Designing game AI is hard. Some are so competent as to render the game Nintendo Hard, while others are blatantly stupid. But in general, you expect computer-controlled characters in multiplayer games to be capable of doing everything the player can. This trope is for when they can't.
This is not about the player exploiting Good Bad Bugs, but rather when the item or ability in question is explicitly designed to be capable of something that both the AI and the player can do (sometimes depending on context), but the AI for some reason does not. This can be particularly infuriating (or alternatively, worthy of relief) if the action is an interface command. In some cases this may be an Anti-Frustration Feature, or a case of Dynamic Difficulty where the computer only starts using them when you get good. Sometimes general difficulty setting choice (the "Easy", "Hard", etc. settings) may also regulate what they can and cannot do.
Common forms include:
- Many non-Fighting Games featuring a block/counter mechanic only have the Player Character able to do it.
- Computer characters frequently can't crouch or jump.
Do note that this trope is clearer to see in multiplayer and/or competitive games (such as fighting, racing, rhythm, etc), since we can gauge out what the computer characters can, and should, do in any given situation. In single-player/non-competitive games (mainly action, platformers, etc.) the players are supposed to do things that the enemies cannot (and vice versa) and thus it's universal — the exception of this is the Mirror Boss or Super Powered Mooks, in which those characters look and act the same as the PC, except for some technical differences (whether they have an access to the things that the PC normally doesn't — Secret A.I. Moves — or conversely, they cannot do some things the PC can — this trope).
Another case is when a player character in the non-competitive games suddenly becomes a boss (especially when there's a selection of playable characters), or when a boss is Promoted to Playable; this follows the same convention as above. Just as bosses with Secret A.I. Moves are liable to have a Redemption Demotion when they're playable, bosses with this trope will have a Redemption Promotion.
Yet another case (in line with the above) is when you have someone who's normally playable as a Non-Player Companion, or vice versa. When it happens, said someone may not be able to use their full potential and abilities as opposed to when they're controlled directly by the player.
Also note that, in some cases, both this trope and Secret A.I. Moves can appear together.
The supertrope to some forms of Tactical Door Use. Compare Artificial Stupidity (aka "Player Exclusive Tactics") and A.I. Roulette (the latter when the AI chooses not to use the action randomly). Contrast Artificial Brilliance, My Rules Are Not Your Rules, and Secret A.I. Moves. This can potentially result in a Game-Breaker.
- In Master of Orion the computer can't direct more than one attack per turn. That means when you and the AI are busily blowing up the helpless civilians on each other's planets you can get several times as much damage in with a smaller fleet.
- The AI has a mixed history for nukes. Some versions never let the AI use them. Others have the AI spawn them out of thin air. Later versions tend to play fair.
- AI players will never (or almost never) propose defensive pacts or permanent alliances, meaning they won't form alliances with other AI players. This helps prevent the game from being (too much of) an exercise in Gang Up on the Human.
- Only the players have to deal with naval attrition in Europa Universalis since the AI simply cannot handle it.
- The original Assassin's Creed I had the player character instantly drown if they attempted to swim, while the AI didn't even attempt to enter the water. In all other installments, the player character can swim, but enemies still drown instantly, allowing for easy getaways if the player is ever able to swim away. No justification is given for why even characters armored as lightly as the player have Super Drowning Skills, even though the game lampshades the player's new ability.
- In Dynasty Warriors 7, players with a characters EX Weapon equipped, gains access to the Ex Attack. When a player performs a certain charge attack. Which the computer doesn't use.
- Also the player can change weaponsnote for better range, attack power or just because. The AI on the other hand are stuck with the same weapon.
- At lower difficulty levels, the AI in the Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers games will never activate the "pumping" (paying mana to temporarily increase power and toughness) abilities of certain creatures.
- Setting Trap Cards in Yu-Gi-Oh! Dark Duel Stories. No AI duelist in the game, even the bonus bosses, possesses a Trap Card in their decks. Therefore the mechanic is solely usable by the player.
- In the arcade version of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, the AI-controlled Sagat would never use the Tiger Knee special. Meanwhile, the player character had no problem doing this. Apparently it was an unfinished special move that lacked new sprites, sounds and needed a unique button combination. It was later fixed for Street Fighter II: Turbo and every incarnation since.
- In the original Half-Life, Gordon Freeman can climb ladders and duck to fit through crawl spaces; the other NPCs cannot (other than animals small enough to fit in the crawlspaces). This limits, for example, how far Barneys can accompany you as backup.
- AI players in Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 can do nearly everything the player can, except for inflicting Friendly Fire damage and wield thrown weapons like pipe bombs or Molotov cocktails.
- Halo 2: A human player flying a Banshee in campaign can use a fuel-rod cannon as a secondary attack. The AI can't. This was rectified in subsequent Halo games.
- In the Borderlands series the AI will never intentionally target Exploding Barrels (though they may still hit them when they were aiming at the player).
- Bots in Team Fortress 2 cannot use unlockable weapons. Even with just stock, Engineer bots cannot haul buildings (instead detonating their old ones when the time comes to move the rear lines forward) and Soldiers/Demomen cannot Rocket Jump.
- AI Heisters in PAYDAY 2 cannot do most of the actions the players would use the "Use" key for, such as carrying loot bags, picking locks, placing drills, etc. They can still help teammates get back up from being downed, but they do so with unique animations and voice lines that don't show up when a human player helps up another player.
- In Counter-Strike, both the FAMAS and the Glock 17 have a alternate fire burst mode that only human players are able to use. But if you give a bot a FAMAS or the Glock while they are on burst fire mode, the bots will try to use them, but not to the effect a human player can.
- The developers of Killzone 3 were unable to program the AI to use the jetpacks with any level of competence. This lead them to disabling three of the game's jetpack-centered maps in the game's Botzone mode.
- Some secret characters in the Castlevania series are bosses that you eventually fight in their respective games; some of them have moves that they don't use by the boss versions (meanwhile the majority of them have Secret A.I. Moves).
- In Mega Man ZX Advent, where you can copy the forms of the bosses themselves instead of merely Power Copying like in previous games; Atlas (in Ashe's story) as a boss couldn't fire her fire bombs forwards like Ashe could with her form.
- In Mega Man X, whenever Zero becomes a boss, he never uses any move he can acquire from the bosses (not even his standard 3 slash combo); he uses moves the player can never use instead.
- In Kirby's Dream Land 3, a computer-controlled Gooey cannot use Power Copying like he can when the second player controls him.
- Crash Team Racing:
- The computer-generated racers will never use shortcuts (when there is any), not using certain weapons normally available for players (turbo boosts, warp balls, bubble barriers, etc) nor will they leave trap weapons when they're offscreen.
- The beakers (normally a trap weapon) is able to be thrown forward, and the roller bombs (normally a forward-fire weapon) can be rolled backward. None of the computer characters do this.
- The boss racers in the Adventure Mode works differently; they still leave trap weapons (constantly) even when they're far behind or in front of you (and in Pinstripe's case, he also rolls the bombs backwards) but the other limitations above apply.
- It truly becomes a challenge in the Time Trial mode against Oxide's ghost when he's able to use shortcuts in the track.
- In LEGO Racers the AI opponents never achieve the level two turbo start, never power-slide when turning, and with one exception never use track shortcuts. The exception is Veronica Voltage, opponent in the Time Trial mode, who is also immune to track edge friction (rendering beating her Nintendo Hard).
- Quite possibly the most infamous example is Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing. In this racing "game", moving is a Player Exclusive Mechanic. Corrected in a patch, where the AI can now move, but actually crossing the finish line is still firmly in the player-only domain.
- In Super Mario Kart, opponents in a race are unable to use items generated from item boxes. The AI compensates in several ways.
- In Forza Motorsport 3 and previous games, NPC opponents would not upgrade their vehicle, leading to most races in your upgraded and tuned vehicle being ludicrously easy. Odd, when the entire game is about sim racing with heavy customization. Forza 4 and onward correct the issue, with NPC opponents in the singleplayer upgrading their vehicle to each race's maximum Performance Index rating.
- In Top Gear for the SNES, the player (or players) each get three nitros per race. The AI opponents are not allowed any at all. This game also holds an exception to the player exclusive mechanic - the player has fuel, and must pit on the longer races to refuel. The AI opponents naturally don't have this mechanic and don't have to pit at all. However, in one player mode, the screen that would be player 2's is used by an AI literally named "Computer". Computer not only has to pit, but indeed consumes fuel faster than the player even if the player is driving the car with the highest fuel consumption! Computer's immunity does not extend to allowing it to use nitro, however.
- AI racers in Jak X Combat Racing never get the Supernova weapon. This is very justified, given that the Supernova instantly destroys every vehicle in front of the user and races would consist of a constant chain of deaths if the AI had access to it.
- Warcraft III: While the standard AI will hire zeppelins (and occasionally use them, but only if there is no other way to reach an enemy base), they will never buy ships, mercenaries, or neutral shop items, or use instant-reviving taverns.
- The Level Editor for StarCraft I has several grades of AI available for map builders. The ones labeled "Campaign Easy" and "Campaign Medium" are restricted on what units and buildings they are allowed to construct (for instance, "Zerg Campaign Easy" will only build basic zerg units such as zerglings and mutalisks). Mind you, these were designed for the early stages of the singleplayer campaigns, where the player is also restricted in what units to build, so in the original context it was more a matter of keeping the playing field level. It only really qualifies for this trope if these AI settings are used in a game without an equivalent restriction on the human player.
- Dawn of War: Several moves/upgrades are never used by the AI, such as ork Burna Bombs, various morale-reducing abilities, or Tau commander weapons. That last one is particularly stupid, as it deprives them of both a short-range anti-infantry and long-range anti-armor.
- In Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, the rules.ini files had a special flag called "AIBuildThis = no" on some of the units/structures that the player could build.
- Empire Earth: In skirmish matches, the AI never builds wonders (which give map-wide bonuses) or heroes (which give local bonuses to units). The idea of clearing out defensive towers before landing transports also eludes them from the Stone Age to the Space Age.
- Solatorobo: During the racing portions of the game, enemies never drift into turns, collect but don't use the speed-boosting crystals, and use items infrequently.
- Almost all items in Persona 3. This is exceedingly frustrating, due to the game's Manual Leader, AI Party. Despite a shared item pool, your party cannot use anything but the two weakest healing items. As such, if your character is incapacitated through a status effect and you don't have a member that knows the counterspell, you're left as a passive observer until it wears off.
- In the main series games, besides having access to a much more extensive inventory the player seems to be the only trainer to be able to foresee the Pokémon his/her opponent will use next and switch the active Pokémon without taking a turn if necessary. This is called the "Shift" battle style and it's enabled by default on the options screen. However it only works in single-player mode Single Battles against the AI. In multiplayer battles, or those at post-game battle facilities you don't get the opportunity for a free switch-out when your opponent sends in their next Pokemon.
- In Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness, the player can use the "Call" command on Shadow Pokémon that have entered Hyper/Reverse mode (which occurs during the purification process) or on their sleeping Pokémon to wake them up. In XD, the player can also use the Call command to raise their Pokémon's accuracy for free.
- In the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon spinoff series, holding and using items is not player-exclusive. However, having an inventory is — enemy mons only have access to the "held item" slot, and can't store anything more than that. This is probably because it would be really annoying. It's also justified in-game by the fact that you have a bag to hold those items in. Enemies obviously don't have such a convenience.
- Final Fantasy XIII: AI controlled characters will never use full ATB skills and since you can't change characters in-battle, you're stuck with only using 1 character's full ATB skill each fight.
- Granblue Fantasy: If you use a Light character against a Dark enemy and vice-versa, your team will always receive 75% from the opposition's damage while enemies receive 150% from your party. In other words, you will always deal more damage, and the enemies will deal lesser damage to you in a Light versus Dark matchup. This can be used for the players' advantage when fighting Granny in unlocking Tier 4 classes.
- Mass Effect plays with this trope - the first game usually builds enemies from the same stat and skill templates as the squad, with a few Secret AI Races such as batarians, and also exclusive equipment here and there on both sides - the exceptions to this rule are obvious - Husks, Thorian Creepers, and the Final Boss to name but three. But Shepard has almost exclusive access to Unity/First Aid in all three games, which revives and restores the Hit Points of the entire team. Mass Effect 3 allows other player characters to use the ability with a radius restriction with the Medi-Gel Transmitter Gear, but, being playable, it's still played straight. And they never meet Shepard, anyway - preventing an aversion of We Cannot Go On Without You, as the third game adds a new, more shooter-conventional revival mechanic which is still this trope.
- The final battle and Armax Arsenal Arena Bonus Boss of the Citadel DLC both use both this and Secret A.I. Moves in spades. Shepard's clone cannot use some mechanics such as shooter-conventional revives, shield and health gates, Real-Time Weapon Change (or even non-real-time) and Brooks doesn't get the unshielded ragdoll and biotic protection that Shepard's AI teammates get, but they get the ability to use First Aid as an Auto-Revive for both him/her and Brooks, restore Deflector Shields with it, as well as get a full heal under fire even on Narrative (which would logically be Insanity for the enemy) up to five times before going down, and Brooks hits hard with her Crusader shotgun on high difficulties, while Shepard's squad would do Scratch Damage on as low as Normal. The Heavy Melee clash would technically count as a Secret AI Move, as mechanically, the clone initiates it, and the player breaks free by mashing the melee button. This goes so far as the Bonus Boss, consisting of versions of the clone of every Character Class, being unable to clash with classes that don't wield the appropriate Omni-Blade or have mastery of their Lazarus gifted, in this instance biotic powers beyond one bonus power.
- In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, NPCs are incapable of scaling uneven ground (be it jumping up or climbing down) and will be forced to switch to either magic or bows to attack the enemy. It's possible to endlessly kite the City Guards by placing a rock or fence between you and them and just jump over it, while they have to walk all the way around it. Fixed in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, where NPCs can scale small walls, albeit often taking stupid paths to do so.
- X-Universe series:
- Non-player-piloted ships never use their WASD strafing thrusters. It makes more sense in X2: The Threat and previous games where its an optional ship upgrade, but less so in latter games where it's a built-in component on every ship
- X3: Terran Conflict introduced M7M missile frigates and M8 bombers to the X series, both of which are designed to fight by pouring enormous salvos of missiles into the target from well beyond gun range. The player can remotely command their M7Ms and M8s to do so using the Barrage command, but AI ones use the same AI as every other ship class, meaning they will fire missiles rarely and singly. This goes for both NPCs and Player Mooks, and is fixed in the Expansion Pack Albion Prelude.
- Only the player is capable of causing NPCs to bail out of their ship. Every NPC-on-NPC battle ends with at least one death. The behavior is rectified in the Xtended Game Mod for X3: Terran Conflict, where NPCs can cause each other to bail out. However, it can cause some Disc One Nukes, such as finding an abandoned military Space Fighter worth 1,000,000+ credits waiting to be claimed after the pilot bailed out during a pirate attack.
- The Yellow Squadron in Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies cannot fire QAAM missiles, even though they fly one of the few plane models in the game that can carry these missiles. That's because QAAMs are ridiculously overpowered in AC04 (one shot kill plus nearly impossible to shake off), and if the Yellows were allowed to use them, in addition to their other advantages, the game would become literally unwinnable.
- Operation Flashpoint: With good aim and a lot of luck, you can shoot down enemy helicopters with pretty much any weapon by shooting the crew through the windshield when they line up for a pass, or simply filling the vehicle with holes until its engine quits. Of course, you'll never last long enough to do so if you stand out in the open, but if some good cover is at hand and you have the nerve to try, it's possible. The AI never try to shoot at helicopters with anything but guided anti-aircraft missiles.
- In FTL: Faster Than Light, the AI is unable to manually open its doors to vent the atmosphere and attempt to suffocate the player's boarding party (although note that many AI-flown ships lack exterior doors altogether), or funnel them into the Medbay where its own crew is at an advantage.
- In the Escape Velocity series, AI ships will generally only pursue the player or halt and fire long-ranged weapons, never performing any of the various tricks that relied on momentum (notably the "Monty Python", where the player accelerates away from the enemy and turns around, essentially coasting in reverse while firing all weapons). They also generally would not jump out of the system during combat, except for certain mission bosses.
- Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition: The Action Points mechanic (most prominently featured in the Eberron campaign setting) gives player characters a pool of points at each level which serve as a Luck Manipulation Mechanic. NPCs normally do not receive action points, but can gain a limited stock by selecting abilities which increase the size of the user's action point pool. It's recommended that the Game Master do this only rarely, for NPCs who are particularly larger-than-life.
- In Ten Minute Space Strategy, building space stations is something only players' colonizers can do. AI colonizers are limited to founding colonies on planets.
- In the Fire Emblem series:
- In Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Fire Emblem Fates, and Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, only the player can make use of Item Crafting to forge powerful custom weapons. In Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem, Fire Emblem Awakening, and Fire Emblem Heroes, you aren't so lucky.
- Fire Emblem Awakening's signature Pair Up and Dual Combat mechanics are for player use only. The Risen may love their Zerg Rush on the map, but individual fights nearly always end up being two of you versus one of them. Unfortunately for the players, Fire Emblem Fates gives the ability to the enemy.
- The AI in Final Fantasy Tactics is designed to never use "Invitation" abilities, even if the character has access to them, and even if the unit is confused. The player is free to use them on any generic non-boss unit (except a few oddballs like Ultima Demons) that they like.