Halo Infinite blessed us with the most amusing grunts in the series, which is quite an achievement considering how chatty they’ve been all the way back to the original. According to the deep Halo lore the grunts learned English specifically to insult humans in combat, thanks to a flourishing alien black market for Earth soap operas. I’m not making this up.
Talkative enemies are a feature of stealth games—think of all those taffers in Thief, thugs fretting about Batman in Arkham games, and guards discussing criminal sociology in No One Lives Forever—but even genres where NPCs don’t need to announce their presence so you know where they are at all times sometimes have mouthy bad guys. That’s not always a good thing.
Do you like bad guys who talk a lot?
Here are our answers, plus some from our forum.
Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor: I could barely stand the slander this week when some members of the PC Gamer team dared—dared!—suggest Halo Infinite’s enemies are too chatty or too silly. I love them! The elites are so indignant when you steal their vehicles, and each enemy type has its own set of taunting voice lines to play when they manage to get the killing shot on you, motivating you to get back in there for revenge. The grunts are the silliest, as they should be, but their goofy lines primarily come out when they’re fleeing in terror or the last survivors left on the field. It really contributes to how dynamic Halo Infinite’s battles can feel.
In general I’d say I’m pretty wary of talkative enemies in games, though, as chattiness usually means you’re going to end up hearing the same lines repeated ad nauseam. There are games that do it well, and then there are games like Mega Man X7, which maybe prove that videogame enemies should never speak, ever.
Morgan Park, Staff Writer: I’m a fan of chatty foes, at least when it’s not distracting. I’m still getting used to getting roasted by Halo Infinite’s grunts when they stick me with a lucky plasma nade—makes me wish I could bark back at them as Master Chief, but I guess that’s what my bullets are for. I’d love for more shooter baddies to open their mouths instead of wandering around waist-high cover in silence, but I’ve always thought of it as more of a stealth game thing. Stalking enemies feels all the cooler when guards are realistically chatting about their days. I wish more of this sort of dialogue was just for flavor, though, and not constantly trying to give you a hint about where to go or what to do next. Batman Arkham Knight’s goons kinda had flavor, but they were also obsessed with talking about Batman.
Maybe the best use of chatter are the latest Hitman games. NPCs on those maps are constantly blabbering. Most of the passing dialogue is actually a clue, but the intel they’re giving you isn’t usually overt. You might hear the mailman say that your target’s neighbor is gardening in his backyard, but you don’t know why that’s helpful unless you already know he keeps a spare key to your target’s house in his pocket.
Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor: The goons in Sifu are somewhat talkative. If you’re busting skulls, they say stuff like, “No way… no fuckin’ way,” and if you’re getting beat up, they start asking if you’ve “had enough,” and other generic stuff like that. It isn’t a big deal, but I don’t love it. Halo Infinite at least tries to be funny, but these guys are just dictating notes to themselves about my performance. Meanwhile, the only line of dialogue in The Raid’s nearly two minute hallway fight is “take the leg,” and it works fine. They do make a much greater variety of vocal noises than you ever get in a game, though: “ooh,” “wah,” “hyaa,” “gwaaah blaaagh bwaah aaah pa pa pa,” and so on. Maybe we need more of that.
Jody Macgregor, AU/Weekend Editor: As the official Borderlands 2-liker I’m in favor of it. That game’s psychos charge out of cover shouting stuff like “More skin hats for my puppets!” and it’s a better experience for it. One of them even quotes the entirety of Hamlet’s soliloquy, “O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,” which is a wild thing to hear from the voice actor who played Krillin in Dragon Ball.
Lauren Aitken, Deputy Guides Editor: Personally couldn’t give a shit about a bad guy’s monologue. Escharum talked too much, that’s why I kept grappling grenades into his face. Now Eredin, there was a guy who just hid behind a mask for the majority of The Witcher 3 then had a wee rant at the end, quality stuff.
WoodenSaucer: If what they’re saying is clever or funny, I love it. I also like in stealth games when you can sneak up to bad guys and get some insight into what their plans are, or what is going on.
Johnway: I don’t think there is a problem with chatty bad guys. I mean, look at Shodan who taunts you all throughout citadel station and responding accordingly with murderous intent and mockery. It might be boring to hype a bad guy all through the game only to make a grand appearance at the end.
So like all things, it all boils down to execution of the dialogue, how interesting the bad guy is and the length of it. What I don’t want to see is long, unskippable, pretentious and/or irrelevant monologues from an unlikable character (even for bad guy standards).
mainer: If done correctly I think it helps flesh out the personality of the “bad guy”, so that he/she/it is something more than just a generic bullet sponge at the end of the game. Whether it gradually reveals a tragic past that forced this individual to do evil deeds, or shows the sadistic mind of a truly depraved character, or even something in between. As Johnway stated the execution is critical, and his example of Shodan from the System Shock games is a perfect example.
Another example that comes to mind is Jon Irenicus from Baldur’s Gate 2. Corrupted by the lure of power and cast out by the elves, he descended into deeds of depravity and torture that is gradually revealed through his dialog in a few short cut scenes as well as brief encounters with the player.
ZedClampet: GLaDOS can talk all she wants. Another baddy that I liked hearing from was Pagin Min from Far Cry 4. Basically I enjoy it when the bad guys are funny. When they are just hurling clichés and threats at me, I tune them out. And I often love listening to what the NPC bad guys in Far Cry games, in general, are saying and how the lines are voice acted (usually over-acted). It’s often hilarious to take someone out and leave the body to be found. I don’t know why, but when they are screaming their anguish and furiously hunting for the culprit it just cracks me up. And then a minute later, they’ll calm down and say, “I can’t find them. They must have left,” and immediately go back to whatever they were doing before.
Brian Boru: I dislike cutscenes for bad guys to pontificate at me, but it’s fine if they come thru via phone or radio—in short, don’t get in the way of my gameplay. Another cool thing is when the baddies speak their own lingo, like say in Crysis at the hardest level, the NKA speak in Korean—nice touch.
Similar in Far Cry Primal, where Ubisoft went the extra mile in constructing 3 prehistoric languages for the 3 tribes—I enjoyed figuring out a few phrases while stalking the opposition. C&C Generals ZH had some fun taunting from opposing generals.
In general, as long as it’s not a small collection of bland ‘noises’ repeated ad nauseum, I’m fine with chatter.
McStabStab: In the Witcher 3, Eredin said 12 voice lines in my whole 100+ hour experience, and I honestly felt unfulfilled with our rivalry. His actions spoke for him, but I like someone nagging and taunting you, building to that moment of satisfaction where you get to shut them up for good.
As mentioned above, SHODAN and GLaDOS were great examples, but some others that spring to mind are Higgs from Death Stranding, Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine from Bioshock, and Deathshead and Frau Engel from Wolfenstein.
As for standard “grunt” foes, I don’t mind them being talkative, but if the voice lines get repetitive I can take it or leave it. Like Skyrim attackers saying “this is the part where you fall down and bleed to death!” is alright the first ten times you hear it, but after that it’s a bit much.
Krud: I like scripted and/or one-shot dialogues from enemies, moreso if they’re important. It’s not always clear by their actions that they deserve to die (oh, no, they’re killing things? I’ve never done THAT before), so sometimes what they have to say gives you sufficient motivation/justification to get rid of them.
That being said, I don’t like dialogue that ruins the verisimillitude, like the infamous bandit with an arrow in his chest saying “Guess it was my imagination.” I also don’t like it when I’m 99.9% certain someone hasn’t detected me but are still like “That’s close enough” or “What are you doing there.” (Unless there is a valid story/environmental reason as to why they can detect me despite all other indications.) I also prefer that games know when I’ve “overheard” something and then choose not to repeat it later, because it’s just weird to hear two guards have the EXACT same conversation they’d had with each other not five minutes earlier. Don’t loop it. If it’s important, add it to my quest log or something as having overheard it.