We don’t necessarily have to like the characters we control in video games, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Sometimes, in the course of creating an interesting story, developers skimp on the part of their hero’s personality that puts players firmly on their side. It isn’t always a bad thing, but sometimes the creators go too far and give us a protagonist whose goals and methods are difficult, if not impossible, to get on board with.
Here are 16 video-game characters who were kind of a drag to control. This isn’t to say that their games are bad, of course, but some of these people had us enjoying their adventures through gritted teeth.
16. James Sunderland – Silent Hill 2
Whether or not you ultimately end up liking Silent Hill 2‘s main character, James Sunderland, depends partly on which ending you get, but mostly on your tolerance for heroes with just the worst people skills.
We can’t hold it against him completely, and developer Konami crafts the entire story around drawing players into the deepest recesses of James’ confused and frustrated psyche and allowing them, through controlling him, to ultimately identify and achieve catharsis along with him. It’s an incredible achievement that makes Silent Hill 2 one of the most interesting games ever made, but James has some issues along the way, especially in his interactions with the other people he encounters in his journey.
Eddie Dombrowski, for example, is an awkward, long-suffering victim of bullying who gets slightly more insane every time James sees him. Ultimately, he starts musing about how easy it is to kill people, and James’ reply is to ask him if he’s “gone nuts.” And we don’t know very many crazy people, but we’re pretty sure that if one of them started waving a gun around and ranting about how much he’d like to murder the people who tormented him, the last thing we’d do is antagonize that person.
15. Starkiller – Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
To be clear, we are not talking about the “original” Starkiller in the first Force Unleashed. That guy has his parents killed right in front of him when he’s just a kid. After that, Darth Vader kidnaps him, trains him in the ways of the dark side, and forces him to be an assassin, and then he dies ensuring that the fledgling Rebel Alliance can keep fighting the Empire. That’s a life that is equally rough and super awesome, and we have no problems with that guy outside of the frustration we all felt during that “pull down the Star Destroyer” level. That should have been one of the coolest moments of our gaming lives, but it was just slow and tedious.
Regardless of that, Starkiller is mostly okay. But his clone in the follow-up title doesn’t fare as well.
Sure, he has that whole “grown in a lab and studied” thing going on, and it makes sense that he’d want to break out. But his motivation for doing so isn’t just revenge on Vader and a search for his own identity. He’s also creepily obsessed with Juno Eclipse, who not only has the distinction of having one of the dumbest sci-fi names ever, but also barely knew the first Starkiller before he died. It’s a little stalker-ish on his part, and we just can’t stay on board.
14. Batman – Arkham Knight
We love being Batman in developer Rocksteady’s Arkham series. Gliding around Gotham, dropping in on gangs of henchmen, and beating them all up with a combination of gadgets and Bat-punches is fun, empowering, and satisfying. And driving around in the Batmobile in Arkham Knight was also a thing you could do, but it wasn’t as good.
And that’s probably why that title’s Cutscene Batman (i.e. the one over whom we had no control) was so frustrating. While Gameplay Batman is tough, fun, and easy to control, his non-playable counterpart during story sections was mostly infuriating.
This is a Batman who, despite having recruited and trained an array of assistants and sidekicks, refuses their help at every opportunity and straight-up lies to them on multiple occasions. Cutscene Batman claims to have everything under control, even though it’s clearly not, and some of the story’s major complications probably wouldn’t even happen if he’d just give in and let the other member of the Bat family do the jobs he trained them to do.
13. Cole Phelps – L.A. Noire
A flawed protagonist is central to the entire hardboiled detective genre that developer Team Bondi’s L.A. Noire aims to capture. But while this usually means a drinking problem or a weakness for dames, Noire‘s Cole Phelps is, instead, a huge jerk. And he’s not even a lovable one like most of his partners; he’s just deeply, deeply unpleasant.
And flashbacks throughout the story reveal that Phelps has always been an arrogant punk. His failure of leadership during the Battle of Okinawa gets a bunch of civilians killed, and he still ends up receiving promotions after he joins the police force. By the time his adulterous affair is exposed and he’s demoted to the less glamorous Arson squad, we don’t like him enough to even take pity. And it also doesn’t help that it turns out Phelps has been arresting the wrong people almost the entire game.
In fact, the only two good things the guy does are save the life of Jack Kelso, the other playable character who is more interesting and capable in every way, and die while doing so. But while the finale of L.A. Noire ultimately tries to paint Phelps as a good man who made honest mistakes, we’re not buying it.
It seemed like you couldn’t make a game in the ’90s unless it came with a wisecracking cartoon “mascot” that would represent either the developer or even an entire console. Nintendo had Mario (and had for a decade, so he did not fall victim to the decade’s obsession with “attitude”), the Sega Genesis had Sonic the Hedgehog, and the PlayStation had Crash Bandicoot.
And every one of those characters is better and has more playable games than Bubsy.
The cartoon bobcat stars in three titles from developer Michael Berlyn, who was burned out on video games until he developed a 14-hour-a-day Sonic habit and set out to re-create that formula himself. He did not succeed.
What he made instead is a bunch of mostly boring, pun-filled adventures starring a character who spouted so many movie references and questionable one-liners that it was impossible to care if he lived or died. And that was even if you could get past his debut’s weird inclusion of Bubsy taking damage if he falls too far, which is a pretty gutsy move for a platformer. But even if the series had been amazing, we just couldn’t stand spending that much time with Bubsy.
11. Wander – Shadow of the Colossus
The beautiful and haunting Shadow of the Colossus is a bit light on plot, but it’s a pretty simple setup: The hero, Wander, arrives in a forbidden land in hopes of bringing a girl named Mono back to life. The disembodied being that lives there says that it can do so if Wander kills the 16 living-statue monsters who live throughout the area.
This is fairly straightforward, but it doesn’t take long before you start to realize that the colossi are basically just walking around and not hurting anyone until Wander attacks them. They’re also incredibly beautiful, haunting creatures, and it’s tough to justify just straight-up murdering them for selfish reasons.
Even the score reinforces this; while it’s up-tempo and adventure-y during the battle, as soon as Wander strikes the final, killing blow, it becomes mournful and slow as the once-proud colossus falls and dies. It actually makes it harder to keep playing the game, especially once you get to the cute, lion-sized creature and the one that cowers in fear if you wave a torch in its face.
10. Captain Olimar – Pikmin series
We understand that the tiny, stranded space captain is in danger and can’t leave the planets he crashes on without help, and the Pikmin games assure us that his relationship with the intelligent, plant-like title creatures is symbiotic. But we don’t buy it.
We don’t really see what the Pikmin get out of this deal. Olimar gets his ship put back together so that he can escape Earth and its poisonous oxygen atmosphere, and the Pikmin get the satisfaction of helping a stranger in need by doing all of the heavy lifting, fighting, and dying in the mouths of massive bugs. Sure, Olimar provides them a safe place to sleep at night (provided you remember to bring them on board, which we didn’t some of the time), but if the environment were that completely deadly for the little guys, there wouldn’t be any left for the alien astronaut to enslave.
Things don’t get much better in the second game, when the space people learn that the garbage scattered around the alien planet is valuable. It isn’t long before Olimar is right back there, recruiting yet more Pikmin to go fetch things so that he and his boss can profit. It’s pretty gross, especially when the aliens get enough junk to save their shipping business and just leave the Pikmin behind to their fate, which is likely inside the belly of a giant insect.
9. Jason Brody – Far Cry 3
We aren’t going to argue that Far Cry 3‘s Jason Brody and his friends deserve their pirate kidnapping and/or murders (depending on which ending you pick), but we only reached that conclusion after overcoming our initial, visceral reaction to their introduction at the beginning of the game.
It isn’t really a surprise; the word “bro” is, like, right there in his name. And the only thing worse than coming up with that joke is having it bear out when he starts screaming about sambuca. These are spoiled, entitled, rich jerks, and let us just repeat this: They do not deserve assault and murder. But they could definitely stand to be a little less comfortable for a little while.
Ultimately, Far Cry 3 makes you choose between freeing Jason’s friends or killing them. And honestly, that’s kind of a tough call, and we had to walk around for a little while and really put some thought into it. And then we just looked up the different endings online. That only made it more difficult, however, because choosing to kill Jason’s friends also leads to his own death, and a clean sweep is really hard to resist in this context.
8. Leisure Suit Larry
We aren’t sure where to begin with the title character of the Leisure Suit Larry series. He starts out as a grown virgin who lives with his mom and is so intent on knowing the touch of a woman that he will commit suicide if you don’t get him bedded by the end of the first game’s time limit. And he only gets worse from there.
It’s one thing to help a character reach their goals; that’s what most video games are all about. But when doing so makes you feel sleazy, it’s hard to follow through. And maybe it isn’t a problem in the first game, and you want to do the poor guy a solid (so to speak). But then later installments in the series have Larry working as a scout for a porn company and cheating at a series of contests on a cruise ship in order to win sexual favors from a character named Captain Thygh.
This evil version of Nintendo mascot Mario made his first appearance in the Game Boy handheld system’s Super Mario Land 2, in which he was the villain. He’s since spun off into two series of his own: Wario Land and WarioWare, Inc., and we can’t get with him in either franchise.
In Wario Land, his entire goal is to build a castle larger than Mario’s. That’s seriously all he wants in the world. And while we can at least ostensibly understand that, he goes about achieving that dream not through hard work and perseverance, but by robbing a bunch of pirates. We don’t know if that counts as a victimless crime or not, but it’s still theft.
WarioWare, Inc. is even less morally ambiguous. In that series, Wario discovers that the video-game business is full of money and decides he wants a slice of that pie. But it turns out that making games is really hard, so he calls in a bunch of other people to do the work for him. They make the series of minigames that make up the title, and once it turns a profit, Wario runs off with all the money. He loses it almost immediately, but the fact remains that he’s an Olimar-level exploiter.
6. Travis Touchdown – No More Heroes series
No More Heroes comes courtesy of weirdo director Goichi Suda (Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw), and it features probably his least sympathetic character ever.
Travis Touchdown wins what is essentially a lightsaber (called a “beam katana”) on an online auction site. And while we might take that thing to a nerd convention — where they would immediately ban you — or use it for silly, random tasks like cutting waterbeds in half, preferably with a high-speed camera running, Travis decides that the absolute best thing he can do with his new toy is to immediately start killing his way up the ranks to become the top assassin in the world.
And it isn’t only the fact that Travis’ thoughts immediately turn to murder that keeps us from really liking him. Saving your game involves watching Travis poop, complete with grunts and sighs of pleasure, and that doesn’t really encourage us to keep playing.
5. The Postal Dude – Postal 2
We expect this one to be divisive for two reasons. First, because the Postal Dude may not have enough of a personality to truly be sympathetic or not. And second, because you can hypothetically play the entirety of Postal 2 without committing a single act of violence.
That’s an interesting feature for a product that was so widely banned and in which you can urinate on everyone and everything — including yourself (maybe don’t click that link at work). But then the whole thing becomes about buying milk and waiting in a long line for Diff’rent Strokes star Gary Coleman’s autograph. And all the while you’re trying to do that mundane stuff, your fellow citizens are harassing, attacking, and mugging you.
So depending on your level of empathy, Postal Dude becomes either the most patient and put-upon man ever to live, or the biggest sucker in the universe. And maybe you can sympathize with one of those; we don’t know. But this game has an Indecent Exposure button, and we just can’t get on board with that.
4. Trevor Philips – Grand Theft Auto V
Of the three playable protagonists in developer Rockstar’s open-world crime game Grand Theft Auto V, Trevor is the one who most closely resembles how most people end up playing the series. Unfortunately, that means that he’s a psychotic, unpredictable maniac who would kill someone for their car and then immediately drive it off of a very tall cliff just for funsies.
And we know he would do that because we made him do that. It just felt right.
He presents a good contrast with the other characters, Michael De Santa and Franklin Clinton. Michael’s a jaded, old-school crook, and Franklin is a young man eager to prove himself. And every crime movie we’ve ever seen has told us that every crew needs a wild card. But even when we aren’t making Trevor do horrifying things, he’s doing them all on his own, like the controversial torture scene that has him prying, shocking, waterboarding, and beating information out of a captive.
We don’t know if Rockstar created Trevor to comment on how people play their games or if they just thought it would be funny to include a character who asserts his dominance by threatening every man he meets with non-consentual sex, but neither of those possibilities is particularly pleasant. Trevor just gives us the creeps.
3. Duke Nukem
Hey, speaking of creeps.
We aren’t just mad at Duke Nukem because his most recent game took 15 years to make and was horrible. He’s a catchphrase-spouting pastiche of ’80s and ’90s action heroes with none of their charm and a frighteningly sociopathic and misogynist perception of other people. He kills aliens not because it’s the right thing to do, but because he can, wants to, and probably figures he’ll get some sex out of it later.
Throughout Duke’s adventures, it feels like we’re supposed to like him and have fun inhabiting his overly muscled body to kick aliens in the face. But it mostly just makes us feel gross, especially as repeated, horrible, NSFW things happen throughout Duke Nukem Forever, and the guy reacts with catchphrases from Robocop and jokes about what a “tight fit” the doors on the alien breeding vessel are.
2. The Antagonist – Hatred
Hatred comes from developer Destructive Creations’ desire to “create something against trends” like politeness, color (yes — color was a trend, apparently), and political correctness. It’s a top-down shooter about killing everyone you see to fulfill the main character’s “genocide crusade” because of his eponymous feelings toward the world. And game director Jarosław Zieliński even takes the team’s artistic statement one step further:
“The Antagonist is killing everyone equally,” he says in a blog post about the controversy. “Race doesn’t matter (it’s randomly generated for all NPC’s), sex doesn’t matter (it’s random too), so you can call it the most tolerant game, promoting equality. Here everybody dies.”
And we literally can’t argue with that logic.
Regardless of why The Antagonist is murdering everyone, the fact that he’s doing so makes him basically impossible to root for, especially since his own death is part of his plan. If he doesn’t care if he lives, we aren’t sure why Destructive Creations expects us to.
1. Kratos – God of War series
It was hard deciding if anyone could beat The Antagonist, but it’s possible when characters like God of War‘s Kratos exist, for whom we started with some sympathy before it all crashed hard.
In the series’ first entry, we were totally on board with the guy. He pledged himself to Ares, and the Greek god betrayed him as completely as one can, tricking Kratos into murdering his own family and then binding him into perpetual servitude. That’s a case of righteous vengeance if ever we’ve heard one, and we were happy to help Kratos out. But then the second and third games happened.
Our “hero” starts the second game having replaced Ares as the God of War, and somehow that isn’t enough for him. It gets him into some conflict with his coworkers, which to be fair is something that happens often in that mythos. But he doesn’t sort it out the way they usually do, which is usually some combination of trickery and throwing each other’s children off of cliffs; instead, he just decides he’s going to kill all of them. And we can’t quite agree with that course of action, especially since doing so also wipes out thousands of people who have nothing at all to do with it other than that they just lived in Greece.
Bonus entry: Everyone – Mortal Kombat
We couldn’t just pick one character from the decades-old, ultraviolent fighting series, because they’re all gleeful, violent murderers. Even more noble characters like Liu Kang, whose motives might be good, loses some points when he burns people alive or rips them in half with his feet. That’s maybe a bit intense. You couldn’t be friends with that guy out of fear of annoying him someday.
It’s all in good fun, really. Most of the series’ Fatalities and Brutalities are so over-the-top and ridiculous that they often cease being horrific. Take the one that has the victorious character smashing her opponent’s lower jaw off with a nightstick, taking a selfie with them, and then posting it on social media while the dregs of the internet leave inane comments.
That’s one of those gonzo-nutbar things that circles back around to hilarious, although you feel like a crazy person for laughing at it. Basically, Mortal Kombat makes us feel like bad people, so it gets an honorary spot on the list.
Any other unlikable video game characters come to mind that you simply couldn’t get behind? Let us know in the comments.
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