Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
Plenty of videogame villains bother you by rambling over the radio or whatever its fantasy equivalent is. The Guardian in Ultima 7, Sander Cohen in Bioshock, Frank Fontaine in Bioshock, actually just everyone in Bioshock.
Handsome Jack is different. He doesn’t pontificate like he’s delivering a sermon, he doesn’t rant like he’s going to be played by Jeremy Irons in the movie. When he shows up on your echonet device in Borderlands 2, he’s casual. He’s eating, for god’s sake. He delivers villain monologues like someone making it up as he goes along, and he does it while audibly chewing.
Handsome Jack doesn’t act like a villain, but then he doesn’t think he is one. He thinks he’s the hero. You and your friends are bandits, and he’s the one who is going to open the Vault and fix Pandora. (By killing everyone. But not in an evil way.) Your relationship with him seems low stakes at first. It’s annoying that he mocks you and tricks you, but it’s so casual and he’s so charming and funny about it that it’s hard to stay mad—even if you found the audio logs that reveal what he did to Helena Pierce from the first game.
Halfway through Borderlands 2, that changes. You strike a significant blow against Jack, and he does the same to you. People die. Now it’s personal. His rants stop being funny. Instead of making jokes, he just tells you he’s going to kill you, and he’s not chewing pretzels or whatever while he does it. The shift is surprising, and in that moment you realize that he hates you and you hate him too.
It’s an emotional resonance few other games manage, effective because it’s so surprising. Handsome Jack is not just a bag of hit points between you and your goal, he’s an actual personality (an oversized and obnoxious one), and you feel like you have a real relationship with him. Which makes it even better when you finally take him down.