The Worst Video Game Protagonists Of All Time
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There have been loads of great protagonists in video games over the years, from the exuberant Mario to the wise-cracking Dante, but there have also been plenty of… not so great video game protagonists. For decades, we've seen games practically ruined because the main character was either incapable of shutting up or incapable of not dying, and some of them have stuck with us as much as our favorite protagonists have. The worst video game protagonists have come in all shapes and sizes, but share one thing: our desire to never have to play as them in another game as long as we live.
For this list, we opted to stay away from silent first-person game protagonists, as their lack of direct characterization very rarely gets in the way of enjoying the rest of the game. Most of the characters on this list are very loud, and we almost never want to hear what they have to say, or scream, or sing. In fact, there are a few times we'd rather play as the antagonist, just so we could deliver the protagonist a swift, violent death. We can deal with the consequences of that.
Sergey Nechaev - Atomic Heart
Crispy critters, Sergey Nechaev--also known as P-3--stars as the reluctant hero of Atomic Heart, and he sure doesn't hide his dissatisfaction with… everyone and everything. One of the biggest jerks we've ever encountered in a game, and that includes antagonists, Sergey is so unlikeable that dying in Atomic Heart is almost soothing. Incapable of saying anything nice to anyone and very capable of berating those around him for literally no reason, Sergey has basically no admirable qualities other than being pretty good at shooting robots in the face. If his incredibly powerful glove was a little less nice, it would intentionally let Sergey fry himself in a laser field or blow himself up with a bomb. He would deserve it, and more.
Lo Wang - Shadow Warrior
Sometimes, less is more. No one ever told that to Shadow Warrior protagonist Lo Wang, who cannot shut up for more than three seconds without needing to say something irritating. Whether it be making internet-era jokes that were stale a decade ago or rapping the entire opening to "Rapper's Delight" for no reason, Lo Wang has a way of getting on your nerves. His goofiness and apparent ineptitude are supposed to be part of his charm, but he still has to be an otherwise likable character for that to work. Look at Chai from Hi-Fi Rush, who is a complete doofus and yet doesn't feel the need to always say what pops into his head. At least everyone around Lo Wang seems to be just as irritated with him as we are.
Aiden Pearce - Watch Dogs
Prior to launch, Ubisoft had hyped Watch Dogs' Aiden Pearce up as a man "shaped by violence" and "obsessed with surveillance." What he actually turned out to be was a protagonist with the emotional depth of a piece of toast. Aiden Pearce never seems to actually get upset, or angry, or happy--you just assume he is supposed to be these things when the time calls for it. And despite referring to himself as a "changed man" in the game's final moments, we're hard-pressed to find any way Aiden changed at all over the course of the game's story. The good news is that Watch Dogs 2 delivered much better in the character department with Marcus, and the open-ended nature of Watch Dogs Legion at least gave a better reason for why your hero didn't have much in the way of personality.
Shadow the Hedgehog - Sonic series
Sonic the Hedgehog was the cool, edgy video game hero for older kids who had grown out of playing "baby" games like… the universally acclaimed Mario series. But that wasn't intense enough for Sega, and we eventually were gifted--or had forced upon us--a Shadow the Hedgehog game. Not only is this third-person shooting platformer a terrible game in its own right, it also happens to have one of the worst characters in a franchise with a whole lot of bad characters. This is a 9-year-old on a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew's idea of what a cool hedgehog would be, which has to include a gun and jet-black fur. All Shadow is missing is a Juul and a pair of JNCOs to truly complete his look.
William James Carter - The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
The Cold-War-era The Bureau: XCOM Declassified could have been a great spin-off for the turn-based strategy franchise, building on its sci-fi mythos within a completely different genre. It didn't work out all that well, however, and one reason for that is protagonist William James Carter. Written with the characterization of a department store mannequin and with the stiff voice acting to match, Carter doesn't feel like a hero. In fact, he doesn't really feel like much of anything, and when I was given the choice to shoot him in the face and play as someone else for the last section of the game, I did not hesitate.
Postal Dude - Postal series
Sure, perhaps Postal Dude wouldn't make this list if it were 2003. But it's not 2003, and being deliberately offensive and peeing on everything isn't exactly hilarious now--you have to be able to pee on something with some subtlety. You have to hand it to Running With Scissors, in a way, for refusing to change the character despite the series' reputation going further south over the years. But that respect only gets you so far when you still have to play something as mind-numbingly awful as a Postal game. At the very least, you can have Zack Ward voice the character in Postal 4, so you can pretend it's Scut Farkus causing all the chaos.
Richard Marcinko - Rogue Warrior
Richard "Dick" Marcinko has the distinction of being the only character on this list who is based on a real person. The real Marcinko was a Navy Seal who later found success as an author and radio host, but this character in the abysmal Rogue Warrior is a complete monster with a mouth that would make Eric Cartman gasp. You cannot go more than a few seconds in Rogue Warrior without Marcinko saying something unpublishable, often while actively murdering someone. The only redeeming quality of the character is that he is voiced by Mickey Rourke, who raps an incredible (and bad) song over the closing credits.
Bubsy - Hell itself
The Bubsy games have never really been that good--the more recent ones and the abysmal Bubsy 3D would probably love to be called "not that good," as it is far nicer than what most people would say. The titular hero is not helping with this track record, as he's among the most annoying platforming protagonists of all time. His one-liners are grating after only hearing them a few times, and he lacks the charm of Mario or the coolness of Genesis-era Sonic. What we're left with is a bobcat who we would like to call Animal Control on, because he has become a nuisance to everyone he comes in contact with.
Gex - Gex series
Speaking of terrible one-liners, Gex has to be the absolute king. The character hasn't gotten a new game in many years, mercifully, but his constant quips were among the worst of all time. Why can't we make our way through a platforming level with having to know why you shouldn't eat seafood at Edward James' Olmos' house? Why do we have to know about the time you played charades with Michael Keaton? Why do we need to know about Judge Reinhold's costume parties? I'm pretty sure I made all of those up, but the terrifying thing about Gex is that they might actually be real.
Duke Nukem - Duke Nukem series
Duke Nukem's character design--big muscles, sunglasses, and a permanent smirk--may have been cool in the '90s, but they have not aged well, nor have his lines about "balls of steel" and pointless profanity. Sure, they make for some funny soundboard prank calls, but playing a Duke Nukem game these days is a lot like listening to nu metal. You don't really want anyone else to know, and though it might be a guilty pleasure, even you can admit that it's pretty embarrassing. And also like nu metal, we wouldn't be surprised to see Fred Durst make an appearance at just about any time in a Duke Nukem game.
Sir Arthur - Ghosts 'n Goblins
Sir Arthur isn't annoying, rude, or outdated. That's not why he made this list--he made this list because he has got to be the weakest video game protagonist of all time. Play almost any other action-platformer, and you can take a few hits before you die. In Ghosts 'n Goblins, however, you are the least formidable hero alive--or dead. Get hit once, and Arthur loses his armor. At that point, you have to run through the level in your underwear. Don't worry, however, because the game is so frustratingly hard that you're almost certain to die just a minute or two later. Can't someone give Arthur a set of armor that actually works? Please?