A lot of times, what makes a horror game downright terrifying is its villain. Be it a spine-chilling theme or cryptic (or sometimes even overtly frank) voice lines directed at the game’s protagonist, the presentation of a game’s villain(s) is a key selling point of the horror genre.
The horror gaming scene has always been considered very niche. However, In recent times, with the steady rise in popularity of horror titles, be it the hype following the launch of Kojima’s PT (Playable Teaser), the indie spectacle that was and is the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise, or the bleeding edge body horror of Resident Evil: Village, we’ve seen a plethora of fantastic horror villains come and go. Here are some of the best horror game antagonists over the years that particularly left a mark on us gamers.
#1. Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill Franchise
Even if you have never played a single Silent Hill game, you might be familiar with the iconic ‘Pyramid Head’ or ‘Red Pyramid.’
First appearing in 2001’s Silent Hill 2, Pyramid Head has become an icon for the franchise as a whole, appearing in the titles that followed, licensed films, and as one of the playable antagonist characters in Dead by Daylight.
According to director Masahiro Ito, the lack of a face on the Pyramid Head serves to make him less humanoid. His bloodied apron, the oversized cleaver, and the rubber boots only add to the creeping horror that is this pyramid-headed brute. Most of all, it makes you question why there is a pyramid in place of its head and if, at all, something human lies underneath.
More than the appearance itself is how Pyramid Head is first introduced to us. Playing as Steven, we encounter it for the first time on the other side of some metal bars – unmoving, unreactive – breathing. Shortly after, we run into it inside a room performing what seems to be violent sexual acts on a pair of lifeless mannequins, following which it drags one of them across the floor. This scene has possibly been seared into the minds of all who experienced it.
What makes Pyramid Head such an unforgettably terrifying antagonist is the fact that in Silent Hill 2, the figure manifests as a result of James Sunderland’s (the protagonist) unconscious desire to be judged for his actions. Combine that with an uncanny appearance of something human yet far from it, and you have the perfect recipe for a form of primal terror that can only be experienced in the most oppressive and suffocating of nightmares.
#2. Slenderman from Slender: The Eight Pages
Slenderman is the face (the irony isn’t lost on me) of faceless horror as we know it – a lack of features combined with imperceivable intention; there’s no wonder this creature – this entity – created waves when its creator, Eric Knudsen, first unleashed it on the Something Awful forum back in 2009.
The Eight Pages, developed by Mark J. Hadley, was an attempt to capture the essence of all that Slenderman is in a game – and what better way to do that than to have your protagonist traveling through the dark woods, malfunctioning flashlight in hand, on a desperate hunt to find eight pages scattered throughout the place, all while being stalked by the slick, suit-adorned yet surreal figure of Slenderman.
What gives Slenderman such power over our psyche is the concept of a bogeyman distilled down to its core essence – the unknown – that which lurks in the dark – the face of which we do not know. In many ways, Slenderman represents the part of us that we push deep down – the intrusive thoughts that we shut out – the carnage and malice that all living things are capable of when the circumstances are just right – a voice in our heads guiding the blade – someone to put the blame on when things don’t work out – or they do, for the worse.
#3. Albert Wesker from Resident Evil
What is it that makes Wesker so different from other video game villains? For starters, he is not a one-note adversary – by today’s standards, that might be taken for granted, but at the time, there weren’t many villains who’d make you reconsider the value of human life quite like Wesker could.
A constant nemesis within the Resident Evil franchise, we first meet Wesker as one of the top virologists from the Umbrella Executive Training School, who eventually grows to be the mastermind behind the goings-on in Resident Evil 5.
He’s the devil you know and have always known – he is and always will be waiting at the end for you, just when you think you’ve won – just when you’ve exhausted every resource at your disposal to try and make things right – when you think you finally have a chance to save the world – that’s when Wesker steps in to prove you wrong and set everything back to square one.
At the end of all that, when you do finally defeat him, it’s a hollow victory – as you look around and wonder if the world in its current state was worth saving at all – if Wesker was right all along.
Devilishly handsome with slick blonde hair, black shades, and a black trenchcoat straight out of a Matrix film, Wesker exudes the aura of a father figure who will bend, break, and reshape you according to his own warped vision of humanity.
While his visual design evokes the coolness of early 2000s supervillains, his abject apathy and complete disregard for life, human or otherwise, makes him an unforgettable antagonist within the Resident Evil series.
#4. Andrew Ryan from BioShock
The creator of BioShock’s Rapture and the projected mastermind behind the events of the game, Andrew Ryan represents a man whose ambition and strive for perfection drove him to an early grave.
In his desire to create a ‘better world,’ Ryan left no stone unturned – including the ones who should have never been touched in the first place. He would have his paradise at any cost and would eliminate any ‘parasites’ who dared to stand in his way.
What makes Andrew Ryan such a compelling character is that he’s just a man – a man with a dream. A dream that gets warped and bent as he explores every avenue to try and realize it. Only to find that at the end of it all, his own being has been wrapped up in paranoia, conspiracy, and self-loathing. So much so that in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the power he once had, he attempts to break the mind control on Jack (his son and the protagonist of the game) by uttering the iconic words, “A man chooses, a slave obeys.”
Rampant gene-splicing experiments, orchestrating his rival Frank Fontaine’s assassination, sparking a civil war, murdering his friends out of suspicion, and finally – choosing to stand in the face of his own son who clearly needs help and thinking that a couple of brave words will stop what’s about to come. It’s almost like he allowed his son to kill his own father. All of this from a man who didn’t know when to stop, who went mad with power – power that took over him completely – but the scary part is just that.
He was a man. He was like us.