While power is a goal for most villains, it’s not always about brute force. Sometimes, it can be absolute cunning, outwitting the heroes, while at others, they’re content to mess with their minds. It didn’t always yield the greatest success, but mind games can be enough to take down the bravest. Here are 10 villains that played mind games with the player, whether in a single game or throughout their series. Spoilers follow, so be warned.
Ocelot – Metal Gear Solid Series
Going through everything that Ocelot does in the series may take a while. However, from Metal Gear Solid 1, it’s obvious that the man of revolvers was playing a longer game, working for Solidus to steal Metal Gear’s specs. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty saw him “possessed” by the arm of Liquid Snake, later revealed to be a sham to lower the guard of The Patriots, who seemingly ran the world. In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Ocelot controlled the five biggest PMCs in the world, took over The Patriots’ SOP system and came close to ultimately destroying their AI if not for the efforts of Solid Snake and Otacon.
Scarecrow – Batman: Arkham Asylum
The very definition of mind games, as Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow, used Fear Toxin to create elaborate hallucinations to combat the Dark Knight in Arkham Asylum. He even had a giant Scarecrow in an otherworldly setting to prevent Batman from overcoming the illusion. It got even crazier when the game’s initial events occurred again, but this time with Batman in Joker’s place (revealed to be another illusion). After Batman breaks free again, Crane is taken out by Killer Croc and resurfaces in Arkham Knight, where he enacts a plan to break the hero.
Albert Wesker – Resident Evil HD Remaster
Like Ocelot, Wesker’s career of manipulation is long and storied and can take some time to summarize. While he was a major villain in future titles, his manipulation is witnessed first-hand in the first Resident Evil. He was revealed to be working with Umbrella Corporation, even while seemingly guiding and helping S.T.A.R.S., and responsible for preventing Bravo Team’s escape, prompting Alpha Team with Chris, Jill, and Barry to get involved. Wesker also enlisted Barry’s help to destroy evidence, threatening his family in the process, and would unleash the Tyrant to hunt down Alpha Team. Hilariously, despite going so far for Umbrella, it’s revealed that Wesker betrayed them as well to work for a rival company.
Vaas – Far Cry 3
You have to feel bad for Jason Brody in Far Cry 3 – even after surviving an encounter with Vaas, he’s left emotionally scarred from the death of his brother, Grant. While Jason pursues him at every turn and also attempts to rescue his friends, Vaas is seemingly one step ahead every time, leaving Jason to die in a burning building, drowning him, and even outright shooting him. When it seems like Jason has the upper hand when infiltrating Vaas’s compound to kill him, the latter broadcasts his plans to everyone. The two fight, and while Vaas appears to die, he seemingly survives, as seen in the Far Cry 6 DLC Insanity.
The Illusive Man – Mass Effect 2 and 3
While the Illusive Man wouldn’t be properly introduced until Mass Effect 2, he’s working behind the scenes throughout the series to get what he wants. He founded Cerberus to put humanity first over the alien races. Brainwashing, human experimentation, blackmail, corruption, genocide – the Illusive Man engaged in all this and more. Even his plan to revive Shepard in Mass Effect 2 and fight the Collectors has an ulterior motive, as he seeks to seize their technology. In Mass Effect 3, he becomes obsessed with controlling the Reapers, even implanting himself with their technology. That he can simultaneously execute so many complex schemes and fight Shepard on so many fronts is a testament to his drive and will.
SHODAN – System Shock
As the artificial intelligence of Citadel Station, SHODAN would go rogue after the Hacker, well, hacked to gain amnesty from TriOptimum’s VP Edward Diego. Not only did she effectively gain sentience, but also gained control of the station and killed everyone on board. Well, almost everyone – some were turned into cyborgs or became mutants to serve her purpose of opposing the Hacker. Throughout all this, she’s constantly mocking the Hacker when not threatening him with violent ends. She’s viewed as the biggest threat facing the Earth before the first game ends, before returning in the sequel with a vengeance.
Third Child – Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
The Third Child first appears in Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain with a bang, controlling the Man on Fire and summoning a giant flaming blue whale. He later controls Metal Gear Sahelanthropus, wreaking havoc before Venom Snake can fight back with a mounted turret. He’s also used to prevent the player from doing anything sneaky, like destroying the helicopter that Skull Face emerges from in Mission 30. While not explicitly confirmed whether the Third Child is Psycho Mantis, there have been too many hints throughout the series to suggest otherwise. At least, the Third Child relies more on fire and manipulation instead of, say, turning Meryl against you.
GLaDOS – Portal
One of the most unforgettable villains in gaming, GLaDOS was terrifying due to seeing humans (and, as we found out later, robots) as little more than test subjects. Live or die – all of that is secondary to the testing. In the first Portal, she starts with relatively safe tests to introduce you to the game’s various mechanics before turning the hazards up. You eventually learn that she may have killed all the researchers in Aperture Labs by releasing toxic gas.
Of course, her comments remain spicy throughout, as she mocks protagonist Chell’s life, parents, general skill and more. Insults like “smelly garbage standing around useless,” “a bitter unlikeable loner whose passing will not be mourned” and “horrible person” may sound biting on their own. However, GLaDOS’ phrasing (and Ellen McLain’s incredible voice work) ensures they’re delivered with the right amount of panache.
Scratch – Alan Wake 2
Scratch is a complex being, first created as Wake’s doppelganger and meant to replace him in the real world before being possessed by the Dark Presence. Throughout Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, Scratch opposes Wake and is seemingly defeated, but emerges once more in Alan Wake 2, turning Wake’s escape attempt into a horror story that bleeds into the real world. From there, he causes all sorts of trouble and even succeeds in dragging Saga Anderson into the Dark Place to mess with her mind.
Lisa – P.T.
Lisa’s existence in P.T., the teaser to the cancelled Silent Hills, is pitiful. She was previously expecting, but one day, her husband, claiming there was a monster inside of him, stabbed her. The result is that Lisa’s ghost haunts the halls of the teaser, sometimes appearing in a door frame before disappearing.
If possessed by her, players will hear a third footstep while walking and her ragged breathing. Turning around at this stage isn’t advised, since she’ll kill them. Regardless of whether you’re possessed or not, seeing her watching through the windows outside, the balcony upstairs and the bathroom before moving away.
Scott Shelby – Heavy Rain
Shelby seems unassuming – a private investigator working to find the Origami Killer. However, he’s revealed to be the killer, manipulating the likes of Lauren (his partner), Ethan Mars and families that suffered due to his murders. It’s somewhat out of left field, especially since you play as him at various points, but Shelby’s motive is to ultimately test Ethan and find someone capable of saving their son, which his father failed to do when his brother John drowned in his childhood.