It’s Villain Week here at Mashable. In honor of the release of Venom, we’re celebrating all our favorite evildoers from film and TV all week long. Spooky, scary!
Not every video game needs a villain, but a good one can make a strong game even better.
Villains give us reasons to fight. They motivate the story. Sometimes, they even see the error of their ways and switch teams. Usually though, villains represent the ultimate threat, the last obstacle to overcome before you can lean back in satisfaction as a game’s credits roll.
There’s a long and colorful history of memorable video game villains. We’re ranking them here based not on who’s “best,” but rather who’s “worst.” The more evil and detestable, the better.
10. Trevor Philips (Grand Theft Auto V)
Ah, Trevor. Pretty much any playable character in a Rockstar Games release qualifies as an anti-hero. But Trevor’s unhinged and antisocial behavior elevates him above the rest.
I guess he’s not your traditional villain, since you’re actually playing as Trevor for large portions of Grand Theft Auto V. But he’s memorable for his antics as a thief, a liar, and a murderer, and he lives that life whether you’re playing as him or against him.
9. Captain Martin Walker (Spec Ops: The Line)
Spec Ops: The Line delivered one of the most brilliant bait-and-switch twists I’ve ever seen in a story-driven action game. Spoilers ahead.
Your journey through a sandstorm-wracked Dubai is essentially a play on Apocalypse Now. Captain Martin Walker is introduced as one member of a squad that’s been sent to Dubai to restore order in the wake of the “Damned 33rd” Infantry Battalion and their PTSD-addled commander enacting a brutal form of martial law on the local population.
Only that’s not what’s really going on. By the end of the game, you learn that the Damned 33rd’s commander is dead, and many of the atrocities witnessed during the game were actually committed by Walker himself. It’s a dark, powerful turn that, in a matter of minutes, reframes the narrative around the idea that you’ve been a terrible scourge the entire time.
Two all-time great villains so far, and both of them were playable characters. That’s not weird, right?
8. Agent 47 (Hitman)
Technically speaking, the smooth-talking, fabulously bald star of the Hitman series is as lethal as you want him to be. Even though murder is on the menu in the end, every time, there’s nothing stopping you from knocking out possible witnesses instead of just killing them. Hell, your score is higher when you play the part of a conscientious hitman. Yay for only killing who you must!
But! Going completely non-lethal (save for your targets) brings a lot of added challenge to Hitman. It takes a lot more time to render someone unconscious out than snuff them out completely, and when you do the latter they never wake up.
Another playable villain. What’s going on here?
7. Booker DeWitt (BioShock Infinite)
BioShock Infinite is a thrilling game. And a confusing one. Spoilers!
You play as Booker DeWitt, and you’re up against Zachary Comstock, the founder of the floating sky city Columbia who also happens to be an alternate universe version of Booker. You don’t learn that detail about Comstock until the end, though.
And so you spend the game murdering your way across Columbia, which is populated with an army of Comstock adherents. Then, once all truths are revealed, you actually take the step of wiping Comstock — and the city he built — from existence.
Comstock is the villain here, let’s be clear. But Booker is Comstock. So Booker is the villain? Why are all of the best video game villains characters you control?
6. Wander (Shadow of the Colossus)
Let’s just impose a blanket spoiler warning for the rest of this list.
It’s clear early on in Shadow of the Colossus that something isn’t quite right. By the time you’ve led Wander to his first skyscraping Colossus — one of sixteen massive boss fights that make up the sum total of this otherwise combat-free game — you’re nagged by a creeping sense that your efforts to resurrect your dead lady love will involve tearing down this beautiful world.
That’s exactly what happens. Wander defeats the 16 Colossi, only to discover that in the process he’s unleashed a powerful magical being that’s been imprisoned for an unspecified amount of time. Oops.
5. Batman (Batman: Arkham Knight)
I know what you’re thinking. “Batman? Seriously???”
Yes. For all of their technical and narrative excellence, the Arkham games took a weird turn in the last entry — Arkham Knight — when they gave the Caped Crusader a literal tank to use in his never-ending effort to keep Gotham City safe.
The bat-tank doesn’t fire explosive shells and it’s not technically built for destruction. What’s more, remote-operated drones are primarily what you’re shooting at when you’re in the tank. But. It’s a freaking tank. Big, heavy, destroys pretty much anything it rolls through. Collateral damage in the extremes.
Sorry Bats. The game expects us to suspend our disbelief, but Arkham Knight turned you into everything you claim to stand against.
4. Nathan Drake (Uncharted series)
Come on. Nate Drake? The Indiana Jones of video games?!
Have you played an Uncharted game lately? Nathan Drake may be a lovable scamp of a treasure hunter, but he’s also handy with bullets and the guns that shoot them.
The climbing and puzzle solving in your typical Uncharted game is broken up by extended combat sequences in which you’re expected to lay waste to armies of bad dudes. Sure, Drake doesn’t gun down innocents (at least not knowingly). But make no mistake: He’s a mass murderer. In most civilized countries, dude would spend life behind bars for his crimes.
We’ve gone completely off the rails now. Action video game heroes are actually villains, confirmed.
3. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider reboot series)
Past Tomb Raider games have leaned in on action, but the Tomb Raider reboot from 2013 kicked off a new era for the series, one featuring a much more violent Lara Croft. It’s technically aping Uncharted in a lot of ways, but Uncharted went there first by openly aping Tomb Raider. (And both draw inspiration from Indiana Jones.)
Just like Drake, new Lara is a literal mass murderer. Over the course of any one game in the reboot trilogy, you’ll gun down hundreds of nameless dudes. Her coming of age journey is bathed in blood. She might see herself as a hero and a defender of the little people, but the families of the guys she gunned down would probably feel differently.
2. Mario (Super Mario World)
This could really apply to multiple Mario games where Yoshi also appears. Mario is the scourge of the Mushroom Kingdom, crushing its residents beneath his mushroom blood-soaked boots. But what really makes Mario worthy of god-tier villain status is his cruel treatment of Yoshi.
Yoshi, for those who might not know, is the smiling green dinosaur that Mario can ride like a horse. Yoshi has a number of abilities, including a great high jump. Mario can also use his dino friend as a launchpad, jumping as Yoshi and then jumping off of Yoshi at the apex of the first jump for extra height.
This usually happens to bridge some otherwise uncrossable gap. Which means it ends with Yoshi inevitably plunging to his death in one of the game’s many bottomless death pits. Not too surprising that a guy who stomps living creatures just because they’re in his way would betray a friend like this.
1. IRL gamers (You know who you are)
Twist! #NotAllGamers, amirite?
Here’s a good litmus test: If you’re offended at the idea that real-life gamers are the most dreadful villains in video games then you’re probably part of the problem.
Let’s review. Over the past year alone, angry gamers have prompted firings at two major studios, ArenaNet and Riot Games. They’ve harassed newly jobless Telltale Games developers because the company’s layoffs mean a partially released episodic game (probably) won’t be finished. They got weirdly aggressive over the role women play in a historical strategy game.
And don’t forget GamerGate, the hate group that’s engaged in an open campaign of harassment — primarily targeting women in the industry — since 2014. I’m going to weather a few days of attacks on social media after this publishes, simply because I invoked that detestable group’s name.
Yes, games are always going to struggle to strike the right balance between likable characters and entertaining action. Our favorite heroes are never going to stop being villains from a certain point of view. But the people who play these games aren’t lines of code. They’re people. They’re capable of change. And yet, many choose not to. I can’t think of anything more villainous.