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Why Handsome Jack Is My Antagonist of the Year
I love a good bad guy. A great antagonist gives you an extra reason to slog your way through the endgame. It’s not just about reaching the credits anymore, it’s about pummeling the living crap out of the guy who’s been f**king with you for the last twenty or so hours. Sehpiroth, GLaDOS, Bowser; the best villains take on a life of their own beyond “bad guy you have to kill”. There have been some pretty good foes to spring up this year. Vaas from Far Cry 3 is a great example of someone who is truly unhinged. I was afraid that guy might do anything, know what I mean? Black Ops II antagonist Raul Menendez was a complex (and sadistic) character who provided an alternative look at the price of war. But one bad guy in particular stood out from the rest. He may not have been a riveting social commentary on the nature of terrorism or a sentient race of robots trying to eradicate all sentient life, but he did try to blow me up the first time we met. And that was the high point in our relationship.
The original Borderlands did a lot of things right, but story was not one of them. The quest for the Vault was never my motivation for getting through that game, and without a central antagonist to hate on, I cared little about advancing through the story. I just wanted better loot. Borderlands 2 smartly fixed that gripe with a renewed focus on narrative, and that all starts with Handsome Jack. In the opening minutes of Borderlands 2, while your team is showing off their swag behind some cool music, Handsome Jack firmly establishes himself as somebody you just love to hate. Soon, Borderlands 2 wasn’t just about leveling up my Siren or obtaining the perfect sniper rifle. I sincerely wanted Handsome Jack to pay for his crimes.
It begins with his excellent voice acting. Dameon Clarke turns in a spectacular performance as the smarmy Jack. His cocky attitude and condescending demeanor would ensure maximum unlikeability anyway, but his taste for murder and general ne’er-do-welling make him the perfect bad guy. Sure, he’s hilarious (Butt Stallion!), but there is nothing funny about his endgame, unless you count it’s comically evil proportions. We’re talking galaxy-wide drama, here. But the game never takes itself seriously, even though there are some genuinely emotional moments that I don’t want to spoil here. Let’s just say that in addition to Jack, the game uses the previous four protagonists to great effect in the story.
I loved finding ECHO devices spread around the world detailing Jack’s evildoing. His persecution of the Crimson Raiders, his desecration of Fyrestone and his love of murdering your friends are all gleefully transcribed and left for you to pick up, and serve to make you hate Jack all the more. Even better are some of the missions concerning him, including a few that he himself asks you to complete (that are totally not traps.) My personal favorite one is where Jack asks you to put aside your differences for a bit so you can check on his dear old grandmother. Needless to say things aren’t as simple as you would be led to believe.
The whole game is a huge lead-up to the confrontation with Jack, and it didn’t disappoint. He may not have been the most epic of challenges, but the satisfaction I got from beating him down was almost too much for words. That’s really want I want from a bad guy: I don’t necessarily need a ridiculous 3-form boss fight to end my game experience, but I do want that golden feeling of satisfaction. Handsome Jack offered that more than any other antagonist this year for me. Period.
Who’s your bad guy of the year?