The problem with main characters is that they can be so boring. Often developed to be cyphers so that players can imprint on them, they’re just as likely to be bland so that a baddie can shine. The thought is that we don’t need Chell to be charismatic, because we have GlaDOS. Who cares what Jack looks or sounds like in Bioshock when we have Sander Cohen?
Very occasionally, however, a game tosses that accepted wisdom aside and has some fun. Why can’t the protagonist be the main event? Why can’t they be the ones with the flaws? Some go even further – why can’t they be he narcissists, the sociopaths, the downright murderers?
It’s time to celebrate those games that deviate from the rulebook, who hand you a main character and say ‘good luck with that’. Yep, it’s time to list the ten most unhinged main characters that the Xbox has to offer. Miscreants, the lot of them.
Harrier “Harry” Du Bois – Disco Elysium
The character who gave us the inspiration for this list, Harrier “Harry” Du Bois collects maladies like they were Brownie badges. We meet him in Disco Elysium as he emerges from a week-long bender as a complete amnesiac (apparently this isn’t new to Harry), with multiple personalities (or are they demons? Or angels?) tugging for control over his fragile psyche.
This is a man who has constructed a complex character for his necktie, and regularly holds conversations with it. Play Disco Elysium, and you’ll understand what it’s like to be ashamed and occasionally embarrassed by your own character.
Kain – The Legacy of Kain Series
The best anti-heroes could viably, with the smallest of nudges, be a villain themselves. Kain hates humans, embraces his vampiric side, has a deep hunger for power, desiring the land of Nosgoth for himself. That’s the CV of a supervillain if we’ve ever seen one, yet Kain is at the epicentre of a total of five different video games (although a Kain game hasn’t seen the light for nineteen years, natch).
It says a lot about us or him that we were willing Kain to sink his fangs into elder gods, so that he could sit on the throne of Nosgoth. A charismatic fella, is our Kain.
Vaas, Pagan Min and Seed – Far Cry 6
Is it cheating to include three villains who you only get to play in Far Cry 6 DLC? Probably, but we’re in control of the list, so pooh pooh. Insanity, Control and Collapse, the three DLC packs for 2021’s Far Cry 6, let us loose as Vaas, Pagan Min and Joseph Seed, and while their associated levels were a bit duff, playing as the characters themselves was a manic joy.
But who wins in the unhinged stakes? Vaas pips Pagan Min, thanks to a terrific Michael Mando delivery (watch him still going strong in Better Call Saul), as well as delivering a pep talk on insanity that could have been the intro for this piece, if it wasn’t for the Goodfellas-levels of swearing. You’ll just have to look it up.
Alice – American McGee’s Alice
Alice emphatically places on this list by constructing an entire fantasy world, not with her hands, but her mind. Her Wonderland is a tortured, ruined place that’s the product of trauma, as she is sent to Rutledge Asylum in a coma, having survived a house fire that killed both of her parents.
Tormented by the Jabberwocky, who pours on the survivor’s guilt in an effort to turn her away, Alice ends up destroying her grotesque version of Wonderland so that the real one can replace it. Alice is one of the few people on this list to come back from her dark place.
Captain Martin Walker – Spec Ops: The Line
Martin Walker’s placing alone on this list is something of a spoiler, as he’s the only one whose questionable sanity is the result of a twist.
Starting as an American soldier who could have wandered in from a Call of Duty campaign, Martin’s leadership in Spec Ops: The Line is called into question when he signs off on a strike of white phosphorus on some entrenched locals. As his team round on him, he delusionally constructs a character – Konrad – and some imagined orders that forced him to do it. But we don’t know that they are both imagined, and the dark spiral that Martin descends from that point onwards is something to behold.
Voldo – Soulcalibur Series
We don’t know that Voldo is unhinged, but we can kind of assume. Part of us wants to imagine that, after a battle, Voldo uncricks his back, takes off the BDSM gear, and slips into a smoking jacket with a brandy glass.
Voldo’s origin story is a doozy. He was put in charge of creating a secret vault on a faraway island for an Italian weapons merchant called Vercci. It was named The Money Pit, and no-one was to know where it was located. But Vercci wanted to secure his investment, so made sure Voldo couldn’t tell anyone, either: he was blinded and left in the pit to go insane. It’s there that he heard the voice of his master, pushing him to claim the Soul Edge.
We’re not sure where the Soulcalibur strappy outfits and codpieces come in, though.
James “Seth” Lynch – Kane & Lynch Series
You wouldn’t bring either Kane or Lynch back to meet your mum, but Lynch is clearly the more unhinged of the two. A paranoid schizophrenic, he may or may not have killed his first wife. He genuinely doesn’t know, and only confessed to the crime as a plea deal organised by a corrupt lawyer. Or so he says.
What makes James “Seth” Lynch such a compelling main character is that you genuinely can’t count on him. He’s by your side (or in your hands, if the missions require it, or you are playing co-op), and he could very well undermine the mission completely and shoot someone in the back of the head. That ‘random player’ aspect puts Lynch firmly on our list.
Heihachi Mishima – Tekken Series
Heihachi’s Tekken character bio is hilarious. This is a man who threw his five-year old son off a cliff, imprisoned his father for over twenty years, killed his wife, shot his grandson, and massacred all of his former employees. If you’re on Heihachi’s Christmas list, you can be pretty certain that your getting the gift of murder.
But look! He’s not completely unhinged. He loves animals, and has raised two bears, teaching them how to fight. He’s also intensely chivalrous, with a deep respect for women, unless they need kidnapping to further his cause. A complicated man, Heihachi is probably one to avoid at a mixer.
Max Payne – Max Payne Series
Alongside Alice in this list, Max Payne is possibly the most justified in his unhingedness. In “one New York minute”, his family is murdered, and Max is propelled into single-minded revenge. And when we say propelled, we mean jumping really, really slowly into rooms while holding twin pistols.
We still have nightmares about following thin, white lines through psychotic meltdowns as babies cry in the background. The dream sequences in Max Payne did a fantastic job of communicating Max’s descent, while also taking us there with him.
Max – Sam & Max Series
Our second Max on the list, Max of Sam & Max is the most playfully and benignly psychotic of the bunch. He lives in an ACME-like world where a mallet to the face is more of a punchline than a murder weapon, and that gives him some leeway.
No problem is too difficult for Max, because violence solves everything. The little lagomorph might come across as stupid, but he’s a hammer who sees everything as a nail. And the little scamp can’t help himself: after a critical accident, he was left with a large metal plate in his head, and psychic powers to boot.
Did you know, he’s the only one on this list to become the President of the United States? Imagining any of the others in that position gives us the shivers. Voldo for President!
Invariably, we will have missed someone off. Make a case for them in the comments below, or on our social media channels. We want to know who deserves to be knocking Max Payne and the rest off the list. Garcia Hotspur of Shadows of the Damned nearly made it, and you could make a case for PAC-MAN being one too. Bring on the barmy, the cruel and disjointed!