the artistry and psychology of gaming


The Top 10 Video Game Assassins of All-Time

The Top 10 Video Game Assassins of All-Time

December is the assassin’s appreciation month. Since when? Since now. I just declared an official month in the calender dedicated to celebrating assassins and what they do for our civilization. They ensure that we do not overpopulate the planet. They also ensure that there are very fun video games in which we can play as them. Because reviled and frowned upon as they are in the real life, they are portrayed to be cool, competent, and at times even heroic in our popular culture. They are an intrinsic part of video games as well, being the heroes or villains of many great games.

Here are top 10 greatest.

#10: Nina Williams from Tekken series and Death by Degrees

Dubbed the “world’s sexiest assassin”, Nina Williams almost didn’t make this list, because we never control her assassinating someone, but her profession is completely imbedded in her background and story and it’s not simply a job title for some fighting game character. And also because she seems to suck at her job, because she never actually succeeds in her missions. But then again, her targets are protected by thick plot armors, and they survive falling into volcano as well, so maybe we shouldn’t be too much hard on her. Anyway, although Nina is still one of the most alluring assassins of video game history, in spite of being a character in a fighting game and not actually killing that many people. Why?

Honestly, it’s hard to say. There’s no doubt that the response to her has been very positive, and she has been regarded as an enchanting character almost universally. She is sexy, without being too eroticized to make the gamer feel insulted (unlike her sister), and she’s very deadly, powerful, and distant. We are at the same time attracted to her and frightened by her. And yet there are moments that we see her heart and human side. Also, she chronicles a true struggle for her identity throughout the games. Humanity, sexuality, and deadliness: everything attractive in a fictional character is here. Really, Nina transcends the game she’s in, and quite accidentally I guess. That was why I had put her on my list, sub-plots more interesting than the main plots. She’s the only “character” in the festival of one dimensional types which is Tekken, and you don’t even get it if you play one game, her character develops throughout her career. And it can’t be something intentional. It’s just the power of fiction, because sometimes when you stretch something out of its proportions, it becomes awesome.

I mean, just look at Death by Degrees. That is a pretty bad game. But it’s still a great game, because you are too fascinated by watching Nina in action to worry about gameplay and graphics. As a game it was doomed to be great.

#9: Travis Touchdown from No More Heroes series

Nerds love assassins. That’s why they appear in so prominently in the nerd culture. But Travis Touchdown is at the same time the king of the nerds and the king of the assassins. He spends his days watching anime and porn and spends his night assassinating the s*** out of people. He collects action figures. Loves western style wrestling. He plays video games a lot. He loves Star Wars , he even wields a “beam sword” as his weapon (Lightsaber is a copyrighted material of Disney film Productions). He lives in a motel in poverty, and he never gets laid.

He runs out of money to buy video games, and therefore he turns into a life of crime in order to secure the money. (So video games don’t lead to violence, but their price might). One day a woman called Sylvia Christel pays him to kill Helter Skelter, also known as “the Drifter,” which causes him to earn the rank 11th in the United Assassins Association. Then he is the target of all assassins who want his rank, and now he has to kill his way up the ladder to number one.

This game is at the same time a parody and a celebration of pop culture in general, using gratuitous sex and violence without becoming vulgar, funny without being ridiculous, and it has truly absorbed its sources and has deconstructed them- a truly postmodern game. Travis is at the same time us, the gamers, and our dream hero. He’s the ultimate representation of what is wrongly called male desire, something which might provoke some criticism but I think it is great and it represents a subculture, which might be dominated by men but through no fault of its own but bad parenting. He’s a great character. However, I don’t rank him high in the assassin’s list because we don’t see him assassinating much, he could be gunslinger or a bounty hunter or just plain a fighter, and still kill his way up a ladder.

#8: Thane Krios from Mass Effect 2 and 3

So Commander Mary Sue Shepard goes around the galaxy to collect best badass motherf***ers in the universe, and like I have mentioned at least twice in previous occasions, these supporting characters are the coolest part of the game. Now, no league of extraordinary ladies and gentlemen is complete without an assassin, so he gets an assassin. He is a drell (some kind of alien), he has a wide range of abilities (stealth, firearms, hand-to-hand combat, and biotic) and he approaches his targets and finishes them up close. He is also very religious, praying all the time. I mean, that would be a contrast, before you realize a vast majority of assassinations in the real world are motivated by religion.

Thane is a very compelling character. I believe his story is the most emotional story of the game. Unlike what his fish-like yellow face suggests, he is a very sympathetic characters. It’s not only because of his conflicted conscience, which is conveyed really convincingly, or because of his problems with his son, as he wants to stop him from going down the wrong road. It’s mainly a mixture of writing and voice acting. His lines are really good. I mean, basically, Mass Effect series has great dialogues, but they seem to bloom when it comes to Thane. And Keythe Farley has a great voice and a great way of speaking. For example if you romance him as female Shepard he will say: “Time for me is short, siha, but any I have is yours to take.” Isn’t this really a memorable line, deeply emotional and yet not very sentimental?

Although Thane is a very memorable character, he belongs with Nina and Travis in the category of “Not really assassin assassins”, because what we see of him is mostly lamenting and then fighting for a team for free. But he is the last one on the list who is like that.

#7: Desmond Miles and his ancestors from Assassin’s Creed series

The word assassin is etymologically rooted in the Arabic/Persian word “Hashashin”, which is a plural of “Hashash”, which means “marijuana smoker”. You might want to ask what marijuana and assassination have in common. Well, in Iran, during the crusades, in a region called Alamut, (now called Taleghan), marijuana just grows out of the ground, and there were a sect led by Abu-Mualem who were really good at two things, killing people and smoking pot. They were the main enemies of the Templar sect, and finally defeated them and this enabled the Ottoman Empire to conquer Europe up to Spain. While high. Isn’t that a lovely reason to legalize pot? Anyway, in case you were wondering “Is there any historical root for the Assassin’s Creed universe”, that’s all there is, and the rest is fiction.

Now, the developers thought to themselves, what if we take Prince of Persia, make him an assassin, and let him loose in an incomprehensible plot which makes no sense? Well, the answer is this series. So the main character is Desmond, an American dude who doesn’t want to be an assassin, but he totally has to be or else the Mayan prediction of 12/12/12 will become true, but anyway he doesn’t wanna, so he goes off to somewhere, but then he is captured by Templars, who decode his genes for the memory of his ancestors, and his ancestors are totally not as wimpy as him. First one is Altair, a member of Hashashins who fights the real Templars during the crusades, and then there is Enzio, an Italian Renaissance assassin whose best buddies are Machiavelli and Da Vinci, and finally some dude during the American Revolution.

You have to confess that the concept is irresistible, assassinating people throughout history, while getting friendly with real celebrities from history. For at least this concept, Desmond and his ancestors deserve recognition on this list, even if they use biology, history, and rationality as toilet paper.

#6: The Dark Brotherhood from The Elder Scrolls series

Now, none of the individual members of this sect are worthy enough to be added to such a list, but as an organization, they are extremely cool. Assassination is not only their profession, it’s their faith. Their god is Sithis, the oldest god, who might be nothing, and he symbolizes grimness, despair, and death, so I guess he’s a pretty goth god. Now if you want to hire their services you have to sit down and pray, perform a ritual called “The Black Sacrament”, and then pay up, and then the target dies. The prayers are received by sithis’s wife, The Night Mother, who talks via her dead body to only one member, who is the listener, the most important member. They are the most feared organization in Temriel, and for two good reasons. First, they’re creepy. Their sign is a bloody hand (symbolizing their Five Tenets), their hideouts are ruined houses, they wear black, and they have an immortal horse. Secondly, they’re pretty much omnipotent. If they decide you die, you die, and that’s it. When the Emperor himself says of some group that “I told him you can’t stop the Dark Brotherhood. Never could”, you realize how powerful they are.

Add to that the fact that their plot-lines are usually the best ones in an Elder Scroll game, especially in Oblivion and Skyrim that you can actually join the group. Unlike most entries on this list, they are just plain evil and creepy with horrifying cult beliefs. The creators do not white-wash them. They are not saving the world from Mayan prediction, they are not noble ninjas. They do not even kill people more evil than themselves, they usually kill innocent people. They are evil at its most fascinating and pure.

They are also very elevated in their style. This is their question and the answer is the password into the hideout: “What is the music of life?” “Silence, my brother.” Tell me that’s not cool.

#5: The Smiths from Killer7

Two disclaimers for this entry: (1) This entry is going to be spoilerishous, so don’t read it if you care. (2) Oh a second entry by Soda Goichi! I’m such a fanboy! I have to go marry him and stuff! Now that you’ve got that out of your system, let me continue.

Killer7 is also a postmodern game. But while No More Heroes is Quentin Tarantino postmodern, meaning it has a very playful style enriched with allusions to pop-culture, Killer7 is David Lynch postmodern, meaning it has a disturbing, insane style, it’s extremely dark, and it questions human understanding and nature. Meaning, the plot is complex and narration is unreliable and you can’t really be sure that what I’m writing is the plot. However, let’s attempt it:

We think we control seven assassins, each with a particular set of abilities, but they’re actually one, Garcian Smith, who’s actually the alter ego of another assassin, Herman Smith, who had killed these assassins and had incorporated their personalities. So this is a very VERY screwed up case of dissociative identity disorder (DID), and our mentally deluded assassin is trapped in a conflict between US and Japan, who is entrapped in an eternal battle between him and his arch-nemesis and target. It’s pretty convoluted.

Now why does/do him/them make it to the pantheon of the coolest assassins of all times? Apart from starring in one of the greatest games of all times, you mean aside being maybe the most complex video game character/s of all times, and being a very compelling commentery on human psychology? Well, imagine an assassin/s who’s/’re so cool he/they can’t fir into one persona, and need/s a separate personality for each of his/their cool abilities. That’s pretty cool, no?

#4: Sniper Wolf from Metal Gear Solid

The only antagonist on this list. She’s a sniper (duh), so she’s very close to real assassin. She’s hired by your twin brother to kill you. She’s one of the bosses on the game. She arrests you once, and then you fight, and then you kill her (oops! spoilers). So pretty much a standard cliche boss who can be found in any game, no? No. She transcends her typical cliche and becomes a very compelling character because of her backstory.

She’s an Iraqi Kurdish. Now, you might not be familiar with the plight of the Kurdish people, but they have it pretty rough. They are one of the most discriminated people of the whole world. Right now, in the age of so called equality where everyone hates racism. They are prosecuted and suppressed in Iran and Turkey, where they are not able to speak their own tongue or to uphold their own customs. But the roughest they had it was during the time of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where he killed many of them in many mass murders. He used his WMDs on his own people, who were Kurdish. I gave you this historical background to stress how educated and becoming Sniper Wolf’s choice of background has been. In the game we learn that she was born and raised during a violent military conflict between Kurdish freedom fighters and the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, and she saw war and death everyday in her life. She was forced to move from one hideout to another constantly. Everyday she used to lose a family member or a relative. The international community did nothing to stop the fighting, which made her hate the political world. What finally unhinged her was the 1988 Al-Anfal Campaign in the Iran-Iraq War, when Saddam used chemical weapons on the Kurdish people. Now, I can’t stress this enough: this is real, there has been things like this going on. This is REAL. She was taken up by the British army, and later joined the Big Boss. She looked up to Big Boss and called him “Saladin”. (Who is Saladin? A Kurdish Muslim who was the Sultan. You know what’s cool? He was the boss of those pot smokers we mentioned earlier).

MGS games are known to be anti-war games. Sniper Wolf completely personifies this particular message of the game. She waits for days before killing her targets, and develops emotional attachment to them. Then by killing them, she continues the suffering of her life. She is also addicted to diazepam and pentazemin. Her life story is told through pain, and she personifies the horrors and the immorality of the world and war. She’s incapable of a happy life and love although she is really a scarred person, someone like us. Her relationship with wolves is an indication of her heart.

As you watch her dying, you truly mourn her. She is much more than just a boss. She is an unforgettable testament of the horrors of war, and because of that a great character.

#3: Corvo Attano from Dishonored

I’m very happy to be able to add this character to the list. He is very recent, actually the game came out just this year (2012), and I believe the game is an instant classic and its hero should be canonized right now. Before becoming an assassin, Corvo was a bodyguard of the Empress, but she was murdered, and her daughter was kidnapped. So Corvo joins a band of rebels, working for them as an assassin, in order to save the girl and avenge the Empress. So he’s somehow mixed all the possible plots into his- revenge plot, rebellion plot, and saving plot. But wait, there’s more! He’s contacted by a goth kid who is a mixture of god and devil, and grants him magic power. So, he’s an assassin with magic! You can use your powers to see through walls, move fast, possess people, and cool stuff like this.

What kind of an assassin Corvo is? Does he kill everyone who stands in his way? Is he noisy or silent? Is he evil or noble? Or something between these polar opposites? The choice is yours, as the game gives you absolute freedom in how to handle your mission. Would you like to be nonlethal like Batman (then practically not an assassin), or would you like to kill only your target and none else, or would you kill armed enemies too? Would you move silently or would you act like Clint Eastwood? What I mean to demonstrate in this entry is that Corvo is not simply cool, he is every manifestation of cool. He covers the whole range.

And whatever your choice, Corvo will have a meaningful role to play in the game. He is not a faceless hero- well technically he is, you only see his face in the ending- and he is not a silent hero- OK, he never actually talks, but you know what I mean. There’s a lot of personality behind that mask and a loud voice is embedded in that silent. Dishonored is a fantastic game, buy it and play it.

#2: Rikimaru from Tenchu series

Rikimaru is the youngest Master Ninja of the Azuma Clan, a band of extremely noble and righteous assassins. His main enemy is a demon ninja and he undergoes many tough trials to get where he gets. He is a master swordsman and spy, extremely skilled in both kenjutsu and iaijutsu. He strikes from the shadows and he is a master of stealth, as he can kill his enemies unseen. Like a good ninja, he is extremely loyal to his master. He is extremely stoic and disciplined, and completely lacks any a sense of humor. He is very spiritual, and very moral. So if he was not a ninja, he would be very boring. He would make an awful headmaster or boyfriend. But he’s not. He’s a ninja. He’s charismatic and has been a born-leader. Therefore he’s awesome. That’s pure Aristotelian deduction.

This is the original assassin. Not original in the sense that he was the first video game assassin, but in the sense that Tenchu games invented the delicious mixture of action/stealth which leads to the perfect assassin experience, and the series are the main inspiration behind all the assassination games on this list. Basically, every level is goddamn hard to be completed in the completely stealthy mode, and you had to repeat every move again and again and again in order to make it right. Or you could kill everyone and get a very rotten rating in the end. Now this series is not perfect- the camera movements were designed by some sadist, and saving and checkpoints were never used. But nothing can change the fact that these series were simply revolutionary at the time, and opened many new doors to the industry.

And you get to be a ninja! A real ninja! How cool is that? The games exactly create the illusion. You have all the cool ninja skills and gadgets you can think of. You could be a master swordsman and yet use all your stealth abilities and never be seen. You have to admit that no other game has put you in the shoes of a ninja like this one- Ninja Gaiden and games like that are action games, you could supply it with Commando Gaiden or Police Officer Gaiden and nothing would happen. In this game, you are distinctly a ninja. As a reward, you only have to finish the game silently, and the game rewards you for killing all the enemies silently. And most ninja-like you feel are the great finishing animations.

#1: Agent 47 of Hitman series

Agent 47 was created to be an assassin. I mean literally. And I’m not misusing the word literally here. You were not literally born to be a rock star (sorry for that) but he was literally born to be an assassin. He’s the very successful result genetic experiment which meant to create the perfect assassin. And he is the perfect assassin. And he is. he’s physically strong. He’s a master of disguise. He’s fast. He’s an expert in using all sorts of guns. He can manipulate the environment to serve his needs. He can infiltrate the heart of an enemy stronghold undetected, and make his target’s death look like an accident. Or he can face a whole garrison by himself and kill them all in epic gun shoots. More importantly, even his psychology is right. He has no moral inhibition when it comes to killing people. He does not lack compassion- he has displayed it many times, but his finger never trembles while pulling the trigger. Also, he ain’t smokes no friggin’ pot.

What began in Tenchu, was perfected in Hitman. The main thing which make Hitman games great is the absolute freedom you have in the game, the sense of experiencing the mission as a real assassin does with finding ingenious methods to beat the missions. You are truly challenged to beat the level with the perfect score. It is not an easy thing to do. It requires a lot of hidden work and planning, and like always, there are multiple ways. This makes also the game extremely replayable, which was another great thing about the franchise. The last missions are especially tough, and finishing them silently is an extremely difficult challenge.

You may disagree with my ranking above, but no one can doubt who the number one is. He is easily proved superior to all of them. If you hire all the nine assassins above and send them to kill him, he will sneak out of his bedroom and he will kill all of them, and then he will hitch a ride to your flat and he will kill you.


Honorable Mentions:

HK-47 from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I didn’t add him because Thane was on the list who is another Bioware character, and also because Agent 47 is another 47. Really, honestly, I didn’t add him because he’s a robot and robots are not sexy. (Sorry, technosexuals).

Khan from Broken Sword. Because clowns are not sexy. (Sorry, coulrophiliacs).

Assassin from Assassin. I couldn’t stand the sheer power of creativity and originality gone into naming this character and his game. Also, an assassin whose main weapon is a boomerang kinda sucks.

Goglo13 from Goglo13. I have no reason. Sorry. I just wanted to add Nina to list in hopes she might call me.

Mega Man from Mega Man: Because when your later games turn you to a wimp you get expelled from the Assassin Hall of Fame. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, robots are just plain not sexy.

Shadow from Final Fantasy VI. I should have added him too. This list totally fails. Adding him would have brought more variety to the list (there’s no JRPG), and he’s a very interesting character. I’m such an awful list writer.

Vega and other assassins from their respective fighting games: Nina, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.

Zevran from Dragon Age: Origins: Listen, there are tons of supporting assassin characters from RPG games. I gave you Thane!

Gray Fox from MGS: Because that’s enough MGS.

So, that’s it, the best assassins in the world. Make sure and watch out for them. Till next time, bye!

One Comment

  1. Why is assassins creed so high on the fucking list

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