GameFront 2010: Coolest Gaming Protagonists of 2010

A game lives and dies by its protagonist. If you’re going to stare at a man’s butt for 20 hours, you should have some affinity for him, whether it derives from his insouciant attitude, his razor-sharp wit, or the hopeless circumstances he’s found himself mired in. The first-person offerings were generally underwhelming when it comes to character (with the possible exception of Sam Worthington’s pixelated-scenery-chewing performance in Call of Duty: Black Ops), so there’s been a lot of third-person butt-staring going on. Below, we’ve compiled the opinions of various staff members, on whom they think is the coolest protagonist of 2010, and why.

Vito Scaletta – Mafia II

Ben Richardson’s Pick

Great characters come to life thanks to great writing, and despite its many obvious flaws, Mafia II had some of the best writing on the market in 2010. Vito’s dialogue was believable, period-appropriate, and laced with personality, and the banter between him and his best friend and sidekick Joe Barbaro was a pleasure to listen to. Voice actor Rick Pasqualone took advantage of his Italian-American background to deliver a hero that was authentic, gritty, and — most importantly — human.

That humanity was on display thanks to the incredible range of experiences Vito endures during the course of the game. His emotionally-trying character arc provided Pasqualone with plenty “to sink his teeth into,” as they say in the biz. Regardless of what you think about his actions and decisions at the end of the game, through all the sadness, frustration, fear, anger, and good-humored outrage, Vito Scaletta was a character worth inhabiting.

John Marston – Red Dead Redemption

Phil Hornshaw’s Pick

As if this could be any more obvious. John Marston is like the Man with No Name, except you get to control him, and you get to decide if he’s a cold-blooded killer or the savior of the distressed and disenfranchised. And the man can take on a bear with a knife.

It’s rare to create a hero that can be both bad and good at the same time, but Rockstar has it down to a science. Despite Marston’s faults, he still has a quiet integrity, even if you decide to take him straight into shoot-everyone-in-the-head territory. There’s just something uncontrollably awesome about a man who will politely threaten to shoot you for insulting him. Marston doesn’t need quips and one-liners: he’s not educated, he just pays attention, and it’s hard not to find admirable traits in someone who generally chooses to keep his mouth shut and his eyes open. Video games could learn a thing or two about protagonists from looking his way.

Sam Gideon – Vanquish

Phil Owen’s Pick

Sam is a cyborg who wears a crazy robot suit that uses magic to create weapons out of thin air. He has a gravelly voice. He don’t take no s**t from the old man in charge. When he decides to take a break from destroying evil Red Russian robots (which he does whenever he feels like it, even if the fighting hasn’t stopped), he smokes a cigarette.

Has there ever been a character in any work of fiction as cool as that? It’s worth playing Vanquish just to experience that amazingness.

Commander Shepard – Mass Effect 2

Shawn Sines’ Pick

Commander Shepard is my protagonist of choice, despite the fact that he/she is meant to be a bit of an everyman. In Mass Effect 2, the character felt a bit less generic to me. Maybe it was the connection I felt, having played this character through the original game and then imported him into this latest adventure, but at the end, I found myself really caring about Shepard’s ultimate fate.

I knew I could die permanently at the end, but I was working so hard to keep every crew member alive — I even managed to save all but one on my first play through. The heroism of protagonists like Shepard is reflected in their actions and their companions, and if my friends are any indication, I made a darned inspirational Shepard.

The fact that I thought of the game character as an extension of myself is a feat not many games replicate. Sure, Kratos or Nathan Drake are cool characters but I never lost myself in either of their tales. Bring on Mass Effect 3 — I want to know where Shepard goes next!

Sam Fisher – Splinter Cell: Conviction

Mark Burnham’s Pick
The old Sam Fisher was quiet. He preferred shadows, stealth, patience, x-ray googles, and tranq darts over legitimate firearms. He followed Third Echelon’s orders, but he did it with style. He had his own unique brand of badassery, to be sure. But in Splinter Cell: Conviction, that Fisher is gone. The new Fisher is a very fast, very violent man. He has nothing to lose, and no orders to follow. He’s packing actual heat this time. He snaps necks, performs rapid headshots and throws people out of windows. They took his daughter –the gloves are off.

Basically, Fisher’s transformation mirrors the friction experienced by those anti-heroes who stray off the passive path in the direction of violence. Film comparisons are easy. Wyatt Earp in Tombstone. William Wallace in Braveheart. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, in The Lord of the Rings. It’s a powerful device, and one that Fisher wears well. It’s something I think we wished he would do all along, and it’s what you want all those other anti-heroes to do while you watch.

Conviction-Fisher is one of the strongest characters of the year, because he legitimately builds upon his past and interacts with it in ways that are fun and compelling for the player.

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