You know how it feels to chase after a formidable villain with gaming controller in hand, desperately pushing those joysticks and buttons to catch up and finish them off once and for all.
Then, as the battle between you and your sworn enemy ensues, your heart pounds as you fight tooth and nail to the bitter end, trying with every ounce of strategy and skill to emerge victorious.
It’s that sense of tactile connection that gives video games their sense of personal fulfillment. Beating a villain yourself—by your own hands, strategies, and capabilities—means so much more than simply watching a protagonist defeat their own enemy on screen.
But not all video game villains are satisfying villains, and even satisfying villains can be forgettable once the credits roll. It takes a special kind of character with a special kind of sauce to be a great villain.
Here are our picks for the greatest video game villains throughout gaming history, the ones who made you push harder, faster, and smarter for victory as they threatened the world.
8. Dutch van der Linde (Red Dead Redemption)
In Red Dead Redemption, Dutch was the man you had to relentlessly pursue on behalf of Edgar Ross—or risk losing everything, thanks to the protagonist John Marston’s past.
Dutch was a cunning warrior and outright poisonous creature who clung to life in much the same way that a python strangles its prey.
However, in Red Dead Redemption 2, the story of Dutch unfolds to reveal a man who’s driven mad by the pressures of the modern world and his renegade leadership of his gang.
He becomes one of the great villains of gaming because of the depth he’s afforded across both games, which show Dutch as more than just a one-dimensional character to hunt. He’s a man lost in a changing world.
7. Lance Vance (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City)
Taking a knife to the front in the midst of a cartel war? That’s expected and understandable. But taking a blade in the back by a close friend? Now that’s a bitter pill to swallow.
In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Lance Vance is that betrayer. He’s the man who had your back as Tommy Vercetti before ruthlessly selling you out in the final twist of Tommy’s rise to power.
Everything about Lance was likable. He had a cool car, a funny attitude, and a seeming core of brotherhood that bonded us with him. That’s what makes that moment cut so deep—the moment he completely turns against you for perceived slights against him.
Chasing him through the mansion and finally killing him was a sequence full of mixed emotions, but in the end, perhaps he deserved to die for his betrayal of all that you’d built in Vice City.
6. General Shepherd (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2)
In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, General Shepherd gives us one of gaming’s ultimate “Well, I did NOT see that coming” moments. He also gives us a tough-to-witness scene as Shepherd ruthlessly murders a squad of loyal soldiers before burning their bodies.
From the moment General Shepherd reveals his true nature, everything afterwards leads us to grow angrier at the General. We personally vow revenge against the man for making us care about the soldiers around us, then forcing us to watch them all die horribly.
The fight against Shepherd is long and full of violence, but as you reach that moment of karma—throwing your last knife at the murderous General—it feels like destiny fulfilled, no matter the cost.
5. The Joker (Batman: Arkham)
Everybody knows who The Joker is. In some ways, he’s as equally famous as his archnemesis Batman, with whom he’s fought across numerous times across numerous layers of pop culture.
To find him in perfect form in a truly great game like the Arkham series? That only served to make him an even greater villain in societal consciousness, at least among gamers who’ve faced him.
Voiced by the inch-perfect dulcet tones of Mark Hamill, The Joker pushes Batman as hard as any villain has pushed any hero across a gaming series. He delivers twists and turns that surprise us and put everything in danger because Batman refuses to take Joker off the board.
In the Arkham series, The Joker proved that he’s always Batman’s most dangerous opponent. He haunts the Dark Knight like a phantom from beyond the grave, trying to show Batman who he really is deep down.
4. Darth Malak (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)
Remember how tough Darth Malak was to bring down in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic?
The apprentice of the turned Sith Lord, Darth Revan, took control of the fleet from his former master and tried to corrupt the woman he fell in love with to turn to the Dark Side.
So, looking at it from that perspective, Darth Malak has everything ticked off on the villain list: he’s a usurper, he’s a traitor to his master, and he’s a creature that would use anything to get what he wants.
The final battles against him are punishing to win, as Revan—now redeemed—fights his former apprentice in the Star Forge, creating one of the best ever Star Wars fights in the process.
3. GLaDOS (Portal)
The trials that GLaDOS put us through in Portal is an experience that we’ll never forget. The satirical puzzle-solving journey, which sometimes crossed into meta territory, had us in the shoes of Chell as she was punished by GLaDOS in almost every way possible.
The machine’s ruthless and cold verbal attacks make for a brutal form of psychological torture throughout Portal and through large parts of Portal 2, with Chell having to endure the relentless attacks of GLaDOS as she tried to make it through her missions.
GLaDOS is the bully that gained access to an array of traps and weapons. She’s a morality-deficient AI that understands little about human behavior—and for her creation, she suffers through existence while cruelly trying to destroy Chell’s mental state with her “tests.”
It’s GLaDOS’ complexity and satirical nature that make her a villain for the ages, as she’s constantly trying to figure out and understand life even while showing distain for those living it.
2. Big Boss (Metal Gear Solid)
Some of the greatest villains are those trying to save the world in their own way, and Big Boss is that character down to his very core.
His story through life eventually comes full circle. It’s a complete tale of misery and service to what he believed was the greater good.
On one level, Big Boss is the soldier who saved the world by trying to bring it under his control—but he’s also more than that. He always led his soldiers by example. His mind was a fortress of secrets, and his opinions were warped by the horrors he witnessed in war.
First, he was the enemy of Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2 before becoming the protagonist in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It was from there we finally got acquainted with the legacy and tale of Big Boss through the wider Metal Gear tale.
But, as hero and as villain, he was always a formidable opponent, a wise strategist, and a cunning warrior who was near-impossible to kill—which is why his end came through infection, not a bullet.
1. Dr. Robotnik (Sonic)
Dr. Robotnik isn’t just a video game villain. He’s THE iconic retro video game villain, a step above Bowser. We all grew up with the dastardly Eggman trying to hurt Sonic with his technology.
The evil genius has so much of every future villain that came afterwards within his code. He was the nexus point for the gaming industry as a whole. He might not be the first gaming villain ever, but he defined the role in a way that saw him dominate gaming culture for decades.
Gaming villains are famed all over the world if they’re compelling, but Dr. Robotnik is the only one recognized by everybody for his game and his place within it. You only need brilliant inventions to be feared.