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The loneliest number

James Carter excogitates upon the idiosyncrasies of playing co-op with AI in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands.

Is it a sacrifice to run into a hail of bullets if you know you won’t actually die?

I tried that when paintballing once; on an ambitious early charge into the enemy base, two of us formed a human shield to try and cover a third. Long story short, it didn’t work: we got hit, then, mere feet from the goal, he got hit, and we all had to sit out the rest of the round.

I maintain it was worth a try, even as a bold failure. And while we sacrificed no lives, we certainly paid with a few lost minutes of fun for our squandered chance at glory.

True sacrifice or not, that kind of reckless gambit seemed worthwhile. Laughs were had, victory was sniffed (if not seized), and only paint was spilled. As I now lay, voluntarily bleeding out, in the middle of a nondescript Bolivian road, I have plenty of time to contemplate whether or not another, similar strategy was equally worthwhile.

On yer marks!

Instead of momentary paintballing glory, the prize is a truck full of medicine, I think. It might be food. The penalty for failure isn’t a few minutes of pseudo-military role-playing fun missed, but a few in-game pseudo-military role-playing minutes wasted. Rather than a bold tactic, this is a desperate necessity. And, instead of friends, I have beef-witted spec-ops dudebros. Key differences that, upon reflection, do not enhance the experience.

The gambit? Land a helicopter on a road, about 200m in front of a convoy containing the aforementioned truck o’ goodies (now I think on it, it was a gas tanker). With just enough time to squat in the bushes, I’ll sling a ludicrously-effective tactical drone at the approaching vehicular grand prize, and detonate an on-board EMP to arrest its not-insignificant momentum.

Are you ready? Here comes the clever bit. Step aside Dominic Toretto, move over Danny Ocean, there’s a new player in town. Revel in my genius, as I walk out into a hail of bullets, and collapse into a heap on the roadside.

Get set!

Surely nobody saw that coming. As bold moves go, this is gonna raise a few eyebrows. Sadly, there’s no one but me here to see it, and, for me, laying on sun-blushed tarmac, bleeding out is all rather… run of the mill.

This isn’t my first rodeo, you see. Heck, this isn’t even my first bleed-out of the day. No, this is rote, and painstakingly chiseled out of necessity, rather than borne on the wings of spontaneity.

My grand sacrifice isn’t meant to distract the dozen or so cartel members protecting the comms truck I’m assailing. No, no, no… I’m trying to distract my so-called teammates from blowing the damned truck up, precious nondescript cargo and all!

Never have I been more starkly reminded that I am alone, an elite Ghost Recon squad of one, than when watching the rest of my “team” destroy the very truck that was our mission objective, right before my disbelieving eyes.

You see, there’s an enemy in the truck full of resources that we’re supposed to be tagging. And if the enemy won’t hop out to his death, then I guess my wonderful support ought to send some bullets in there to retrieve him. Such is their singular focus when it comes to this quirk of their AI that I had to come up with an alternate strategy. Drastic measures were called for.

Turns out that, while playing truck piñata is more appealing than protecting the only squadmate that actually matters, it is, mercifully, very slightly lower priority than annihilating every hostile enemy on the screen once said squadmate is roleplaying roadkill. Praise be to exploitable AI routines!

Down!

So, here I lay, once more, filled with bullets; waiting for my AI albatrosses to dutifully despatch drug dealers, and then drag me to my feet with a needle-shaped hoist. I’ve turned a certain mission failure into a possible mission success, and all it cost was a minute or so of my time, and a small amount of my dignity. Actually this is more like the paintballing debacle than I gave it credit for.

I’m not going to say that this strategy didn’t become tiresome by the twentieth time through, but it still worked, which is more than can be said for my real-life attempt. And the sense of satisfaction I got from working out how to flummox, if not circumvent, the rules of Ghost Recon’s rag-tag squad AI was eerily familiar to a man who once sat, mouth full of paint, wearing pink & yellow polka-dotted camouflage in cold, damp woods outside of Eccles, some 20 years ago.

Success?

Today, on a beautiful Flor de Oro hillside, as I casually stroll over to the enemy truck and claim whatever it’s carrying, I realise that, finally, my bold sacrifice paid off.

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