8 Greatest Heroes-Turned-Villains in Videogame History

It’s hard being a protagonist. You make countless sacrifices, battle through countless levels, die countless deaths, and for all your hard work, you’re still never going to be as cool as the villain. It’s surprising how few goody-two-shoes ever make the transition to bad guy status and take advantage of its perks: cooler costume, army of minions, a chill flying death fortress to hang out in while those sucker heroes come to you.

But when they do, it’s always a big event. We’re talking about genuine good guys (playable protagonists) that somehow end up on the opposing side (antagonists that need to be taken down). Here’s our list of the 8 greatest heroes-turned-villains in videogame history.

8. Alex Mercer (Good Guy: Prototype; Bad Guy: Prototype 2)

To be fair, whether or not Alex was ever “a good guy” is up for debate. He spends most of Prototype slicing & dicing anyone who has the misfortune to wander onscreen, and the rest of his time is occupied by learning new freakish nightmare powers in order to craft himself into a more efficient murder engine. Is it wrong to feel sorry for the enemies in a game? I’m hesitant to ask, because it feels like if Alex could reach out of the TV screen and kill the player, he would (I hear Radical Entertainment is working on that tech for the sequel). I wouldn’t be surprised if the original idea for this game had you controlling the US military and was called The Story of the Horrible Monster No One Could Stop And Who Ate Everyone The End.

However, in the gap between developing Prototype and starting work on the sequel, apparently one Radical employee took a look at this walking wall of fleshy horrorblades and said “Hey, our hero looks way more like a Silent Hill villain than a protagonist. Let’s just run with that angle.” In Prototype 2, you’ll be playing as a new character, a war veteran whose his wife & child were killed by Alex’s rampage in the first game. Your new goal is the execution of your former main character. The working title? Prototype 2: You Deserve This.

7. Jumpman/Mario (Good Guy: Donkey Kong; Bad Guy: Donkey Kong Jr.)

Donkey Kong was a huge milestone in gaming, back when “having a cutscene” was a huge milestone in gaming. It even had a real storyline: a humble carpenter embarks on a quest to rescue his innocent girlfriend from the clutches of a renegade ape. Kids would line up at the arcade to take a crack at helping the heroic Jumpman rescue his damsel in distress. They thought they were fighting on the side of justice. They thought Jumpman just wanted his lady back. What they didn’t know is that Jumpman just really f*cking hates gorillas.

In Donkey Kong Jr., suddenly the heroic everyman from the first game was flying his true flag: the pixelated middle finger of a big jerk antagonist. Not satisfied with merely winning his lady back, the newly-christened “Mario” had now locked Donkey Kong up in a cage and was siccing vicious animals on anyone who tried to free him, including DK’s own son, Donkey Kong Jr.

It’s possible that Mario, high off the victory and accolades of his first title, thought the audience would side with him in his weird mission to orphan a gorilla child. Or maybe PETA demanded a sequel proving how sympathetic giant apes could be. Either way, the Nintendo PR machine made sure Mario’s image would never again be sullied by another psychotic anti-ape tirade.

6. Siegfried (Good Guy: Soul Edge; Bad Guy: Soul Calibur)

Siegfried started out as a major protagonist of Soul Edge, a wandering knight on a quest to slay the man who killed his father (turns out he had psychologically repressed the fact that the killer was him all along, but tragic heroes are always a little bonkers). Siegfried quested hard, fought valiantly, besting all manner of undead pirates, sexy ninjas, and creepy bondage freaks to reach the top.

Then he had to go and break the cardinal rule of any fantasy world – don’t touch the cursed sword. Seriously. Hands off. You see a giant bloodshot eyeball peeking out at you from the hilt, you back away, understand? Hey, remember how it corrupted all who wielded it, carving a ragged, bleeding trail of pain and lamentation across half the world? For chrissakes, just read the game manual.

Apparently simple concepts like pattern recognition are foreign to Siegfried, because he doesn’t hesitate to yoink that sword up and get corrupted like everyone else, becoming Nightmare, the main antagonist of Soul Calibur & its sequels. Well, at least he got a free giant claw arm out of the deal.

5. Player 2 (Streets of Rage)

Picture this: You and your best bud just finished fighting your way through Streets of Rage, battling crime & corruption the only way that makes sense: by kicking brightly-dressed street punks in the teeth. It takes a lot of work to dissolve a criminal syndicate using only your fists, and you’ve grown to rely on one another. Trust one another. Work as two halves of the same ass-kicking whole.

So you take your crime-busting judo all the way to the top floor of the evilest building in town, where the final boss lives. The Boss offers you the standard choice: join him, or die. “Never!” you cry, a million eagles of freedom screaming in your soul. And that’s when it hits you. The betrayal you never saw coming.

Even though it came from your friend Gary, who is a toolbox, so obviously you should have seen this bullshit coming. While you were busy being a paragon of virtue, he accepted the boss’s offer. Now you two have to fight to the death before you can move on. With luck, you’ll take him down like you would any other miniboss. Worst case scenario, he wins, you both get the “bad” ending, and the conflict graduates to actual, real-world face-kicking.

4. Hero (Good Guy: Diablo; Bad Guy: Diablo II)

The plot of the Diablo series hinges on ancient soulstones that were created to contain the three prime evils; Diablo, Baal, and Mephisto. The first game ends with the hero slaying Diablo, picking up his soulstone, and ever-so-gently jamming it into his own head. The idea was to contain Diablo, but of course the sneaky devil (GET IT!?) slowly corrupts him.

Diablo II opens with a cinematic in which the fallen hero loses control of his body, raises the dead, and destroys a tavern quicker than a gaggle of drunken frat boys. You play as a new hero, following this “Dark Wanderer,” eventually facing Diablo and the other two prime evils. After defeating Mephisto and obtaining his soulstone, Deckard Cain reveals that soulstones can be destroyed in something called the Hellforge. For some reason, Cain neglected to mention this to the first guy, which would have saved him a lot of “slowly turning into the devil” headaches. To be fair, he probably should have asked more questions before shoving an evil rock into his head.

3. Big Boss (Good Guy: Metal Gear Solid 3; Bad Guy: Metal Gear)

This is a weird one for a few reasons: One, Big Boss was introduced as a villain in the original Metal Gear, but since his good-guy role in MGS3 is a prequel, he was technically a hero first. Secondly, you play through Metal Gear as his clone, so I guess he was also the hero in that game? Third, the epilogue of MGS4 suggests maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all? Fourth, patriot philosopher’s legacy FOXDIE Zanzibar ocelot? Whoa, sorry. Thinking about the Metal Gear plotline for more than five seconds triggers a hard reboot in any human brain.

Following the plot of this franchise is like trying to solve the Riemann hypothesis. It’s essentially impossible, none of your friends want to hear you talk about it, and keep at it too long and you’ll leave your sanity behind. I got into this series to snap necks & eat snake meat. If I wanted to enjoy a complex, multi-tiered plotline, War and Peace wouldn’t be propping up my TV stand.

2. Arthas (WarCraft III)

The Warcraft III human campaign is the story of Arthas, a young paladin and heir to the throne of Lordaeron. The headstrong prince clashes with his by-the-books mentor, Uther the Lightbringer. It’s suspiciously similar to the relationship of Anakin and Obi-Wan, but without any of the shitty prequel stink. That and the seductive “dark side” is replaced by a corrupt sword called Frostmourne.

Yeah, we’re back to cursed swords again. Guess how this ends.

Throughout the campaign, Arthas’ desire to protect his kingdom and achieve stubborn-paladin-glory leads him to make increasingly shady decisions: slaughtering innocent civilians who are infected with a plague, destroying his own naval fleet so that his soldiers can’t retreat, and choosing Frostmourne over rescuing his wounded dwarf buddy. He was already well on his way to becoming a full-blown asshole, but his new sword quickly erodes whatever shred of sanity he had left. The prince returns to Lordaeron and proceeds to greet his father by stabbing him in the face.

Remember when he used to say “The Light is my strength!” every other time you clicked on him? I guess it drove him crazy, too.

1. Sarah Kerrigan (StarCraft)

You first meet sexy stealth agent Kerrigan whilst getting your civil war on with the Terrans during the first big chunk of the StarCraft single player campaign. Kerrigan starts off as a Ghost, a psychic stealth operative sent to help you assassinate some bad people, and to help Blizzard check the “unreasonably sexy combat suit” box off on their sci-fi trope checklist. She even has a little romance going with the main character, which ALWAYS ends well in science fiction.

Unfortunately her boss, Arcturus Mengsk, abandons her to die in a swarm of Zerg. But instead of killing her, the Zerg decide to utilize her psychic potential and draft her into their swarm, transforming her into the Queen of Blades, simultaneously creating an ultimate psychic weapon and checking off their “unreasonably sexy alien queen” box. Kerrigan turns out to be kind of a natural at the whole “evil bitch” thing and proceeds to doublecross her way up the Zerg ladder until she’s calling the shots for the entire gross spider-worm swarm.

Which just goes to show you, even if your boss fires you from the entire human race, there’s bound to be new and exciting job opportunities available elsewhere the galaxy.

And The Official Dorkly Alignment Shift Award For Excellence in Wrestling Plotline or Videogame™ Goes To…

They went three-for-three on this list with each of their major franchises, Diablo, StarCraft, and WarCraft. I’m not sure if that means Mike Morhaime just doesn’t believe in heroes, or maybe that cursed sword he drags around everywhere is slowly devouring his soul.

Whatever, as long as we still get Diablo III.