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The heroes of our games would be nothing without their contrasting counterparts. A villain drives the hero forward, gives meaning to his cause.
A hero becomes a hero because of the villain. That is why today we want to celebrate these malevolent and sadistic individuals, these slayers of men and admirers of torment.
Now before I get burnt at the stake, this list is in no way the conclusive final say on the matter. Rather consider it the starting point of a discussion.
Do you agree these bad guys deserve a spot on this list? Who do you think are the greatest gaming villains? And why do you think there is such a lack of female gaming villains?
Bowser – Super Mario series
Bowser is probably one of the first true villains I faced in my years of gaming. Compared to some of the other heartless sadists on this list he might seem as dangerous as a litter of puppies. But back in the days of my childhood he haunted me with many sleepless nights and fear filled days (in Japan he is called “Daimao”, which loosely translates the “great Demon King”).
Bowser first appeared in the original Super Mario Bros. (1985) and has been featured as the main villain in almost every Mario related video game since then. Through all these years his objective has pretty much been left untouched: Kidnap Princess Peach, destroy Mario and rule over the Mushroom Kingdom.
Bowser is the brainchild of the legendary video game producer and developer, Shigeru Miyamoto (who is responsible for some of the most influentially successful franchises in gaming such as Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros.)
Though Bowser’s dragon turtle look is almost as iconic as Mario’s red hat and bushy moustache, very few know that Miyamoto originally envisioned him as an Ox-like creature inspired by the Ox king the animation Alakazam the Great.
Handsome Jack – Borderlands 2
Handsome Jack’s charm and optimistic demeanour probably makes him the most likeable villain on this list. He boasts all the traits of a classic villain. He is treacherous, egoistic, cruel, and will remorselessly plant a bullet right between your eyes while cracking a joke.
He first appeared in Borderlands 2 where he took over the evil Hyperion Corparation and, in true dictatorial fashion, declared himself the new leader of Pandora. He then built himself a massive geostationary moon base in the shape of an “H” (H for Hyperion) from where he exerted his devious influence over Pandora and its moon, Elpis.
In Borderlands: The PreSequel we see how Handsome Jack goes from all-round nice guy to all-round evil asshole. Before he started with his wicked ways, Handsome Jack just wanted to the people on the moon of Elpis (and the illusive Vault) from being destroyed by a giant laser. But he is then betrayed by a trusted friend that he eventually kills and slowly start his decline into malevolent madness.
Handsome Jack is a testament that evil is not born, but created.
Pagan Min – Far Cry 4
Pagan Min has the same charming and likeable façade as Handsome Jack that cloaks his excessively immoral ways. But he pulls of the villain part with more stylish panache than any before him. He made his one and only appearance in Far Cry 4, making him the latest antagonist on this list to grace the gaming world.
Pagan is the son of a small time Golden Triangle drug boss from Hong Kong. From an early age they had a shaky relationship because of Pagan’s flamboyant (and queer) personality that clashed with his father’s more serious and traditional ways. After his father’s “unfortunate death”, Pagan inherited his modest fortune and left his old identity behind. He gave himself the moniker “Pagan”, naming himself after the vicious Burmese King who killed his family to assure his seat on the throne.
Pagan then directed his ambitions toward the fictional state of Kyrat, a place plagued with warring factions and a crippling monarchy. Much like the Burmese king he set a series of betrayals and power struggles in motion and soon took the Kyrat for himself, killing anyone who questioned him or his claim to the throne.
Not only is Pagan Min witty and extremely intelligent but he is easily the most ruthless and sadistic bastard on this list.
Father Comstock – Bioshock Infinite
I expect to get a lot of nay-saying for this entry as sadly, and surprisingly, not a lot of people I know have actually indulged in Bioshock Infinite (arguably my favourite game of all time).
Father Comstock only appeared in Bioshock Infinite where he was the leader of the “Founders”, an ultra nationalist political party that founded the fictional floating city of Columbia. Comstock is also referred to as “The Prophet” as he has convinces his followers that he can predict the future of Columbia, any attacks from enemies and the coming of “the False Shepard” (which is you in the game).
Father Comstock’s name is creatively derived from the 19th century US Postal Inspector, Anthony Comstock, who was known for censoring various materials he considered “obscene, lewd, or lascivious”. This even included anatomy textbooks that were meant for medical students.
In the same vein, Father Comstock censored any materials that could inspire any opposition as to easier influence the people of fictional Columbia to follow his ideals.
What makes Comstock a force to be reckoned with is that in many ways he is a person to be admired. He is gentle in his ways and is a man that truly believes in his own words. In another life he might have been the hero.
The Illusive Man – Mass Effect series
The reason for the Illusive Man’s power (which he gained by covert and deceptive means) is blatantly hinted towards in his name. His illusive nature makes him unreachable, enabling to him to easily manipulate events from the shadows without any risk of being caught.
He made his debut appearance in Mass Effect 2 as the leader of the seemingly good-willed human-survivalist group, Cerberus. In the world of Mass Effect the human race is the new kid in the universal family and as a result is still treated as such. The Illusive Man’s quest is to strengthen the human race’s place in the galactic community by any means necessary, disguising much of his operations as “pro-human”.
This quote explains his mindset pretty well: “Salvation comes with a cost. Judge us not by our methods, but by what we seek to accomplish.”
This antagonist had an extremely positive reception as a villain, and Martin Sheen was praised for his voice acting as the Illusive Man. I think what made the Illusive Man such an success was his cold and calculated manner, and his billionaire bravado.