I see your Corvo and raise you a Nathan Drake
It’s been a long and hard year for a lot of people, but one thing that hasn’t suffered this year is gaming, and specifically, gaming characters. Diversity in gaming has been a huge issue that has dragged way behind other mediums, and it’s still an ongoing one that needs rectifying. However, this was a year worthy enough for us to be proud of; gaming is growing up, and so has its characters. What follows is a celebration of game characters of all forms, no matter what way they are rendered, whether or not they have dialogue or voice acting. Each entry contains some original amateur pixel art created specifically for this feature. There are countless characters that are also worthy of recognition that couldn’t fit into this feature but we’d love to hear some of your favourite characters portrayed in gaming this year. Enjoy.
[The descriptions that follow contain MINOR SPOILERS for the events of Uncharted 4, Quantum Break, Firewatch and Ace Attorney Spirits Of Justice.]
Elena Fisher/ Drake
Award: Most Emotionally Resonant Character
Game: Uncharted 4
Performed by: Emily Rose
Uncharted 4 is home to the best written and realised characters this year, but Elena is a standout for the medium. Elena has always been a fan favourite, and in previous entries was regularly used as the stakes for what Drake could lose. Uncharted 4 finally stopped resetting their relationship at the start of each game, and posed the question of what their lives would be like if Drake kept his promise at the end of Uncharted 3. An early chapter shows the monotony of their relationship; Drake is bored at his job and Elena is unhappy at the type of journalism she’s working on. They clearly have big – but REAL – relationship problems, they put up idle small talk and deflect issues instead of talking them out, resorting to playing a video game to distract from the problems. There’s something scarily human about Elena and Drake’s interactions that gamers aren’t used to in games. What makes Elena special is how she grounds the narrative; she’s the brick of the relationship, and in the end she is what time and time again pulls Drake back from insanity. The prospect of losing her, not through death, not through bullets, but from her walking out of Nate’s life is the most human and well-written loss gaming has achieved this year, and it’s all thanks to Elena’s portrayal. After all nothing worthwhile is easy.
Award: Best All-Around Developed Protagonist
Game: Uncharted 4
Performed by: Nolan North
It would be remiss to leave out Drake in this two-sided relationship, and how we will miss him. Nate has always been that likeable, charismatic character, spouting smart-aleck quips during death-defying stunts, all the while slaughtering hundreds of people. But he’s never felt like more than a cartoon character; he’s the hero, after all. In Uncharted 4 though, he’s not the hero, he doesn’t save the world from annihilation, and he doesn’t rescue the lady. He lies, he deceives, and he spends half the game feeling guilty. The game’s best sequence of set pieces is masterfully followed by a scene that is heartbreaking. You, like Drake, get pulled into this adventure, both enjoying yourself and reminded of the cost at which it comes. Elena’s reveal sends everything tumbling, but the biggest shock is when Drake refuses to take stock of what he did, and fails to apologise. He holds back tears as Elena closes the door on him. The ‘sorry’ does come in another of the game’s best scenes, and in the same moment Elena forgives him, because in some form she does enjoy the adventure too. Naughty Dog continues to show up just about every other developer when it comes to character dialogue and writing. Drake has never been so likeable than in the final installment, and it’s not because of his one-liners – it’s because for the first time, he’s relatable, he’s human, and he grows as a character.
Award: Most Entertaining Character
Game: Watch Dogs 2
Performed by: Shawn Baichoo
Now, I know what you’re thinking: of course I would list the character I gushed about already, in addition to doing an interview with the actor who played them, but you’d be dead….. Wrong! No, not wrong…what’s the word I’m looking for…that’s it! Right. Who would have thought that the sequel to the game that had one of the worst gaming protagonists would be praised for its diverse and entertaining cast? Wrench is just one of the fantastic characters in the game, alongside the Protagonist and Josh, but somehow stands out, as he has the biggest laughs in the game, and manages to bat (or sledgehammer) off stereotypes with insight into his social anxieties. At the same time, his character design is, from a pure visual front, inspired (literally inspiring for multiple cosplayers), the juxtaposition of a punk-looking hacker wearing a spiked jacket, while also having a mask displaying emoticons (including a winky face) is a look rarely seen in video games. Sure, some people hate him (old men yelling at clouds mostly), but often is the case that the most successful characters are ones that not everyone gets on with, despite having something to say about them. Most importantly, there’s something very uplifting about a character who suffers from social insecurity being not only self-assuring, but also being represented in a AAA release. Don’t start smashing things with sledgehammers, though… unless it’s a copy of the first game.
Award: Biggest Character Growth
Game: Ace Attorney: Spirits Of Justice
Though Phoenix Wright may headline this Ace Attorney installment, it turns out that Apollo Justice is the real star, even moreso than the game with his name on the box. Spirits of Justice (okay, they managed to get his second name in the title) drops the ball with Nick, somehow managing to yet again relegate his character to bluffing his way through every case despite him being an experienced lawyer. Poly, however, manages to get an interesting character arc, where we also learn about his origins as well as get touching story about his family. He even manages to out-bluff ‘Wright’ at his own game – within his own game. The game develops his abilities, and though he started out as not very self-assured, by the last case he finds his confidence. The ending really cements his importance to not only this game, but to this series. For a character with hair that looks like an antenna, he sure is charming. We can only hope it’s not the last we see of him, because he might just be the most interesting character they have right now.
Award: Best Secret Hero
Game: Quantum Break
Performed by: Courtney Hope
If there’s one thing Remedy can be relied on with every game they release (whenever they finally get around to it), it’s the ability to create quirky, relatable, and entertaining characters. In some ways, Quantum Break turns down the zany from both Alan Wake and Max Payne (although it still acknowledges that the games all exist in the same universe), but its cast of characters are still worthy of note. Jack Joyce might be the game’s protagonist, but Beth Wilder is one of the most tragic game heroines of the year. For Jack, the events of time shutting down and the impending ‘end of time apocalypse’ consist of nothing more than one day of his life – give or take a couple of trips through time and…. ohdearjumpingfrogs, it all starts getting very confusing – but for Beth Wilder, she’s spent most of her life preparing for it. She witnesses the end and has to live through years of her life all over again knowing that she can’t change the future. She has the knowledge of 9/11, but despite her best effects, it can’t be changed, nothing can be changed, everything in time has already happened, will happen and is happening. It’s what makes the game one of the cleverest and most-considered takes on a time travel narrative; it sets its rules and sticks to them (looking at you Bioshock Infinite). The thing is, somehow Beth doesn’t give up, even when we see her at her most defeated, when she’s shouting at a Jack who can’t understand what she’s been through as he reaches out to hold her hand, her letting it slip away. Through that, there’s still a glimmer of hope, but it’s not hope for her. After it seems the game has forgotten her, it makes sure to end the game with her in mind. After all, if she held out hope maybe there’s a chance time really can be changed, eh Jack? Most importantly she likes Toto.
Award: Best Gaming Bond
Game: The Last Guardian
Trico might just be the most well designed NPCs in gaming. The way it behaves, the animations and its growth throughout the game, is a marvel to behold. To anyone who has had a pet that they confided in, that was a friend, the bond you form with Trico is all too familiar, an emotional attachment that makes you want to reach into the screen and put your arms around that beak. The journey you take with Trico is more than anything a journey of friendship, the strength of which surpasses the boundaries of language, species and size. It replicates all the emotions of owning a well-loved pet: the fear when they get lost, the sadness when they become ill, the comfort they provide when you feel depressed, and the numerous frustrations when they ignore you. The game took nearly 10 years to develop, but Trico makes that time worthwhile.
The Last Guardian is ultimately about the way unlikely relationships form. It’s about all the positive aspects of life, an experience that will remind people why we keep fighting when times are tough. It’s special. We’re unlikely to play a game like it again. It’s going to be a divisive game; it always was, and Trico will also play into that, as mileage will vary. There are valid complaints directed at the game, numerous in fact, but Trico alone saves it. More than any other game this one is defined by a single character and an emotional attachment. People may deliberate over its framerate, but a year from now players will still think about Trico, and that’s the legacy of the game. It’s a bond that we will not forget.
Geralt of Rivia
Award: Best Monotone Character
Game: The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine
Performed by: Doug Cockle
Is this cheating? Putting aside the fact that the Blood and Wine DLC is better and has more care in it than most full games, two years in a row The Witcher 3 has been showing up most games, and as an extension, so has Geralt. CD Projekt Red used this opportunity to tell one last story with Geralt, and they made sure it would do justice and examine the whole basis of who he is. The DLC ventured to show a different side to the character, a more human, lighthearted attitude, and as the trope goes, a ‘being too old for this sh*t’ questioning of retirement. For the first time, Geralt is given a home, and there is something very bittersweet about the idea of him settling down and taking a breath from his monster-slaying days. Blood and Wine is home to one of the best scenes in the whole of The Witcher, and it’s not some epic battle, but instead what the series does best: just two characters talking, striving for a life they never knew. This may be the last time we see the character, but the way they closed his chapter couldn’t have been more perfect. Take that rest Geralt – you’ve earned it.
Dr. John Wakefield
Award: Best Use of a Handful of Pixels
Game: The Last Door Season 2
Granted that there will be a lot of ‘what, I’ve never even heard of it’ questions, but The Last Door Season Two is one of the most interesting indie horror games this year. Donning a pixel art aesthetic that manages to capture all the atmosphere and dread of a Lovecraftian horror story, and with an episodic structure that keeps you hooked, that alone makes it worthy of attention. Dr. Wakefield, who was briefly introduced as the doctor to the protagonist of the first season, must now track down what happened to his patient, Mr. Devitt. Although he may not be the most in-depth or emotive character compared to the other ones previously named here, this list is to celebrate all different types. Wakefield is a rather mundane character, a Doctor after all, and so is obviously out of his depth when revealing the mysteries of the occult (maybe he should apply to the Scooby Doo gang next). The game is home to countless mysterious and engaging characters, which is a feat to pull off considering the limitations of the art style, being made up of a handful of pixels and text boxes for dialogue. It just goes to show that you don’t need a big budget or 3D rendered environments to craft an intriguing world filled with characters that creep you out more than any jump scare could. Most of all though, it’s just a game worth playing.
Henry and Delilah
Award: Best Talking Head Duo
Performed by: Rich Sommer (Henry), Cissy Jones (Delilah)
If there’s one thing Firewatch excels at it is the dynamic between Henry and Delilah, two characters that never meet once in the game. What an achievement of writing and voice acting, that conversations solely had over radios are hugely effective in developing two fascinating and flawed people. This is without factoring in the gut-wrenching opening that had you teary-eyed over a couple of text screens. A wide variety of complaints were thrown at the game, most common of which was how the it concluded. Granted, there is a good basis in the criticisms, as the ending was limp, and these two characters just move on with their lives without much deliberation., but at the same time, it was an intentional piece of design, a comment on real life; we often craft or fantasise about drama that isn’t really there, and what we dream of is always more interesting than the reality of life. At the end of the day, you can’t run from your problems forever; they’ll be waiting for you. As strong of a connection Hank and D had, it’s easy to embellish a relationship that is nothing more than the friendship of co-workers. Some aspects were disappointing – as intended – but Henry and Delilah showed that disappointing isn’t always bad, and there’s always something good to take away.
The Boy from Inside
Award: Best Visual Storyteller
Inside is a masterclass in visual storytelling. Its vague and ambiguous themes are conveyed without words, relying only on what you can see and piece together as the vessel through which the adventure is told. The boy you play doesn’t even get gifted with a name, similarly to Playdead’s previous indie hit, LIMBO. Instead, characterisation is communicated through animations. Playdead doesn’t do things by half measures, and just about every contextual interaction is accompanied by a bespoke animation. When the climax hits, it’s one of the most shocking and exhilarating sequences depicted this year in gaming, and it all centres around the boy and the deftness of beautifully executed animations and visual design. Characters don’t always need to be talking nonstop with photorealistic faces for us to be invested in their plight, and Inside proves that.
The Overwatch Ensemble
Award: Most Diverse Cast
Blizzard’s audio-visual design is almost second to none. Their games appeal to both hardcore competitors and casual players, one of the biggest draws being a slick and vibrant art style that stands out from the competition. Similarly to Hearthstone, the visuals in Overwatch are cartoony, but the game’s biggest achievement is its characters. Somehow Blizzard has managed to give personality to each and every playable hero. There’s a character for everyone, and not just in their play style but also in the diversity they represent. They might just be the most attractive lineup of people in a game, representing different body types, genders, nationalities, and even species. Clearly, the amount of time spent making sure you can tell each one apart based on their silhouette has paid off. It’s no surprise that there’s a plethora of porn and fan fiction for each of the heroes (in just about every conceivable sexuality and ‘kink’), as they’ve they’ve captured the imaginations of everyone. If there’s anything that says ‘I’ve made it big time,’ it’s to have all your characters in an orgy of the filthiest porn known on the Internet. *All Overwatch porn viewed over the course of writing this was for research purposes and not viewed out of enjoyment. That sounds plausible enough.*
All the pixel squiggles present in this feature are original squiggles created by the author Oliver Rebbeck. Do not use without express permission from the original creator, and so on. *I’m sure you know the drill*