The 13 Best AI Characters in Video Games

Robots, computers, and mechanical intelligences. Regardless if they’re on your side or not, they’re often engaging characters who make some of the best heroes and villains videogaming has ever seen. These 13 characters from a huge variety of games and game types are all wonderfully crafted characters, which represent an amazing range of personalities. They are 13 of the best artificial intelligences in any videogame.

13. Dog from HL2

Arguably the most pleasant character in all of Half-Life 2, Dog (or sometimes DØg) is a tireless companion — fast, strong, loyal, and one of the few funny things in the game. He’s not a vicious genius or super-intelligent machine like many of the other characters on this list, but in the ongoing fight against the Combine, he’s oddly one of the most human. Smarter than his namesake, he has hunches, can be unpredictable, but he will fight against even the craziest of odds. He’s so overpowered that all the scenes he’s in aren’t actual AI fights, instead just scripted to show off his coolness. Dog was so popular with players in HL2 that Valve decided to have him be the first thing you see in Episode 1.

12. Cortana

Your beautiful cyber companion through the Halo series, Cortana is surprisingly sexy for a holographic projection of an AI. Seeing as Master Chief remains silent throughout the games, Cortana’s real job in the Halo franchise is to fill you in on the plot points, giving you background information, objectives, directions and everything else you might normally just, you know, ask for. I always found it interesting in Halo just how close to human AI characters are treated. When the Pillar of Autumn is attacked, AIs are including in the evacuation, which is how you end up with Cortana, and she’s awarded a medal for her role in the events of the first game. That’s a pretty far cry from how most constructs are treated. Not to mention she’s one of the more competently written female characters, with a sharp wit, interesting personality, and by the end of the third game, a fierce loyalty to the Chief — even if she does go insane once or twice along the way.

11. President John Henry Eden

Come on! With a voice by Malcolm McDowell, how could he not be a badass? From the moment you leave the vault in Fallout 3, you hear his sweet voice, popping up on the radio, promising a better, brighter future, elections, and a return to civilisation even after centuries of ruin. Too bad he’s a psychopathic computer system running the Enclave, with an evil plan to murder just about every living thing. An old super-computer with a complete knowledge of American history, it gained sentience and then assumed control over the Enclave after the death of the last living President. He wants you to poison the water supply with a chemical that will kill all mutated and irradiated beings — which amounts to everybody. In keeping with Fallout tradition, you can beat him just by talking, if you’re smart enough.

10. Clank

There’s something about the comical sidekick that lends itself so well to 3D platformers. Jack & Daxter. Banjoe Kazooey and, of course, Ratchet and Clank. Badass enough to score his own game, Clank has been in some eight games, with one more in the works. That’s pretty decent for a rather small robot. Usually there for comedic effect, Clank ended up having a rather large role in the plots of the later games, as well as his usual funny ones. Holder of many gadgets, able to squeeze into tight spots, and occasionally turn into a giant destructive robot, Clank is an artificial being anyone would be happy to have at their back. He’s the dry, straight man, occasionally the butt of the joke, sometimes the source of it, but a wonderful foil to the rogueish Ratchet.

9. The Jacks from Tekken

In the King of Iron Fist Tournament, there’s only character you can always rely on to actually have a fist of iron: the incomparable Jack robots. Not so much a single character as a series of robots, each an improvement over the last, with Jack-6 being the most recent and advanced model. So far we’ve seen Jack, Prototype Jack, Jack-2, Gun Jack, then Jack’s 4, 5 and 6, each of which have slightly different abilities, and occasionally even something resembling personalities. Whether gun enabled or not, protecting their inventors, or just kicking ass in the name of the ex-Soviet Union, the Jacks are not to be trifled with.

8. Robotic Operating Buddy

Oh ROB, you are so utterly and hilariously useless. Released as an accessory to the original NES in 1985, ROB was a robot that would play with you in all of two utterly horrible games. He was buggy, slow to move, and made the games nigh on unusable. Conceptually wonderful — especially for slightly spoiled only children, whose parents could afford a robot for them, but had no friends — ROB was a complete and utter failure in his intended purpose. Even so, he became something of an alternate mascot for Nintendo, showing up in Kirby, F-Zero and Star Fox games. His moment in the sun came when he was announced as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl where he’s a mid-ranked character.

7. Robo (Chrono Trigger)

Far future badass robot Robo is one of the many, many awesome characters in Chrono Trigger. While not particularly vocal, he is extremely charming, and deserves some mad street cred for essentially replanting an entire continent over a few hundred years thanks to the miracles of time travel. Sure, he doesn’t get to use magic, but he has laser beams, and that’s what counts. With major damage attacks and insanely high HP, he’s a pretty damn good member of your party. He’s also one of the more empathic and philosophical characters on this list, who despite his artificial nature has intense feelings for humanity.

6. HK-47

Where Robo was the typical sympathetic robot character, HK-47 has had enough of you fleshy meatbags, and as an assassin droid is more than happy to kill you all. When you first meet him, he seems perfectly genteel, and then you get to know just how much he enjoys killing. He lived for hundreds of years, killed thousands, and remained hilarious throughout. Even when you’re in charge, he barely dignifies responding to you, and would off you too, if he had the chance. Brutal, efficient, he’s the perfect misanthrope, and more than happy to take a trip with you to the dark side in Knight of the Old Republic, and was so popular that he appeared in the sequel, as well as Star Wars Galaxies.

5. Leela, Tycho and Durandal

The trio of AIs from the Marathon trilogy. Good, mad, and evil, respectively. Well, sort of. Leela is your ship’s AI, Tycho was in charge of science, and Durandel utilities. Durandel is “rampant”, gone AI insane through exposure to too much information, though he becomes rather fond of you in the second game, he’s driven only by his own needs. Tycho is absolutely mad, and only referenced four times across the entire saga. The interplay between the three AIs is extremely interesting and multi-layered, and completely optional in the playing of the Marathon games. They communicate via static text in terminals, some of which are deeply hidden, and others that are encoded. It takes a huge amount of time and effort to even figure out what is being said, let alone connecting all the dots between them. But if you put the time in, you’re exposed to an incredibly interesting and well written story, hidden within this classic FPS.

4. Mega Man

When it comes to saving the world, there’s one robot who I trust above all others. When Dr. Wily rears his head with the Robot Masters, it comes down to one sky blue robot to save the day. Armed with his mega blaster and the ability to absorb the weapons of downed foes, Mega Man ends up saving the day — now if only he could shoot at an angle. Through more games than I can count, and more changes and incarnations than are imaginable, Mega Man (or Rockman if you want to go back to the original) has starred in a series of videogames that are so devilishly hard that they’ll drive you to madness. Insane platforming difficulty tied with the rock-paper-scissors nature of the boss fights is enough to drive the inexperienced to insanity. I await with bated breath the year 20XX, when he’ll arise and kick some robot ass.

3. AM from I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

There is no other robot in all videogames, hell in all fiction ever, that can even approach the sheer all powerful evil of AM from I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. Adapted from the short story of the same name by Harlan Ellison, Ellison looked past his legendary hatred of computers in order to help create the game, including crafting extended dialogue. AM is a super-computer which destroyed the world, leaving only five living humans who he tortures for his enjoyment. Captured for over a hundred years, he mutates and changes them, causing them unending agony and preventing them from killing himself. The original short story had possibly the world’s most depressing ending, but if you beat the game, there is a way to destroy the super-computer, even in its near infinite power. It was one of the first games where ethical decision making heavily influenced the outcome, and good lord was it satisfying to finally destroy that incomparable creation of evil that is AM.

2. GLaDOS

Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, the AI behind Aperture Science, and wonderful torturer of the player in everyone’s favorite FPP Portal. Wonderfully Machiavellian, GLaDOS had the entire complex locked-down for 20 years before Chell is woken up. She’s evil but driven, striving to master Portal technology to beat out rivals Black Mesa. But none of that matters, because what brings in GLaDOS at #2 on this list is the incredible quality of her writing. Let’s face it, writing in videogames is generally pretty poor, yet GLaDOS is one of the funniest, sharply written characters ever to show up in a game. I’m not even going to bother quoting her, because by now every person on the internet has played the game, and knows exactly what I’m talking about.

1. SHODAN

The Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network AI is the villain in the classic System Shock games. If you haven’t played them, you’re doing yourself a disservice, as they’re the spiritual antecedents to BioShock, complete with manipulative intelligent villain, who’ll have you losing sleep at night. Omniscient over the ships you travel in, she commands an army but can’t interact with you directly. She watches your every move, taunting you, mocking you, terrorizing you. With her broken voice and evil stare, she pits you against her mutant army as you desperately try and defeat an enemy that’s smarter and stronger than you, and can see your every move. In the second game she’s even more manipulative, tricking you into killing her enemies for her. For such skills at twisting you around her little digital finger, SHODAN deserves the title of the best AI character in videogames.