Hey! Hallie here!
Let’s be honest, you can’t have a good game without a good villain. Whether the villain is an actual person, a situation, or the main character themselves, no story is complete without a force of evil to challenge the main heroes. We’ve seen a lot of villains in games. Mostly we’ve seen villains who are just evil to be evil. Classic examples of this are Bowser and Ganondorf, while more modern examples are Corypheus from ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ and Xehanort from the ‘Kingdom Hearts’ franchise. So when a villain like Handsome Jack comes along, you can’t help but be blown away. I’ll be honest, as a huge ‘Dragon Age’ fan I was pretty sure that the silent (soon to be much louder) evil of Solas was never going to be matched by any villain I came cross. And then I FINALLY got my hands on the ‘Borderlands’ games and guys. I was so, so, wrong. So let’s get into why Handsome Jack holds the title for best video game villain. SPOILERS for ‘Borderlands 2’ and ‘Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel’.
He’s Funny: ‘Borderlands’ is known for being a more comedic franchise than most of the popular first-person shooters out there. Handsome Jack is behind a lot of this comedy. I mean, the diamond pony named Butt Stallion is kind of infamous at this point. The thing with Handsome Jack is that he doesn’t only get a few occasions to show off his hilarious one-liners. The amount of time you spend with Jack isn’t limited to just the occasions you meet him in person. He’s constantly communicating with you throughout the entire game, criticizing what you’re doing and offering to pay you money if you kill yourself. (You can take him up on this offer and you’ll respawn, but he’ll make fun of you whatever option you choose.) Handsome Jack never ceases to be the most entertaining part of ‘Borderlands 2’. When he’s not telling you about the hilarious time he killed someone’s entire family, you kind of miss him.
He’s Scary: The thing with comedic villains like Handsome Jack is that they can very quickly take a turn for the un-intimidating. I’ve seen many a funny villain come off as dumb or too light-hearted. Often times this can be completely countered with a frightening appearance, the Joker is a good example of this, but what do you do when you have a normal looking guy like Jack? You make him a murderous psychopath. There is no doubt in your mind at any point in the game that Handsome Jack could kill you or your friends the minute he is given the chance. For one, you can’t go very far exploring Pandora without finding some audio evidence of him murdering innocent people in cold blood and laughing at it afterwards. Not to mention the experiments he conducted on entire families to test Slag mutation, resulting in the death of Tiny Tina’s parents. But those things happen to other people right? It doesn’t affect the player. At least until he kidnaps and brainwashes Mordecai’s bird, Bloodwing, to attack you. When you manage to defeat Bloodwing without killing Mordecai’s pet, Jack blows the bird’s head off. Even in those situations there’s still a joking tone to Handsome Jack’s voice. You don’t actually hear him get angry. At least not yet.
His Daughter: One of the biggest reveals in ‘Borderlands 2’ is that Angel, the siren, is Handsome Jack’s daughter. That disembodied voice who’s been trying to help you, even after she betrays your location to Handsome Jack, is related to the man who’s been trying to kill you for the entire game. Not only that, but after her time using her siren powers to serve her father, she wants him dead just as much as you. Unfortunately, the only way to keep Handsome Jack out of the picture is to prevent him from using Angel as a means to get what he wants. I’d argue the most heartbreaking part of the game is the mission where you’re forced to kill Angel, per her request, as Jack screams at you to spare her. You finally see a human behind Jack’s haughty and sarcastic mask. And then you succeed in killing her and you finally get to see Handsome Jack in person…as he stabs Roland, one of the main characters, in the back. Needless to say, Roland doesn’t make it. This is when you finally get to see Handsome Jack angry and it’s truly terrifying. His love for his daughter changes the entire dynamic between the player and Handsome Jack. Not many video game moments have made me shiver the way this one did.
John: Who’s this random John I’m mentioning in a post about Handsome Jack? It’s Handsome Jack of course! It’s Jack before he opened the first vault and had his face permanently scarred, which is why his face looks like it’s been pasted on in every other game. His name was John when he was actually a good guy. In fact, all the events that let to him becoming the Handsome Jack we know and love were caused by his desire to protect Elpis and the people that lived there. Unfortunately, the destroying of Elpis was to prevent anyone from reaching the power kept in the vault inside the moon. When John stopped these plans and reached the vault he became someone completely different. Not that this was his first change. The more people betrayed him on his quest to save the moon of Elpis, the more warped he became. To the point that he vaulted an entire group of scientists into space to die because he didn’t trust them. Note that this happened way before he reached the vault. What’s fun about John’s story is that the player helps him, even after he begins to warp into a crazy dictator. In that way you question John’s actions as well as your own and you begin to understand why his choices became more and more morally ambiguous. He once wanted to be a hero. The player gets to stand by his side as he becomes the villain.
I don’t think any game made me fall in love with a villain as fast as ‘Borderlands 2’ did and ‘Borderlands the Pre-Sequel’ made me develop emotional attachment to him on top of all that. Handsome Jack is masterfully written. He’s amusing but he’s also terrifying. Just when you feel you can never feel sorry for a guy like him, the game makes you feel sorry for him. At some point the player has to admit they have more in common with Handsome Jack than they probably want to believe. After all, he did start out in the same position as the player. His life is a huge tragedy, and I didn’t even mention above that his daughter accidentally killed his wife. That’s life-scarring stuff. Yet he came out of all that with confidence and sass. Granted, way too much confidence and sass given that he’s a dictator. But you can’t help but admire the guy. Even when you land the satisfying final blow.
Don’t do anything fun until I get back!