While looking over some news and trailers from this year’s E3 gaming conference, I came across a gameplay walkthrough video for Watch Dogs 2. In the video, protagonist Marcus is tasked with surveilling a target in an inaccessible building. So, of course, Marcus removes a quadcopter from his backpack in order to get closer to his assigned target. Using the capabilities of the drone, he’s able to hack the unsuspecting victims within the building.
This had me wondering — how many other video games feature drones as tools, companions, or adversaries?
When you do an online search for drones in video games, most of what comes up has to do with the perceived link between gaming and military drones. It’s difficult to find any information on video games that include drones and autonomous robots as part of their gameplay. I’m here to try and remedy the situation.
As the term continually redefines itself, many people use the word “drone” in different ways. Some believe that true drones must have autonomous features; others hold the belief that all drones are aerial vehicles. For the purpose of this list, I’m using the definition that drones are unmanned systems that either function autonomously, partially autonomously, or by remote control. The drones in many of these games are assigned to perform specific tasks.
Humanoid, AI-equipped systems and cyborgs, like Sektor from Mortal Kombat or Legion from Mass Effect, fall more firmly into the category of robots. But without further ado, here’s the lucky 11:
The Watch Dogs series focuses on hacking in a big way. Not just hacking into your ex’s Facebook account, but hacking urban mainframes, cellphones, and (as seen in the video below) cars parked on the street. In the new Watch Dogs 2 trailer, it looks like drones are being added to the technological arsenal of your hacking protagonist.
This is, from what I can tell, the first time a realistic consumer quadcopter appears in a mainstream video game, which is pretty cool. Hopefully this won’t make people think that any old quad can hover outside a window and mine all your personal information … but hey, some people already think that.
(If you don’t feel like watching the whole 11 minutes and just want to check out the drone action, skip to the 4:50 mark.)
The robotic character GLaDOS from the Portal series is one of gaming’s most well-known and well-loved characters. Through her both humorous and villainous nature, GLaDOS made a substantial mark on the gaming industry (and spurred one of the most pervasive and irritating memes of the late 2000s).
But GLaDOS is not the only robotic character in the Portal series. In Portal 2, the player is introduced to Wheatley: a fast-talking aerial drone companion who serves as a manic complement to GLaDOS’ typically calming, relaxed demeanor. Wheatley was designed with informal, conversational dialogue to help the game feel more natural and immersive.
Check out some of Wheatley’s best moments:
It’s a tough post-nuclear apocalyptic world out there, and it’s dangerous to go alone — so, the Fallout series makes use of various companions to help you on your way.
In Fallout 4, arguably one of the biggest games of 2015, one such sidekick is a hovering automated robot named Codsworth. This cheery (if not slightly neurotic) drone is a companion who dutifully serves as a robotic house assistant/butler. A butler equipped with a circle saw and a flamethrower, as all the best butlers are.
Codsworth’s advanced intelligence makes him seem far removed from today’s drones, but keep in mind that Fallout 4 takes place in 2077 (more than 60 years in the future, for those of you especially bad at math). Within the next half century, we might be able to achieve the kind of advanced technology that is capable of both pouring coffee and torching post-apocalyptic foes. A girl can dream.
Previous Fallout games have also included drone companions (ED-E in Fallout: New Vegas) and enemies (Mr. Gutsy), but Codsworth’s pleasant accent and terrible puns bumped him to the top of the list for the Fallout franchise.
In the second ReCore trailer (the first was released last year), we’re introduced to Joule, a desert traveler and roboticist who bears a striking resemblance to a more tech-savvy Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
It seems as though Joule is able to move a glowing blue orb between various robotic skeletons that she creates in order to animate them into useful automated companions. Of her robot partners shown in the trailer, the one named Seth seems the most drone-like, performing dedicated tasks like climbing vertical surfaces and shooting enemies with an onboard turret.
She is also joined by Mack, a lovable and dutiful robotic dog, Duncan, a powerful humanoid fighter, and — as seen in the final moments of the trailer — one aerial and one rolling robotic friend. While the functionality of these robots is still somewhat unknown, a huge part of the game seems to focus on combat between Joule and automated robotic systems, both friend and foe. It’s exciting to see a resourceful, tough, and intelligent female lead, especially one that can build up some badass drone buddies.
Check out this remarkably cool trailer and try to tell me you don’t get at least a little hyped at the thought of fighting alongside these rad robots.
Many of the drones on this list are pretty extreme — which is probably why they’ve been relegated to the world of video games. But in our modern world where many people already fear drones being used for spying and surveillance, the City Scanners from Half-Life 2 don’t seem all that far-fetched. Surveillance by a malevolent inter-dimensional organization attempting to assert power through the creation of a multiversal empire may be slightly more far-fetched. But, you know, still relatable.
More evidence that the City Scanners are a reasonably feasible tech: This impressive real-life recreation of the Scanners themselves. If this doesn’t send some paranoid shivers down your spine, I don’t know what will.
Alright, this one is a little less than serious. The world of Ratchet and Clank is not known for its real-world accuracy, but it is damn fun to play.
And hey, in combat, having a floating drone shooting at your enemies while verbally announcing that he’s going to protect you is definitely reassuring.
The Metal Gear series features a great deal of autonomous robots equipped with advanced weaponry and artificial intelligence — Cyphers, UA-drones, the unmanned Metal Gear RAY, and Kidnappers. For the most part, Metal Gear is based in realistic military settings with viable technology, so it’s no surprise that various types of drones make an appearance.
The Metal Gear Mk. II isn’t a real Metal Gear, so to speak, but it is a miniaturized version. This “remote mobile terminal” is used for reconnaissance, items transport, and communication. When controlled by the in-game player, the Mk. II quickly depletes battery while in use and only operates within short ranges, which are certainly things that real life drone operators can relate to.
In a series that is often gritty and dark, this little drone provides some pleasant comic relief:
Ghosts are desirable items in Destiny, a popular open-world sci-fi first person shooter. Described as “levitating artificial intelligence,” “dead” Ghosts are scattered in locations across the world for Guardians (the players) to find. The Ghosts perform helpful functions for the Guardians, such as illuminating dark areas and hacking other technology.
There are a multitude of YouTube videos explaining where and how to find dead Ghosts throughout Destiny — skip to :49 to see a dead Ghost revived.
XCOM 2 is a tactical, turn-based video game that focuses on the military group XCOM and their efforts to resist alien occupation. There are various classes of soldiers within XCOM, one class being the Specialists. The GREMLINs are exclusive to this group, granting them the ability to use a GREMLIN to heal and protect teammates, damage enemies, and hack electronic targets.
As in the Metal Gear series, the other military-focused title on this list, the GREMLIN is a pretty feasible technology. It’s nice to see a drone used for healing and providing aid. #drones4good
Somewhat similar to the City Scanners mentioned above, Bioshock’s Security Bots are essentially your run-of-the-mill automated defense drones equipped with turret guns. Things like this are pretty standard fare in a lot of video games, whether secretly mounted to walls or hovering to surveil an area. Universally, they’re annoying as hell.
But of course, all technology has its flaws, especially autonomous tech — check out these two Security Bots from the Bioshock 2 turn on each other and firing away.
OK, OK … to be fair, most of the robotic creatures that appear in this video probably lean more toward true robots than drones. But the crab-like creatures seem a little like the creepy-crawling bio-inspired drones we’re starting to see, so who’s to say? And in a game that features so much robotic technology, it’s hard for me to believe that there won’t be some more drone-y tech happening somewhere in this open-world environment. According to a Horizon Zero Dawn fan Wiki, there is also a type of robot called Watchers that function similarly to terrestrial surveillance drones.
I might be unfairly bending my definition a little bit because this game looks awesome. Hacking a robotic water-buffalo Broadhead in order to use it as a means of locomotion? Yes please. Enormous Shadow of the Colossus-esque mechanical behemoths? Sign me up. A seamless joining of the organic and the technological? I’m here for it.
The game features female protagonist Aloy in her search for answers about the old world, before machines dominated the landscape. Following her classic hero’s journey, Aloy will undoubtedly encounter even more remarkable robotic foes along her way.
This is by no means an exhaustive list — drone-like tech appears in a great many video games, and will likely continue to be used in a multitude of ways in future titles.
Disagree with some of the choices? Think there are some important drones that we might have missed? Let us know in the comments.
Note: A huge thank you to my good friend Daniel Lynch (@morgue_wolf on Twitter, if you want some video game news, commentary, and memes) for helping me compile a good portion of this list. He’s a far more dedicated gamer than I!
Feature image: YouTube screenshot/Xbox
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