What games’ stories lack in substance is often made up with character. Like, actual characters. Although we often identify a franchise by its main protagonist, the smallest side character has just as much of an opportunity to work his or her way into our heart.
Despite being a year dominated by sequels, 2011 has left us with a wealth of memorable characters brought to life through winning dialogue and performances. Whether they are funny, mysterious, or just damn cool, these are the favorite new faces we got to know over the past 12 months.
Out of the four partners you have during L.A. Noire, Roy Earle is the one who really nails the sleazy and corrupt post-war LAPD. He’s more interested in getting his money back from a rigged boxing match than upholding the law, but at the same time he shows a surprising amount of pragmatism and harbors no illusions about who and what he is. The fact that he never receives his comeuppance and seemingly comes through the finale smelling of roses makes him even more infuriating. – Alasdair Duncan
My actual mum is a wonderful woman, so I never had a chance to run about a procedurally generated basement, killing my monstrous siblings as I fought my way through hell to slaughter an evil fundamentalist matriarch. Not until I played The Binding of Isaac, that is. Mom allowed me to see what it’s like living in a dysfunctional home, and I’m a better person for it. – Fraser Brown
I’m not sure if he counts as a proper video game character, but Devolver Digital’s walking HR-violation of a CFO is playable in multiplayer, and the amount of lewd and offensive nonsense he spouts off on Twitter provides an uncomfortable amount of personality. Between his love of tequila and farts, and his progressive (?) stance on sexual harassment, he’s somewhere between Cave Johnson and Duke Nukem. – Max Scoville
One character that stood out for me this year was Adam Jensen. His apartment scene provided more significant emotional background than most other cookie-cutter characters I’ve seen this year. And the best part was that this information wasn’t explained to us — in that wonderfully typical game fashion — but rather, shown to us. The apartment itself was a look into the conflict inside Adam after his transformation: the unpacked boxes, the unfinished clock on the desk, the broken mirror in the bathroom, and even the mournful wail of a single cello. It all made me feel like I was learning about the character myself, rather than him telling me his life story. Freaking brilliant. – Ryan Perez
In a game like Dark Souls where the atmosphere is so oppressive and hostile, you could really do with a friend. Enter Knight Solaire. He is the embodiment of camaraderie and selfless generosity. He is also bat-shit crazy. The first time you meet Knight Solaire, he is just standing still, staring up at the sun, wishing that he could be so “gloriously incandescent.” From that point on, you can summon Solaire to help you defeat certain bosses. He’s also the head of the Sun covenant, which is all about helping other players by joining their world as friendly phantoms. Shine on, you crazy bastard. – Jamie McGinn
Toad has always been kind of weird, but this new Toad is the strangest, saddest one yet. I feel like I’m his only friend.
He pops up out of nowhere ONLY when Mario uses his binoculars. It’s as if he refuses to say anything unless someone is using binoculars. When someone around is using them, Toad screams for attention endlessly. He’s always stranded on some far-off platform that is impossible to get to, but he doesn’t want any help getting down. He only wants you to acknowledge him and receive his greeting from afar. He’s happy to stay there, stuck forever, dishing out a seemingly endless supply of Star Coins to anyone who will look at him. Sad. Sad and hilarious. – Dale North
Never have I enjoyed going through so many different phases of emotion with a character in a game. It started with admiration; he was a war hero and damn fine go-getter. Cole busted his ass and wanted to be the very best — what’s not to like? But as the story progressed, you learned about his past cowardliness and, on top of that, his less-than-moral ethics. I hated him and was shocked by the game’s portrayal of this man. I almost put down the controller in disgust, but I was intrigued by Team Bondi’s storytelling and wanted to see where it went. By the end, Cole came full circle and made up for his scarred past. He didn’t make amends for the present, but I felt satisfied with his conclusion. The roller coaster I experienced is easily why he was the best in 2011. – Wesley Ruscher
It’s not often that a character like this comes around. He’s a passionate, foul-mouthed Mexican demon hunter (and slayer of pendejos) who hangs out with a wisecracking talking skull that happens to be a shapeshifter with a penchant for the phallic. More than your typical bizarre Suda 51 protagonist, Garcia is the embodiment of machismo, and along with Shadows of the Damned as a whole, represents Latin culture in a way previously unseen in videogames. “Taste my hot boner!” – Kyle MacGregor
Ghost Trick is a game full of delightful characters brought to life through gorgeous animation and snappy dialogue, but no character stands out more than one brave little canine that took a literal bullet for his owner. Missile, a peppy Pomeranian, is too adorable for his own good. He’s such a loyal companion that he worries about his owner’s health even after taking a bullet for her. Who wouldn’t want a dog like that? – Allistair Pinsof
The funniest new character of the year. Wheatley in Portal 2 — voiced by the incredible Stephen Merchant — starts off as a well-written, hilarious sidekick to main character Chell … but slowly morphs into a genuinely fascinating character with a pretty amazing, twist-filled storyline. After the original Portal, I never thought a robot character could top the greatness of GLaDOS. Wheatley sure comes close. – Chad Concelmo
Did we forget to mention a new character you loved in 2011? Of course we did! Why don’t you tell us about it in the comments below?