What defines a hero? Is it the courageous acts they perform, the victories they accrue? Or is it their ability to continue fighting when the odds are stacked against them and everything seems hopeless? Video games have seen their fair share throughout the years and while we couldn’t possibly list them all, here are 15 noteworthy examples of heroes that never gave up despite being down and out. Warning: Spoilers for major games await.
Max Payne – Max Payne Trilogy
Wife and kid murdered, hooked on painkillers, fighting off endless mobsters (including one instance where’s tortured)…and to think that’s all the grief Max goes through in the first game. The second is barely an improvement as Payne loses Mona Sax while the third sees him embroiled in betrayal and shady business in Brazil. That being said, Max never gives up, seemingly going on in spite of himself and earns some manner of solace when it’s all said and done.
Solid Snake – Metal Gear Solid 4
To catalog all the trauma that Solid Snake has faced through his life would make for a whole separate piece. A product of Les Enfants Terribles, injected with FOXDIE, painted as a traitor by his country, yada yada, you know the drill. Metal Gear Solid 4 presents Snake’s greatest trials though. With his body breaking down and only a year to live, Snake embarks on one final mission to kill Liquid Ocelot. He battles the Beauty and the Beast unit, Metal Gear Gekkos, and even the realization that the FOXDIE will mutate in several months and wipe out the world’s population. Despite all this, Snake continues to pursue Liquid. Though victorious, Snake attempts to take his own life at the grave of Big Boss, stopped only by the latter. Who’s alive, surprisingly but that’s a whole other story. A new strain of FOXDIE was injected in Snake at some point, which means our hero is no longer at risk of killing off the world. Regardless, with some extra time left and Big Boss acknowledging him before finally passing on, Snake looks forward to the future with hope.
Arthur Morgan – Red Dead Redemption 2
When we first meet Red Dead Redemption 2 protagonist Arthur Morgan, he and his crew are on the run and beaten all to hell. As time passes, Arthur has to deal with the machinations of Dutch van der Linde, taking on more and more scores despite his leader seemingly descending into madness. Though various members of the gang die throughout the story and Arthur contracts tuberculosis (which was exceptionally fatal during those times), he still perseveres. Whether it’s rescuing John Marston, fighting off the Pinkertons, and rooting out Michah as a mole, Arthur keeps fighting until his very last breath.
Clementine – The Walking Dead
When Clementine first started her journey in Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1, she was to be protected and watched over. With her parents dead, it stung all the more when she lost her protector Lee Everett. In Season 2, Clementine faces other trials – for instance, she’s bitten by a dog and has to sew her wound closed, all on her lonesome. Eventually she has to deal with the crazed antics of Kenny and Jane (which can end fatally). Did we mention Clem is only 11 years old at this point? A New Frontier starts with her possibly having one less finger depending on the player’s choice as she takes care of AJ by herself. Nevertheless, Clem has kept fighting and continued surviving. Will she make it out of The Final Season intact?
Commander Shepard – Mass Effect Trilogy
A veritable one-man army, Commander Shepard has dealt with almost everything possible by the time Mass Effect 3 closed. That includes killing Sovereign and a reanimated Saren, dying to the Collectors and being reborn, surviving a suicide mission against said Collectors, destroying the Alpha Relay (and an Batarian system) to delay the Reapers, the list goes on. In fact, Mass Effect 3 starts with Shepard having to survive the Reapers’ attack on Earth as millions die. With just one ship and a crew, Shepard builds a powerful military fleet and the Crucible to take the fight to the Reapers. That’s after solving the conflicts between the Turians, Krogans, Quarians, and so on while dealing with Cerberus. Sure, the player’s fate is possibly sealed by the end and maybe it’s all for naught depending on the choices made. But Shepard kept fighting and that’s all matters.
Gordon Freeman – Half Life
It’s never just a normal day for Gordon Freeman, a physicist for Black Mesa caught in a resonance cascade that causes aliens to invade the facility. With Black Mesa in ruins, aliens warping in to kill him and Marines attempting to cover the mess up (by also killing him), Gordon is probably in over his head. And that’s before heading into the alien dimension Xen to kill the Nihilanth and stop the resonance cascade for good. If you thought that meant the Freeman got a break, then you’re wrong – he’s subsequently thrown into stasis by the G-Man before waking up years later in a world ruled by the Combine. Gordon has to fight his way from below, galvanizing the resistance and ultimately taking down Dr. Breen, the leader of City 17, to ensure some kind of freedom for humanity. Even as the situation continues to worsen, Gordon keeps going, never backing down from a fight no matter how unfavourable the odds may be (or how hopeless a sequel seems).
Joel – The Last of Us
When a game starts with a main character’s daughter dying in his arms, you just know it only gets worse. Case in point, Joel from The Last of Us who would partake in a life of brutal post-apocalyptic survival with his brother before becoming a smuggler. And of course, things only got worse after he was tasked with smuggling Ellie. From there, it’s one battle after another against brutal Infected, bandits and even soldiers as he protects Ellie. At one point, Joel is near death and needs Ellie’s help in the Winter (which leads into a whole other rigmarole for Ellie). By the end, Joel has transported Ellie to the Fireflies’ base in Salt Lake City. However, he learns that Ellie must be operated on to derive a vaccine for the infection. Since this will result in her death, Joel goes on a rampage to rescue her, eventually escaping the hospital and lying to Ellie about the reason. If nothing else, The Last of Us showcased what lengths Joel could go to protect those he loved.
BJ Blazkowicz – Wolfenstein
The never-ending torment that is William “B.J.” Blazkowicz’s campaign against the Nazis has been the stuff of gaming legend. Wolfenstein (2009) would kick-start a whole new tale though and introduced a worrying alternate future. What if the Nazis won World War 2? In Wolfenstein: The New Order, Blazkowicz recovers from his vegetative stage several years later following a failed raid on Deathshead’s fortress. He eventually joins the resistance and even infiltrates a forced labour camp to find the key to opposing the Nazis. Oh, and he goes to the Moon as well because why not? The game ends with Blazkowicz apparently dead but in Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, he’s back at it again, avenging fallen comrades and working to liberate America from the Nazis. Things can get pretty grim throughout the story, including a pivotal plot point where Blazkowicz is decapitated and must have his head reattached to a super-soldier’s body to survive. But even as our hero struggles to maintain a stoic appearance through it all, he’s still an expert at making the Nazis’ lives miserable.
Sam Fisher – Splinter Cell Series
Ah, Sam Fisher. Remember this guy? This guy was trained to be a Navy SEAL before facing all the ruckus of the first three Splinter Cell titles (which includes averting World War 3). So of course his story took a turn for the worst in Double Agent when his daughter Sarah was “killed”. Becoming a double agent to help the NSA, eventually Fisher is forced to kill Colonel Irving Lambert to maintain his cover and subsequently goes on the run. Splinter Cell Conviction reveals that shockingly, Sarah is still alive but Fisher must go through another a series of trials, including saving the president of the United States from assassination. Though the subsequent Blacklist attacks had some chance of destabilizing the newly formed Fourth Echelon, Fisher survived it all, even showing up in Ghost Recon Wildlands to prove that he’s still got what it takes.
Ethan Mars – Heavy Rain
Though his family life is relatively happy to begin with, Ethan Mars faces one tragedy after another following an accident that kills his older son Jason. Ethan himself falls into a coma after the accident and after awakening, divorces his wife and spends the days blaming himself. Eventually, Ethan’s younger son Shaun is kidnapped by the Origami Killer and the former must complete a series of tests to save him. Said tests include driving into traffic at high speed, killing a drug dealer, crawling through broken glass and, oh, just cutting off one of his fingers. All of that is before he eventually has to film himself drinking poison. With the help of journalist Madison Paige and FBI agent Norman Jayden, Ethan eventually locates the Origami Killer and, depending on the player’s actions, can save Shaun while surviving. If all goes well, Ethan starts a new life with Madison and Shaun, his ordeal finally over.
Marcus Fenix – Gears of War Trilogy
Being sentenced to prison for going against orders and trying to rescue his father, Marcus Fenix emerges into a world that’s overrun by the Locust. Keep in mind that Fenix had already been through a long period of war between different nations for Imulsion. The Coalition of Governments is thus formed and Marcus goes to war with his best friend Dom to stop the Locust. Despite a victory at the end of the first game, Marcus has to fight the Locust in their home turf before eventually destroying Jacinto – the last major human city, mind you – to ensure victory again. Oh and there’s the Lambent, mutated by the planet’s Imulsion and slowly consuming it so that’s two disgusting armies that Marcus has to deal with. From the destruction of the place he called home to the death of his father and even Dom, Marcus has a rough time of it in the original trilogy. Still, even with the fate of humanity constantly resting on his shoulders, he fights on because it’s the only thing he knows.
Batman – Batman Arkham Series
Hoo boy does Batman take a beating in Rocksteady’s Arkham series. He starts off hunted by a bunch of assassins, surviving burning, poison, electrocution and even the Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins. This leads to Arkham Asylum where the Dark Knight is more or less trapped in the prison, and must deal with crazed inmates and villains including a mutated Joker. You’d think that’d be the end but alas, the caped crusader must then deal with the mess that’s Arkham City, preventing Protocol 10 from coming into effect while also not dying to the Joker toxin in his blood. Batman: Arkham Knight sees the hero on the back foot, dealing with a strong militia and his old ward Jason Todd as the Arkham Knight. Oh and the Joker is also in his head, threatening to wrest control at any moment. Even as his mind breaks down and his identity has been exposed to the entire city, Batman successfully combats Scarecrow (with some help from Todd) and even rounds up all the villains in the city before initiating the Knightfall Protocol. Though the conclusion is fairly open-ended, Batman showcased exemplary, almost borderline insane drive and focus throughout the series to keep Gotham City safe.
Scorpion – Mortal Kombat
Hanzo Hisashi, better known as Scorpion, isn’t someone easily classified as a hero. A former member of the destroyed Shirai Ryu, Scorpion would spend his days in hell, seeking revenge against the Lin Kuei clan and Sub-Zero for his family’s death. The story has seen its fair share of twists and turns through the years but with Mortal Kombat 9 rebooting events, Scorpion would be aligned with Quan-Chi from the start. Of course, he was unaware that Quan-Chi was actually responsible for the death of his family. After being manipulated by the sorcerer further, Scorpion eventually breaks free and revives the Shirai Ryu while returning to life. He even makes amends with Sub-Zero before embarking on a quest to kill Quan-Chi (which would result in Shinnok being released but that’s a different story). Say what you will about the guy but Scorpion had honour and was committed to avenging his family till the end.
Issac Clarke – Dead Space
If anyone could top this list for the sheer amount of punishment taken, both physically and psychologically, it might be Isaac Clarke. In Dead Space 1, Isaac has to deal with all kinds of monstrosities in an attempt to save his girlfriend Nicole (who turns out to be dead by the end). He’s then haunted by a nightmarish specter of Nicole before facing the Necromorphs again in Dead Space 2. Being thrown out into the darkness of space, nearly having his eye drilled out, multiple risks of being torn asunder – that’s a regular day for Isaac. And no, Dead Space 3 doesn’t offer any respite since a Necromorph moon of all things crashes straight onto the planet that Isaac is on. He’s miraculously alive though and decides to keep going, the utter mad lad.
Kiryu Kazuma – Yakuza Series
Another close contender for heroes who suffered immensely, Kiryu Kazuma of the Yakuza series is as tough as they come. In the first Yakuza, Kiryu takes the fall for the murder of Sohei Dojima, head of the Dojima family, to ensure his friend Akira Nishikiyama stays out of prison. After a decade in jail, Kiryu is finally out but under fire from the entire Japanese underworld. Even Nishiki betrays him for his own ends. The first game ends with Kiryu losing his childhood friend Yumi and Nishiki before working to take care of Haruka. Of course, it’s never that simple as Kiryu finds himself embroiled in a Yakuza civil war in Yakuza 2. It’s just one conflict after another with endless fights, bizarre circumstances and the ever-terrifying Goro Majima stalking his every step. Still, if there’s ever anyone who takes what life throws at him and beats it to a pulp, it’s Kazuma Kiryu.