I love video games. You love video games. But sometimes they hurt us.
Video games do plenty of cool little tricks to help us feel immersed and give us a tiny edge — and sometimes they do the opposite, just totally throwing out the rules and making us fight an uphill battle toward victory. Today we’re not talking about the nice tricks. We’re talking about the mean, lowdown and dirty ways that video games cheat. Whether its spontaneously generating resources, using a bottomless well of MP / stamina, or gaining an unfair speed advantage in a racing game, video games cheat in just about every way you can think of. The default state of a video game (against AI) is to cheat. It’s up to the developers to decide exactly how much they want to screw us.
There are endless examples. The funny part is that these aren’t exactly bad. Some of these “cheats” are just facets of the gameplay, balanced to make the game as fun (and challenging) as possible without frustrating you too much. Every game needs the right balance of aggravation — we’re motivated by the need to overcome difficulty, and the best way to piss us off is by subtly cheating. Some cheats are more blatant than others, so we’re going to mostly discuss the most blatant and egregious examples. Games are still obviously cheating, even in the new gen! It’s just a fact of video game life we have to live with.
At least we can complain about it a little. Here’s my 10 picks for most obnoxious ways video games cheat.
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We’ve all been in a race where we dominate, conquer every turn and take every shortcut, but the AI racers just zoom ahead anyway. Rubberbanding is a common way racing games cheat to keep races competitive, even when you’re easily out-performing the AI. The term “rubberbanding” comes from the way enemy racers seem to be connected to you like a rubberband — you stretch the rubberband enough, and then it springs back, launching the AI racer at cheating speed to catch up with you. Almost every casual racing game has it. Heck, even the hardcore racers use rubberbanding in more subtle ways.
The most obvious examples come from games like Super Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing. If you watch the mini-map, you can even see enemy racers gain sudden bursts of insane speed. Older games use this trick constantly, and usually as a way to correct less-than-perfect AI. Even games as fresh as Mario Kart 8 show rubberbanding AI on the highest skill levels. Even in games like Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, if you’re driving at full speed, a parked cop car can catch up to you in seconds — that’s the power of the rubberband.
#2: All-Seeing AI
By necessity, all video games know where the player is at all times — that’s just how games work! But, when you’re playing a game, you should at least feel like your enemies have to naturally locate you. They can’t just appear out of nowhere to track you down, right? Even games as basic as Doom make sure monsters have to be alerted by sound or by standing in front of them before they attack. But even the newest games in the world totally cheat and give the AI an unfair advantage.
If you commit a crime in Skyrim, the guards aggravatingly appear out of nowhere to arrest you. They’re like homing missiles! The same goes for the Bounty Hunters in Red Dead Redemption 2. You can accidentally “steal” by looting a shack in the middle of the wilderness, and a gang of bounty hunters will be on your tail in seconds flat. The enemies in older shooters like Red Faction could spot you just because you looked at them. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?!
And we can’t even get into the RTS games that totally cheat. Games like Advance Wars, Starcraft, or basically any RTS with fog of war do this. If there’s fog of war, the enemy AI will almost always act as if it already knows where the player’s base is located. You have a huge limitation and the AI throws it right back in your face.
#3: Uncanny Luck
Whether you’re gambling in a huge casino or playing video games, the house always wins. The player has standard luck — you win some, you lose some. But the computer? It cheats to win, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Whether it’s fighting the Gambler class in Bravely Default 2 where she’s always rolling perfect 10s, or when you’re battling in Puzzle Quest and the AI enemy gets so many lucky draws. The game is actively fudging the results instead of truly enforcing the level of randomization.
The tricks that piss of players the most come in games like GTA5. In Grand Theft Auto Online, you can spend your in-game cash, which can takes hours (or days) or your life to earn at the huge casino. Blackjack is one of the simplest games to play, and you’ll quickly learn that the house can beat the odds to make sure you don’t win too much. Sure, the house always wins IRL, but the house also doesn’t blatantly cheat by (seemingly) drawing impossible combinations of cards out of its bottomless deck.
#4: Infinite Stamina / MP
Anyone that’s played a Final Fantasy game will know — there’s no outlasting the bosses. You, the player, have to constantly refill your MP to cast magic. The bad guys? They never have this problem, and always have a bottomless well of MP to use. Expanding the field, games like Dark Souls even give you abilities to harm stamina. Well, that doesn’t matter because every enemy and boss has an infinite well of stamina they never have to consider. You might have to carefully manager your meager stamina meter, but the bad guys can attack as often as they please.
Thinking outside the box, you’ll also see this kind of cheating in MMOs. The classic superhero MMORPG City of Heroes has a particularly obvious cheat — enemies can use any attack with just 1 energy. There are powersets designed specifically to drain energy, but they’re only ever useful in PVP. It’s only notable in games when bad guys actually can run out of MP — Super Mario RPG and Bravely Default 2 actually play fair. Enemies might have a ton of MP, way more than the player, but they can technically run out if the fight lasts long enough.
And almost every game in existence features bad guys with a bottomless supply of bullets. It’s just the way things are!
#5: Reading Your Inputs
The king of annoying fighting game sins. When the enemy AI “reads your inputs” — that just means they’re perfectly able to counter anything you throw at them. Games like Mortal Kombat 2 blatantly cheat by perfectly countering your moves; if you try to throw the enemy, they’ll throw you instead. They’re always faster. Even if the enemy is stunned, frozen, or otherwise immobilized — in early versions, they’d still throw you first.
Hilariously, you can watch this in action yourself. Play Mortal Kombat 3 / Trilogy, and try throwing a projectile against Liu Kang. Any projectile at all. He’ll always shoot a crouching projectile back at you. They’ll duck when you try to uppercut. Will always know when you’re about to attack even if you’re invisible. SNK bosses are so guilty of this cheat, they’ve become a pre-meme meme.
#6: AI Only Moves
When the AI can do things the player can’t, we take notice pretty fast. Street Fighter 2 Turbo is an egregious example — every AI fighter can completely ignore charge time on moves. Guile can perform his Flash Kick while walking forward! That’s completely impossible for players — we human plebes have to hold back-crouch for a moment to “charge’, then we can unleash it. Things get even screwier in Killer Instinct, where the last boss can perform a special move that heals himself. When players get to control Eyedol, the same exact move doesn’t heal at all.
More games have AI-only moves. In Crash Team Racing, the AI can power-slide without jumping first, giving them perfect control and faster drifts. In Valkyria Chronicles, boss character Selvaria has a special ability that fully heals everyone on the enemy side fully. When the player eventually obtains this power, it only heals a small fraction. Then there’s the weird little things — in Time Splitters 2, AI bots can perform combat rolls in multiplayer. Why can’t we do that too?!
#7: Endless Resources
In most strategy games — RTS, 4X, or Total War style — the enemy only makes a show of gathering resources. Even if you cut the enemy off from valuable resources completely, they’ll still be able to produce units or building. It’s especially egregious in early Civilization games, where your AI opponents have a small chance of just spontaneously generating an end game Wonder of the World that costs them no resources. In Total War games, you can completely invade an enemy’s territory, locking them up in a single city, and they’ll still somehow be able to produce entire stacks of soldiers instantly.
Other RTS games like Act of War, players have figured out exactly how much the AI cheats. Periodically, enemy AI just gets $500 funds — even if you destroy everything the AI bot has, they’ll continue to build resource collectors. Even on Normal difficulty, AI opponents always get +33% manpower in Company of Heroes, so they can always produce more soldiers. In Starcraft, modders discovered that the campaign AI almost always plays with unlimited resources. They’re just programmed not use abuse the infinite power they’ve been granted.
#8: Adaptive AI
Adaptive AI isn’t always a bad thing. In games like Resident Evil 4, the AI becomes less aggressive and deadly if you die too much — even removing enemies from the map to make life a little easier for struggling players. No, the problems come when adaptive AI isn’t properly balanced. In the not exactly well known FPS Sin Episodes, the adaptive AI insanely overcorrected by the end of the short campaign — if you played even remotely well for the first few hours, the ending is an absolute slog with endless swarms of respawning enemies appearing.
In some games, it actually pays to play worse. In Skyrim, enemies only become as powerful as you do. If you gain lots of levels without also upgrading your damage potential, they can easily start making life difficult — its better to just stay low level and enemies remain easy to kill with “no kill” abilities like fall damage or bleed. In Need For Speed: Underground, the endgame becomes much easier if you remove all car upgrades and drive a worse vehicle. The AI adapts way too well near the end, and they’ll revert to an easier state when you remove all the cool stuff you’ve earned over the course of the game.
#9: Perfect Aim
Bad guys in video games sometimes have absolutely perfect aim — to the annoyance of everyone. And we’re not just talking about perfect sniper shots to the dome in multiplayer games. Usually, wall-hack auto-aim isn’t so obvious in single-player games. In Call of Duty, most enemies will constantly miss you even if there’s like a dozen guys shooting at you at once. But, there’s one thing they’re perfect with — grenades. Call of Duty bad guys can drop grenades right at your feet, even if you’re a hundred yards away and crouched behind a barbed wire fence. These guys are wizards with grenades, and it’s even worse when multiple impossible pitchers lug grenades at you with super-human precision.
Which kind of makes sense. In a way, it’s harder to program enemy AI to miss — they know exactly where you are and what you’re doing! Their default state is landing a direct, perfect hit. That doesn’t make it any less annoying when your AI opponent in Everbody’s Golf lands exactly the right amount of putts to beat you.
#10: Kill The Human
Enemy AI in video games has an annoying tendency to only attack the player — even when it makes no sense. In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, one of the late levels involves an ongoing battle between special forces and a terrorist cell. If you interrupt the fight by shooting your gun to alert them, they’ll all immediately team up to kill you specifically. Bad guys tend to join forces spontaneously specifically to take you out in games. In almost every Grand Theft Auto game, if you commit a crime that draws police attention, they’ll never fight the other criminals. Instead, everyone just works together to kill you specifically.
An even more common version of this annoying cheat is when enemy AI ignores your allies to attack you only. In the JRPG Ni No Kuni 2, you have an entire party of characters, but the bad guys only really focus on the character you’re currently controlling. In games like Call of Duty: World at War, Resistance 2, and Medal of Honor: Airborne, you work with tons of AI companions to complete your objectives, but the enemy AI almost completely ignores all those guys to shoot you and only you. And it gets worse the higher the difficulty is! From a programming standpoint, this kind of makes sense. From an immersion standpoint, it really hammers home that you’re the only person that matters in the video game’s little world.
That’s just 10 of the most annoying cheats video games use to annoy and aggravate us. There are literally thousands of examples, so we couldn’t touch them all! Let us know what your favorite ridiculous (and terrible) video games cheats are. The more obnoxious the better!