A recent thread on Gametrailers has got me thinking about the best video game villains in any game. There are a lot that I personally like a lot, but one definitely sticks out when compared to all the others.
SHODAN from System Shock 1 & 2 is probably one of the coolest villains ever created and is by far my favorite. She is just so menacing. I don’t think any other villain has ever gotten under my skin as much as her. I think this quote says it best:
“… But what really sucked me in was SHODAN. In most games, you saw the villain in a few key cutscenes, and then you faced him or her at the end, dispatching the cad with a rocket launcher or two or with a few well placed jumps on the head. But SHODAN was different. She taunted you, she threatened you, and sometimes, she even seemed to fear you.
I clearly remember approaching a set of computer terminals on the first level that I was supposed to blow up. As I readied my weapon, SHODAN told me, in so many words, that if I destroyed those terminals, she would have me torn into very small pieces. I hesitated. And then I thought ‘Nuts to you SHODAN’ and blew up the terminals, whereupon she sent a small army of cyborgs to, well, tear me into very small pieces.
I then knew that Shock was something different. Here was a foe who talked to you, who watched you, who cared about you. She wasn’t on vacation on some Caribbean island, only to return for the final battle. She was there, and she was ready to rumble.”
– Ken Levine, Irrational Games
She placed number 4 on IGN’s Top 10 List:
Make sure you treat your computers well. Don’t hack them, don’t abuse them, and certainly don’t assert your dominance, because if they’re anything like SHODAN, they’ll kill you if they’re having a bad day. They’ll also taunt you the entire time they’re doing it. Whether on a space station or a starship, SHODAN’s virtual omnipotence meant that everything from communications and security cameras to video terminals were under her control to do as she saw fit. Plus, she loved sending mutants, robots, and cyborgs of tortured victims after you, all the while ridiculing your insignificance. Each time she called you an insect or an irritant, it actually felt like a slap across the face.
And also made Gamespot’s top list:
Looking Glass Studios’ 3D action role-playing game System Shock is the closest thing to a cult hit on the PC, with its relatively small but ferociously loyal contingent of fans who insist it’s one of the best games ever made. At the center of its story lies SHODAN, the arrogant artificial intelligence bent on thwarting or toying with your character, a hacker who is evidently the lone survivor of the computer’s wrath. Being both invisible and omniscient, SHODAN makes her power and presence obvious through a combination of her disdainful, modulating voice and her knack for anticipating exactly what you’re thinking. As you uncover evidence about SHODAN’s intentions, she seems to be one step ahead of you all the while and taunts you every step of the way.
She may lack the modesty of 2,001’s HAL 9000, but she is every bit as dignified and even more self-aware than that soft-spoken machine. SHODAN is conscious of being the product of fallible human hands and ambitions and is all the more resentful toward her makers for that reason. She threatens you continuously, revealing full knowledge of your supposedly secret intention to dismantle her.
System Shock was a game in which a villain like SHODAN could thrive. Your character had to sneak through installation corridors (and even cyberspace), leaning around corners, standing on his toes to see over ledges – and yet such stealth seemed pathetic or entirely futile in the face of a computer opponent that was not limited by fallible senses. Fortunately or not, the conclusion of System Shock did not mark the end of SHODAN, as she was also alluded to in Origin’s Crusader isometric action games, as well as in the action-adventure Bioforge.