Doing Away with Escorts: A Modern Gaming Trope

So few gameplay elements in past titles would aggravate me more than dealing with helpless escorts. One example I always refer back to is Ashley in Resident Evil 4. Her double whammy character traits of being a defenseless target and whiny brat came to define everything gamers lamented in these types of missions.

It is why the apparent rise of having partners as opposed to “damsels in distress” has been nothing short of a godsend in games lately. Who knew an accompanying NPC could actually help you kick ass instead of getting in the way of said ass kicking? This is a love letter to those who help us survive, get revenge, and save the world.

Doing Away with Escorts: A Modern Gaming Trope

One of the first moments in recent memory where I remember having a useful partner was in the sleeper title Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. The female co-star in this game, the attractive and  tech-savvy Trip, is actually someone who needs escorting due to her lack of combat abilities. Despite this fact, developer Ninja Theory did what seemed like the impossible and made this type of character incredibly useful and likable. She can use a flying camera in order to scope out enemies ahead, set up holograms to divert enemy fire, and hack through doors while you, playing as the protagonist named Monkey, crack some robotic skulls.

It helps that Trip is a very endearing character as well. Normally, someone like her in the realm of video games just end up being a mean to an end. Thanks to some amazing voice acting (by former Nickelodeon star Lindsey Shaw) and smartly written dialogue, she becomes someone whom we actually grow to love despite dragging us along against our will during a majority of the adventure. There’s a reason why she made the top spot in my Top 5: Video Game Sidekicks list.

Lindsey Shaw and her character Trip from Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Lindsey Shaw and her character Trip from Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Another great example of the doing away of escorts, as well as the reasoning for my writing this article, is Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite. Like Trip, she is a character many gamers originally feared would turn her game into one long escort mission. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Even the game prompts you as a reminder that Elizabeth needs no protection and will only assist you along the way. Need extra cash? Here you go! Out of salts? No problem! Did you just die? She’s got your back.

Drawing even more comparisons to my previous example, Elizabeth ends up becoming the type of character we fall for thanks in large part to the voice acting (former Disney Channel star Courtnee Draper). To main protagonist Booker DeWitt, Elizabeth starts off as a commodity and slowly turns into someone who he genuinely cares for and even fears by the end. In a lot of ways, she’s like a Disney princess minus the dark twist and space-time bending powers.

Courtnee Draper and her character Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite

Courtnee Draper and her character Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite

We seem to be in the middle of this growing trend of helpful AI companions when looking towards future high-profile titles, namely The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls. The case with the former seems to suggest that the character of Ellie will be reminiscent to Elizabeth in that she’ll be resourceful, won’t get in the way, and doesn’t require any “babysitting” from the player. Sounds like a contender for “best child character” to me!

This latest trope may not be obvious with Beyond but that’s simply a matter of how unclear a lot of people seem to be on who they’re controlling. Yes, there’s Jodie (as played by Ellen Page) who acts as the main protagonist, however, you will also be in control of Aiden, a supernatural entity who assists her. This relationship appears to be a symbiotic-like one similar to my earlier example with Trip and Monkey in Enslaved. They need each other and will go to great lengths in order to stay connected.

Sisters from another mister?

Sisters from another mister?

Are you happy to see the distancing between modern games and escort missions? Do you have a personal favorite AI partner? Let us know in the comments below!

3 thoughts on “Doing Away with Escorts: A Modern Gaming Trope

  1. Great article. The escort mission definitely has its use in video games, but you’re right that it has become a trope and can be really poorly done. But I love video games that have squads or even a single companion you can take with you. Of course, the point there is that the other character rounds out the combat or provides skills you don’t have. Definitely like Trip… so I agree those are the sorts of characters we should have in escort missions!

    On a related note, it doesn’t even need to be an escort mission, it’s just about creating a duo with different skills. Having another character with you can make a game more interesting, but I like your idea of the other character not being completely helpless but actually contributing. And since games seem to love co-op these days, I can see more games featuring two characters with different skill sets in the future. I hope that spills over into escort missions.

    • The whole concept of the escort mission in games has generally been about you protecting someone who can’t protect herself/himself. It’s the main reason why I brought up Ashley from RE4 since she would constantly get herself in trouble and whining at a pitch that dogs would find irritating. Modern games have done a nice job lately deviating from that not only giving us a fleshed out main character to play as but also a partner who is equally interesting AND useful to boot!

      It’s one thing to have a buddy with you to do co-op but in the case of an AI partner, it seems like developers have only just started getting it right. You’re dead on with it being more interesting to have two characters with different skill sets working together in tandem which is why I personally love the dynamic between Monkey and Trip in Enslaved.

      If you want to create squads with different skill sets working together within a single player experience, XCOM: Enemy Unknown seems to be a good option. It all depends if you’re a strategy fan and willing to not grow too attached to your mates. ;)

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