This year has seen many notable characters take up the ever important role of antagonist, villain, boss; however you’d like to state it. Arguably the most important and difficult character to develop in any story because of the innate connection most people will automatically form with the protagonist, it’s easy to see video game baddies fall short time and time again because of one dimensional personalities or contrived ambition.
Gearbox’s highly successful, multi-award winning, and just plain fun co-op shooter of the year Borderlands 2 features one of the most memorable and well-rounded villains in recent gaming history. Let’s take a look at why Handsome Jack is a clear winner for this year’s best bad guy.
Wizard of Words – When it comes to any story, video game or otherwise, it’s difficult to really build up a strong and unforgettable antagonist and burn his face and personality into our brains. That’s an even more difficult task when said villain doesn’t have many actual appearances at all. You barely come face to face with Jack throughout the entire experience of Borderlands 2 yet he remains a constant figure of importance no matter where you go or what you do. The reason for this is because of the insanely clever wit and banter that can be heard in direct communication with the vault hunter and in echo recordings.
With such favorite stories as the tale of Butt Stallion the diamond pony, the crappy and tardy violin playing following the death of Bloodwing, and the comical and obviously facetious protests toward the player destroying his statues in Opportunity – Handsome Jack comes off as charismatic, sarcastic, intelligent, and charming enough to really keep him front and center living rent free in your head from beginning to end; no matter how long that may be.
Jack is a Real Asshole – Most of the time a well-constructed villain of any sort can be a real douchebag, but more often than not they can touch on some pretty numb nerves by committing acts that just don’t seem…well, villainous enough. Sure Mr. Burke and Tenpenny can make you blow up Megaton in Fallout 3, but the place was a dump to begin with and it was a post-apocalyptic setting anyway. M. Bison keeps trying to create a new world order and bring governments to their knees, but that’s just what’s expected from a psychopathic narcissist with determination. These are actions that make me go “Yeah, those guys are bad news” but nothing really hits home. Handsome Jack commits some pretty despicable acts and succeeds in driving needle after needle into your heart.
He enslaves his own daughter with no regard for her well-being and uses her power as a Siren to fuel his own means; when faced with Angel in person she openly welcomes death and says that Jack had killed her long ago. Just as it seems like the vault hunter and the Sanctuary crew were on the verge of figuring out how to stop Jack, he makes one of very few personal appearances just to put a slug into Roland and take out the one ally who served as the beacon for hope for all of Pandora against the Hyperion Corporation. He used slag experimentation on Bloodwing and forced him to fight you in a battle that was inevitably to end in tragedy; the entire time you think you can subdue Mordechai’s faithful partner and best friend and get him back to normal is nothing but wasted hope as Jack had always intended on blowing his head off of his body. Let’s face it, only a Claptrap death would have been as tragic and that’s a bit of a stretch. Of course last but not least, he used to give the horizontal “claptrap” to Moxxi…that’s enough to make anyone hate Jack.
Hyperion Thanks You for Your Patronage – Like it or not, if you’ve played Borderlands 2 chances are you used a Hyperion made gun. Handsome Jack went from programmer to CEO (or perhaps, overlord?) of the Hyperion company, where he stays steadfast in his duties even when spending all that time trying to kill off the citizens of Sanctuary. As can be heard in some echo recordings, the grand dictator of Pandora is quite passionate about the armament production that Hyperion is known for; he even gives a speech about why the names of Hyperion guns should sound super smart and use big words.
Every time you fire off a Hyperion made gun, you are supporting Jack’s company. Sure you could resist using them, but sometimes you just happen to pick up a really kick ass sniper rifle that out levels the crap out of your existing one, and what is it called? The Facilitating Sniper Rifle or the Cohesion Hybridfication. You may want to kill each other but when you hold these guns in your hands, unless you’re sending in crippling consumer reports you are drinking Handsome Jack’s kool-aid.
Cash for Splat – Jack is quite the innovator when it comes to methods of stopping the vault hunter from furthering his or hers attempts to thwart his master plans. While other villains will simply send henchmen after henchmen in futility or issue a challenge for a showdown, the latter being somewhat honorable yet often foolish, Jack is using his brain. There is a mission later in the game when the vault hunter reaches the job board in the Eridium Blight from the Handsome one himself offering a bounty if they off themselves by jumping off of a cliff designated as the perfect spot for self-inflicted death by Jack himself.
You are given the choice to either follow through with his request and earn a nice reward of eridium or refuse to give Jack the satisfaction and not kill yourself by calling the Hyperion Suicide Prevention Hotline; the latter resulting in no form of payment but a larger amount of XP. Of course this is Borderlands, so a death isn’t really a death. Choosing to jump however will result in something much much worse than death. As Jack laughs at you for actually going through with offing yourself he utters those evil words that will haunt you for the rest of the game: “You’re a sellout…you’re a bitch”.
Likeable Egomaniac – Yes, Handsome Jack is a “bad guy” but that doesn’t mean he is “bad guy”. See what I did there? Anyway yes Jack is an ass and half of the time we can’t wait to bust a cap into his stapled face, yet the sheer fact that this article exists is because while he is a villain he’s so awesome at fitting the role that he becomes likeable for it. Anyone who doesn’t laugh at his jokes, respect his capability to lead an empire while trying to kill you constantly, or find themselves conflicted because of his magnetic personality is fooling themselves.
He has statues built to honor himself but he isn’t so much of a sensitive loathing dictator that he begins to flip out when you destroy them, he simply questions if the particular pose they were in offended the vault hunter somehow? Even when executing his girlfriend in the town of Lynchwood in a showdown, his reaction is more of a “Wait, did you really just kill my girlfriend? I’m kind of pissed” as opposed to acting truly hurt or like it hinders his grand plan in any way. There are two sides to every real life historical figure worth mentioning in a history book, the subjective reaction to any given transgression against humanity and the objective view on the effect he or she had on their people and how they improved their country’s state of existence.
Whether you love or hate Handsome Jack, this is someone who could do some serious rallying and recruiting if he ever ran for government. Handsome Jack in 2016!