Where, Oh, Where Have All The Bots Gone?


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t like online multiplayer. Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that Hell is other people, and this is most definitely true on Xbox Live. The behavior of a single person can ruin your entire game, and you can’t play more than a few rounds without running into someone who seems to have decided that “ruining other people’s games” should be a serious life goal.

The behavior of online players is so horrendously bad, there are numerous websites cataloguing it, and game companies are spending untold amounts of money to try and improve the situation. Immaturity rules on Xbox Live, it seems, and other gaming network services aren’t immune. And heaven help you if you happen to be black or female.

And this is one of the NICER messages I’ve seen….

Not to mention, even the people who aren’t simply trolls in disguise tend to have high expectations of other players. In a typical online game, unless I’m having an exceptional game, going stone cold Rambo on the other team, I can expect to be bitched at by my own team, and who the hell needs that? It all adds up to a soup of frustration and disappointment that doesn’t go down very well – and I’ve pretty much refused to keep eating it.

I do, however, enjoy offline multiplayer – in fact, I probably play more offline multiplayer games with my friends than I play singleplayer games by myself. Trouble is, a lot of games don’t even offer it – it’s either online or bust. The amount of games we can play is further lowered if I’ve dared to have more than one friend over at a time.

And of course, there are sports games and party games (usually earning a resounding “meh” from the crowd), but the most popular choice is nearly always a first-person shooter. Ever since the N64 and Goldeneye, everyone seems to appreciate the addictive romp of running through levels, gunning each other down. But it was Goldeneye’s follow-up, Perfect Dark, that would unleash the mother of all four-player party modes – humans vs. bots.

This picture taken mere seconds before the robot crushed that dude’s entire hand.

For the first time, I was unironically saying things like “on your six” and “cover me” in the heat of battle. I was more concerned for my teammates than I was for myself, more than once taking bullets for my buddies. When the match was over, we were all blown away with how much fun it had been. I was so jazzed, I was sure bots were going to be a standard feature in FPS’s to come. Well, that was awfully misplaced hope.

The next console generation brought us the Timesplitters series, and allowed for a brilliant refinement of the fun offline multiplayer co-op from Perfect Dark, including the genius addition of a mapmaker – and the bots never had trouble finding their way around any levels I created. My friends and I had fun with other games with bots like Unreal Tournament and 007: Nightfire as well.

And then this console generation arrived, and offline bots more or less completely disappeared. A few games have tried to make up for this by giving us 4-player online co-op, but it’s not quite the same, especially when my friends come over. Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 and Borderlands 1 and 2 all failed to include four-player splitscreen, which is an incredible shame, because both of those game series would’ve made for phenomenal four-player offline fun.

If only this had been real. Sigh.

The only game of this generation that I knew of that included four-player splitscreen AND bots is Call of Duty: Black Ops – and even then, only two of the many, many multiplayer modes were available for use with bots, Team Deathmatch and Free-For-All. Actually, there is one more game I can think of, Perfect Dark Zero – but that game’s so awful, attempting to hold it up as a good example of anything would cause a divide-by-zero error in the universe and erase all existence.

We’ve been making do with LAN parties instead – pretty much the only way we can all be in the same room together playing these games cooperatively, but some of my friends have huge desktop computers, making it difficult for them to join us. But the PC format allows us to play some games with bots that we couldn’t otherwise – Modern Warfare 1 and 2 both have mods available for their PC versions inserting bots into multiplayer.

I was all set and ready to predict Battlefield 3 as my game of the year – after all, both Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2 had bots as an option, surely they would trump Call of Duty in this regard – or so I thought, right up until Dice announced there would be no bots. In light of that spectacular dropping of the ball, I cancelled my pre-order, and I still haven’t been given any reason to buy it – even when the price dropped to a mere ten bucks. Without bots, it’s just another me-too military shooter as far as I’m concerned – and the market’s pretty well glutted with them already.

Googled “glutted”. My new diet started the second I saw this picture.

Sadly, the developers don’t seem to agree with me – game after game comes out with no bots, and likely no four-player splitscreen, either. In their defense, there just really isn’t enough RAM and processing power in the current generation to sustain four-player splitscreen and bots with the high-definition graphics gamers demand.

I’d just about given up hope. And then, in the same week, Black Ops 2 drops, and a petition is started to convince Crytek to release a Timesplitters HD collection.

I know the internet has a huge hate-on for Call of Duty, and I usually don’t like them, but I’m going to buck that trend. Modern Warfare 1, 2, and 3 all let me down with no inclusion of bots, and I’d had no interest in the first Black Ops until they made bots available for local play. But Black Ops 2 happily took that ball and ran with it – bots are available for all standard modes. We had a three-player couch multiplayer session yesterday and had an absolute blast. I will eagerly continue to give Activision my money for this very reason.

And the Timesplitters games are the very definition of a party shooter. Ridiculous, off-the-wall shenanigans and high-octane, frenzied gameplay – with four-player splitscreen and bots. It boggles my mind that no one is willing to publish Timesplitters 4, but we might still have a chance to make someone see reason. The Timesplitters HD collection petition is here, and supposedly, 300,000 signatures will make it happen. And if the HD collection turns out to be the smash hit it should be – perhaps Timesplitters 4 could be made a reality.

I say it’s due time for a return of party shooters. Time for a return of taking down enemies with your friends in the same room. It’s time for the return of the bots.

Who’s with me?