What makes a video game enemy truly memorable and worth fighting isn’t just their backstory or design, but their Artificial Intelligence (AI). Whether it’s a generic foot soldier or a powerful boss, video game enemies need an AI that’s at the very least challenging. These enemies, on the other hand, have AI that can be downright unfair.
Some of these enemies were programmed to be invulnerable, while others were ridiculously good at punishing the player. It wasn’t uncommon for gamers to give these games a break or outright quit in furstration. As game development continues to evolve, more impressive and smarter AI enemies are inevitable.
10 The Replica Soldiers
F.E.A.R. First Encounter Assault Recon
F.E.A.R. was sold as a cross between a militaristic first-person shooter and a horror game, but it’s better known for being one of the best shooters of its era. This was mostly thanks to the Replica Soldiers and their surprisingly advanced AI. The Replica Soldiers knew how to flank the player and use cover, making it difficult to even land one shot.
This was accomplished thanks to the Goal-Oriented Action Planning (GOAP) system. F.E.A.R. was the first game to use the GOAP. This gave the Replica Soldiers and other NPCs more agency when it came to interacting with the map or the player. F.E.A.R.’s tough and innovative AI set the standard for the series and other games as well.
9 The Covenant (With The “That’s Just… Wrong” Skull Enabled)
The Covenant’s AI in the original Halo trilogy was formidable on its own, but it could be made even more difficult if the player wanted a challenge. In Halo 2, players could adjust the Covenant AI by finding some well-hidden skulls. The skull nicknamed “Whuppopotamus” makes the Covenant almost sentient to an unfair degree.
Under the skull’s effect, the Covenant’s combat proficiency increased tenfold. They pick up on Master Chief’s shadows, minor sounds like reloading or sprinting, and they can even spot player’s camouflage. The Covenant’s improved AI made them tougher to beat, but they also turned the quintessentially 2000s Halo 2into Halo’s most respected entry.
8 The Nemesis System
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was very close to revolutionizing the gaming landscape with its Nemesis System. This AI system kept track of the kinds of enemies that the player easily dominated and lost to. With this data, the AI picked one of the many Orcs that the player fought and turned them into their destined, more powerful nemesis.
The Nemesis System kept every playthrough of Shadow of Mordor fresh and exciting. Two players who had a similar gameplay style still wouldn’t end the game with the same Nemesis as their final boss. Unfortunately, Shadow of Mordor’s publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment patented the inventive AI, effectively locking it away forever.
7 The Director
Left 4 Dead
The real enemy in Left 4 Dead and its sequel weren’t the Infected, but the AI known as “The Director.” It was The Director’s job to keep each playthrough unpredictable. The Director did this by randomizing the amount of Common Infected that spawned, when the Special Infected attacked, and what items were available or not.
The Director adjusted how benevolent or merciless it was based on the players’ progress or lack thereof. Even if every campaign followed the same key story cues and events, no two rounds of the innovative Left 4 Deadplayed the exact same way. It even got to the point where players treated The Director as its own villainous character.
6 The ALife AI Engine
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl was set in The Zone, which was filled with deadly wildlife and other scavengers. The Zone was praised for being incredibly lifelike and challenging. This was thanks to the ALife AI Engine. The AI engine managed the NPCs’ idle and combat patterns so efficiently that it was intentionally weakened.
To even the odds, GSC Game World’s developers removed the AI’s ability to give commands, heal, instinctively avoid traps or natural hazards, or throw grenades. Their AI was reportedly so good in the testing stages that they quickly overwhelmed players. Players who loved a challenge used mods to restore the AI’s original viciousness.
5 Mr. X
Resident Evil 2 (2019)
In the original Resident Evil 2, Mr. X was a scripted boss. Players could predict Mr. X’s encounters after replaying the game enough times. Mr. X returned in Resident Evil 2’s remake, but his AI was completely overhauled. Instead of attacking the player on cue, Mr. X pursued them the moment he barged through the police station.
Mr. X was literally invulnerable for most of Resident Evil 2. The only time players could kill or even damage Mr. X was in his final boss fight. Mr. X could also kill players almost instantaneously, and he couldn’t be slowed down by other enemies that got in his way. Mr. X silently but relentlessly pursuing the player became the remake’s highlight.
4 Pyramid Head
Silent Hill 2
In Silent Hill 2, Pyramid Head represented James Sunderlands’ desire to punish himself. He was also an unstoppable force that pursued players wherever they went. Pyramid Head’s fights were scripted and predictable, but players had no hope of defeating him. The best they could do was survive Pyramid Head’s deadly attacks.
The only time players could damage Pyramid Head was during the climactic boss fight against two Pyramid Heads. And even then, the fight only ended after James survived long enough for the Pyramid Heads to kill themselves. Pyramid Head was more of a nightmarish and symbolic threat than a traditional boss, which is partly why his AI was so tough.
3 Mr. Freeze
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City unleashed Batman’s entire Rogue’s Gallery. Most players considered Mr.Freeze to be the game’s toughest boss. Although Mr. Freeze wasn’t the strongest villain imprisoned in Arkham City, he was the smartest. This was reflected by both his scientific genius, and the fact that his boss AI was highly adaptive and reactive.
Mr. Freeze adapted to Batman’s attacks, and modified his suit and laboratory accordingly. No attack could work twice on Mr. Freeze. Players who were used to spamming their favorite tactics against other enemies couldn’t do so here. Mr. Freeze was the toughest boss in both Arkham Cityand possibly of any Batman game as well.
2 The Xenomorph
Although Alien’s Xenomorph appeared in countless games, Alien: Isolation was the first game to truly capture just how dangerous and lethal it was. Here, the Xenomorph wasn’t just a big monster for players to shoot at. Isolation’s Xenomorph was an intelligent monster whose AI adapted to every little thing that the player was doing.
The moment the Xenomoprh appeared, it became the player’s most unpredictable threat. It attacked from anywhere and at any time. The Xenomorph’s AI also learned player’s hiding patterns, how to ignore diversion tactics, and even dodge attacks. Even longtime Alien fans were not ready for how terrifying the well-made Alien: Isolation’s Xenomorph was.
1 The End
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was the moment the Metal Gear Solid series truly became “realistic.” The End’s boss fight perfectly showed why. The End was a legendary sniper, and players had to defeat him in a long and punishing sniper duel. Everything from bullet trajectory to resource management was necessary to land just one shot on The End.
The End’s AI was so adaptive that after every successful shot, he relocated and regenerated before the cycle repeated. The End went down as one of the most difficult boss fights in both MGS and gaming history. To seemingly make up for this, the groundbreaking Snake Eatergave players two sneaky ways to kill The End without even fighting him.