Gaming history indicates that most characters we control are heroes. Predominantly good, our avatars fight the good fight and battle to cleanse their particular world of evil. But there are some protagonists who just don’t care.
They’re in the fight for selfish reasons, or forced to battle against their will, and generally don’t care who tries to stop them from getting what they want. We went with the dictionary definition here, “a protagonist who lacks traditional hero values.”
Here are gaming’s top 25 anti-heroes a player can control (in no particular order), fighting the bad fight for all the wrong reasons…
Please note, there might be spoilers ahead!
Pole Vaulting shareShareAutoplay setting: On2:43Wario started his video game career as a boss in Super Mario Land: 6 Golden Coins, but got his own start in Wario Land. He’s evil, greedy, and an antagonist to Mario’s shining goodness, so he certainly breaks the hero mold. Man, does he love gold too. The sheer brain-breaking oddity of some WarioWare minigames also solidifies Wario’s position as an evil, evil man when it comes to plucking nose hairs or keeping up with the insanity. Officially, the developers claim he isn’t evil, but we all know this yellow-hatted menace wasn’t invited to Mario’s birthday party.
For all the flak that violent video games got, nobody really got on Rampage’s case. George, Ralph, and Lizzie were out to destroy everything. Sure, you’re on their side, after all, they were all victims of some horrible accident/fate. Plus it’s just a lot of fun to punch the crap out of a building and eat that blonde woman for bonus points. The Rampage monsters hold the record for the most mass-murdering video game heroes that we still love to root for. But only the original three, those ’90s reject ones can go to hell.
Shadow the Hedgehog is like an evil clone of Sonic. Well not evil, per say, but certainly more angsty, and he’s not a fan of the blue blur at all. But luckily he hates Dr. Eggman more, so he begrudgingly stops evil sometimes. Shadow is noteworthy not only for being an edgier, tormented hedgehog with rocket shoes, but also for driving a motorcycle and popping a cap in Eggman’s ass. For whatever reason, Sega thought Shadow would be more noteworthy as the only Sonic universe character to operate a firearm.
Fall of the Lich King Trailer shareShareAutoplay setting: On2:45Arthas Menethil began as something of a Disney prince, upholding the Light wherever he saw the need. But with the arrival of the plague of undeath, the Light in Arthas began to waver. When the human village of Stratholm fell to the plague, Arthas saw fit to destroy the population, not bothering to get bogged down in silly details like whether anyone was actually infected or not. Soon, the call of the imprisoned Lich King reached him, and Arthas lost the few scraps of sanity he had remaining. Returning to his home in Lordaeron, he slayed his father before escaping into Northrend to complete his transformation into the Lich King.
But as is often the case, he wasn’t a simple prince-turned-insane-villain. The newly formed Lich King may have been evil, but he was keeping the undead Scourge in check, holding back the flood of the decrepit and the mindless.
Mayhem & ChaosshareShareAutoplay setting: On1:44Tongue-in-cheek they may be, but the evil leaders heading up the fights of Dungeon Keeper, Overlord, and Evil Genius, all fit nicely into this unusual-hero discussion. They have minions, who Dungeon Keeper can slap, who Overlord can bash, and Evil Genius can recruit, to put to work. But all-in, these super-villains stand against all the values of good and do their darndest to add more gold to their stashes and more land to their empires. In the case of these games, the anti-heroism is sure to elicit a few chuckles along the way too.
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Manhunt is about straight up murder and finding horrifying ways to kill people for the best possible score combo. Cash, the main character in this banned-in-many-places game, is a manifestation of everything horrifying and scary that goes bump in the night. Whether he takes out his victims by bashing their heads in with a hammer or shooting them in the balls, he only gets a passing reference to heroism because the player controls his actions, making his “success” the goal of the quest at hand. The juxtaposition of heroism and Manhunt’s gameplay is a terrifying split, but James Earl Cash earns antihero status by simply showing up.
Destroy Everything shareShareAutoplay setting: On1:29Infected by a powerful virus, Alex Mercer wakes up in a morgue with no memory of his past. His quest is simple: find out what happened. But the actions he undertakes to get answers put him into a special, diabolical category. The number of pedestrians standing between Alex and the truth is huge. He will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of things, and sometimes that means tearing an innocent civilian in half or otherwise running around the city and up walls with one clasped under his arm – which won’t end well.
Everyone’s favorite boozy squirrel doesn’t care about saving the world. He cares about his saucy girlfriend, Berri. So when she disappears, the foul-mouthed, alcoholic squirrel only cares about getting her back – and he’s no hero. Almost everything about Conker’s appearance is offensive, from his vulgarity to the violence throughout the game. As long as he gets his squeeze back, he’s cool – at least that’s the goal. But he’s not your average hero.
As mercenaries for hire, Mattias, Jennifer, and Chris fall into a category of neutral morality, simply pulling off whichever job pays them the highest. Fortunately, the jobs that pay the highest in the Mercenaries game franchise have them taking out some high-profile targets that would otherwise threaten the entire world. However, this is of little consequence to the Mercenaries team, who make it their sole ambition to rack up destruction and earn their pay.
Of course, being a thief will put you on shaky ground from an ethical standpoint right from the get go, but what makes Garrett such a compelling anti-hero is his amazing abilities. He’s an unwitting pawn in a lot of the major events that he gets wrapped up in, simply wanting to continue his thievery in peace without outside interference. However, he always manages to do the right thing, saving the world as we know it more than a few times. He has his own code of ethics that he adheres to, only killing when absolutely necessary, which belies his cold and calculating demeanor. Garrett is a true badass and anti-hero, combining a ruthless exterior with an unshakeable sense of honor.
Facing Poseidon shareShareAutoplay setting: On9:39Kratos may be a screaming, violent murderer, but he’s one with a heart of gold. The Ghost of Sparta was tricked into murdering his wife and daughter, and much of his bloodlust is inspired by his desire to avenge their deaths. Kratos sets out on a mission to kill several of Greek mythology’s most famous figures – and does so in increasingly violent fashion – but his humanity isn’t entirely lost. Throughout his adventure, Kratos attempts to save key figures in between his bouts of stabbing and dismembering, and ultimately even sacrifices himself for the good of mankind. Will he return, though? It certainly looks like it…
Cooperative Trailer shareShareAutoplay setting: On1:20The siblings in the F.E.A.R. series are an odd bunch. One walks the altruistic soldier route while his brother, Paxton, is actually dead and wields terrific power. He’s controllable only in co-op during F.E.A.R. 3, but that’s enough power to show up as an anti-hero, fighting alongside his brother against Armacham at the behest of his creepy, oh-so-creepy mother.
Infamous is infamous for its black and white treatment of morality, but its hero, Cole MacGrath, regardless of trying to be a nice guy, is surely one of the biggest antiheroes of this generation. Even on the kindest possible path, Kessler, the villain, turns out to be Cole from an alternate future, and commits unspeakable evils on the populace just to “toughen up” Cole (himself). What a jerk.
Death Eternal Trailer shareShareAutoplay setting: On1:31The first two Darksiders game follow Death and War, two of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. As harbingers of the end of time, the horsemen aren’t good people. They’re violent, have horses named things like Ruin, and show up to make sure one side in the battle between Heaven and Hell doesn’t win. But playing that balancing role means these two bad dudes have to crack a few skulls in between to get their job done.
Sizzle Video shareShareAutoplay setting: On1:48There are certain expectations that come with the title “Darth Vader’s Apprentice;” evil, for one, a red light saber, for another. Even after taking his mentor captive (perhaps a true act of evil?), Starkiller solidifies himself as an evil badass — one that doesn’t get the girl, doesn’t save the world, and doesn’t care who stands between him and his goals. This dark side Jedi doesn’t play by the good guy rules and is the opposite of everything Luke Skywalker stands for.
Kane and Lynch are one of the most unapologetic duos of hero to ever appear in gaming. They’re crass, selfish, and only care about themselves when it comes to bringing home cash after a heist. The gritty, handicam-style visuals of their second game reflect the exact grit that these two “heroes” represent. They don’t hesitate killing innocents, and will do whatever it takes to keep themselves alive. These two dudes are bad dudes, much badder than the actual Bad Dudes.
An extremely powerful vampire and his devoted servant, Kain and Raziel have a pretty interesting and mostly volatile relationship. In fact, in Raziel’s first starring adventure, his sole mission is to destroy his master after falling from his favor (which in this case, means that he disfigured and condemned Raziel to the Lake of the Dead). Along the course of the Legacy of Kain franchise, however, the two characters make amends, but still maintain some degree of animosity towards each other. Kain and Raziel are complex characters with a great backstory, and truly awesome anti-heroes, be they fighting against each other to enslave or save the world, or teaming up against greater threats.
Zombie Killin’ Montage shareShareAutoplay setting: On1:05The Yakuza protagonist walks a fine line between good and bad. After taking the fall for a friend’s unsanctioned kill, Kazuma Kiryu ends up serving a 10 year prison sentence. When he gets out, he tries to leave his criminal past behind, but is dragged back in by a detective and is soon working with the police, as well as protecting an orphaned child. He’s righting his wrongs as he carefully jukes between his “hardened criminal sociopath” and “compassionate family man come clean” personalities.
Sweeth Tooth Cutscenes shareShareAutoplay setting: On11:44There’s no real good guy in the Twisted Metal series, just a violent bunch of racing misfits. Sweet Tooth, flaming-hair prominent in all his appearances, stands out as a figurehead amongst this crew, and the cut-scenes in the recent Twisted Metal only solidify the horrible nature of his actions. In his latest outing of the Twisted Metal competition, his dream prize for winning the tournament is the head of a woman he once loved…you hear that right: her head. If that’s not a crazy motive to win the day, then nothing is.
Half-vampire, half-human, Alucard is generally regarded as an antihero, as his past and his powers put him outside the overarching goodness of the Belmont clan – Castlevania’s versions of pure goodness. By battling Death itself, getting himself a badass sword familiar to help destroy monsters, and taking on Dracula despite being partially related to his species, Alucard certainly has his own level of evil brewing in his veins.
Launch Trailer shareShareAutoplay setting: On1:44Jackie is not your typical anti-hero, or even much of a hero. Jackie doesn’t fight for any real sense of good or justice, but rather for revenge, utilizing some extremely dark powers for the ultimate vendetta mission against those who killed his girlfriend, Jenny. Along the way, he does manage to kill quite a few really bad people, a move that does manage to make him somewhat of a hero in the eyes of the player. Jackie’s goals are personal, and his demons are both figurative and literal, making him a truly intriguing anti-hero.
A Personal Contract Trailer shareShareAutoplay setting: On1:41He’s just doing his job, you might say, like most people do. But his method of operation elevates him to a sadistic level. He does whatever it takes to get the job done – collapsing hot tubs, dressing up as waiters, poisoning donuts, and more. Even if it’s just his job, he’s no good guy and deserves a spot on this list.
First Trailer shareShareAutoplay setting: On1:24Crime dramas inherently spawn morally flexible protagonists. By undertaking a series of illegal activities, every hero from the Grand Theft Auto series, and the custom-crafted avatar from the Saints Row series all fall under the anti-hero moniker. They may have some good intentions, but there are certainly some people who get hurt along the way. For this motley crew, it’s about cash, respect, and power – not the same motives driving Mario (or are they?).
Shadow of the Colossus HD – The First 11 Minutes shareShareAutoplay setting: On11:09From the first moment of Shadow of the Colossus, the reason for your nebulous goals is only implied. The Wanderer wants to bring a seemingly dead loved one back to life, and he’ll slaughter any number of big beasts he has to in order to do it. The Wanderer isn’t ridding the land of villainous monsters – he’s murdering innocent animals who only retaliate to defend themselves. What’s more is the The Wanderer takes the word of an unseen and ominous presence that the deed must be done. Could this jerk be less of a hero?
Max Payne TrailershareShareAutoplay setting: On1:30When you lose your wife and newborn daughter to a brutal murder, you get some moral leeway when it comes to who it’s okay to kill. Max Payne is a former police officer and DEA agent who goes off the deep end to wage a personal war on crime in bullet time. He’s devastated by the loss of his loved ones, and really just cares about getting even – with everyone.