The Best Games That Let You Kill Robots And AI-Powered Monsters

Gaming

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An image shows Commander Sheppard standing in a city surrounded by Reapers.

To populate all the various digital worlds we explore in video games, developers often recycle the same kinds of enemies, like zombies or spiders. And then there’s one type of enemy who, throughout game history, has been perhaps the most ubiquitous of all: robots. These AI-powered artificial monsters are often depicted as mindless machines focused entirely on killing, destroying, or following orders which often involve more killing and destroying.

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For a long time, I generally found robot enemies in games to be uninteresting fodder. But now, in a world where AI-powered nonsense is becoming more common, self-driving cars are causing accidents, and drones could soon start replacing jobs, well…let’s just say some folks are very interested in killing robots in video games. It can feel cathartic, even. And so, for anyone who might be annoyed by AI bullshit and robots taking over, here are some games you can play right now that let you get a little satisfaction from destroying the metal bastards.

A screenshot from Mass Effect shows Reapers attacking a city.

The Mass Effect series is all about fighting synthetics, but it does try to introduce some nuance to the topic of machine intelligence throughout all four games. At first, you’re fighting the Geth, a group of robots believed to have driven their creators off their homeworld. But it turns out, the real villain is actually the robots’ greater synthetic overlords called the Reapers, who are using the robots to speed up their plan to wipe away organic life.

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That’s why it’s so cathartic to get to the end of the trilogy and choose to destroy the Reapers rather than accept any kind of compromise with those who wished to annihilate us. That’s the decision we all made, right? The one that defies powerful forces in the universe who treat those they believe beneath them as expendable?–Kenneth Shepard

A screenshot of Borderlands 2 shows a yellow loader bot.

In the looter shooter franchise that is Borderlands, Hyperion is a nasty, evil corporation that cares about making money and nothing else. It’s willing to do whatever it takes to make more cash and become more powerful. In the series, the company is willing to dig up ancient alien vaults, kill innocent people, and replace workers with AI-powered robot loaders.

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It’s these loaders that make up the bulk of Hyperion’s army and who are a common enemy in Borderlands 2 and 3. These damn robots, while cheap to create and use, are terrible at actually doing what they are meant to do. They often get wiped out in seconds by a few random Vault Hunters. It really makes you wonder why Hyperion is spending all this money and time on AI tech when it could just hire people like the Vault Hunters, give them the resources they need to succeed, and let them do their jobs better and more effectively than robots. It’s weird! –Zack Zwiezen

An image of a Vex robot warrior from Destiny.

The Vex are a cybernetic alien race of unknown origin in Destiny’s universe. “When the world does not match their eternal pattern, they alter the world to suit it,” Golden Age scientist Clovis Bray tells players. “There is no difference between reality and simulation to them. Inside is the same as outside, and the two must be made to correspond.” They are Destiny’s Borg, but unlike Star Trek’s pale fleshy monsters, they are sleek, metallic, and almost lovely.

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Lovelier still to shoot, smash, and blow up. Destiny is renowned for its tactile enemy death animations, and the Vex are no exception. Shoot a Harpy in its eye and it screams like a server rack hit by a freight train. Destroy the Vex core inside a Goblin and it explodes in a splash of white like a gallon of milk. It’s the only way to stop them from rewiring the cosmos to fit their small minds. —Ethan Gach

A screenshot of a green robot wandering a wasteland in Fallout 76.

Long after the world has burned and civilization has fallen apart, the robots of Fallout continue to function. Even centuries after Earth has been nearly destroyed by nukes and humanity barely clings on, the AI-powered robots of humanity’s heyday roam the wasteland and continue to do their jobs.

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Some may say they are impressively dedicated. I think it just shows how stupid and awful these robots tend to be. They can’t even tell the world has ended, they just mindlessly do what they were programmed to do. They can’t create art, invent anything, or really provide any benefit of their own to humanity because they are merely tools we created.

And in Fallout, they aren’t just idiots still trying to run diners after the nukes have fallen, but dangerous enemies, too. Their AI-powered brains—unable to understand context, history, or emotion—will attack most people on sight. Ironic, isn’t it, that robots and AI in the Fallout universe might end up killing us all and destroying all we have created when they themselves are our own creations? Anyway, grab a laser rifle and double-tap any robobrains you see in Fallout 3. They deserve it. —Zack Zwiezen

A screenshot shows robot soldiers as seen in Gears 4.

In Gears of War 4, you play as soldiers who are the children of humans who helped the in-universe government save the day from the nasty alien-like Locust hordes. These people fought hard, day after day, often without the proper support they needed, and were still able to find great success and victory under such stressful conditions. Inspirational stuff.

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But the people in charge in Gears 4 eventually wanted a cheaper way to keep the peace and replaced the soldiers with robots who were willing to kill and stun anyone. Meanwhile, the humans who had worked so hard to help build things up were tossed aside so a few rich and powerful military and government leaders could save a few bucks. And eventually, when a new threat returns, the awful robots aren’t enough, and it’s the humans, the ones who had been ignored and shit on, who have to come back to save the day once more. If only the people in charge had listened to those they owe everything to… –Zack Zwiezen

A screenshot shows dangerous robots from Earthbound.

You fight a lot of robots in Earthbound. The seminal 1995 SNES role-playing game about some kids traveling back in time to fight the root of evil in the cosmos also has you smash lots of mechanical baddies.

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The game’s very first boss is a sentient tank called Frankystein Mark II. Then there’s the Clumsy Robot boss battle which will absolutely destroy you unless you pummel ol’ Clumsy with bottle rockets. And who could forget the Nuclear Reactor Robot, which blows up when you kill it, wreaking havoc on your party as you try to survive from one random encounter to the next. If Earthbound taught me one thing, it’s that the best thing to do when you see a robot is just run away. –Ethan Gach

An image shows a collage of various Star Wars droids.

In Star Wars, droid soldiers aren’t very good at fighting wars. In fact, the only reason they ever succeed is that rich people waste enough money on creating so many that, eventually–if they win–it’s only through sheer numbers.

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They aren’t smart. In fact, in most Star Wars media battle droids are idiots, barely capable of doing the job they were cobbled together to do. Often we see a few Clone Troopers or one very skilled and experienced Jedi Knight tear through hundreds of these idiot droids. But hey, they don’t have to be paid, fed, or taken care of, so I get why cartoonishly evil corporations would still choose the worst option to get the job done. –Zack Zwiezen

A screenshot shows a Terminator-like robot from Snatchers.

Remember that time Hideo Kojima just completely ripped off Blade Runner and turned it into an anime visual novel? He called it Snatcher, and it was glorious.

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You play a cop in Neo Kobe City who’s a member of J.U.N.K.E.R., an elite outfit dedicated to terminating Snatchers, skeletal androids who murder people and take over their identities as near-perfect replicas. But while Blade Runner gave more nuanced characterization to its replicants—it’s not hard to argue they occupy that film’s moral high ground—the Snatchers haunting Neo Kobe City are fiends through and through, good only for collecting J.U.N.K.E.R. bullets in their metallic brainpans. Fuck those guys. — Alexandra Hall

A screenshot shows Motherbrain from Square's RPG.

After Lavos destroys humanity, a supercomputer called Mother Brain rises from the ashes and creates an army of robots. The entirely optional boss fight manifests as a trippy psychedelic hologram. “All machines have been shut off in this factory for good,” Robo says after you beat her. Ayla is appalled. Everyone else in your party is like, awesome, let’s rock on. What do we say to evil automation and weird familiar archetypes? Not today! –Ethan Gach

An image shows promo art of a red robot from the game.

This 1982 arcade classic is all about blasting robots to smithereens in the name of protecting humans. Like a lot of games of its era (including the similarly robot-blastin’ 1980 smash hit Berzerk), it’s not exactly big on story, but it still has a core concept: the robots have revolted, and it’s up to you to blow them to bits while also saving the last human family. Robotron 2084 may be a simple game, but it’s also blisteringly exciting, highly influential, and full of iconic arcade game sound effects. And hey, as simple as it is, right now something feels relevant and satisfying about the idea of protecting humanity from an all-encompassing robotic threat. —Carolyn Petit

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