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 411mania » Games » Columns

The 8 Ball 04.22.14: Top 8 Video Game Antiheroes
Posted by Marc Morrison on 04.22.2014

Welcome all to another edition of the 8 Ball where this week's topic is about antiheroes. Most games try to portray the character you are playing as in a mostly heroic light. Or at least more redeeming values then negative ones. It's a balancing act with the antiheroic character because most time they are trying to serve their own purpose but heroic deeds bleed into the goals they have. Or they are just pieces of garbage but have one or two redeeming features. Let's begin:

8. Kratos

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On the face of it, there aren't a lot of redeeming features to Kratos. While he is semi-justified for how he was used (killing his family), his single-minded response of "ARGH, RAGE!" is pretty laughable at this point, especially spanning half a dozen games in the series. He's basically an albino version of The Hulk. Still, his laser-focus revenge saga entertains people, and the games are usually pretty good about keeping the player occupied. Kratos does have flashes of not being the most angry man in the world, most of his interactions with people are "Eh, you're useful to me until I kill this one thing, then I'mma kill you when you betray me." Not exactly winning a lot of friendships there, Kratos.

7. Almost every playable character in Deception

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Save for Deception 3 (which is a mess story-wise), the other 3 Deception games (and Trapt) all feature kind of crappy "heroes". At least three of them (Deceptions 1, Trapt and 4) are straight up working for the devil trying to resurrect him by killing everyone who enters your lair with magical traps. The same premise is also there for Deception 2, only instead of Satan, you're working for "Timenoids" who are also a fairly evil race. Both the heroes of the games aren't likable in the slightest, but also the gameplay itself is fairly deplorable as you kill dozens of mostly decent people who just happen to wander into your castle. Still, it is always fun to drop a pumpkin on someone's head and watch them stumble around blindly.

6. Alex Mercer/James Heller

 photo AlexandJames_zps7efd8660.jpg

As the "heroes" of the Prototype series, both guys are pretty much dicks. Mercer (in Prototype 1) did have a few redeeming features (well, the virus in Mercer form), but the original character was an asshat. He then, inexplicably, became the central villain in Prototype 2, even though that wasn't his character ending in the first game at all. James Heller isn't exactly better. While he is trying to save his daughter, he is such an oaf that his journey becomes kind of a joke. This is exemplified when he tries to use a computer and he spouts this dialog, "I'm pressing the red button. Shit. Now the screen's all fucked up. Shit's broken." While both guys might have New York City, and even the world, they are both odious gentleman.

5. Raziel

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Both Kain and Raziel could fit into group, but Raziel did come from a heroic background at least. He was a vampire hunter trying to stop Kain and the corruption plaguing Nosgoth. Like with a lot of characters on this list, he did have a fairly single-minded goal in the first game, kill Kain, but thankfully, he actually grew to be a hero over the game series, thanks in part to some series writing by Amy Hennig. The more Raziel understands what is going on, the more heroic he becomes, thus allowing for character growth. It's a novel concept in a lot of today's games. By the end of the series, Raziel is still kind of unlikable, but at least he is doing the right thing finally, and does his noble sacrifice to restore the balance to Nosgoth.

4. Trevor Philips

 photo Trevor_zps431c3dc3.jpg

Nobody is really heroic in any of the GTA games but that is kind of the point. If the characters were law-biding citizens the games would be "Office Worker: Los Santos". The characters are criminals, but most of them tend to have a few noble traits about them. This dual nature of being a criminal, albeit with some good qualities and someone you can root for is exemplified in Trevor. A drug addicted, alcoholic, meth-making, generally psychotic character, but someone who tries to care for his mom, cares deeply for Patricia (Madrazo's wife), and someone who is unflappably loyal, at least until you piss him then. Then he goes into freak out rant mode where nothing can stop him. The best part is him being Canadian, and as Liana will attest to, all good antiheroes are from Canada.

3. Jason Brody

 photo JasonBrody_zpsdef4b678.jpg

A common refrain among my list is one of kind of bad people being thrust into the spotlight even if they are largely jackasses. Jason Brody fits this bill nicely, not only as the wealthy, extreme-sports style idiot that he was before the events of Rook Island. Upon his capture and release by Vaas, he becomes the great white hope to the native Rakyat people, which is entirely glossed over in how or why this happens. While Jason does have somewhat noble intentions at the start of the game, rescue his friends/family and escape, this gets twisted with the more he gets seduced by what he does, and what everyone does around him. In either ending, he doesn't go out in a noble fashion, which is anti-heroic as well.

2. Edward Kenway

 photo Edward_zps42462cd9.jpg

Think about how the other the characters in other Assassin's Creed games are introduced: Altair is an assassin doing his job, Ezio undergoes family loss that gives him resolve as does Connor. Even Aveline starts off trying to do the right thing, even if she doesn't quite understand it as a child. How does Assassin's Creed start off? With you, as Edward, chasing down an assassin, killing him, and taking his gear (but hilariously throwing away the hidden blade). It sets a great tone for the character that he isn't a heroic character, he's just trying to get his. As you play the story, he does do some good deeds, rescuing friends, killing Templar's and so on, but above it all, and the thing driving his quest is largely greed, and that's not heroic in the slightest.

1. The Boss

I'm really only judging "The Boss" character from Saints Row's 3 and 4, even though it is ostensibly the same character in all the Saints Row games. The boss is a violent, sarcastic, greedy, amoral, and fairly lovable psychopath wrapped up in a nice bow. He/she is loyal to the Saints and to his friends in the most extreme manner, killing hundreds of people that get in the way of the gang. This loyalty is what almost makes him heroic, until you realize that he/she usually makes any situation worse by disregarding rules, blowing something up, or just by wanting to have as much destructive fun as possible. The Boss might be the biggest asshole in the game (on the "good" side) and that is what makes the character a blast to play.

The Better Half with Liana K

Top 8 Video Game Antiheroes

Antiheroes are used frequently in video games. Less frequently, they're used well. An antihero, when used effectively, tells you as much about their world as their own character, because they tend to be in opposition to it. They make us question the norms of our culture by challenging the authority structure that creates heroes... sometimes too well. A good hero is hard to find these days. The tricky thing about antiheroes, however, is that they're constantly just on the edge of being little more than a raging asshole. Balance is often a subjective thing. Take the follow eight examples, for instance...

8: James Seth Lynch (Kane and Lynch)

I'm not saying that the Kane and Lynch games are the greatest games. I'm saying that Lynch is an extremely interesting antihero. Why? Because he's batshit crazy without being generic batshit crazy. Despite being a schizophrenic psychopath, he's not a generic schizophrenic psychopath, and it really speaks to the nature of Western media that there's such a thing as a generic schizophrenic psychopath. Lynch goes through cycles of trying to pass for normal. Unfortunately he lost the neurochemical lottery, and when he goes off his meds, bad things happen. Kane and Lynch is one of those franchises everyone loves to dump on, so it rarely gets any credit for anything. But I was surprised how much I liked Lynch, despite his murderous rampages.

7: Agent 47 (Hitman)

Speaking of characters with doomed genetics, Agent 47 practically has crime midichlorians. Seriously, when you're a genetically engineered clone complete with barcode on the back of your head, who can blame you when you identify with lab animals and stab doctors with needles... but enough about Agent 47's childhood. He's an interesting antihero because he does show an ability for empathy he chose to live in isolation after a slaughter at a monastery, for instance but he'll kill things he cares about if they interfere with his survival. In the nature versus nurture debate over Agent 47, both are compromised. The amazing thing about him is that he has any humanity at all.

6: Alice (American McGee's Alice)

American McGee changed the way we look at Alice's Adventures in Wonderland when he made Alice mad. Technically, all of Wonderland came out of Lewis Carroll's head, but it's somehow more satisfying to think that it came from the twisted, tortured imagination of Alice herself. Alice's personality is a very unique combination of laconic and murderous, offence and defence, embodied in her box art pose where she hugs herself even as she wields a bloody knife. American McGee's Alice is a rare example of a game succeeding despite being ahead of its time, and that is largely due to it featuring a main character that serves as a focal point for all the madness.

5: Joel (The Last of Us)

People bitch a lot about Naughty Dog games because some players refuse to take the characters on their own terms. I couldn't believe the number of complaints about Joel's behaviour when The Last of Us came out. Joel is hardly a paragon of virtue, but nothing in the game required him to be. In fact, the conditions were quite the opposite: The Last of Us is a game about survivors, not heroes. Joel does what he has to do, when he has to do it, and that's why he stays alive. To expect him to be a lawful good character in a world that doesn't have anything but martial law strips the game of a great deal of its depth.

4: Nathan Drake (Uncharted)

But the complaining about Joel doesn't come close to the ravenous shrieking over Nathan Drake. Gamers too often confuse charisma with virtue, and can't accept that liking a character doesn't make that character a good person. In the case of Nathan Drake, his "lovable rogue" status was misconstrued so terribly that people actually accused the game of ludonarrative dissonance. The complaint was that the number of people Drake kills is out of step with his heroic status, so the narrative and the gameplay clash. And Drake does, indeed, lie, cheat, steal, and kill people. And that's why he's an antihero, not a hero. When you approach the games from the perspective that Drake's priority is getting the treasures first, everything else second, the mass body count really doesn't conflict with the narrative. After all, by his own admission, he's been put in prison in more than a few countries.

3: Jackie Estacado (The Darkness)

The Darkness franchise is pretty underrated, mostly because it's a satire of mob stories and most people don't really understand satire. Jackie's crew are, based on their random in-game dialogue, a bunch of losers, who have risen to power because the boss has superhuman murder powers. By Jackie's own narrative, his life was "just another sob story" until he became bonded with the Darkness. Like many others on this list, Jackie wasn't given a chance to do much of anything but get into organized crime. What made him human, however, was his love for his girlfriend Jenny. The Darkness games actually make you feel for Jackie, since he's ultimately powerless against the very entity that gave him the power to become a mob boss. Yeah, pining for a lost love is a pretty common antihero thing, but at least in the Darkness' case, it comes back to bite him in the ass... and in the Darkness, being bitten in the ass is seriously gory.

2: Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)

I refuse to use a picture from the 2013 Tomb Raider game here: Lara would have been number one on this list had that game not robbed her of any antihero tendencies whatsoever. The thing that used to be great about Lara was that her choices were morally ambivalent. She was allowed to be a flawed person. She was cold, steely, reckless, and had an overblown sense of her own importance to the world. In other words, anything that men in games could do, she could do better... and in shorts! She's one of the few successful female antiheroes in any artistic medium, so when the reboot gave all of that the proverbial boot, I was thoroughly disappointed. Tomb Raider 2013 wasn't a bad game. It just wasn't Lara Croft. Lara Croft is important for the very reasons a lot of people complain about her: she's not really likeable. But as you play through her tragic story -- where she tends to get the treasure but not what she really wants you slowly understand her.

1: Kratos (God of War)

It's kind of ironic that Kratos is occupying a title vacated by someone else, but in this case he didn't do it by killing Lara Croft. Square Enix did that for him. On his own, however, Kratos has pretty major antihero cred: tragic past, ambivalent moral decisions, and a tendency to solve problems with corpses. Ironically, the concept of an antihero didn't exist in ancient Sparta. There, Kratos would have just been considered a hero, since heroes tended to be really strong dudes that the gods kicked around for fun. The ancient Greek gods were assholes. To a modern gamer, however, Kratos' penchant for killing is a moral problem. Fortunately, the world he inhabits works on a "kill or be killed" paradigm, and while Kratos runs counter to his society, what he does makes absolute sense. God of War speaks to us not only about Ancient Sparta, but the ongoing worship of it in hypermasculinized media. Kratos would be extremely hard to like if his superman status didn't make him constantly miserable.

Complainer's Corner

I didn't come up with a lot of other characters so this list is a bit small. I did consider putting Nathan Drake on my list, but he is kind of a hero (in the Han Solo form), so he didn't really fit my mold. Never the less, here are some other characters that didn't make my main list. Wario, War/Death (Darksiders), Jackie Estacado, Vergil or Dante, Adam Jenson, Riddick, and Miles Kilo (Syndicate),

The General Roundup

There were some good comments from last week, that I'll try to respond to. A lot of people mentioned Attack from Mars as a good table. I like the table, but I kind of find it easy. Also, it suffers from having super high scores, which kind of makes the entire score mechanic kind of a farce. To everyone who asked why Addams Family wasn't on my list, did you see in the intro where I said "I did a prior list, click the link to see it"? Addams Family was on it, specifically at number 5. Reading the intro might solve some of these problems. Also, I never played the Demolition Man table, at least the physical cabinet, but the elevated flippers sound cool.

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