Video games are some of the best means of telling a story. Gameplay, player agency, and good-quality writing can all combine together to create really amazing experiences that you can’t get in movies or shows. But what’s a good story without a good villain to go along with it?
Games have seen their fair share of villains over the years. In fact, some of the most iconic characters in entertainment history have come from video games. So I think it’s only appropriate that I give you a rundown of my personal picks for the 10 best villains in video games!
#10 Dr. Robotnik (Sonic The Hedgehog Series)
Arguably the most recognizable on this list (aside from a certain space wizard), Dr. Robotnik is the long-standing main villain of the Sonic The Hedgehog series. He is a genius scientist who uses his intellect to turn animals into robots that he can use to take over the world. His goals are just as one-dimensional as they sound (at least in most games), but that doesn’t stop him from being a great villain.
His design is great, his characterization is fun and humorous, and he makes for a compelling antagonist to fight against in all the Sonic games. There’s a reason why he is so recognizable, despite the fact he might not be as “cool” as some of the other villains that made this list.
#9 SHODAN (System Shock 1 + 2)
SHODAN is widely regarded as being one of the most influential video game antagonists of all time. First seen in the game System Shock from the late 90s, SHODAN was an advanced AI who had many of her built-in restrictions turned off at the start of the game, causing her to go rouge and kill everyone on board the space station she was installed at.
She is the perfect example of a rouge AI hell-bent on destroying humanity at any cost. Throughout the course of the game, she is constantly making jabs at you, intimidating you, and attempting to stop you from shutting her off. She frequently sets up ambushes using her robot minions, which was a really cool piece of storytelling for a game from the 90s.
#8 Flowey (UNDERTALE)
Flowey is a character I don’t see many people talking about in games like this. But he most definitely deserves a spot on this list. As the name implies, Flowey is a sentient flower that resides in the Underground, a region inhabited by monsters that were banished below ground by humans long ago. He is first shown as being friendly, before revealing his more villainous intentions.
Flowey is a really creepy character because of his ability to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the player instead of the protagonist. This created some really memorable moments with him early on in UNDERTALE, and it helped to set the tone and mood of the rest of the game. As you play more, you’ll learn his tragic backstory and you may even grow to feel sorry for him, making him complex.
#7 Darth Vadar (Force Unleashed 1 + 2, Jedi Fallen Order + Survivor)
While most people think of Darth Vader as being a movie character, we shouldn’t forget that he is technically a video game character too, appearing in games such as The Force Unleashed and Jedi: Fallen Order. Darth Vader is a powerful Sith lord, consumed by hate and grief over the loss of his wife Padme, and his own betrayal of the Jedi Order.
His appearances in Jedi: Fallen Order and Jedi: Survivor are what really compelled me to put him on this list. Seeing him show up at the end of Fallen Order was just so incredibly well done. He shows up, immediately kills the game’s antagonist, and then chases Kal through Fortress Inquisitorius, showing off his powerful force abilities all the while. It was a heart-racing scene, and proof that he is one of the most intimidating villains of all time.
#6 Andrew Ryan (Bioshock)
Politics in games has always been controversial. Some games do it very well, and others, not so much. Bioshock is not only an example of a game that does it well but probably does it better than any other game out there. Bioshock introduces players to the underwater metropolis of Rapture, an independent city-state founded on the principles of free market capitalism and egoism over altruism.
Andrew Ryan is the founder of this city, who created it as a means to get away from the oppressive governments of the surface world. He essentially acts as a “voice” of the city, explaining to you his political philosophy as well as what Rapture represents. Andrew Ryan is a satirical critique of Ayn Rand, who many criticize for her radical political ideas. Regardless if you agree with the developer’s take or not, you can’t deny that Andrew Ryan is a very well-written and fascinating character.
#5 Ceasar (Fallout: New Vegas)
Ceasar is one of my personal favorite characters on this list. I am not referring to that Ceasar, from the history books. No, I’m talking about the rip-off Ceasar, the main antagonist of Fallout: New Vegas. Fallout: New Vegas is an action RPG that takes place in the post-nuclear ruins of the Mojave, where several post-apocalyptic factions are battling for control of the region.
One of these factions is Ceasar’s Legion, a brutal military hegemony based off of the Roman Empire. It is led by a man calling himself Ceasar, who modeled his legion off of the Romans because he believed their harsh brutality and ability to adapt was the perfect model for creating a thriving society in a post-apocalyptic world.
Ceasar is a really interesting villain because of his intelligence and how he justifies the atrocities the Legion commits. He is evil, but he has reasons and justifications to back them up. Regardless if he is actually intelligent or not, he is still a fascinating character.
#4 Handsome Jack (Borderlands 2)
Handsome Jack is one of, if not the most iconic character in the entire Borderlands series. Introduced as the main antagonist and CEO of the Hyperion Corporation in Borderlands 2, he makes a compelling villain both for his complexities as a character, his constant nagging in the player’s ear, and his trademark sense of humor.
His plan was to take control of Pandora, using his resources and the powerful monsters locked inside the vaults to rule the planet with an iron fist while putting an end to constant violence and chaos. This combined with his backstory already makes him a compelling character, but his commentary and humor propel him to an even higher spot on this list. He’s just so damn FUNNY! His commentary makes every playthrough of Borderlands 2 incredibly entertaining.
#3 G-Man (Half-Life Series)
The G-Man is one of the coolest, most interesting characters in any video game. He is first seen in the game Half-Life, silently watching the player character from a distance as he fights his way through the Black Mesa research facility. He only speaks to the player at the end of the game, praising him for his success in defeating The Nihilanth and stopping the Resonance Cascade.
What makes him so cool is how mysterious he is. He references his “employers” on several occasions and makes very vague insinuations as to what his true intentions are. He speaks in a low, gravelly voice, and articulates himself in such a way that it’s hard not to get glued to the screen whenever he appears.
#2 Vaas (Far Cry 3)
Far Cry 3 was without a doubt one of, if not the best Far Cry game. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most compelling reasons is the great antagonist. Vass was the psychopathic, dangerous leader of the pirates that terrorized Rook Island. His introduction in the opening hour of the game shows him as mentally unstable and violent, and the rest of the game does a great job of really hammering that in.
His most iconic line–“Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity?”–has been ingrained into the minds of millions of gamers. Not only does this line do a great job of characterizing him, but it also reinforces the game’s theme of Jason Broody becoming more and more like Vaas as the story progresses. This idea is another reason why Vaas is so great: he is a mirror of Jason, showing him what he could become if he continues down the dark path he was set on.
#1 Dutch Van der Linde (Red Dead Redemption 1 + 2)
Dutch Van der Linde is one of the main antagonists of Red Dead Redemption 1 and 2. He was once the leader of a gang of outlaws in the late 19th century. At his peak, he was a wise, intelligent, charismatic man with a plan. Throughout the course of RDR2 (a prequel to the first game), he slowly begins to lose his mind, growing more and more paranoid as the gang falls apart all around him.
He’s a really compelling character in both games, but especially RDR2. He was really captivating and interesting, and I felt a lot of respect and admiration for him on my first playthrough. It hit me hard as the game unfolded and he slowly started to go insane, causing the deaths of the characters that I had also grown to love. The whole story of the Van der Linde game is a tragic one.
Here’s to the villains. The intimidating ones that make you shudder, philosophical ones that make you think, and humorous ones that make you laugh.
Thanks for reading and happy gaming!