious git who frequently pops up in missions and helps drive the main story. Roman rises above all the other phone-call pricks by virtue of a) having the most annoying voice and b) being an utter twerp. About half the game’s main story is spent trying to dig Roman out of debt, sort out problems Roman’s brought upon the family and there’s several missions where you literally have to rescue him from kidnappers. Even on the first of those missions, I was disappointed that my only option was to save him. I was quite happy for the guy to be killed and genuinely think it would have made Nico’s life better all round as well. What compounds how annoying Roman is that the phone call system is damn near broken in the game. Allegedly, you can turn it off, stopping all in coming calls while you do missions or potter around Liberty City, but in practice that’s not the case. It frequently just turns itself back on or worse you get calls regardless, compromising the sole promise of a sandbox game – the freedom to explore the environment at your leisu– HEY NICO, let’s go drinking!
Natalya – Goldeneye 007
James Bond is an obvious choice for a video game adaptation. The world’s most famous secret agent is frequently in fire-fights, uses cool gadgets and survives visually spectacular stunts – all of which is prime gameplay fodder. Hell, the films even have Q giving 007 a tutorial in how his equipment works. It’s all there. It’s strange then that Bond games are so rarely good. Easily the best Bond game is still Goldeneye 007 on the N64 and even that makes a crucial error through some of its levels. Natalya. Yes, what could be more thrilling while playing as daring man-of-action than having a helpless sidekick ambling around after you? Well, anything, frankly. Bond could have had a crippling bout of Tourette’s and it would have been more convenient than Natalya. It seems unfair to pick at Goldeneye when it did so much to revolutionise the console FPS, but the Rare magic-touch was completely missing from the ally AI, leaving Natalya to be a brain-dead bullet-magnet. She would largely amble around in your general location without a care in the world as to what was going on or where exactly you were. You’ve dived around a corner for some cover, she’s standing in the middle of the corridor helping the guards with their target practice. You go into a room, find it filled with guards and back up to retreat, she stands gormlessly blocking the doorway. Natalya is so useless that in one mission (Bunker) it pays to leave her locked up in a cell until you’ve done 90% of it without her, go back and collect her when you’re done.
Toad –Mario games
Picture the scene. You’re on a quest to rescue a princess. Officially, you’re “just good friends” though you get the feeling that there’s something more brewing there and that rescuing her from the evil lizard king that’s kidnapped her might just ignite both your passions. So you’ve traversed the continent, fighting off ravenous hordes of creatures, taken mind-expanding drugs to aide you and you eventually reach the castle of your enemy. Past pits of lava and beams of fireballs you jump, carefully edging your path through the dimly lit stone hell. At the end, your enemy awaits. He attacks immediately with his fiery breath but you leap out of the way. He lunges for you, but you dodge. Quickly, you scuttle past him and release the drawbridge on which he stands, sending him into a pool of lava. Triumphant, you continue on to rescue your princess… Only to find an annoying little courtier hanging around, happily proclaiming that the Princess is in another castle. Great, Toad, just great. Why didn’t you mention that before I just navigated a dozen death traps and pitfalls and fought a GIANT FIRE-BREATHING LIZARD MONSTER? Instead of just hanging around behind Bowser, why not stand outside, or on the ramparts, and give me some prior fucking warning that I’m at entirely the wrong bloody castle? Do you know how many times I nearly died in here? Screw you, Toad.
And you’re a pain when you’re go-karting as well.
Professor Oak – Pokemon Red/Blue
Pokemon is a honey-coated coming of age story which sees you play as a pre-teen child told to wander off into the big wide world and tame wild animals for institutionalised blood sport. There are many bad lessons to be learnt in Pokemon – talking to strangers, street violence, eating food you find on the floor, animal cruelty, sleeping in empty houses, but ultimately it builds into a chronicle of personal growth. As you guide your homeless young charge around the country, they become stronger, smarter, more mature, traverse seas and mountains, deserts and metropolises and usually manage to buy a pretty snazzy bicycle which can fit into their bag. The sense of achievement as you inevitably reach the Pokemon League is dulled somewhat by the mentorship of the game’s father figure. We’ve gone for Professor Oak from Red/Blue, but they’re all fairly irksome. You see, the impetus of you going on your ‘Pokemon journey’ is collect Pokedex data for the Professor by capturing wild Pokemon. Unpaid and with no benefits, you’re essentially his intern (we can definitely see Prof. Oak subscribing to the UK government’s indentured servitude WorkFare schemes). Throughout the game you can get Oak’s opinion on how well your Pokedex is progressing and it’s always a back handed compliment or patronising bit of advice. “You still need more POKéMON! Try to catch other species!” Really? What stunning advice! I’d have never considered that! “I’m impressed! It must have been difficult to do!” …’for an idiot like you’, he presumably adds silently to himself. What really puts the icing on the hatecake is that Oak (and Elm and Birch et al after him) has no real need for you to go and do this. The information is clearly already in the Pokedex, it just unlocks when you catch something. At no point does he take your Pokemon off you to experiment or study them. He’s just sent you off on a dangerous quest (which is grandson, your rival, is already doing) for no reason. Well, no reason other than to get you out of the house that your single mother lives in… Oak, you dog!