There are bad bots, who ruin matches of Team Fortress 2 and extend the queues in MMOs like Lost Ark, but I’m here to celebrate the other kind—the kind who’ve been helping to fill up lobbies in the quiet times when there aren’t enough humans on your server since Quake’s Reaper Bot, or who round out your squad in a co-op game when you don’t have quite enough friends to make up the numbers. When bots are bad they’re annoying, but when they’re good they can be preferable to people. Well, some people. You know who I mean.
Which multiplayer shooter had the best bots?
Here are our answers, plus some from our forum (opens in new tab).
Ted Litchfield, Associate Editor: They weren’t “good” bots in the sense that they played the game well or made up for a missing teammate, but I really loved the bots in Counter-Strike: Source. They were literally the only entities in the game that would use its prepackaged radio callouts (“tango down”, “enemy spotted”) and they all went by cute little first names like “Toby” or “Bert.” My favorite gag people would pull was to set their username to impersonate one of the bots, actually use those in-game callouts to trick their teammates, then absolutely pub stomp their unsuspecting opponents.
Jody Macgregor, Weekend/AU Editor: The bots in the classic Star Wars Battlefront games, made by Pandemic Studios in 2004 and 2005, may not have been geniuses, but they didn’t need to be. You don’t expect a Stormtrooper to have great aim or one of those battle droids from the prequels to do anything other than say “roger roger” and immediately die (but in a funny way). What they need to do is run around like wild making the appropriate noises while flinging enough laserfire that it’s sure to spank off nearby objects dramatically while you take cover to let your weapon cool down.
My housemate and I played both those games to death, refighting the Battle of Hoth for hours, murdering ewoks on the moon of Endor, and playing this one Mos Eisley hero assault mode where everyone spawned as named characters from both then-current eras of Star Wars. Which was absolute chaos. Those games were designed for two teams of 16 players and there were only two of us, but throw in 30 bots and they became glorious mayhem.
Jorge Jimenez, Hardware Writer: Titanfall 1 and 2 had awesome bots and sold the notion that you were part of a larger conflict. There were always enough bots to make the maps seem busy and chaotic but never enough to threaten you. Also, they were soooooo satisfying to stomp on when you did call down your massive Titan. Respawn should make a Titanfall 3. Please make a Titanfall 3, Respawn. Stop ignoring my DMs.
Chris Livingston, Features Producer: I was gonna go with Unreal Tournament—I don’t know if the bots were particularly good or not, but their very presence let me and my friend stay up literally until sunrise playing Facing Worlds after everyone else had bailed. But I think I’ll go with Counter-Strike.
At some point in the early days of CS (before it was a standalone game, I’m pretty sure), I was playing a terrorist on one of the hostage maps. I killed a CT who was trying to escort a hostage away, and he flopped to the ground and dropped his gun. I was completely shocked to see the hostage pick up the CT’s gun and shoot me dead with it. I had no idea hostage bots could actually do that. I think I laughed for five minutes just out of surprise and delight. I don’t recall which version it was, or if it was a modded server, or what. But it was brilliant.
Evan Lahti, Global Editor-in-Chief: Unreal Tournament’s bots are neanderthals by modern standards, but 23 years later I still remember their proclivity for hurling insults and catch phrases. The bots would sound off at intervals throughout a match, popping up like an ancient DM (complete with a little portrait of the character) to shout something like “Sorry, did I blow your head apart?” after a kill.
Rich Stanton, News Editor: I was a really big fan of Evolve, warts and all, and I’m still kinda bummed at how quickly the playercount absolutely cratered after the first few weeks. Sometimes you can just sense that it’s not going to happen for a game and it was clear very early on that this was going to be the case. Probably the only compensation was that it had genuinely decent bots and, when it was in the doldrums, I’d often end up as either the monster versus a mix of humans and bots or vice-versa, and the way the bots strategised made it almost as much fun as with a human team.
In Evolve’s case it was all about how they mimicked the kind of behaviour you’d expect from ‘real’ players in a tactical co-op setting like this, and their usefulness in helping to track the monster and using all the game’s mechanics as they should be used. But now that I’ve got a ‘legit’ PC answer out of the way, I’m going to say Perfect Dark on N64, simply because I was once a teenager with lots of spare time who adored that game. It allowed you to tweak the bot personalities, and I spent god knows how long playing a singleplayer version of the multiplayer, setting myself genuine challenges or just teeing up the daftest combinations I could think of.
And a final shout-out to CS: GO’s bots, now sadly removed from competitive (though still elsewhere in the game). Not so much the behaviour but just because I used to smile whenever a player on the team dropped and we ended up with Bot Gabe on our team, and it felt like Newell had come in to help us take care of business.
Frindis: I remember playing against bots in Unreal Gold back in 1998/1999. They had different levels and at the highest difficulty, they were quite the challenge when you had a few of them on the map.
Pifanjr: I played a lot of Battlefield 2 against bots as a teenager. The AI commander was very predictable and limited and I don’t think the bots listened very well to orders if you played as a squad leader or the commander yourself, but then again real players often don’t listen very well either. I also don’t think they used the transport helicopters, but they used all of the other vehicles pretty well.
invader: Remember playing Unreal Tournament back in the day against bots because dialup in my country was shitsu. You had several difficulty levels to choose for the bots (like six or seven) but as a child I didn’t like to lose so I never went above a certain difficulty (medium I think, but can’t remember). Sometimes one was set above the rest and my team of regulars went against that harder bot… alone.
McStabStab: Perfect Dark (which I believe is getting a port so technically a PC game, yeah?)
Perfect Dark had bots called simulants which you could pick from to apply different difficulty levels and types. For example a “VengeSim” always attacks the opponent who killed it last, and “PeaceSims” who only try to hoard the guns in the levels so other players can’t get them. It added a lot of flavor to the multiplayer matches.
Sarafan: With no doubts Unreal Tournament from 1999. The bots were so good and natural that they were hard to distinguish from real players. This made the game accessible even for players without internet connection. I spent hundreds of hours playing it alone myself. It was wonderful to have multiplayer experience without the need to pay for expensive internet connection.
Probably the bots were one of the things which made the first UT so popular. Its main rival, Quake 3 Arena, had very bad AI and that’s the reason why I preferred UT. Even to this day it’s very hard to find a game with better bots.