Games are long. When you're introduced to a new character, there's a chance you'll be spending dozens of hours with them. What if they're a jerk? What if you hate their face? What if both those things and you're playing a game that doesn't let you skip cutscenes and dialogue? Awkward, but not to worry, for every boring NPC out there's a star. Great characters become partners in adventure. They inspire memes, cosplay, fan art, spin-off movies. They make us laugh; they make us cry. If they're really good we won't try to kill them just to see if friendly fire is on. Here are the PC Gamer team's most loved and hated individuals—what are yours?
Loves... Francis York Morgan, Deadly Premonition
I could fill this just with BioWare characters like Varric, Thane and Mordin, but just for variety’s sake I’d pick the eccentric Francis York Morgan from Access Games’ weird-and-badly-ported Deadly Premonition. The charming FBI agent, clearly inspired by the equally charismatic Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks, the much-lauded show that Deadly Premonition is obviously inspired by, is an affable oddball who talks to an unseen substitute for the player called Zach. Morgan talks to Zach about his favourite movies when driving around town, and the writing and often surprisingly good voice-acting behind the character is the real reason Deadly Premonition holds together, despite feeling so cheap and unfinished in almost every area.
hates... Seifer Almasy, Final Fantasy VIII
There’s a fair few Final Fantasy characters that could make the cut here, from whinging time-waster Hope Estheim in XIII to big trousers-wearing non-character Noel Kreiss in FFXIII-2, but years later it’s giga-twat Seifer from Final Fantasy VIII who really gets my goat. FFVIII starts with Seifer slashing protagonist Squall’s forehead for sport, being a dick to everyone in your party, then helping an evil sorceress rise to power and overthrow the government. In every appearance he behaves like a giant thunder-cock, bragging about himself and his ‘dream’ of becoming the sorceress’s knight. I think Squaresoft deliberately makes its villains unredeeming and awful to watch so that you, as the player, spend the whole game looking forward to the moment you get to cut them down.
Seifer tortures Squall with electricity. He cuts Odin in half. He actively helps bring about everything bad that happens in that story, and gets to end the game looking happy after the world is saved from his actions. He should’ve been put on trial for war crimes. What a colossal twat.
Loves... Moira Brown, Fallout 3
Moira runs the Craterside Supply store in Megaton, and she is ridiculously upbeat. The world has been destroyed, mutants and armed gangs roam the irradiated wastes, and most of the people you meet are either angry, bitter, or sad. But not Moira. Moira is not merely staying positive: she is enthusiastic. About everything. She is always pleased to see you, and all her dialogue responses are chirpy, with that absurd little rising note at the end of each sentence. “Tell me what it’s like to live underground all your life!” “Hey, did you know the human body can survive without the stomach or spleen?” Moira is a constant ray of sunshine in a dismal world. Moira is, let’s face it, probably suffering from some kind of serious dissociative personality disorder. Never mind.
Moira is so interested in the wasteland she’s writing a book about it, and I liked her so much I did all the research missions, just to hear her cheery thanks.
Hates... Daniel, Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Daniel is not a character I hate for anything he’s done to me in a game, or at least, not in the conventional sense. He didn’t kill my favourite NPC, or subject me to a tediously long boss fight. It’s simply that Daniel is the character you play in Frictional’s first-person horror adventure, and his voice acting is appalling.
Trapped in a gothic castle full of unspeakable monsters, he delivers his lines—your lines—in an absurdly twee, almost infantile manner, as if reassuring small children. It’s bizarrely off-message. It’s jarringly, mood-wreckingly wrong. Amnesia works so hard to create an atmosphere of dread, and Daniel ruins it by talking like a wimpy supply teacher at a primary school, reading fairy stories to an audience of seven-year-olds. How did this even happen? It’s as if the voice actor came to the recording studio to narrate the videogame adaptation of The Gruffalo’s Child and got into the wrong booth by mistake.
I’ll tell you what Daniel’s voice is like. You know how you shake someone’s hand sometimes, and instead of the dry, firm, assertive contact of skin on skin you were expecting, the poor bastard has those horrible soft hands? Soft, warm, and slightly moist? As if you’d reached out to shake the guy’s hand and at the last moment he’d unexpectedly thrust a baby’s naked bottom into your grasp instead? Well, Daniel’s voice is like that, and I hate him for it.
Loves... Warcraft 2’s Footman
“Are you still touching me?” This guy! He has work to do, and he doesn’t like being touched. That’s totally fair, and he calls me “sire,” which is super respectful and I appreciate it. Fun fact: apparently in the pre-release review version of Warcraft 2, the Footman had extra dialogue complementing his reviewer and their publication. I haven’t verified this with my predecessors, but it sounds plausible, and I like compliments. I hope I can find this version so he can compliment me.
The Footman also bugged owners of the shareware version to buy the full game, which I love, too. This guy always does what you say, he’s a suck up, and he’s a salesman—a triple threat to my heart. Well you won it, Mr. Footman. Now go die over there, please.
“At once, sire.”
You’re the best.
Hates... Duke Nukem
Check out this balloon-animal-arm, Jean-Claude-Van-Damme-as-Guile-lookin'-ass pec monster. The overblown machismo schtick was sort of fun in 1996 when saying "bitch" was badass (to me, at least, because I was 11), but even then Duke's look, Duke's attitude, and Duke's best lines were all from movies better than he'd ever be: Star Wars, They Live, Army of Darkness, Predator, Aliens. There can be love in homage and wit and savvy in pastiches, as in Tarantino's exploitation films, but Duke's just a pull-string toy that says the things we all know and love. He's the chinny embodiment of the 'references are funny' school of comedy that makes Arnold Schwarzenegger say "I'll be back" in every damn Terminator because people liked it one freaking time. Duke’s an 11-year-old's conversation with film—all mimicry—which is maybe the point, but I find him offensively boring. He's lucky he was in an important game, or he’d either have been forgotten or mocked to death by now. (Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile is 100 percent funnier than Duke, by the way, so that comparison wasn’t meant as a slight in his direction.)
Loves... Jade, Beyond Good and Evil
I love positive characters that driven and full of purpose. Jade has all of those qualities and an easygoing friendliness that makes her fun to hang out with. It’s still rare for main characters to have a sense of humour, or even believable friendships with other characters, but Jade knows when to drop a quip and maintains a brilliant friendship with her pal Pey’j the giant talking pig. She embodies the spirit of the entire game: colourful, enthusiastic and in love with the bustle of life. Maybe that’s the attitude you have to take if you’re the only human in a world of talking cartoon animals. I hope she returns, one day.
Hates... Desmond Miles, Assassin’s Creed
Desmond Miles is the man I’d least want to be locked in a room with, which is a shame, because Assassin’s Creed locks you in a room with it him for a very long time. He wakes up, he asks stupid questions out loud, he stares at a wall, he goes to bed. Does he go to the toilet? No, he is too boring to toilet. In his genetic memories he’s a pirate, the chief of a school of assassins, a beacon of vengeance for a destroyed tribe. In real life he wears a hoodie and doesn’t know what’s going on.
What’s that? It’s a window, Desmond. Out there there is a whole world of infinite colour and variation that’s seemingly failed to shape you in any way. That hoodie you’re wearing? They sell that, Desmond. They sell your iconic hoodie, a white, featureless item of clothing, because that is the point of you. You are a character so vacuous that any observer could instantly tell that you never existed before a writer put you in this room to ask questions out loud about the plot and stand inside the iconic marketing item. Don’t look sad. They did it to Aiden, Desmond, but with a stupid hat.
Go back to bed, Desmond, and dream of pirates, or anything else. We’ll all thank you for it.
Loves... Pajama Sam, the Pajama Sam adventure games
Pajama Sam is a tiny blue boy with hair indistinct from the rest of his body. He’s got mad jokes, and is all about baseball. In his first game, No Need to Hide When It’s Dark Outside, he’s transported to a twisted nightmare world in which the trees whine and furniture dances. He becomes friends with a boat, tears ass through a volcanic mine shaft, skis down a treacherous mountain, and instead of kicking Darkness to the curb, he befriends the spectral monstrosity. Now that’s a character to look up to. Sure, I’m a 26 year old man, nearly three times the cartoon boy’s age, but the dark is spooky! Sam helped me get over that. In another adventure, he taught me that thunder and lighting, well, they aren’t so frightening. And heck, vegetables? They’re fun! Pajama Sam? Pajama Slam dunk, Humongous Games. Great job.
Hates... Putt-Putt, the Putt-Putt adventure games
Putt-Putt’s first great adventure? The little bugger joins the parade. Hoo-boy, round of applause for the talking car. Next? Our least favorite sloppy jalopy dinks around too much in a goddamn fireworks factory, and in a failed murder attempt his dog, Pep, gets them shot to the moon. Leave ‘em there, I say. Putt-Putt is a purple car with impossible proportions that doesn’t deserve to be alive. Putt-Putt is an automotive abomination that just races around, messing with zoo animals, busting up circus routines, all while perpetually chipping away at the ozone layer. Putt-Putt looks like Butt-Butt if I squint, and that’s no good. Putt-Putt is a car with a mouth and a wet tongue, eyeballs—eyeballs. If Putt-Putt really wanted to save anyone, Putt-Putt would putt-putt to the nearest junkyard and kill the ignition.
Loves... Max Payne, Max Payne
I grew up watching Bogie movies like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep and love the play-it-straight attitude and camp of hard-boiled pulp fiction, so I can't help but love Max Payne. I feel like he could've been written just for me. Writer Sam Lake's inner monologue for Max is both poetic and absurd and some of the best writing in gaming, for my money. Max isn't a deep character, but he doesn't need to be—he's just a perfect avatar for noir, balancing his bleak backstory with macabre humor in the face of horror.
I loved the writing in the first Max Payne, but there's a moment in Max Payne 2 that really made me fall for the character. It's when you briefly take control of Max's love interest Mona, and she speaks like a completely normal person. Occasionally, Max's inner monologue takes over, and his stilted noir dialogue stands out as the ramblings of a crazy man in an otherwise normal world. It skewed my entire perception of Max in an instant. If this fictional New York isn't entirely populated by wise guys and 50s slang—if that's just Max—he's certifiable, which just makes him all the more twisted and entertaining.
Hates... Carth Onasi, Knights of the Old Republic
I once wrote an entire article about how much I hated Kaidan Alenko from Mass Effect. I hated Kaidan so much, I gladly killed him and made good friends with a space racist instead. But really, my hatred for Kaidan was just the evolution of my hatred for Carth Onasi, KotOR’s token goody two-shoes soldier boy. Carth was always ragging on me for killing people, blackmailing them, stealing their money, and just generally being a badass space motherfucker. He was just so damn whiny and condescending about it. If I’d followed the light path, Carth would’ve cheered on every righteous decision with his smarmy sense of satisfaction. Taking the dark path, he was nothing but a nuisance.
I’ll give him this, though: it was pretty satisfying to scare him straight out of the known galaxy by resuming the mantle of the Sith. Run, you pathetic little do-gooder!
Loves... BJ Blazkowicz, Wolfenstein: The New Order
If you'd told me this time last year that I'd choose the generic meathead, largely only known for his Nazi-killing prowess, as one of my most-liked videogame characters, I'd have laughed and called you hurtful names. Yet here we are. I was late boarding the Wolfenstein: The New Order train, but even so I had no idea what was in store. And when I disembarked, I did so with wet eyes, a tight throat, and an ache in my gut.
It's not just that BJ grew from an anonymous slab of bicep into an actual character. It's that he made the transition so well. From out of nowhere, the poster child for one-dimensional shootermen was suddenly, magnificently, human. Afflicted with the usual array of videogame superpowers, of course—best not to put too much thought into that—but when he drifts off into memory or fantasy, falling momentarily into the inescapable weariness of his broken life, all of that fades away. He’s just a man, clinging desperately to a dream that he knows in his soul has no happy ending. And when he finally lets it go, it's a fleeting but powerful moment that hits harder than anything in a Wolfenstein game has a right to.
BJ Blazkowicz killed a thousand Nazis, and then he broke my heart. I never would've believed it.
Hates... Norton Mapes, FEAR
Norton Mapes. Norton Mapes. Norton freakin’ Mapes. I'd actually forgotten about him, and how much he pissed me off the first time I played FEAR. But it all came rushing back when I replayed it recently, and I got to deal with his antics all over again. It was a less-than-happy reminder of just how much that red-headed asshole infuriated me as he yanked my chain from one end of Armacham to the other.
Norton Goddamn Mapes.
I'm not even sure why he makes me so angry. Maybe it's his annoying voice. Maybe it's his persistent, aggressive sabotage of my efforts to save the world from a supernatural apocalypse. Maybe it's because I'm an ultra-elite military operative and he's a sweaty, cheese-sucking tub of lard who gets stuck in air ducts, and yet somehow he's always able to stay one step ahead of me, laughing and shitting things up as he goes. I don't know. All I know is that every time I see his stupid face, I point my gun at him and hold the trigger until it stops going “bang.” It makes me feel a little better, even though I know I can’t kill him. For all I know, he's alive even now. But I hope not.
Norton fucking Mapes. Oh, how I hate him.
Loves... Scout, TF2
I could have picked any of the TF2 roster, but I'd be lying to myself. Sure, a part of me hates Scout. But his job is to be hated. Scout is an annoying prick, in the same way that a good Scout player is an annoying prick. Personality and playstyle are rarely so in sync. So many games would make their fastest character feel slick or cool, but TF2 goes so far in the other direction that it's almost charming. Scout is the underdog, and yet it's impossible to root for him. He is pure front, but so ineffective at the facade that his incompetence and ego clash in a pathetic mess of pure comedy. He's so carefully tuned to be hateable that I can't help but sort of love him.
Hates... Cole Phelps, LA Noire
I hated Phelps from the off. From the first moments of LA Noire, Phelps is the prim, uptight golden boy of the department. He gets off on his own moral superiority, and takes great pains to position himself as purer than his more experienced partners. He's so tediously proper, criticising every quirk and coping mechanism that makes his peers feel human. Then—and spoilers for LA Noire—he is revealed for the hypocrite he is. He cheats on his wife, and deploys every excuse he can think of to hide his flaws from himself. Of course, I'm supposed to hate him. He's deliberately unlikeable because, despite ostensibly being the main character, he's not actually the hero of the story. This bait and switch is one of LA Noire's best moments, but it doesn't redeem Cole himself.
Yes, I'm aware of the parallel. Like Scout, Phelps' job is to be hated. But the difference is there's nothing likeable in Phelps – no redeeming vulnerability, no impotent comedy, no double-jump. He's just a grotesque moralistic caricature. Screw that guy.
Loves... Oswald of Carim, Dark Souls
Yes, really, a Dark Souls character, creatures of few words though they may be. Oswald of Carim is From Software’s approach to world-building in microcosm, and that’s chiefly because all he does is stand there like Jesus and cackle at you.
Your guard is down as you ascend the Undead Parish bell tower, dim and empty—you’ve just knocked off two gargoyles with axes for tails, and game logic dictates that you’re due a reward. You reach the top, ring the Bell of Awakening, receiving a brief and deliberately opaque cutscene in return, and powerslide back down the ladder.
Dark Souls has spent the last few hours teaching you that creatures spawn only when you rest at a bonfire, and yet as your feet touch ground and you trot gaily to the exit, fingers will spasm in a frantic attempt to draw a weapon. You might perform an instinctive dodge roll, because you are no longer alone.
Oswald of Carim has appeared by the door, leather-clad and arms spread like medieval Freddie Mercury. The panicked instinct is to swing for him, but master that impulse and he’ll rattle off some zealous one-liners that always end in /that laugh/.
It’s the crowing of cruel amusement, and it’s shared by almost every NPC in the game, but none so obvious and mirthful as Ozzie’s. It says that he knows something you don’t—some massive, juicy, painfully obvious secret that everyone’s in on but you.
Hates... Marcy Long, Fallout 4
“You’d better not tell anyone about this place!”
Marcy Long is standing in Sanctuary Falls, my hometown and stronghold of the Minutemen, of which I am General. Still she questions my loyalty.
“I’ll stop complaining when there’s nothing to complain about!”
Marcy Long is in my bed, in my house that I built from scrap, alive thanks to the food I planted and the precision of my aim. Marcy Long feels she has cause for complaint.
“What gave you the idea we’re friends?”
Marcy Long has mistaken the appearance of my Fat Man as an offer of friendship.
Marcy Long is unconscious.
Alas, Marcy Long is invincible. My butler takes Marcy Long’s side and tries to kill me. He is unconscious too. Marcy Long turns my friends against me. They are all unconscious now.
Marcy Long lives out her days as an elephantine freak, having been made five times her natural size with the console.