GLaDOS (short for Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) might just be the perfect villain. She’s incredibly powerful, smart, relentless, and above all else, absolutely hilarious. Though her backstory and character were fleshed out a great deal in 2011’s Portal 2, I personally found her more intriguing in the original when she still had an aura of mystery and unknown. I’ve never rooted harder for an antagonist in all of my numerous video game escapades than for the evil computer mastermind that led me through the death traps of Aperture Science. Of course I wanted to survive, but at the end of the day GLaDOS’ delightfully twisted and cleverly sinister tricks and torments were just as entertaining as the game’s actual puzzles.
Wheatley is the yin to GLaDOS’ yang, trying to help the player survive against the deadly antics of GLaDOS and Aperture Science. Just as with his fellow AI, Wheatley’s charm doesn’t actually come from any gameplay-related goodness, but instead from his beautiful and simplistically witty dialogue. Comedian Stephen Merchant absolutely nails the voice acting. The amazing part is how real Wheatley feels. Even though Chell never talks back to him, he carries on, and on, and on, and genuinely feels as though he’s making things up as he’s going instead of spewing pre-programmed lines of code. Despite his constant rambling I never grew tired of Wheatley, and I can only hope that more video game characters will be able to reach this level of personality in the future.
SHODAN, or the Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network, is by far the scariest entry on this list. Though she (it?) is at her finest in the excellent System Shock 2, you don’t even know she’s there for the first chunk of the game. Her revel is indeed quite shocking (pun intended). You know that friendly and helpful woman Dr. Polito that’s been helping guide you through the ship you’re on? Yeah, she committed suicide and it’s actually SHODAN guiding you. You know all those horrible things you’ve been killing? Now you have to fight them AND their creator at the same time. All the times you thought you were wandering in cold isolation? She was watching you. Rogue AIs aren’t rare in video games, but SHODAN is perhaps the nastiest of them all. She doesn’t just want freedom or equality for humans and machines. She doesn’t even want to keep humans around as slaves. She views our entire race as nothing more than insects, and that “When the history of my glory is written, your species shall only be a footnote to my magnificence.” While too many villains today are only intimidating in their physicality and power, SHODAN is able to get into your head on a psychological level, which makes her something special.