Let’s face it, modern media and entertainment has given us a knack for truly appreciating the ‘good guy’, whether it be a superhero, a romantic fool, or a righteous warrior on the path of vengeance. A character being instilled with defined traits of morality, courage, justness or unwavering loyalty are usually the key indicators that a good guy is… Well, a good guy.
Typically, they’ll be cookie-cutter superheroes, like Captain America or Spider-man. Alternatively, they can come from mythology, such as the Greek legends of Achilles or Perseus. Let’s not forget the very real heroes that have existed in our world: Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, or Mother Teresa, as examples.
However, a character type that can often outclass the typical hero in terms of sheer entertainment value or written ability is the anti-hero. These are a breed that are often found with wavering morality, willing to do the damage that a good guy won’t. They’ll be able to make sacrifices in the blink of an eye or use dirty tactics to achieve their goals.
Read on to find out about my top five anti-heroes in the video games that I’ve played… Beware of spoilers!
1. Agent 47 (The Hitman Franchise)
Infamous, deadly, surgical… In the world of gaming, Agent 47 is truly iconic. He stakes a claim to a legacy spanning almost two decades, seven games, and two movies (let’s not discuss those), and is as recognisable as any modern popular protagonist could be.
When we discuss the anti-hero, you don’t really get better than a brutal, resolute assassin that employs disguise, stealth and a never-ending arsenal of weapons to assist him in his murderous antics. Agent 47 is a world-class clone, bred for one thing: killing. Innocents? Collateral damage. Witnesses? Silenced.
However, Agent 47 does have a level of morality that shines through in various portions of the lengthy franchise. He’s aware of his inability to live a ‘regular’ life, out of fear of endangering those close to him. In Hitman Absolution, he’s charged with protecting a young clone, rescuing her from the shady conspirators he once worked for. It’s for these reasons that he definitely ranks on my list as a clear anti-hero of the ages.
2. The Punisher (The Punisher, 2004)
This is a rather tricky one to list, as The Punisher is predominately a television, movie and comic-book character. However, THQ released a game in 2004 to PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC that gave players a brutal and entertaining insight into one of Marvel’s darkest characters – The Punisher. In this third-person shooter epic, the protagonist – Frank Castle – is voiced by none other than Thomas Jane, the titular star of the 2004 movie, The Punisher. Weirdly, there’s almost no further connection between the two characters, bar the name and identity.
Coincidentally, this is probably one of the more violent outings for The Punisher, as the player is offered near endless torturing and murdering capabilities, with a with range of weaponry and environmental interaction to get the job done, often as brutally as possible. He’s the Punisher, after all – he’s punishing. In fact, this game was so brutal that many ratings agencies demanded THQ actually ‘downgrade’ the violence and dismemberment in the torture scenes, adding cinematic instances that would essentially mask the gruesome detail.
We all know The Punisher’s story by now – ex-military, family murdered, out to exact revenge on every bad guy in the entire world. This is true for the video game, as Frank Castle’s path leads him to do battle with a variety of typical baddies – Yakuza, Mafia, Russians, etc. This is where his morality lies – he does not kill innocents. In fact, he’ll willingly go out of his way to specifically save innocents or those close to him. This is a fact across any iteration of The Punisher, whether on-screen or in print. Does that make him worthy of a spot on this list? You bet it does.
3. Rico Rodriguez (Just Cause franchise)
Just Cause is most well known for permitting the player to unleash unbridled havoc on some of the largest open worlds in modern gaming, some stretching as far as over a thousand square kilometres in size. Since the first Just Cause title graced our PlayStation 2 consoles in 2006, we’ve become well acquainted with the protagonist of the series that is Rico Rodriguez, a death-defying gun for hire who is well versed in toppling totalitarian dictatorships.
The difference between Rico and other protagonists with a similar mission lies namely with how they achieve their goal. While typical mercenaries might use brute force or subterfuge to complete their mission, Rico uses Michael Bay-worthy explosions and destruction on a nuclear scale to decimate his foes.
In Just Cause, the main goal is often to overthrow a leader who is abusing their position of power to commit all manner of evil and wrongdoing – a just cause, you might say. Do you get it? However, it stands to reason that a vast collection of civilians are going to be caught in the crossfire. You can’t unleash havoc on a city-wide scale without some collateral damage. Although, in the latter iterations of the franchise, innocents being caught in the fray has lead to the player suffering repercussions.
Ultimately, Rodriguez is a fairly heroic individual – borderline superhero, some might say. He’s no stranger to zipping around with a jet-pack on and doing battle against hulking armies. His methods can be brought into question though, as can his attitude towards civilian casualties, which can be considered flippant at best on occasion.
4. Aiden Pierce (Watchdogs, 2014)
Take one-part Punisher and another part Batman, mix with a drizzle of Assassin’s Creed and garnish with Michael Scofield… Congratulations, you’ve made an Aiden Pierce.
The protagonist of Ubisoft’s 2014 open-world crime bonanza certainly deserves a place on this list, regardless of his somewhat negative reception by players of the game. Aiden Pierce didn’t land himself in many good books when this title was released, owing namely to his seemingly ‘boring’ facade, but I think he did a very good job at painting the man he was supposed to be.
His mission is extremely similar to that of The Punisher: you killed someone dear to me, so I’m going to take down all evil-doers in my city. Although his back story is somewhat weak, Aiden Pierce has a very particular set of skills that he acquired over many years (apparently) that includes gun play, espionage, hacking and hand-to-hand combat. He’s adept at kicking the snot out of bad guys but isn’t averse to showing no mercy and gunning them down in their dozens.
However, his morality can be… questionable. At any given point, the player can utilise Pierce’s hacking skills and elite genius to shut down entire city blocks, to cause road accidents, suck money from people’s bank accounts, or snoop through people’s homes and identities. While his heroic qualities are certainly prevalent, one can argue that these aspects of his personality aren’t exactly positive and serve to absolutely class him as a firm anti-hero.
5. Arthur Morgan (Red Dead Redemption 2, 2018)
The most recent character in this list to grace our consoles, Arthur Morgan serves as the perfect embodiment of an anti-hero. He’s a man better suited to the rougher aspects of the Old West – he’s a gifted gunslinger, a rampant robber, and a fearsome foe, but that’s not the be all and end all of this character.
Throughout Red Dead Redemption 2, we’re treated to a vast unravelling of the story of this man and learn in-depth about his backstory, trials and tribulations. It’s understandable that a man in his situation and with his stature would be drawn to a life of crime, given his inclinations and environmental persuasions, but it’s important to understand that the crime doesn’t define Arthur.
He’s an anti-hero through and through (at least, as much as the player wants him to be) as he gallivants across America in his search for freedom and riches. He cares deeply about those closest to him, reveres family and friendship, and is always more than willing to help anyone in distress. Alternatively, the player can of course choose to gun down and rob everyone in sight, but let’s pretend for a moment that that’s not canon…
If he has to kill a dozen bandits to save one damsel, he will. If he must rob a bank to ensure his ‘family’ has the funds they need to escape persecution, then so be it. Arthur and his caste have a firm creed that they live by, and it determines that they “help those as need helping, shoot those as need shooting”, and so on.
Although these lists aren’t in order, I’d say that Arthur Morgan would be worthy of the top spot, as he fulfils all the criteria necessary for the definition of an anti-hero.
Jimmy Hopkins (Canis Canem Edit/Bully)
Be the bully or befriend the victims – Jimmy Hopkins will make these decisions as he tears through Bullworth Academy, determining who will be his buddy, and who will end up stuffed into a locker or pelted with stink bombs. It’s anti-heroism, but on a smaller, younger scale. I’ve always marvelled at what a Bully 2 (Canis Canem Edit 2) may look like with an older, more ‘GTA’ Jimmy Hopkins, but that’s a conversation for another article.
Geralt of Rivia (The Witcher franchise)
When a man walks in with a nickname like ‘The Butcher of Blaviken’, you have a clear indication that this isn’t a very nice man. However, that’s where you’re incorrect, and judging a book by it’s cover! Geralt of Rivia is a formidable opponent and a master swordsman, but he values family, honour and the defence of innocents above all else. Well, except coin, maybe.