Getting into characters...

3) Worst - Kyle Katarn (Dark Forces and Jedi Knight series)
He’s bearded, he’s boring, he’s bland and his name is Kyle Katarn. He was originally a genuinely interesting character in the Han Solo mold, working for the Imperials before jumping ship when he found out they’d tortured his dad. But somewhere along the line the decision was made to give him Force powers - and with Force powers comes great responsibility, the emotional resonance of cardboard and the worst beard in videogaming. Star Wars may have started out in the ’70s, but that’s no reason for its gaming icon to dress like a beige-obsessed disco cowboy.

2) Best - GLaDOS (Portal)
Since its release in The Orange Box, a massive truck-full of gushing plaudits has backed up to Portal, opened its doors and swamped the poor game in analysis and tearful commendations. People didn’t just enjoy the absurdity of the Weighted Companion Cube: it descended into an embarrassing internet-wide competition of ‘who can fall in love with it the most’. In the middle of the cake-led catchphrase madness, it’s almost possible to forget that Portal contains the perfectly-metered and lyrical voice of GLaDOS. Her descent from disinterested compliance to a set of mysterious protocols into the hysterical, desperate - and hilariously childish - boss that you tear to pieces is one of the most finely controlled mental breakdowns since American Psycho.

GLaDOS is the humorous, clinical, savage and poignant heart of Portal. Without her, the Companion Cube would remain unloved and unpersonified, and there’d be no one to sing that song. There’d also be a lack of idiots thinking that saying “the cake is a lie” makes them as funny as the game, but you take the rough with the smooth. Without GLaDOS, Portal would be an entertaining and well-respected puzzler. But it wouldn’t have had everyone tearing their nuts off and screaming how much they loved it the most.

2) Worst - Martin Septim (Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion)
When it was revealed that Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean would be lending their voice talents to Oblivion, we thought we’d have seen the end of the soulless, monotonous verbal dirge that spews from the gobs of the game’s moronic residents. Captain Jean Luc Picard’s bleak rendition of Uriel Septim manages to make the Emperor look like a mad old pensioner, but he avoids this list by being killed off so quickly. Sean Bean’s character sticks around far longer though, at all times sounding like a man incapable of emotion. His script is a load of wank too, always going on about some rubbish nobody really cares about.

Even when he turns into a giant ferocious dragon he’s still a bit annoying, and embarrassing to watch - like if your dad turned into a massive mythical creature made of fire. He even talks about turning into a dragon like you’d talk about ordering a coffee. “One grande cappuccino with an extra shot, and I’ll be turning into a dragon to save the world - is there a discount for that?” Sean Bean may have been a British housewife’s favorite in the BBC series Sharpe, but stick him in a sound recording studio and he’s reduced to a painfully dull oaf.

1) Best - SHODAN (System Shock series)
Two robotic matriarchs in the top two positions? It can only speak to our male, fleshy weakness, and the thrill of being overwhelmed. The comparisons quickly run dry, however: Portal leaves everything to the imagination - System Shock has a strongly defined storyline. SHODAN provides you with a tormentor, an ally, a betrayer. Her story is handled in such a remarkable way; her interaction with you is completely natural within the immaculate storyline - it’s easy to imagine the System Shock games as a movie, but it’s the very best example of a filmic storyline playing better as a game.

SHODAN is the benevolent chip who had her ethical considerations hacked away, turning her into a passionate megalomaniac, and a casual liar. She’s not mad - she’s consistent and reasonable. She’s just reasonable on her own twisted terms, which, with an inch of empathy, aren’t even that twisted. We’ve seen SHODAN at her most powerful and her most vulnerable, and although we never once suspected she’d reform and become a dutiful little AI on a mining vessel again, she never failed to be anything other than an enthralling and intelligent enemy and ally. She gets the top spot because she’s every definition of awesome.

1) Worst - Norton Mapes (F.E.A.R.)
Norton Mapes is a cancerous growth on the face of the first-person shooter. One minute you’re nailing leather-clad goons to walls and watching arteries spray the walls with claret, the next minute you’re standing on a carpet of baked cheese-flavored snacks, listening to Carry On music and being talked at by IT support. When a character’s biggest gag is a belt buckle that says ‘RTFM’, at what point do you realize you’re onto a bad idea? Apparently never, what with his magical bullet/explosion evading Lazarus act after F.E.A.R. and consequent reappearance in Extraction Point. Based on the Dennis Nedry character from Jurassic Park, Norton Mapes is a blight on gaming. He stalls the game, he fails to amuse and he’s a grotesque stereotype that ties obesity to surliness, duplicity and cowardliness.

May 28, 2008