Where would the majority of video game protagonists be without their companions? If not for Wheatley’s guidance (albeit incompetent), Portal 2’s Chell would probably have succumbed to GLaDOS’ scheming long before the end credits rolled. Likewise, it’s almost certain Joel’s life would have ended prematurely and violently if he hadn’t met Ellie at the beginning of The Last of Us; the surrogate daughter that gives him a reason to keep going.
Sometimes, however, whether due to bad programming, writing or a bit of both, a title’s hero or heroine is weighed down by an attendant who inadvertently mars an otherwise enjoyable gaming experience.
Here follows – in no particular order – 5 such insufferable video game companions.
Roman Bellic – Grand Theft Auto IV
Anyone who’s played GTA IV for any length of time will no doubt remember groaning with exasperation as, during burgeoning gangster Niko’s illicit adventures around Liberty City, his irksome cousin Roman calls for the 50th time that day, begging you to join him for a few jars at the nearest bar or a quick game of ten-pin bowling at the local alley.
It might sound innocuous enough, pleasant even, however, Roman seems to wait until you’re just about to start a mission on the other side of the New York-inspired metropolis before calling.
Worse still, should you reject any of his incessant requests – because, you know, you’re trying to establish a criminal empire whilst simultaneously protecting Roman from the loan sharks that want to shatter his kneecaps – his passive aggressive, peevish reaction leaves you feeling both irritated and strangely guilty. And, on those rare occasions when he’s not pestering you over the phone, he’s getting himself kidnapped by gangs of heavily-armed thugs.
After 40+ hours of his nonsense, it does at least make the crucial choice at the end of GTA IV pretty straightforward: take the deal and enjoy watching Roman get whacked on his wedding day.
Winston Smith (The Butler) – Tomb Raider 2
Released in 1997, I was a child when first I heard the unnerving rattle of Winston’s tea tray as he stalked video game doyenne Lara Croft around the grounds of Tomb Raider 2’s Croft Manor.
Restricted to the mansion itself, he’s only really a problem when you’re exploring this central hub/training area and thus isn’t as much of an annoyance as the other people on this list. Despite that, he remains the most memorable feature of the entire game; although, to be fair, that’s probably because 8-year-old me didn’t have the wit or dexterity to get past the first level, let alone complete the entire story. In other words, I spent more time with Winston than any of Tomb Raider 2’s other characters.
Still, Winston clearly had an impact on countless other players around the world. Perform a cursory search on YouTube today and you’ll find dozens of examples of one of the most popular player-created challenges of the time; locking him away in Lara’s meat fridge. I myself tried this once or twice, hoping it’d spare me from his intrusive solicitations.
Aware of this little side-objective, the developer provided players with a more aggressive solution to the problem in 1998 sequel Tomb Raider 3, allowing Lara to bring her signature pair of pistols to bear on the terrifying if well-meaning old butler.
Donald Duck – Kingdom Hearts
Unnecessarily convoluted narrative aside, I’m a big fan of the Kingdom Hearts series. Boasting enjoyable combat, a mixture of faithfully recreated fairy tale worlds and the cream of the crop from both Final Fantasy and Disney canon. What’s not to love?
Possessing a voice so irritating it makes Janet Street-Porter sound as melodious as Morgan Freeman by comparison, every word uttered by the maddening mallard is as painful as being forced to listen to an auditorium full of blackboards being scratched.
Unfortunately, as a powerful red mage, Donald is probably the most useful party member available to you; in the original Kingdom Hearts, anyway. Elemental spells like ice and fire enable him to target specific enemy weaknesses, whilst his cure spell takes the pressure off the party’s potion supply and lets Sora focus on hacking through hordes of Heartless with his Keyblade.
Long-time partner Goofy’s voice is only fractionally less unpleasant, but at least he’s capable of producing sounds that don’t render high-end ear plugs a necessity.
Any follower – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
This entry is very much a result of the dodgy mechanics that, frustratingly, pervade Bethesda’s otherwise exceptional open world RPG Skyrim.
Be it blithely charging into a den of enemies heedless of your attempts to slowly and carefully pick off foes one by one from a safe distance with your trusty bow, blocking doorways or disappearing altogether, poor AI hinders each and every one of Skyrim’s numerous followers.
On more than one occasion during my most recent playthrough, for instance, I was left isolated amidst a swarm of foes, frantically downing healing potions as I tried to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat, all because my chosen companion got his or herself knocked-out at the very start of the encounter contrary to my orders. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that.
You can command your follower to hang back, a tactic which does prevent them from alerting the entire dungeon to your presence before you’re ready to engage. However, apart from the fact this defeats the object of bringing some extra muscle, it can be just as infuriating to see your partner standing 20 feet away with their thumb up their arse, watching stony-eyed as you struggle to overcome a battalion of opponents single-handedly.
If they weren’t such useful decoys and effective damage sponges, I’d seriously consider playing through the entire game solo.
Hope – Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy XIII isn’t a great game; some would go so far as to say it’s not even a good game. Yet, despite the unsatisfyingly linear design, cheesy script and rather dull combat, its biggest flaw is Hope; Lightning’s adolescent teammate not the “feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen”, obviously.
There isn’t simply one thing that makes him such an aggravating character, rather it’s a combination of factors. He’s surly, petulant and unaccountably blames Snow (a character not even Troy Baker can make endearing) for his mother’s death. And did I mention he sounds like a pound shop Christopher Mintz-Plasse without the awkward, underdog charm? Every time he opens his mouth you’ll wish Square Enix included a button for cracking him across the chops with the hilt of Lightning’s sword.
To cap it all off, due to the way the Crystarium works (FFXIII’s progression system), he’s the best white mage in the entire game by a comfortable margin and is therefore a vital party member for the duration of the main narrative and post-game quests, much like the aforementioned Donald Duck.
I realise there’ll be many characters equally deserving of a place on this list that don’t appear. Navi from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Larry from The Walking Dead: Season One are two that spring to mind.
Nevertheless, I think most will agree the guys and girls who appear here withstand comparison with any of gaming’s most annoying characters.