Well, it’s been a whilst since I last did a Top Five, so thought I’d catch up and do one for old times sake.
Even thought I myself am not really a gamer (I’m more a casual player if anything), I am interested, and inspired by a lot of the video games out there. I think it’s amazing how far video games have come since the days of the Atari ST (or even the Odyssey before it). Video games are now more than just the standard “go from point A to point B and defeat the final boss and save the princess” sorta games and are now heavily story driven, with astounding graphics, sounds and larger than life characters. Many video game stories are, in my opinion, on par with the greatest films ever made – some even better than most Hollywood films! Even though I don’t play that many of them, I can appreciate them (and respect them) as art in their own right.
Not only that, but video games also have a host of finely crafted characters that are icons in their own right. Obviously we have Mario, Sonic and Zelda as arguably the most recognisable of video game characters – then we have our Sam Sheppards, Master Chief’s, Gordon Freeman’s, Kratos’s, Solid Snakes – to name but a few! The point is that video game characters are now equally as respected and loved as any other fictional character – and their personalities and idiosyncrasies have captured the imagination of gamers and non-gamers alike worldwide.
So being that I am generally a fan of villains anyway (see my previous Top Fives) I decided to take a look at the Top Five Video Game Villains of all time – in my opinion of course.
Ok, so once again, a few disclaimers. Firstly, this list is based PURELY on video games that I have played myself, and I haven’t played EVERY major game out there. So there is a sure fire chance that I will miss out some villain that is considered iconic. Remember this is just my list and I am sure yours will differ. I am choosing only games I have played to make this as fair a list as possible.
I am also gonna leave out some of the more recognisable villains in video game history (such as Ganon, Bowser, Doctor Robotnik/Eggman) to focus on games from other franchises.
Some of these entries will contain SPOILERS, so read at your own risk.
Finally, this list is in no particular order.
1. Andrew Ryan from Bioshock
Andrew Ryan may not be the main antagonist in Bioshock, but he is definitely an important character in learning the truth about your character. Not only that, but I think Andrew Ryan is capable of insights and thoughts that no other video game villain is capable of.
A wealthy industrialist, and a hater of religion and left wing politics and altruism, Andrew Ryan believed that a everyone should be capable of keeping what he/she earned and not be restricted by any government or “parasite”. To this end, he created (against all odds) the city of Rapture, an underwater utopia whereby everyone could live in peace and be free to go about their life as they wanted – at least that was the idea. With the discovery of Adam (a special chemical that grants the user superhuman powers), Rapture’s scientific knowledge advanced – but it soon broke down into civil war in Rapture as the citizens became corrupted by this Adam, becoming twisted Splicers.
As the protagonist of Bioshock, you are requested by an unknown stranger called Atlas to kill Ryan – who you are told is the cause for all this chaos. As you progress deeper into Rapture, you are constantly harassed over the radio by Ryan, who constantly barrages you with his own propaganda in much the same way Hitler used to preach his beliefs. We learn that Ryan is a man that is strong in his belief’s and will go anyway to preserve them – even if it means murder. In some twisted way though, his arguments are actually sort of sound. He believes that all humans are born to do what they want and should not be told otherwise. A noble belief in some ways, but the ways he goes to preserve that, at the cost of the lives of others, is what makes him a villain.
But the thing that clinches his spot as a great video game villain is when you finally meet Ryan and prepare to kill him. It’s here that one of the biggest twists in video game history takes place.
Ryan stops you with the phrase “would you kindly”, a phrase you have heard Atlas say countless times when he wants you to do something. You learn that this entire time, you have been mentally conditioned to act every time you hear this phrase, making you a pawn in Atlas’s plan to take power. Ryan proves this before make you do other things – before finally ordering you to kill him, all the time quoting his mantra “a man chooses, a slave obeys”.
This is an excellent twist and one that questions the idea of free-will. Not just in the game, but in real life. Are we doing things because we want to, or are we just trying to please others? It’s these sort of questions and beliefs, brought up in Bioshock, that make Ryan a truly remarkable villain and one of the best in videogame history.
2. Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2
WARNING: Contains adult content and heavily spoilers!
Silent Hill is one of my favourite video game franchises and, in my opinion, the best horror franchise in any medium. It’s rare that I’ve ever found a horror series that is so layered in psychological terror, symbolism and interpretation as this – and this is brilliantly demonstrated in Silent Hill 2.
Pyramid Head is a hulking beast of a monster, with human flesh for an apron and a giant metal head. He drags with him a giant knife that looks impossible to carry and makes a sickening screech as it’s dragged along the ground. Throughout the game, Pyramid Head relentlessly pursues the protagonist, James Sunderland, appearing at regular sections to either attack him, murder Maria (a ghostly version of James’s wife) or sometimes even to just torment him mentally. Hell, in one of his first appearances (and in a scene that terrified many gamers), Pyramid Head rapes and kills one of the other monsters.
But these are not the reasons why Pyramid Head is such an iconic monster in the horror world – but rather the symbolism behind him.
All the monsters in Silent Hill 2 are all representations of the main characters psychology and feelings for his dead wife (ie, sexual frustration, anguish, helplessness, and so on). In Pyramid Head’s case, he represents James guilt for killing his wife and his subconscious desire to be punished. And this is perfectly demonstrated by Pyramid Head as everything about his appearance says pain and misery. His giant head looks uncomfortable, his giant knife is huge and hard to lift – even after raping and killing the first monster, Pyramid Head acts remorseful and horrified, unable to believe what it has done. Not only that, but this is the only monster in the game that James CAN’T kill – at best he can drive him off. The only time he is able to actually defeat the monster is when he comes to accept his own sins and the beast kills itself.
In my opinion, Pyramid Head’s job in the game isn’t to actually punish James, but to make him come to terms with his own guilt. James is so wrapped up in his own self pity and hatred at his actions that it could be argued that Pyramid Head is trying to help him through his guilt – albeit in a very sick and twisted way. But that’s the great thing about Pyramid Head – as a monster his is open to interpretation depending on how you believe the town of Silent Hill is affecting James.
Pyramid Head is such a popular monster in Silent Hill 2 that he has appeared in other Silent Hill games – although many argue that’s just for fanservice rather than helping the story. Either way, Pyramid Head is a character that has more symbolic context than any villain I’ve seen in a game – even in a horror movie! Whatever you believe Pyramid Head’s intentions are (and if there are any other Silent Hill fans reading this, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the monster) he is certainly deserving a spot on this list for the impact he has on the main character.
3. Alexander of Brennenburg from Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Another villain from a Survival Horror game – but one that I think deserves a mention and is, in my eyes, highly underrated as a villain.
In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, you play a man called Daniel (which makes him automatically cool in my eyes!) that has lost his memory and stuck in a castle, hunted by monsters and The Shadow, a seemingly unstoppable force that you have ticked off and wants your blood! As you progress throughout the game, you learn (through notes and diary pieces) about the truth of why you are here – and why you must killed Alexander of Brennenburg.
Alexander appears as a Prussian Baron when he is first described through Daniel’s notes. He came to Daniel offering assistance when Daniel came into contact with a special Orb during an expedition in Africa. By taking this Orb, he unwittingly unleashed its guardian (known as The Shadow) and it is relentlessly hunting Daniel – killing all in its path. Alexander offered help to Daniel – but at a price.
Even though his intentions seem good at first, we soon learn that Alexander isn’t all he appears to be. To stop The Shadow, Daniel is told to torture and murder prisoners that Alexander is keeping (even though some of them could be innocent) and extracting their blood to appease The Shadow. In actual fact, Alexander is just using Daniel, and his Orb, to collect enough vitae so that he can open a portal to return home. Yep, Alexander is actually NOT a human – but a sort of extraterrestrial creature that was stuck on Earth and wants to find his way home, so that he can be reunited with his wife.
A noble quest you may think, but Alexander is complete sociopath that has no problem torturing or killing victims to achieve his goal. The fact that he manipulated Daniel to do such horrible things (to the point where Daniel had to drink an amnesia tonic to forget this, hence the loss of memory) and then discard him when he was no longer useful makes him a truly reprehensible villain.
Like any good villain, Alexander believes that he is doing what is best for him in the long run, but he doesn’t seem to care who he has to step on to do so. There are some times when he does show some slight remorse for his actions – but at the end of the day, his methods are questionable and he is focused on his goal and nothing else. And it’s because of the pain he put the main character through that I think he deserves to be recognised as a great villain.
4. Sarah Kerrigan from Starcraft
I would say Starcraft is my favourite game on PC in the 90’s. It had great gameplay, an amazing storyline and great characters. It’s actually the first time I remember becoming genuinely involved with the characters and their goals. And Sarah Kerrigan is one of them.
A former Ghost Agent working for the Sons of Korhal, Sarah became close friends with former Marshal James Raynor (one of my favourite heroes in video game history), even forming a possible love interest. When Sarah was betrayed by Arcturus Mengsk and left for dead, she was instead captured by the Zerg and (sensing her psychic potential) turned her into a Human/Zerg hybrid, renaming her “Queen of Blades”. After the Zerg Overmind was destroyed, Kerrigan became the ruler of the Zerg, using them to take revenge on those who had betrayed her.
As a villainess, Kerrigan is brilliantly crafted. She’s not your typical Femme Fatale – more like a Machiavellian type villain that will crush all her enemies and anyone else that stands in her path. Even though she forms a brief alliance with Mengsk and Raynor, she quickly turns on them when they are no longer useful, promising vengeance against them all. In many ways, I can’t blame her. After all, she was abandoned by those she trusted, why shouldn’t she want revenge?
But on the upside, Kerrigan STILL has some elements of humanity to her. Especially with Raynor. There are times in Starcraft when she could easily kill Raynor, but she doesn’t – hinting that she may still have feelings for him. Even though Raynor promises to kill her and end her reign of terror, you can also see the hesitation in his voice. This is why I loved the story to Starcraft 2, as you follow Raynor through his mission to stop both Kerrigan and Mengsk, but you can see how tortured and conflicted a soul he is and we actually hope it has a happy ending for him.
As it turns out, Raynor does find a way to turn Kerrigan back using an alien stone. But first they have to fight back Kerrigans Zerg hordes. The final battle in Starcraft 2 is intense to say the least, with Kerrigan attacking herself. As the battle reaches the end, we get a brief image of Kerrigan appearing in her human form saying “don’t give up,” a line directed towards Raynor. This shows us that she IS still human and there is a chance to save her. I won’t spoil the ending to Starcraft 2 if you haven’t played it, but it is, in my eyes, one of the most beautiful endings to a video game ever – almost spoiled by the fact that this isn’t the end of the series. And I am waiting for the next Starcraft instalment with baited breath!
Kerrigan is a villain that, in many ways, you want to see redeemed, due to the history of her and Raynor. But even when she is a bad guy, she is a fantastic villainess that will mess you up if you stand in her way. To quote from her, she’s “pretty much the queen bitch of the universe...” And I love her for that.
5. GLaDOS from Portal
GLaDOS is a villain that is somewhat different to a lot of the other villains on this list. Aside from the fact that she’s a computer, the major difference between her and the other villains on this list was that, despite me liking them as characters, I did want to see them defeated. With GLaDOS, I actually DIDN’T want to defeat her and felt bad for doing so.
Reason being? She’s just so damn amusing as a villain! Even though she is a sociopathic, maniacal murdering machine, I just can’t hate her because of the little quirks she has.
In Portal, you play as Chell, who wakes up in an Aperture Science lab. Guided by GLaDOS through a series of test chambers, the computer tells you that there will be cake if you complete the tests. Seems like a good incentive! You then take your gravity gun and set off. During your mission, you come across little cubby holes in the facility with scribbled words like “help” and “the cake is a lie”. You suddenly get the impression that something isn’t right here. Further adding to this is when the tests become more and more dangerous and GLaDOS’s advice becomes more threatening and rude. As you reach the end of the tests, GLaDOS tries to burn you alive. It’s then you have to face down the machine and destroy her!
GLaDOS is kinda a mixture of HAL from 2001 and the Joker from Batman. Utterly demented, yet highly laughable. She’s one of the few villains I know that could bring a smile to your face even as she’s threatening to kill you. Part of this I think is down to her speech patterns. They are so monotone and nonchalant that even the most evil of comments sound funny. GLaDOS’s comments range from serious threats to simple name calling, but all are delivered with great timing and excellence that you can’t help but chuckle. This is perfectly demonstrated in the final battle with GLaDOS – where the insults come thick and fast.
But the main reason why GLaDOS is such an iconic villain in video game history? How many villains do you know get their own song in the credits? The song “Still Alive”, sung by GLaDOS has become a major hit for gamers and non-gamers alike. It’s sung at Anime Conventions during Karaoke evenings and had even been featured in games outside of the Portal series – such as Left 4 Dead and Rock Band – and let’s not forget the amount of remixes that are on Youtube! Words can’t describe how awesome this song us, download it from Itunes and listen for yourself if you haven’t heard it already!
Not much more to say – GLaDOS is a fantastic villain with a great sense of humour and dry wit. She’s one of the few villains that you don’t want to see destroyed and, were it not for the fact that I actually had to beat her to end the game, I wouldn’t have done so. And there aren’t many villains that I can say that about!
That’s my list. Agree, disagree? Please leave your comments below to tell me your fav video game villains.
Until next time.