After the success of our last Top Ten with a twist (platformers) I was bombarded with messages on Twitter and in my inbox saying how interesting it was. So now it’s time to bring you another edition, This time we’re covering enemies in videogames. The ten writers taking part this month were told to choose their favourite bad guy, anything from Goombas to Emerald Weapon, from Grunts to Wesker. Each of them chose their entry and wrote what they felt about the baddie in question.
Quite an interesting selection and one that shows the power of Bioshock in today’s gaming plateau, with 2 selections being Splicers and one for the Big Daddy, Bioshock holds a lot of sway when it comes to nasty living obstacles in your way. We have a few great traditional characters and some more obscure, I hope you enjoy the Top Ten, feel free to have your say in the comments. For now, we’ll leave it to; J.D.Richardson, Jennifer Allen, Adam Standing, Kevin VanOrd, Sam Giddings, Sinan Kubba, Christos Reid, Phill Cameron, Adam Roche and Gary Blower.
Cyborg Midwives – System Shock 2
I like scary villains in my games and for me, nothing comes close to the utter horror of the Cyborg Midwives in System Shock 2. Created by The Many to tend to and defend the annelid eggs, these creatures are a perfect example of the Cronenburgesque body horror in video games. Created by fusing a female human with machine components and controlled by the hive mind of The Many, the cyborg mid-wives stalk the decks of the Von Braun and the Rickenbacker. One of the scariest things is that you generally hear them first but don’t actually know where they are and when they are aware of your own presence and start saying things like “I can smell you” or “I’ll tear out your spine.”
In that voice of theirs, it chills you to the bone. If you manage to avoid their detection you can often hear them declaring things like “Babies need meat.” And “It’s my job to worry.” It makes the horror more palpable and complete. The main aspect that makes the cyborg midwives so terrifying is the visual design which in my opinion is one of the best examples of character design I’ve seen in a video game. These things were pretty tough as well, usually requiring armour-piercing rounds to take down and that’s if the gun didn’t jam and create one of the scariest “Oh shit…!” moments as the midwife came running at you, screeching and firing that damn laser from their arm which is extremely deadly. There was also an amazing feeling of relief when you managed to kill one, for a little while you were safe. Well, a safe as you could be in System Shock 2.
Ten years after System Shock 2 came out and the Cyborg midwives are still very much etched into the part of the brain that deals with fear, nightmares and other really bad things. Even though they are horrific and terrifying, an encounter with a Cyborg midwife is always an exciting experience and even though I had to turn the game off the first time I encountered one, it was still an enjoyable kind of horror. It was a memorable moment in my game playing history and it’s those moments that make modern gaming so bloody good.
Dr. Robotnik – Sonic The Hedgehog
Every hero needs a nemesis. It might be a man who looks like a very sinister clown, it could be an evil monkey, in the case of Sonic the Hedgehog it was Doctor Robotnik. Also commonly known as Doctor Eggman in Japan, Robotnik was my first true experience of a memorable bad guy. It was a somewhat unconventional first experience of Robotnik as it wasn’t actually on a console; it was on a Tiger LCD game. The game was ridiculously simple compared to the likes of the DSi and the PSP that children have now, but in the early 1990s when I was a mere seven years old, it was amazing. The concept was very simple. Move left or right to dodge attacks from enemy robots and press jump at the right moment to kill them. There was no scrolling; the action was all on one screen. It was the sort of thing that if I showed it to a child now, they would laugh and call me old. But as a child who had only ever owned a Commodore 64 before, this felt very special and I instantly loved Sonic and his arch nemesis Dr Robotnik.
I would encounter the evil Eggman at the end of each of these stages. Again it was quite basic as it was all on the one screen but through the very fuzzy LCD graphics, I loved the look of Dr Robotnik. He appeared to be a formidable foe and yet not too scary (I was a wimp as a child) thanks to his bumbling egg like appearance. At first I struggled against his might, but with more and more patience (a rare thing for me, even now), he succumbed to my superior gaming skill. I played the LCD game to death, to the point that the image of Sonic is still frozen on the screen even when switched off. Poor Robotnik stood no chance against a seven year old me by the end of it. I suspect at that, unfortunately, young age my gaming prowess had peaked and Robotnik was the unsuspecting victim in all of this.
Of course I encountered Robotnik many, many times more over the coming years of my childhood. I also encountered many other bad guys, such as Bowser, Ganon, Sephiroth, the list feels huge. But, simply put, none could hold a candle to Robotnik. Sure Sephiroth set fire to Nibelheim and Bowser was forever kidnapping princesses, but Robotnik turned little, cute, fluffy animals into robots! How much more heinous could you get than that? The most vulnerable creatures possible. At least a princess should have had the sense to try running away and escaping instead of waiting for a dodgy looking plumber to come rescue her. The poor cute rabbits however had no chance of survival if it hadn’t been for that spiky blue hedgehog. Doctor Robotnik: the cute, fluffy animal enslaver and my favourite bad guy of them all.
Splicers – Bioshock
I usually find the basic grunt in a videogame a dull and unchallenging opponent. After all, mowing down Nazi’s or Zombie’s, or Nazi Zombies gets a little boring after the 2nd millionth headshot. But Bioshock was different and the Splicers that roamed the fallen city of Rapture, driven insane by their desire for Adam, were unlike any enemy I’ve come across before.
Why? Because these psychopaths were the most disturbing and deranged killers I’ve had to battle. Going through Andrew Ryan’s ruined city was creepy and atmospheric enough, but these depraved examples of humanity made every inch of this dystopia an unsettling nightmare. What made them so memorable was their origin. As the scattered audio diaries attest – they were once living happy normal lives before the need for Plasmids overwrote their humanity.
But they were dangerous too. At any point in the game it only took a casual attitude to one of those Leadhead goons to kill you off and when packs of them start prowling around Apollo Square in the latter stages it’s very easy to become Splicer toast in a few seconds. This is what kept fighting them a fresh experience for me. If it wasn’t the fire-bombing antics of the Nitro Splicers that disorientated me then the Houdini’s would scare the hell out me by blasting fire or ice Plasmids and then vanishing in a second.
But it was the Spider Splicers that were the most formidable and disturbing. It wasn’t just the wall-climbing or hook-throwing that kept me on my toes, or even the way they had a habit of sneaking about and making me jump out of my chair. No, it was the reciting of freaky Bible songs that really creeped me out. When some crazy murderer starts singing to himself that Jesus loves him, even when he’s covered in the blood of his fellow man and using metal meat-hooks for weapons, that’s when I start to get scared.
Yet the single Splicer that unnerved me the most was Sander Cohen. The fact he seemed to have the slightest grasp of reality and yet still abuse and torment everyone else in Fort Frolic made him so unpredictable. Although you never fight him unless you want to, his artistic ramblings and manipulative desire to use you as his murderous tool made him just as dangerous as a Big Daddy. Running his errands made me feel completely used and he took the most gleeful delight in telling me how much of a pawn I was.
So the Splicers & Sander Cohen got under my skin and constantly challenged the way I played Bioshock – unnerving the hell of me for good measure along the way. If any enemy in a videogame is going to give me nightmares then it’ll be the depraved inhabitants of Rapture, muttering and swearing to themselves in the shadows.
Striders – Half Life 2
Gordon Freeman is an ordinary man facing extraordinary circumstances. He’s not your typical game hero; for better or for worse, this MIT-educated scientist is a political lightning rod and the unwitting spiritual leader of an entire rebellion. In most shooters, you take the offensive. In Half-Life 2, you’re constantly on the run, pursued through unfamiliar environments for reasons you don’t always understand.
No battles in Valve’s modern classic better represent this sense of fear and oppression than those versus the giant four-legged mechanical striders. You see one galumphing about in the distance during your early hours in City 17, but nothing can prepare you for the anxious thrill you feel as one looms above you for the first time. As you dance about avoiding its towering limbs while you take potshots with a rocket launcher, your fellow freedom fighters flock to your side. All at once, the gravity of your plight becomes clear. That strider isn’t just a huge metal daddylonglegs–it represents the fearlessness and cold inhumanity of your oppressors.
This first encounter won’t be your only one, and Half-Life 2: Episode 1 ends with another memorable strider battle. But while these colossal enemies are designed with incredible care and present a fair and exciting challenge, it’s what they represent that makes fighting them so astonishing. A single strider is a microcosm of Combine authoritarianism; once you face one, you’ll never forget it.
Locust – Gears of War
Over the years, many digital enemies have haunted my dreams. Some of them are even covered by the rest of this top ten, I’m sure. It was difficult for me to pick, especially as I have decided to controversially go for a modern baddie: The Locust.
And here’s why.
When I first ventured into Sera, I was blown away. Right from the moment Marcus Fenix booted open a door and slid effortlessly into cover, I felt part of something. As I ducked incoming bullets from my subterranean counterparts, thrown pell-mell into the front line, I knew I was in over my head, and this experience was going to change me. This was no war I’d ever been in before. Combat was mind-bendingly intense, tactical, and brutal. The Locust had arrived.
It was also beautiful, in a way. The “destroyed beauty” theme of Gears has never been better – the sense of loss for the world that had existed before E-Day was very real. And I was going to make those scum pay. Blood, bullets, and a righteous personification of fury were headed their way.
So many moments stand out: fending off surrounding swarms as I tried to plug the emergence holes with grenades; mounting a gun turret for the first time; gaping in awe as I evaded a Brumak; being holed up in a house and fighting desperately to survive. But the thing that never went away, no matter what the game threw at me, was the sense of numbers. Perhaps it was because The Locust lived in underground tunnels, or perhaps it was that the human front seemed stretched so thin, but I always felt that my enemy was limitless. Unseen, everlasting, unknown. Their motives were a mystery, their origins equally so, and their way of life seemed thoroughly bloody – and yet they looked like us in many ways. Human in shape (but even uglier than my mate Darren), they were primeval and animal, despite their technology.
But that’s not the only reason the Locust were such a memorable enemy – I got to do things to them. Horrible, nasty, sadistic, disgusting things, all of which pleased me no end. I chainsawed them in half, jammed grenades into their skin to see them disappear in a shower of meaty chunks, exploded them with tipped arrows, and I even got to pop off their heads with the most satisfying sniper rifle ever created. Hell, the vanquished Locust even got nuked at one point. And as for General Raam, well, I even used a turret to disintegrate his body into shark chum…
I won’t say their genocidal ways earned my respect, but this was certainly a foe I approached with caution. The old run and gun tactics of yore were a poor servant here. So let me raise a glass of mead like the mighty warriors of legend. Here’s to you, Mr Locust, and the violations you let me inflict. I enjoyed the killing as much as the winning.
Bowser – Super Mario Series
Super Mario World was the perfect concoction of Super Mario Bros. 2’s trippy eccentricity and Super Mario Bros 3’s imaginative, tight level design, and nothing best represented this than its memorable final boss. Sure, it was Mario versus Bowser again, but this time it was clear that our Italian hero wasn’t the only one enjoying shroomy delights, as evidenced by the Koopa Clown Copter. It was a cup-like structure kept aloft by a propeller on its base, painted with a creepy clown’s face. What apart from psychedelics could’ve provided Bowser with the blueprints for such a contraption? Or, more pertinently, the game’s design team for that matter?
I chose Super Mario World’s finale because it provided in spades the two things I look for in a boss fight. The first of those two things is being something different and unexpected, and as I’ve described above, it clearly did. Gone were the boss fights of previous Mario games that were final evolutions of previous boss encounters, for here was something totally unpredictable. Sure, Bowser’s castle was the setting, and the dark, haunting music was once again present, but who really expected to see Bowser on top of a flying clown face, launching clockwork koopa troopas and giant bowling balls at them? On top of that, it threw some unusual twists into the battle. When Bowser was hit enough times, he would flee by flying directly towards the player, giving the fight an unusual 3D perspective. During his disappearance, Princess Peach would pop up out of the clown copter and throw Mario some (non-psychedelic) mushrooms, providing some unusual empowerment for the damsel-in-distress. Of course, when the fight was over, she still rewarded our hero with a big smacker on the cheek. And even when she was launching the mushroom, she was flailing her arms and screaming for help. For goodness sake, woman.
In addition to being unusual, Mario’s fight with Bowser’s clown copter was pleasingly challenging. It’s by no means the hardest boss fight anyone’s ever played, or even one of the very hardest Mario fights, but its gameplay was unusual, and forced the player to try and do something a little different to anything they’d done in the game before. To damage Bowser, Mario had to pick up a dazed clockwork koopa, and launch it at the airborne reptile so that it conked him on the cranium. Easy enough at first, but when Bowser started thumping the ground with his copter, while koopas marched dangerously around you, it certainly became challenging. And that’s all a good boss fight needs to be: unusual and pleasingly challenging. And yet so many fall by the wayside.
Super Mario World’s outstanding boss fight never did fall by the wayside. The Koopa Clown Copter went on to make appearances in the Paper Mario, Mario Party, Mario & Luigi, and Mario Golf series, as well a memorable inclusion in Super Mario RPG when he once again abducted the Princess in it. If you asked a Mario fan to name his favourite Mario boss fight, chances are he’d say this one. And so he should; it was a fitting conclusion to one, if not the best 2D platforming game ever made.
Splicers – Bioshock
My favourite bad guy is going to come as a bit of a confusing statement, simply because he’s not a major villain. In fact, he’s a generic bad guy, and appears repeatedly throughout the game. Let me elaborate with a little background.
It’s Hallowe’en in 2007, and I’m playing Bioshock for the first time, properly. I’ve got the lights turned off, and I can’t even see the controller. I move cautiously through Rapture, each ominous footfall taking me one step closer to the next musical sting and furious attack by the warped denizens of this forgotten underwater metropolis.
As I make my way through a dilapidated area of the city’s market district, I stumble across a case of Bibles. I know these were banned by Andrew Ryan, seeing them as an embodiment of everything Rapture was opposed to, and above the burning books is a man who has been crucified on electric fencing, dancing slightly as the current courses through his long-dead limbs. I turn it off out of respect for the free-thinker.
I then hear footsteps, and someone humming to themselves. The approaching figure is male, his high-pitched voice displaying a remarkably human level of singing ability, his humming fractured by the odd cough and splutter. I tense, readying my shotgun and plasmid, sheet lightning coursing along my fingers.
I feel confident, and this is an important feeling in Bioshock, so I hang onto it desperately. To lose confidence in Rapture is to retreat, to run, and to run is to die very quickly as the splicers repopulating the cityscape you’ve cleared an hour ago know you’re coming, thanks to shouted warnings from the monsters clawing at your back.
Then he begins to sing, and my body temperature actually feels like it’s dropped by several degrees. “Jesus loves me this I know…” he warbles, turning the corner to regard me with crazed eyes, and launching himself towards me, lead pipe in hand, before finishing the verse – “because the bible tells me so!”
Honestly? Are you kidding me, 2K? I’ve seen some ridiculously scary crap in my time playing horror games and watching zombie films, but Christianity in the most unholy place on the planet was just downright unsettling. What I thought was genius about it was the story behind the invasion of religion into Rapture. Fontaine brings in bibles, and all of a sudden people “get” religion. To know from two sung lines from some miscellaneous hymn, that the man attacking you is not only insane but is also one of Fontaine’s own splicers, is doubly threatening, and very clever.
I could have said Sephiroth, and I could have just as easily said Fontaine himself, or any one of the list of big, scary bastards you’re likely to come across whilst gaming. But I find it’s the little things that matter, and that one little thing scared me more than twenty hours of scampering through Rapture, shooting people and throwing tennis balls with my mind.
Alex Mercer – Prototype
It’s the hood that gives him away. No one who ever thought he had to cover his face with a hood was ever that trustworthy. A few superheroes, perhaps, but then, however really trusted them. They save your life, but you don’t particularly want to see them again. Violent, unsavoury types.
No, when you have a protagonist with a hood and a leather jacket, the message is clear; this is not a nice person. When you then show how they can turn their arms into living weapons you go that step further to stamp a great big warning sign on his forehead. Of course, taking the step to have him slaughter innocent civilians and bring down the only force trying to stop the infection, the military, in huge swathes, hardly helps.
Alex Mercer is a villain, pure and simple. It has little to do with whatever twists may or may not take place during the prototype story, but everything to do with the fact he’s a murdering son of a bitch who’s got nothing better to do than mess with a military task force that’s trying to save the citizens of Manhattan. From the beginning of the game, where he escapes from a military morgue to wreak his vengeance on the world, paints him as such. The problem is, you’re controlling this person, so it takes a while for those warning signs to sink in.
It’s almost subtle; little things like a quick death tally up in the top right of the screen, letting you know just how many poor souls you’ve ripped and pulverised. Or perhaps the utterly sadistic and violent way he absorbs other’s memories. If he had a shred of decency, he’d give them a quick jab to the brain, making it quick and painless. But no, he chooses to rip them into two pieces, or punch their face until there’s no more face to punch.
There’s a prevailing feeling throughout Prototype that you’re the final boss in some other, more wholesome game, where the player is one of the many marines you slay over and over, tasked with bringing you down. Only you’re too much of a bastard to care, and besides, you’re having far too much fun running vertically up a building, only to jump off into a swan dive that ends with a wet, sticky, explosive impact.
It would be erroneous to say that Alex Mercer was my favourite bad guy. He’s certainly the one that sticks in my mind the most at the moment, both due to how recently I played Prototype, and the virulence with which his villainy is shown. If anything, I think he’s one of those things that, personally, is going to stick with me, niggling at the back of my mind as I play any other game, wondering whether the actions I’m performing are all that heroic. So he’s made me self doubt, and that’s what villains are supposed to do, right? Undermine and exploit vulnerabilities. He’s such a cock.
GLaDOS – Portal
Oh, GLaDOS, voice from the ether, a still, solitary, watchful eye. She haunts me still, this ‘Bride Of Hawking’ happy to warn and punish the would-be vandaliser with fire and sentry bot. Cheerfully she dispenses her penalties for failure, and for having succeeded.
And yet, as death is dealt from this casual psychopath, you cannot help but fall for her charms, and trust in her promises of cake time and time again. I must admit that I have never found pastries a particularly alluring prospect. But this, after all, is the future. Maybe in twenty years time, I will be willing to drop in and out of walls to get my Custard Slice fix.
And so, as the journey continued from test chamber to test chamber, I found myself in the beginnings of love with this voice from beyond as it nonchalantly lost it’s mind. Love after all is blind, and so I forgave her for the lasers, for the toxic waste, for the fire, even for forcing me to murder my beloved companion cube in cold blood. It was worth these trials and sacrifices to have spent time in her company.
And though our relationship ended when I tore her to pieces, and threw every piece into a fire, I still carry her with me. That woman damn near killed me, and yet I rejoiced to find that she was still alive.
For all great villains are touched by madness. The terrifying thing about GLaDOS, is that in her case, she may not be mad at all.
Either way, this was a triumph.
Big Daddy – Bioshock
The Big Daddy is the iconic image of the 2007 critical hit Bioshock. Whenever you think about your experiences of playing Bioshock, two images spring to mind: the creepy yet charming Little Sisters, and her ever present gargantuan guardian, the Big Daddy. Dressed in an armoured diving suite, with either a giant drill or grenade launcher grafted on to its body, the Big Daddy presents a formidable presence of size, strength and brutality.
The Big Daddy is, however, an unlikely “bad guy” because he isn’t all bad. His paternal nature means that he will completely ignore you -posing no threat- seemingly happy to lumber around escorting his Little Sister. Ultimately the Little Sisters are in the way of your goal in Rapture, and they carry the precious Adam that you must somehow obtain. Thus, reluctantly, you know you must take on and defeat the hulking brutes.
Regardless of the difficulty level played, the Big Daddy always offers a significant challenge. Each Big Daddy encounter is normally premised with fear and indecision. Taking down the armour plated guardian requires more than a little cunning to succeed. Big Daddy battles are often savage, violent and prolonged. Bioshock successfully makes you feel every punch, drill and thump from the Big Daddy – often sending you dramatically flying off your feet, or stunned on the spot. In defeat the Big Daddy continues to toy with your emotions. The morally good player is confronted with feelings of guilt and repentance; made worse by the cries of grief from the Little Sister for her now lost “Mr Bubbles”.
There have not been many games that have established such an iconic bad guy. Even fewer have established a character class so strong that, in itself, it is a metaphor for the game and world in which it is set. The Big Daddy is Bioshock. Plastered over the front of the game cover; shipped as an ornament in the special edition; and taking centre stage in the gruesome promotion video for Bioshock’s initial release. Bioshock 2 looks to be building its entire story with a Big Daddy as its central heroic character. I wait with bated breath to see if a promised Big Sister can match her paternal inspiration.
There we are, for the record I would’ve chosen Wesker from the Resident Evil series, but Hey Ho! Let us know what you think, did we get any wrong? Do you know better? Let us know and we’ll see you again soon for the next part.