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Cameron's Top Ten Heroes of this Generation
Written By: Cameron GM

This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of weekly articles, a collection of my opinion on what should be considered the Top Ten of something. In this particular case, I have gathered a list of what I consider to be the top ten heroes of this console generation. These are protagonists who are either particularly admirable, funny, cool, or just flat-out heroic. As this is based solely on my own opinion, it most likely won't coincide with anyone else's, but hopefully I can present my opinions in such a way that people will at least see they have merit. If you disagree, feel free to e-mail me with your own lists. With luck, I'll be able to put some of them up in another article. If you're interested, my e-mail address is at the bottom of the page.

Now, without further ado, let's get started.

10. Sam Fisher
(Splinter Cell, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow)

Reason: Now, honestly, you can't go over a list of this generation's great heroes without covering old man Sam Fisher. Whether you like Splinter Cell or despise if, you have to admit this grey-haired wonder boy is more impressive than most give him credit for. A combination of an attitude that puts most grizzly old battle veterans to shame and an ability to get the job done that makes James Bond cry makes him easily one of the coolest heroes to come along in several years.

Probably the single most notable reason for his coolness is the fact that he has Tom Clancy's trademark bad-ass character traits scrawled all over him. He's a formerly retired NSA operative whose very existence would be denied up and down by the American government, and he's the best in his field, his skills just barely staying within realistic human limits. But, despite this, he keeps a very real element of the vulnerable human one might expect to see in a very high-quality spy movie: if he gets shot, he will die. In his case, the entire point is to never get shot.

And while Tom Clancy's typical character traits are his most notable feature, the biggest lure of his entire persona is that, if he does things right, nobody will know he did anything at all. And let's face it: that is just cool.

9. Master Chief
(Halo, Halo 2)

Reason: Well, probably the first reason for the Chief being here (and I apologize for the lame picture, I really do) is that Halo fanboys would hunt me down and cut my throat if I didn't include him. Come to think of it, they might do it anyway, since he's ranked so low on the list. But, honestly, I like the Master Chief, and my experiences with him are largely limited to the time I spent playing multiplayer on my friend's Xbox. Not only does he redefine the role of the enigmatic bad boy soldier hero, he's also just an incredibly great fighter. Highly adaptable and able to fight with basically any weapon you put in his hands, the Master Chief fills basically the same role as the archetypical Space Marine of the Doom series, only with much more style.

Admittedly, there isn't quite so much to the Master Chief as there are to most of the characters on this list, but he makes it up here simply for his ability to kick the crap out of anything that comes his way with whatever he can grab. His attitude towards the enemy is very simple: if it moves, kill it. If they're in an aircraft, blow it out of the sky. If they're in a tank, shove a grenade down their throats. To the uninitiated this might come across as what would translate into a tendency towards mindless violence, but once you actually see him in action (or even better, actually play) you realize that this frame of mind is just a result of extreme professionalism concerning the job.

Hard to say exactly what's so appealing about the Master Chief: could it be his armor, which is arguably the coolest in the universe? Could it be his attitude, which is to get the job done and blast anything that gets in his way? Does the entire game he's in somehow appeal to a deeper part of the human psyche, a part of us that craves for a hero that has no qualms with killing his opponent because they simply need to be killed? I honestly don't really know myself, but it's hard to deny the Chief's quiet charisma or his ability to blow stuff up. And both are good.

8. Solid Snake
(Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty)

Reason: Simply stated, Solid Snake is the quintessential super spy. Period. Nobody else even comes close. He combines the lecherous nature of any honest-to-God geek with an acerbic wit that can bite through the most tense of situations with a sting of Spider-Man-esque comedy. Part of Snake's appeal is that no situation is so dire than he can't take it at least somewhat lightly, either trying to infuriate his opponent into a mistake or just realizing he doesn't have to worry all that much.

And let's face it; Snake is pretty much the toughest guy in the entire world. If James Bond had command of a fully manned and stocked aircraft carrier, Sam Fisher had a small fleet of similarly trained super spies, and Snake had a toothbrush, Snake would win. His skills are quite obviously not meant to be strictly realistic, and with this suspension of disbelief everything about him becomes quite enjoyable. He's like a living action movie star, who pulls off the impossible on a regular basis and looks very cool doing it. He can infiltrate bases with the greatest of ease, and his expertise in the martial arts makes the heavily cutscene-laden Metal Gear games a joy to watch almost as much as to they are to play. His past is as shrouded as any character's in gaming is, but when you get down to it he's just a normal guy who couldn't go on a mission without his smokes. And frankly, that's just kind of cool (the...humanity part, not the smoking).

Yeah, it's hard to describe what makes Solid Snake so cool when you're talking to a person who's not familiar with him. To say that he's the best at what he does is not enough, and neither is the fact that he's earnestly funny, nor that he may well be the best fighter in the history of ever. Snake is one of those characters whose specific cool traits are hard to place, because none of his traits are really outstanding. However, he is very much the sum of his parts, and the sum of his parts is very, very cool. One of the best.

7. Prince of Persia
(Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time )

Reason: The Prince has a fairly little-known career that goes back pretty far. Starting off as the humble hero of a comparatively revolutionary sidescroller, the Prince's latest excursion into the gaming world was in a little gem called Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which was one of the best games of 2003 without question.

The prince (if he has a real name I don't know it) is a highly trained acrobat and warrior, but prior to the start of Sands of Time he had very little actual experience. Throughout the game he goes through a very dynamic change, growing from a rather naďve warrior prince to one of the greatest fighters and adventurers the world has ever seen. One of the appeals of the prince is his transient nature: he never really stays the same between any two given parts of the game, and literally matures right before the player's eyes. As a character he's very engaging, and watching the way he changes is one of the best things about the recent Prince of Persia game.

But let's get serious: the real reason he's so cool is because of his acrobatics, his manipulation over time, and his skill in hand-to-hand combat. Let me tell you, watching a guy run along a wall for fifteen feet, launch himself onto a horizontal metal bar, swing on it a few times, and let go at the perfect moment to land on a far-off platform is unbelievably cool - especially if you're the one doing it. The illusion of a do-anything environment present in Sands of Time is thanks largely to the Prince himself, and how his physical prowess borders on the supernatural. Combined with his manipulation of time, the Prince may well be one of the most dangerous characters in a long time, and just the way he fights is splendidly cool.

His skill in combat would be enough by itself, but when you add in a decent sense of humor and somebody to banter back and forth with? It's golden. Most of the reason for the Prince's gradual maturing is his interactions with the princess Farrah, which are the source of some of the best and funniest conversations in videogame history. It's one thing to be totally bad, and another thing to be really funny, but when you combine these elements in the initially puerile prince you get a character who grows dynamically and is interesting throughout. Watching how he performs in the next game will be a particularly special treat.

6. Gordon Freeman
(Half-Life)

Reason: All right, all right, I admit that Gordon here isn't exactly in this generation of gaming. Yet. However, seeing as Half-Life 2 is arguably the most highly anticipated game coming out for the PC basically ever, and Gordon here is probably the best hero to originally come off of that oh-so-upgradeable gaming platform, he gets his deserved spot. Honestly, it's the least he should get.

Gordon isn't like...well, pretty much every other hero on this list. His combat training is limited to knowing how to point a gun and pull the trigger, in addition to the widely applicable use of a crowbar to smash through wooden boxes. He's wearing a protective biohazard suit that makes him somewhat more resistant to things like falling off of his chair and banging his shin on his experiments. He has to wear glasses because of poor eyesight. He's your average scientist in your average top-secret super high-tech company.

So what makes him so cool? Why, exactly what I just mentioned. Out of all the characters on this list, Gordon Freeman is easily the least "heroic" individual, and the one with the least interest in heroism. Heck, he happens to come across the ultimate horror while just doing his job, and not just doing his job like an adventurer, this is like discovering you've unleashed Satan upon your office by opening a game of Solitaire on your computer. Simply put, when he's confronted with mortal peril, his foremost interest is simply in surviving, and when it comes to that he can bite down and do very, very well.

Gordon is caught up in the middle of something he wants no part of because of a mistake that wasn't his fault, and the only thing he can really do is save himself by fighting against impossible odds. Probably the best character on Earth when it comes to sheer ingenuity, Gordon can work himself out of any situation without the use of any special skills or powers or strengths. When dragged into a fight he didn't want, he will kill anything he needs to in order to survive, and will survive in any way he can imagine. He's not a warrior...heck, he doesn't really know how to fight all that well. But he is a genius, and he is a hero, probably the best in any PC game - and, arguably, in any console game.

5. Samus Aran
(Metroid Prime, Metroid Fusion, Metroid Zero Mission)

Reason: Shamefully enough, Samus is the only heroine on this entire list. This doesn't make her any less of a great character and all-around butt-kicker, but in reflection I wish there were more women in gaming like her.

And after all, why shouldn't there be? Samus trumps the likes of the Master Chief by leagues when it comes to kicking butt, and she's actually an engaging character. Though some of her more prominent roles occurred several consoles past, her current excursions are considered some of the best games in this generation. Her past has been explored more deeply in recent games, and some part of her character has been revealed in the process. We know that Samus is an orphan, that the Chozo raised her to fight, and we know that she can find super-powerful weapons on any planet that they've ever settled on for any length of time.

What makes Samus so cool is that she kicks all kinds of butt without catering to any of some of the more typical heroine faults - she's not a symbol of "girl power", nor is she pitted constantly against male counterparts who she overcomes easily. She's thrown into a situation like unto any male hero's, and she handles it in a way that's cerebral, sophisticated, and brutal. She's an expert tracker, a researcher, and a fighter the likes of which grown men would look up to. Her bounty hunting background is obvious in the way she moves through missions, picking a single target and doggedly hunting it until she finds it.

Samus' depth of character is deceiving, because she is largely silent in all of her games. Dialogue is exceedingly rare, and completely nonexistent in Prime, so much of her personality is only revealed through her actions and her past. In Prime we learn of the machinations of the Chozo when she was on her way to them, and in Zero Mission we are given a small glimpse into her life with them. When she looks upon the Chozo Ruins in Prime and you watch her expression change to one of restrained grief and disbelief...that's what makes the character. Subtlety at its absolute finest.

So, yes, Samus is definitely top quality material, easily on par with her male contemporaries and far surpassing most of her fellow heroines. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either stupid or a liar - not that anyone would. Appreciation for this lady borders on being universal, and for good reason.

4. Wind Waker Link
(Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker)

Reason: I defy you to make a list without this little fellow. I defy you to do it. "But", you may be asking, in a manner understandable, "why this Link in particular?" Well, it's very simple. Despite his rather goofy appearance, he's the most interesting iteration of Link that has ever existed. Many of you will disagree, but I don't care, and this is why.

This Link accomplishes what no Link before him has, and considering the simplicity of it it's almost sad: in this case, Link actually manages to convey some level of personality. In spite of everything else that has been said of his new appearance, indeed every that can be said, one can't argue that this is the first time Link has expressed emotion by doing something other than screaming or jumping up and down. The fact that he has such a cartoony, stylized face only leads to him being able to express a range of motions that coincides with that. You can tell when he's happy, sad, angry, frightened, shocked, whatever. You can tell. This is a completely new element to Link's character that actually defines his personality somewhat, so that he breaks away from the tradition of being a basically emotionless drone who does whatever the player wants just because.

And, of course, this Link also fights better than any previous incarnation of the character. He's quicker, jumps further, and can actually fight defensively. The way he uses his other weapons is either more effective or just outright hilarious - if you use the Skull Hammer and never laugh, then not only do you not have a sense of humor, I'm not entirely sure you have a soul.

Next, and maybe more importantly, Link's ties to other characters actually seem more personal. Maybe it's because of the increased range of expressions, maybe not - I'm not qualified to say. But the fact of the matter is that everything Link does makes him seem involved with the other character, like some emotional investment one would actually expect there to be when one is out righting the wrongs of the world has finally sprung up. And this leads to something even better: unlike in so many other Zelda games, you start to feel a sense of empathy for Link, and this heightens one's own experience. When you gaze up at the statues surrounding the Master Sword, you can almost tell how awed and humbled he must feel. When you come face to face with Ganondorf for the first time, you can feel how impressive he is - not from his own appearance, but from Link's reactions. It's not what you would expect to happen, but it's a surprisingly immersing experience.

Finally and most importantly, this version of Link continues in the spirit of his predecessors. He is a young boy taken from his home by necessity and his own choice who sets on an adventure to save his sister and, eventually, the world. Out of all the heroes on this list he is easily the most heroic, a boy who has the heart of a man and proves it by risking life and limb for what he loves and what he believes in. He's a pretty bad little dude, and deserves to be near the top in any list like this.

3. HK-47
(Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)

Reason: I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't put everyone's favorite robot on here. While it is true that HK-47 is not human, and not even strictly a hero, the fact that he fights alongside you and is easily the funniest character on this list earns him his place.

HK-47 is an assassin droid who can hunt down and kill any given entity you want to sic him on when his assassination protocol is active. Of course, his assassination protocol is broken through the entire game, so that's not going to work. But he makes up for this failure in his regular programming by being aggressive to the point of ridiculousness. At every single opportunity, he asks the main character, his "master", to please allow him to shoot and kill whatever is conflicting with the task at hand.

That's part of what makes HK-47 so great: he obviously hates humans (and, in fact, any life form that isn't artificial) and would gladly kill every single one he could, but he acts very humble and servile to his master because his programming utterly commands it of him and he can't resist such a thing no matter how much he wants to. And you had better believe that he wants to, because he will plainly tell you so to your face.

HK-47 is, of course, an excellent fighter, being a battle droid who could even kill a Jedi. He carries around either rifles or a pair of pistols by default, and enters battle with all the fervor that could be expected of such a machine, crying out things like "Droid efficiency...at its best!" and "Prejudice set to maximum!" He doesn't look it, but he can actually clear out a small room of enemies by himself, given the proper repair items and enough time.

When I'm talking about how great HK-47 is, it's hard not to come back to how he talks to people. Everything he says is so polite it borders on being satirical, but it always pertains to such images and acts of violence that sometimes you can lose the gist of what he's saying if you're expecting the subject matter to match his tone. For example, when the main character is threatened, HK-47 politely replies, "No one can kill the master. Now, I suggest that you start running while my blaster is warming up...meatbag." Or, after relating the story of one of his previous owners, he reflects, "Excuse me, master. I wish to reflect upon the face of my former master as he was electrocuted. It soothes me so."

It's hard to convey HK-47's greatness without being able to put everything in context, and to do that I would end up ruining so much of the game I wouldn't be able to live with it. Simply know this: if you aren't familiar with him, go to any lengths you can to become familiar with him. He may be the best thing to come out of Star Wars since...well...light sabers.

2. Viewtiful Joe
(Viewtiful Joe)

Reason: I'm not even kidding, he belongs on this list simply for existing. Look at him. Look at him. He's wearing a red jumpsuit and a helmet that we haven't seen the likes of since the Power Ranger were popular, in addition to - God help us - a cape so pink that the particular shade hasn't been seen since approximately 1982. And what's the worst thing of all? He manages to pull it all together without so much as breaking a sweat.

Viewtiful Joe is the living, breathing epitome of every geek's dream come true. He's just an average Joe, his last name may well be Everyteen, but he's gifted with amazing superhero abilities and style through the magic of movies - in a way more literal than you might expect. Joe, at the heart of his character, is like each and every gamer that has ever lived. He really is a big geek, and his coolness comes around as a result of that instead of in spite of it. Of course, coolness isn't much when you're talking about Joe - he oozes with the stuff. Look at that cape. Again, I say!

Joe here is obviously viewtiful, to use the now-much-hated term, because half of the game he's in revolves around beating up people in a way that looks cool. He can go into slow motion on a Matrix level, speed up his own movements to DBZ proportions, and zoom in for emphasis - at will. His high-flying battle maneuvers only become more exaggerated and cool-looking as the game progresses, even extending into a backwards somersault which actually heals our hero merely by looking so damn impressive. He can slaughter dozens of enemies literally as fast as they come at him, and all of them explode with the robotic flair of bad Japanese children's action shows. He does all of this with a sort of fluid, smooth suaveness that's completely engaging. Watching him fight is unlike anyone else on this list - even the aforementioned Prince can't compare to how Joe kicks people in the face.

Of course, what's action without a bit of humor? And naturally, a "bit" of humor doesn't describe Joe. He's the hero of his story and he knows it and isn't afraid to say it to anyone who has any misconceptions about how badly he's going to beat their faces in, egging his opponent on so that they might give a flashier fight. He treats everything with the frankness of knowing that he's going to win, because he does know that he's going to win, because he's the hero. This knowledge allows him to take on anybody with full confidence and treat the entire game with a comedic flair that is wholly different from but just as charming as HK-47's.

Joe was probably the best hero of 2003. The biggest reason for this isn't just his humor, or his energy, or his ability to kick butt - it's the fact that he so completely embraces his role as a hero, and becomes so immersed in it without forgetting that he's just in a movie. His geekdom shines through in his dedication, and this only enhances his coolness. When it comes to great heroes, Joe is king.

So, who could beat Viewtiful Joe for the number one spot? Read on...

1. Maximillian Roivas
(Eternal Darkness)

Reason: Surprised? Don't be. Just because every name on this list has been fairly big so far doesn't mean that all of them have to be. Despite the fact that Eternal Darkness for the Gamecube sold a disappointing number of copies, it was and still is one of the best games for Nintendo's purple box. A huge part of the game's appeal was in the depth that all of its dozen characters provided. One character in particular was especially deep, despite the relatively small amount of time he was given on-screen. This man's name was Maximillian Roivas, and he is the best hero to come out of this generation of videogames - if not the best character on the whole.

Max here is an ancestor of the main character in Eternal Darkness, one of the previous owners of the ancestral Roivas mansion in Rhode Island. After his father's death he inherits the mansion and moves into it, convinced of its secrets and determined to make them his own. Maximillian is an overweight medical doctor, and his interests in the house are not solely historical.

Something unique about Maximillian is revealed right off the bat: he's a rather odd fellow whose demeanor continues to deteriorate as his adventure within the mansion progresses. Okay, that's putting it very lightly: faced with the horrors within the mansion, Max is slowly driven to the edge of what he believes in, and ultimately beyond it. With his ability to perform autopsies on the bodies of creatures he kills, he discovers otherworldly physiologies that laugh in the face of everything he knows about life and the way it works, and this is part of what begins to drive him insane.

This is probably Max's biggest advantage: compared to everyone else on this list he is completely and utterly unique in that he's odd from the beginning and by the end he's so paranoid it breaches into insanity. Surrounded by men and women he can't trust, he dissolves into the only thing he knows how to really do after fighting for his life, and puts his house in order…with fire and musket shot.

Max is great because he's fat, he can't run very far, he's slow with a sword, and can barely defend himself. His role as a "hero" is a farce right from the beginning, because although he is not a coward he is very much not a warrior. He is driven to violence by paranoia more than self-defense or a quest for justice. When he is made to defend himself it only solves to unwrap his mind more and more, making him question what is real and what isn't, and eventually blurring the line between what he sees and what he thinks is there.

Maximillian honestly does want to do the right thing, and his intentions are entirely noble: he wants to save the world as best he can. However, this initial goal is swallowed up in the events that would encompass it, and he loses sight of it when surrounded by things that aren't really there. Everyone around him becomes an enemy in his own mind, and the only people he can rely on for help are already dead.

Probably the reason that Max Roivas is so engaging is that he's so unique and different, even within a game populated by ordinary men and women who are assailed by forces they can't comprehend and driven to terrible fates by them. There's nobody quite like him - and when you see him kick an enemy in the ribs to finish it off, you start to realize that, in his own sort of way, Max can also be funny. Beware the old colonial gentlemen, indeed.

End.

So, that's my list. I think I've elaborated enough to show what I mean by putting each character where they are, and I don't think I could have made a better list. If you have questions, comments, or your own version of this list, feel free to send them in to Wyborn@vgf.com, and if I get enough responses I'll be able to make a mailbag out of them. Thanks for reading, and here's to more lists in the future.

Posted: 8-6-04




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