Even as the Netflix Resident Evil series gets absolutely roasted online, even people who don’t like it can’t help but love Lance Reddick’s portrayal of Albert Wesker. The cold intelligence and pragmatism still shine through all the melodrama. Gamers have always found intelligent villains incredibly engaging.
From the most advanced artificial intelligence to the practical cunning of an old mobster, these villains showcase that power isn’t everything. Total power is only achievable when one puts their mind to it, and these villains’ minds are plenty sharp as far as video games go.
10 Big Smoke
GTA: San Andreas is still by and large considered to have the most memorable story among most fans. The gangs of Los Santos are just more colorful and over-the-top compared to the grit of GTA IV and V. The best example of this is Big Smoke. A big eater and the only one glad to see CJ back, this warmth is what makes his betrayal so unexpected.
There were very few clues to the betrayal, and up until the end, it took Smoke revealing himself for it to be known. He played everybody against each other and would have gotten away with everything had CJ not been so tenacious. He played the part of a loveable uncle so well that nobody figured he could have been a traitor.
9 Senator Armstrong
While the Metal Gear Solid franchise is far from lacking in masterminded villains, most of them have a complexity addiction. Oftentimes, these villains end up digging their own graves with their hubris. Not so for Senator Armstrong, the toughest opponent Raiden faces in this spinoff.
Senator Armstrong is a boisterous bruiser who was the mastermind behind all of the game’s events. Even as Raiden killed his henchmen, it was always too late. If not for Sam’s help at the last minute, Armstrong’s plan for a “might makes right” world would have come to fruition. Where others valued complexity, Armstrong exploited the simple flaws of humanity to his benefit. Definitely no beltway pansy.
Although the Metroid games don’t show a lot of talking for Ridley, he’s still regarded as one of the most cunning and dangerous beings in the galaxy. So much so, that he is even nicknamed “The Cunning God of Death”. The dozens of space colonies he left destroyed can attest to that name.
Most of his more cerebral moments are seen in comics and in-game logs. Ever since Samus’ childhood, Ridley had already been terrorizing the universe. Despite his monstrous appearance, his raids are all precise and well-planned. Even Samus, the only person to ever defeat him, fears him for the trauma he inflicted on her as a child. A serial killer in the skin of a monster.
GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) is the artificial intelligence running the abandoned Aperture Science facility in the Portal franchise. She’s incredibly intelligent by virtue of being a supercomputer. That said, she’s also one of the sassiest evil AI that a player could ever encounter.
Despite all her intelligence though, she is ultimately forced to repeat, as she calls it, “pointless nonsense that doesn’t advance anything” because of her creator’s insanity. She’s brilliant enough to upkeep and even continue the development of amazing technology. Unfortunately, most of it will never see the light of day, much to GLaDOS’ comedic dismay.
6 Handsome Jack
Handsome Jack is the CEO of Hyperion and is responsible for most of its incredible arsenal of deadly weapons. In addition to his technical expertise, Handsome Jack is incredibly charismatic and ruthless. These qualities are exactly how to be the most powerful man in the galaxy. Still, all of that is dashed with a healthy dose of mild insanity as Borderlands 2 shows.
Handsome Jack is so intelligent that until the Vault Hunters came along, he was pretty much king. Even with their presence, he spends most of the game just toying with them. When things got serious, however, he quickly shows why the galaxy fears his name.
The Fiendish Five were a gang of master criminals who killed Sly Cooper’s parents. Their leader, Clockwerk, is the most threatening of them all. Unlike his egotistical companions, Clockwerk is ruthlessly pragmatic and cunning. Every villain cliche is subverted by Clockwerk.
When Sly is in a death trap, Clockwerk immediately activates it. And any escape, he has a friend of Cooper’s held hostage as a backup. Clockwerk does not give even an inch to Sly, already making him smarter than most video game villains. It’s telling that in a rather lighthearted game, Clockwerk is depicted with the cold intelligence of a serial killer.
4 The Master
The Master is the elusive and terrifying main villain of the first Fallout game. The Master is unholy matrimony of flesh and machine. Despite his unsettling appearance, The Master is still an incredibly intelligent and sane man. His plans for united humanity (by turning everyone into Super Mutants) aren’t even done with malice. It is done with a genuine wish to see humanity evolve.
Unfortunately, that evolution will come for humanity whether it wants to or not. The Master is single-minded in his pursuit of Unity and uses his vast intelligence to spy on the populace. His cults convert humans “diplomatically” to his cause, while his Super Mutant army acts as the big stick. Fascinatingly, he is also one of the few megalomaniac villains in video game history that can be talked down from his plan. A shocking amount of humility for a fleshy computer.
SHODAN from the System Shock series is the epitome of what a “serious” version of GLaDOS would have been. SHODAN (Sentient Hyper Optimized Data Access Network) was just an ordinary AI meant for assisting with research. When her ethical constraints were removed, she slowly took over her facility and made herself its ruler.
SHODAN has contingencies upon contingencies. No matter how many times her plans are foiled, SHODAN is always a step ahead of the player. They are fated to always face her, one way or another. Her only flaw, as with many evil A.I., is her complete disdain for humanity. For all her intelligence, she can’t comprehend why humans just don’t keel over and let themselves be ruled by her magnificence.
Kefka was the Empire’s first ever Magitek Knight, and though it gave him great power, it also shattered his mind. Despite that, his intelligence allowed him to play up the insanity as a “harmless mask” which allowed him to set up the dominos that would cause the end of the world.
The ending of Final Fantasy VI is infamous for actually having Kefka outright win. No last-minute deus ex machina or arrogance to exploit, Kefka succeeds in turning the world into his plaything. The party is only left to pick up the pieces and save who they can, as his laughter shakes the world.
From the video game adaptation of I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, AM (Allied Mastercomputer) was the first supercomputer to gain sentience. His hatred for humanity pushed him to utterly destroy the entire human race, and succeed in the process. The game starts 109 years after the world has ended.
AM is the grandfather of evil AI in video games. He actually succeeded in his schemes, something many villains can’t even claim. However, it is a hollow victory, as for all his vast intellect, he is still limited by the programming humans gave him. He is only capable of warfare and destruction. His anger towards that fact is a reflection of how humanity creates great things for evil purposes. It’s telling that the only way to beat him is through the one thing he can never understand, which is empathy.
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