Video games have always provided an outlet for the player to beat up, main, and even destroy their enemies. However, some games take those enemies to the next level. Whether it’s making them ingenious, or just giving them a personality that warrants a good thrashing, here are some of the best enemies in gaming.
5. The Joker (Batman Arkham series)
Joker: I feel I would be remiss if I’d deny the Joker a place in any list of video game villains. He feels like a certain titan among gaming through my personal experience and through sheer importance and originality of character as well. His veritable well of non-lingering memories not just from gaming serve only to enhance his persona as one of the defining villains of our time. Of course many are familiar to him through any medium imaginable. Since many quality takes exist in those mediums, it becomes hard to nail that one definitive interpretation of the Joker. I’d say Mark Hamil deserves a fair stake given his effort on the Rocksteady Batman series and his previous qualifications with Batman: The Animated Series.
Just as a true definitive Joker performance is hard to come by, I can’t seem to pinpoint one moment of chaos that explains the depths of his villainy. To me he seems to represent the archetype of chaos by the sheer volume, which is as inseparable to the character as the green hair or perpetually suggestive smile.
I can name a big list of his scary machinations: Joker releasing Arkham inmates en masse and laughing like a deranged party host, Joker looking sicker and sicker from the Titan virus and yet still able to outsmart Batman at every opportunity before his death, and Joker hanging around Gotham alongside Batman (or rather in his head) while providing many sinister quotes and even jump scares.
Burning the Joker at the start of Arkham Knight, though. That was one of the eeriest openings to a game I ever played. The initial sight of that nasty (sorry: nastier) face was enough to instill in any gamer the weirdest sense that Joker somehow cheated death even though, as events unfolded, that did not happen. If the Joker’s, scabby visage wasn’t enough, it becomes apparent once the initial shock wears off that something must happen, so you realize via no prompting from the game that you have to burn the Joker. When this happened I had a visceral “holy shit!” reaction to what I did. “Who the hell am I? I’m a damn monster!” A vile cremation cements Joker’s death from the events in Arkham Ciry while reinstating the one rule that Batman had to break: murder, and thus giving the gamer a clue to the mindset of the killer from the start. The game makes you feel like Batman physically and emotionally. An undoubtedly incredible feat.
I remember being just as repulsed and fascinated by the Joker as ever as soon as he entered Arkham Asylum looking right at home and possessing some sense of expectation of how his “stay” would be orchestrated. The theatrical aspect of making an entrance was all there: freaking out the guards, making a sick joke of a routine thermometer insertion, making balloon-thin veiled threats to anyone who seemed cross to him in the slightest. This event signaled to me as the true grand entrance of the Joker in video games, an event no less performed to a great degree by non other than the great Mark Hamil. His look felt important to me as well. I think Rocksteady put their own spin on him via the face most of all. The chin and major angles of his face were sharper as was the hair just a tad while wicked green as ever. The trademark suit also had a sinister elegance even though it looked dirty and rough as hell. His peculiar exited gestures and facial expressions only added to his general aura of wickedness. The true Joker of video games had arrived.
4. Sci-fi Creatures to Fuel Your Nightmares (Dead Space)
When I think about Dead Space I almost feel like shuddering but I always come up with a grin. Those games are incredible due to the sheer variety of Necromorphs that come face to face, or stomach, or limb, or any miscellaneous organ to Isaac Clarke’s formidable, customizable array of improvised space-mining tools tailor made to bust aliens into lovely goo. Of course the obvious presence of the Necromorphs label them as clear antagonists, but the overall setting of the USG Ishimura seems to thwart Issac Clarke just as much at times. If shit for our intrepid protagonist was not already hard enough, he also has to deal with a crumbling psyche throughout his adventure. I love the layering of antagonism Visceral Games implements on the character of Issac Clarke. Everything tries to kill him and the disintegrating mental state adds the unreliable narrator element, which leads the player questioning everything they see. I can imagine the ongoing trauma of killing things and escaping death never helping the argument of sanity here. Clearly our boy is deep in the shit.
Right away the influences going into making the Necromorph aliens scary and the environmental realism of the USG Ishimura believable are recognizable. Before I encountered any aliens, within the opening minutes, I encountered the Ishimura; a decrepit deep space mining ship where upon Issac’s entry, it’s apparent the shit hit the fan. Some clues as to how much shit hit the fan could be the semi-darkness, the grime/rust/blood covered corridors, or the sight of the ship itself looking worse for wear on the outside and completely dark. Nothing bad could have happened there, could it? The ship’s various corridors and locations bear similar structural relationships to The Alien franchise except the walls in the movies aren’t streaked with gore and pulsating flesh. I think the Necromorphs owe a debt to Alien (those appendages!) as well as John Carpenter’s The Thing right down to heads running around on tiny little legs.
No Necromorph form in the franchise, to me at least, felt too out of place or super annoying. Each respective form made sense as to how they were created and plenty of variety. Twitcher Necs are formed when a human dies from the “corruption” while wearing a suit with stasis fluid that somehow fuses with the nasty flesh. The Pack are little kids who have succumbed to the corruption and hunt Issac like a pack of hungry, ganglike predators. The hellish Crawlers aka Necromorph babies are pretty much self explanatory and pretty horrific to behold. The corruption is a weird biological agent that mutates human flesh and bone into many forms. I love the originality of detail placed within each form. Certain environmental factors may influence what sort of Necromorph emerges from an infected human. It’s fun to come across a human on the verge of transformation while I guess what will soon emerge or if the corruption will cause him or her to bash their head against the wall until death among other things.
Virtually any sense that can be translated into gaming becomes viable for Dead Space. Not only do you see and hear the evil, but the gamer can sense it as well from Issac’s mental state. At that point anything from Issac’s experience can be second-guessed, but Visceral clearly makes the distinction between tangible experience and actual hallucination. As a gamer, I was aware of Issac’s potential to come away unscathed become bleaker and bleaker to the point a “happy” ending seemed impossible.
I loved the second and third Dead Space, but the first always stood out to me as something special beyond belief. I found Issac’s lack of spoken vocabulary a way to bond with the character. I want to keep fighting for him and somehow solve his problems more and more with every subsequent unpredictable Necromorph attack. Dead Space is the rare game that paints one of the bleakest portraits of desperate survival in gaming. Everything is working against him and it shows from his reaction to the hallucinations to the terrified sounds he makes behind the suit helmet. The further I played the further I came to delve into Issac’s behavior through the intricacies of the antagonists. He kicked extreme ass despite it all and created some great survival horror memories.
3. Various Creepy Concoctions (Resident Evil 4)
I admit to being a scared little kid upon first playing Resident Evil 4. Fifteen isn’t the best age to be a scared little kid, but that’s the sad reality. In fact it took three or four weeks to get past that harrowing opening village. I had to build an immunity to the terror I experienced by playing that sequence over and over again. I remember both hands sweating profusely and losing my shit whenever I heard the fist revs of the first burlap sac wearing chainsaw maniac. I broke focus and always ran back to the villagers I left alive where I was either gang slaughtered by them or decapitated from behind from the chainsaw guy. Either way once I got past that, the rest of the game played out smooth compared to that opening foray into the game. It was already special, but would it leave an impact? Short answer: a resounding yes. Resident Evil 4 left an indelible impression upon me because of the enemies. Those first few enemies were the tip of the iceberg. The pulse pounding score and the creepy three main settings played no small part either, but to me the terrifying takeaway are the scary monsters.
The chainsaw maniacs, especially the sister boss fight, were amazing. Their burlap sacks, the ragged appearance, screams of rage, and the noise of the chainsaw added together to make an enemy for the ages. I admit I did scream in terror at my television set a few times. Yikes.
The medieval “Garrador” enemies inspired equal measures of fear and admiration. Their design, complete with dungeon metal covered bodies, caged helmets, (think a Saw-esque death trap) wolverine claws, unsettling speed and predatory grunts make another freakish foe to fight. Did I mention these guys are also blind? Tread lightly or have your guts carved after a terrific claw-ripping-into-flesh sound effect. Nothing is scarier than one of these freaks charging and grunting at you like a predatory boar.
Perhaps the most terrifying enemy of all are the Regenerators. A shuddery, vicious breathing sound announces their arrival. For some reason the gamer has to search for the source a bit to find the actual thing (yes, “thing”) and the fearful anticipation only keeps building until the grotesque sight reveals itself. A result of Umbrella experimentation, Regenerators are eight or nine feet tall, have scabby grey skin, red eyes, sharp teeth, twitchy movement, super stretching limbs, gee whiz the list goes on: slow, deliberate movement, regenerating, bullet resisting flesh, special music accompanying every encounter. What the hell do they do to kill you? They grab you from a long distance, reel you in, and chow down on your neck until death. After the player falls over, so does the Regenerator…on your body while flopping around on top like a fish. The “Iron Maiden” variants are arguably scarier. These dudes are covered in spikes and their technique is impaling you after reeling you in. The Regenerators, along with all of the above-mentioned enemies, never quite lost their sick appeal for me.
Some boss fights were better than others even though all of them were exceptional. Mendez’s eerie gaze and later elongating centipede-like spine complete with weird superhuman acrobatics was truly memorable. Another was some kind of mutated tadpole/eel, (aka “Del Lago”) a scary, fleshy sort of Jaws-like monster with nasty teeth.
I think many of us can agree the story of Resident Evil 4 is campy rather than creepy, but the undeniable scare factor has enough clout to muscle out any concern about the story. RE4’s superb graphics bring to life some of the most horrific, imaginative enemies ever, um, imagined in a video game. I only mentioned a few that stuck with me and there are so much more deserving of remembrance. Beware of the squirming sack of flesh!