10 Games Where You Play as the Villain

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Patrick_Yu
edited May 27 in Gaming

While many video games cast players in the role of the hero, there's a unique thrill in exploring the other side of the moral spectrum. This article highlights ten games where players get the chance to embrace the role of the villain, revealing just how entertaining and engaging it can be to walk on the darker side. These titles not only challenge players to mastermind complex schemes and navigate morally gray scenarios, but they also demonstrate that sometimes, being the bad guy can add a whole new layer of fun and depth to the gaming experience. 

1. Carrion

  • Year Released: 2020 
  • Developing Studio: Phobia Game Studio  

In Carrion, players inhabit the role of a monstrous entity, effectively placing them in the shoes—or rather, the tentacles—of the villain within the game’s narrative and setting. This game flips the traditional dynamics seen in most horror and action titles where you typically play as a hero fighting against monstrous threats. Instead, in Carrion, you are the threat. 

As this monstrous creature, your primary objectives revolve around escaping a secure research facility and wreaking havoc along the way. The gameplay mechanics support this villainous role through the powers afforded to the creature. You can skulk through vents and corridors, ambush unsuspecting scientists and guards, consume humans to grow in size and power, and utilize a variety of abilities that sow fear and chaos. These abilities include manipulating and tearing through environments, throwing objects or people with deadly force, and spreading further terror. 

The entire gameplay experience is designed to make you feel like a powerful predator. There's a distinct lack of moral choices typically associated with villain-based narratives; instead, Carrion indulges in the raw, unapologetic aspect of being a monster. This perspective is not about redemption or complexity but about embracing the role of a creature driven by instinct and a need to survive and dominate, which aligns perfectly with traditional villain archetypes. Thus, Carrion offers a pure villainous experience by allowing players to step into a role that is typically viewed with fear and antagonism in most other gaming narratives.

2. Fallout 3/Fallout: New Vegas

  • Year Released: 2008 (FO3), 2010 (FONV) 
  • Developing Studio: Bethesda Game Studios (FO3), Obsidian Entertainment (FONV)

In Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, players are presented with a plethora of choices that allow them to engage in villainous behavior, profoundly impacting the game world and its inhabitants. 

In Fallout 3, the opportunity to detonate a nuclear bomb in Megaton allows players to obliterate an entire town early in the game. This act, along with options to engage in slavery by capturing NPCs and selling them, or poisoning the water supply, showcases the game's allowance for severe moral transgressions that directly affect the environment and its characters. 

Fallout: New Vegas expands on this by embedding the player in a web of power struggles between factions with dubious motives. The game offers the option to side with Caesar's Legion, a faction known for its brutal practices, and engage in activities like cannibalism or betrayal for personal advantage. These choices empower players to manipulate the game’s narrative and outcome, facilitating a uniquely villainous playthrough. 

Both games are structured to not just allow but to incorporate the choice of taking a darker path as a viable option. This is facilitated through an open-world design and branching questlines that make villainous acts consequential and integral to the gameplay experience, offering a stark contrast to the typically heroic narratives.

3. Baldur’s Gate 3

  • Year Released: 2023 
  • Developing Studio: Larian Studios

Baldur's Gate 3, 2023’s Game of the Year, is a perfect candidate for this list. The game is distinguished by its nuanced decision-making system that allows players to navigate a complex landscape of moral dilemmas, paving the way for truly evil outcomes. These choices are consequential, affecting the game world significantly—ranging from the destruction of entire communities to the betrayal of close allies, thus demonstrating the player's potential role as an antagonist. 

The narrative of Baldur's Gate 3 dives deep into dark themes such as power, corruption, and betrayal, allowing players to commit acts of murder, deception, and manipulation. This exploration of darker elements enriches the experience of playing as a villain. Moreover, the game uniquely portrays the isolation and loneliness that often accompany villainous paths, adding a layer of realism and gravity to the narrative. This shows that while villainous acts might grant power, they also come at significant personal costs, such as lost connections and support. 

Additionally, the player can significantly influence their companions to undertake evil deeds themselves. For instance, players can coerce Shadowheart into murdering Dame Aylin, or push Astarion to sacrifice thousands of vampire spawn, including his adopted siblings, in order to ascend.  

Those embracing the Dark Urge can revel in the gory and horrific behaviors befitting a Bhaalspawn, and through a series of dark choices, can even rise to become the Lord of Murder’s chosen one. Furthermore, players have the option to ally with the Absolute and conspire with mind flayers to dominate the realm. 

The game's dynamic relationship system, where characters may become allies or enemies based on player actions, adds depth to the role of a villain. These relationships are deeply affected by evil choices, often leading to conflicts or causing characters to abandon the player. Through its complex interactions and consequences, Baldur's Gate 3 offers a multifaceted experience that goes beyond mere antagonism, providing a rich exploration of what it means to embody villainy in a video game.

4. Tyranny

  • Year Released: 2016 
  • Developing Studio: Obsidian Entertainment 

Tyranny stands out as a role-playing game that delves deeply into the essence of playing the villain, taking this concept to an extreme not often seen in the genre. Unlike other RPGs where players might occasionally commit dark acts, Tyranny by Obsidian Entertainment immerses you in a world where such acts are a routine part of your duties. As a cog in the empire's machine rather than a typical villain, you find yourself committing atrocities to maintain order and expand the oppressive regime you serve. This includes deeply unsettling tasks like murdering innocents on command. The game's narrative thrust highlights the "banality of evil," a concept suggesting that ordinary people can commit horrific acts under certain pressures, which provides a disturbing yet intriguing element to the gameplay. 

The setting is the war-torn realm of Terratus, dominated by the enigmatic Overlord Kyros, whose decrees you enforce as a Fatebinder—a judge-executioner figure. Your actions, from brutal judgments to strategic choices in dealing with warring factions within the empire, shape the game's world and storyline. This includes navigating political intrigue and making decisions that can either terrorize or spare the population, each with significant repercussions. 

Tyranny goes beyond simple black-and-white morality, presenting players with complex decisions that often have no right answers, only less harmful ones. This moral complexity, combined with the game’s rich narrative and responsive game world, makes it a profound commentary on power, justice, and humanity. It challenges players to reflect on the nature of evil and their role in perpetuating it, making it a powerful addition to any discussion of games that explore villainous perspectives.

5. Grand Theft Auto 5

  • Year Released: 2013 
  • Developing Studio: Rockstar North 

In Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V), players can immerse themselves in the role of a modern-day criminal through its deeply engaging and expansive gameplay. The game offers a detailed open world set in the fictional state of San Andreas, primarily based on modern-day Southern California, where players undertake various criminal activities. The narrative is driven by three protagonists—Michael, Franklin, and Trevor—each with his own background in crime and personal motives that drive their actions within the game. 

The game provides a sandbox environment that allows for a high degree of player freedom, embodying the essence of living outside the law. Players can engage in a wide array of criminal activities, from bank heists and assassination missions to minor infractions like theft and traffic violations. The ability to choose less savory paths to achieve objectives in the game, such as manipulating the stock market or engaging in rampant violence, further cements the player's role as a villain in this virtual society. 

Moreover, the protagonists of GTA V are not traditional heroes by any measure. Michael is a retired bank robber dealing with a dysfunctional family and a midlife crisis, Franklin is a former street gangster looking for a major heist to elevate his status, and Trevor is a volatile criminal driven by impulses and a disregard for human life. Their interactions and missions often involve sordid activities that blur ethical lines, offering players the chance to explore the consequences of living as outlaws. 

GTA V also indulges in a satirical portrayal of contemporary American life, critiquing everything from pop culture to politics. This satire is interwoven with the game's narrative and setting, making the player's actions as a villain both a gameplay mechanic and a commentary on societal issues. 

Through its combination of narrative depth, character development, and freedom of action, Grand Theft Auto V provides a compelling platform for players to delve into the villainous side of their virtual personas, making it an iconic example of a game where you can play as the villain.

6. Untitled Goose Game

  • Year Released: 2019 
  • Developing Studio: House House 

Untitled Goose Game offers a clever inversion of typical game roles by placing players in control of a devious goose intent on disrupting the tranquil life of a quaint English village. The gameplay is centered around crafting mischief and mayhem, with tasks that range from simple annoyances like stealing items to complex pranks such as locking a groundskeeper out of his garden. This shift in perspective, where the player is the source of turmoil rather than its resolver, offers a refreshing take on the villain archetype. The goose’s antics impact the villagers' daily routines, creating a dynamic environment where each action visibly affects the game world, akin to how a traditional antagonist would disrupt the lives of protagonists in more conventional narratives. Moreover, the game infuses these villainous deeds with humor and lightheartedness, showcasing that the role of a villain can be as amusing and enjoyable as it is cunning and strategic. Through its unique gameplay and humorous approach, Untitled Goose Game demonstrates that being the bad guy can be just as engaging and fulfilling as playing the hero.

7. Spec Ops: The Line

  • Year Released: 2012 
  • Developing Studio: Yager Development 

Spec Ops: The Line starts as a seemingly straightforward rescue mission but quickly devolves into a grim tale of moral and mental decay, where the line between right and wrong blurs. The game's protagonist, Captain Martin Walker, begins as a typical hero but gradually transforms into a figure you might find despicable, illustrating the heavy toll of his actions. The narrative strength of the game lies in making violence impactful, driving home the regret felt after each combat encounter. Unlike other shooters, Spec Ops does not treat violence lightly; instead, it uses intense scenarios to emphasize the psychological and moral weight of combat. 

The setting, a war-ravaged Dubai, adds layers to the story, introducing elements like civil war and survival in extreme conditions. Walker's journey is punctuated by difficult decisions that affect the narrative but not necessarily the gameplay outcome, highlighting the often futile nature of choices in dire situations. The game's mechanics support this narrative, providing tactical combat that requires smart decision-making amidst chaos, though technical issues with controls occasionally hinder the experience. 

While the single-player campaign is rich in narrative and aesthetic detail, the multiplayer mode falls short, lacking the same depth and feeling more like an obligatory addition than a fully realized component. Overall, Spec Ops: The Line challenges conventional shooter tropes by focusing on the consequences of violence and the psychological burdens of war, making it a poignant exploration of the darker aspects of military conflict.

8. Dead by Daylight

  • Year Released: 2016 
  • Developing Studio: Behaviour Interactive 

In Dead by Daylight, released in 2016, the opportunity to play as the villain is integral to the game's design, allowing players to assume the role of the killer, the central antagonist against four survivors. The gameplay mechanics for the killer involve hunting down survivors, incapacitating them, and then hanging them on hooks as sacrifices to a malevolent entity, reinforcing the killer's villainous role. Equipped with abilities that facilitate tracking and overpowering the survivors, the killer stands in sharp contrast to the survivors, who must rely on stealth and cooperation. 

The experience of playing as the killer is heightened by the first-person perspective, which focuses the gameplay directly on the prey, making the role feel more personal and intense. This perspective is complemented by the strategic elements of play, where the killer must decide whom to chase, guard hooked survivors, and use their abilities to disrupt the survivors' efforts. This not only showcases the physical dominance of the killer but also emphasizes the psychological terror intrinsic to their role. 

The game's atmosphere is further enriched by its roster of killers (currently at 35), many of whom are drawn from classic horror archetypes and iconic cinema figures like Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger, each with unique powers and chilling backstories that enhance their villainous personas. The developers have continually expanded this lineup by coming out with new playable killers each year. This ongoing development ensures that the game remains fresh and engaging. 

Moreover, the settings in Dead by Daylight contribute significantly to its horror ambiance. The maps, designed to evoke the eerie and claustrophobic environments typical of horror films, amplify the menacing presence of the killer. 

Overall, Dead by Daylight provides a comprehensive villainous experience, combining dynamic power play and psychological warfare within a richly atmospheric setting. Since its release in 2016, the continuous updates from the developers, including the introduction of new killers, ensure that players have varied and evolving challenges, making each match a unique exploration of fear and strategy.

9. Destroy All Humans!

  • Year Released: Original in 2005, Remastered in 2020 
  • Developing Studio: Pandemic Studios (Original), Black Forest Games (Remastered)

Destroy All Humans! immerses players in the villainous role of Crypto, an alien set on wreaking havoc in 1950s Earth. Released originally in 2005 and remastered in 2020, the game delights in the cathartic disruption of a peaceful world through the antics of its alien protagonist. Crypto employs a variety of alien technologies to manipulate, destroy, and cause chaos among the human population, feeling overpowered from the outset with abilities like mind control, telekinesis, and advanced weaponry. 

The gameplay not only supports but accentuates this power fantasy, with objectives centered on creating chaos, collecting human DNA, and combating military forces, all enriched by humorous voice acting and cutscenes. The open-world design offers extensive freedom to orchestrate mayhem, enhanced by detailed, updated graphics that pay homage to the 1950s setting. 

Destroy All Humans! effectively captures the essence of playing as the antagonist, making villainy not just a gameplay feature but a core, enjoyable aspect of the game.

10. Rimworld

  • Year Released: 2018 
  • Developing Studio: Ludeon Studios 

In RimWorld, players have the unique opportunity to delve into morally ambiguous or downright villainous behavior due to the game’s open-ended gameplay mechanics. Unlike many games that enforce a moral framework, RimWorld grants players the freedom to engage in a multitude of ethically questionable activities, providing practical benefits for doing so. As the leader of a new colony in a harsh and unforgiving world, survival often requires exploitation of others, ranging from enslaving captured raiders to forced labor of colonists. 

The game extends the possibility of evil acts to include body harvesting from prisoners or even resorting to cannibalism to sustain your colony. These choices are not without consequence; they affect both the colony's morale and the player’s standing with other factions. Additionally, players can manipulate the emotions and relationships of their colonists to maintain order and efficiency, which can involve breaking alliances, fostering dependencies, or inciting conflicts among colonists for strategic benefits. 

RimWorld is driven by a complex AI storyteller that dynamically adjusts the game’s events based on the player's actions, pushing the narrative into dark territories based on these choices. This AI system ensures that each villainous act has consequences, weaving a unique story of survival at any moral cost. This profound integration of gameplay and morality makes RimWorld a vivid example of how games can allow players to embody a villain, not out of necessity, but as a deliberate, strategic choice.

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Patrick Yu is a Senior Project Manager at Level Interactive and has 8 years of experience writing business, legal, lifestyle, gaming, and technology articles. He is a significant contributor to Acer Corner and is currently based in Taipei, Taiwan.

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