There is something about robots in video games: some proud little scrap of the synthetic that doesn’t hope to deceive us, like the ever-blustering lines of binary digits that churn out these worlds. The sight of something constructed – all the better if it’s dripping, creaking, or lovingly varnished with rust – is a reminder that all we do, when we play games, is fiddle about with fakeries. Catching sight of JACK, in Gears 5, put a smile on my face – rather an accomplishment for a hunk of metal in a series full of the stuff: the bullets, the buildings, the thick crusts of body armour. JACK rises above it all, not least thanks to his jet-boosters, and moves me to hover over some of the better robots that games have given us. Specifically, robot helpers – be they beeping allies or quippy sassbots we suspect might hate us.
Clank – Ratchet and Clank, but also Secret Agent Clank
I was definitely the only person in my house to have bought Secret Agent Clank, almost certainly the only person on my road, quite possibly the only person in my postcode, and I sometimes wonder if I was the only lone soul in my entire hometown to own a copy of Clank’s solo outing. Such was my love of the little chap – of his bug-eyed focus and blinking antenna. But despite his wearing a tuxedo (or rather his torso being resprayed to resemble a tuxedo), he was always most in his element when strapped to the back of Ratchet, in the main series. The partnership always smacked of polite tolerance on Clank’s part, which leant him the air of a Jeeves to a jump-happy Wooster. Wodehouse would surely relish the sight of Clank, with propellor blades blooming from his head, carrying his partner over chasms with a perennial sigh.
Metal Gear Mk. II – Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the titular mega-weapon is described, in its infancy, as being ‘the missing link between infantry and artillery’ – the missing metal gear in the whirring cogs of conflict. The Metal Gear Mk. II, which makes a chirpy appearance in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, is like witnessing the origin of the species. What an ingenious little joy: shrinking the series’ most frightening figure down to shin level, and having it deliver helpful communications and equipment to the hero, Solid Snake, while he is out in the field. Who wouldn’t give anything to own a Mk. II? It moves with the birl and skitter of baby bird, all clumsy enthusiasm and wheeling feet. Plus, it has the power to deliver a jolt of electricity to those whom you deem deserving. Never mind infantry and artillery; it’s the missing link between social media and modern warfare.
Security Bot – Bioshock
The best thing about the Security Bot turrets in BioShock is that, although they are airborne, they always seem on the brink of collapse. They have the hiss and creak of contraptions. Given the choice, I would always opt for the oily and the mechanical, rather than the clean, crisp lines of some spotless future. These wondrous bots looked like coat hangers with crates taped to them; they bobbed through the air like toy helicopters, and when you hacked them, luring them over to your side like faithful hounds, their furious red lights turned green with allegiance. There’s nothing like an LED to light up the inanimate with a spark of personality, and the sight of green Bots was enough to induce a mindset of blissful superiority. When two bots accompanied you into battle they made a noise like swooping wasps – nasty, but nice to have on your side.
Wheatley – Portal 2
It’s cheating really. Putting Wheatley in here breaks two of the main criteria of this list. One, he hinders more than he helps, turning against you at the halfway mark of Portal 2 and trying to kill you. And two, he’s less of a robot and more of a portal himself, through which floods Stephen Merchant, filling up the game’s puzzle chambers with bumbling British malevolence. Merchant provides a motormouth wave of backhanded pleasantries – malevolence dusted with manners. On top of that, I am fond of his design. He resembles a floating eye: his white body is scratched and stained, and his iris is made up of blue diodes, enclosed with metal lids that give him the ability to fire a squint or a stink eye in your direction.
Rotom – Pokémon
Rotom is a part-electric, part-ghost type Pokémon, and it’s favourite hobby is to possess the motors of certain appliances. Wash Rotom, for instance, is the grinning result of a Rotom that’s warped its way into a washing machine. Mow Rotom is a Rotom-infused lawn mower. And Frost Rotom provides us with the answer to a question that’s plagued us for years: can one refrigerate a ghost? More than all this, though, Rotom is something of a robot helper. All Pokémon are little helpers of a certain sort, but Rotom – specifically Heat Rotom (= Rotom + an oven), for me – really filled the role of a sort of helper droid. Also worthy of special mention, while we’re in Pokémon territory, is Durant, which felt like you had a remote-controlled metal ant that you had ordered to scuttle along with you. Still, Rotom remains the official entry in the list – mainly because of Fan Rotom (= Rotom + a fan).
Metal Sonic – Sonic the Hedgehog CD
He’s Sonic, but he’s metal. And he is a little helper, just not your little helper – he helps Dr Robotnik. Metal Sonic was a ‘Badnik’ version of Sonic, and noone has ever provided me with a sufficient explanation of what that entails. But if you played Sonic the Hedgehog CD, then you will know that it mattered not. He was Sonic, but he was metal. And he was bad. And I imagine that, for Dr Robotnik, he was a good robot helper, so he will remain in this list.
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