Videogaming’s most athletic protagonists

To celebrate the arrival of Tron: Evolution, here’s our selection of the most athletic protagonists in videogames…

The release of Tron: Evolution, the video game that bridges the gap between the original 80s techno smash Tron and its upcoming big-screen sequel, Tron: Legacy, is on the horizon. In it, you play Anon, a program created to investigate shady goings on in Tron‘s digital universe.

Not only do you have a natty name, a fine line in sleek body suits, a bitchin’ Light Cycle and one of those disc things, you’re also a highly athletic parkour expert with a lithe body and an uncanny ability to grab onto things before you fall to your digital doom.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the videogame characters Anon has to thank for his skills…

Ezio – Assassin’s Creed II

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Roguish, debonair and already a dab hand at scurrying over renaissance rooftops before he finds out that stabbing people can be a rewarding pastime, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, descendent of Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad and forebear of the less exotically-named Desmond Miles, takes clambering to new heights once he finds out he’s an assassin.

Despite being weighed down by all manner of weapons and murdering paraphernalia, Ezio still glides over the clay tiles of 15th century Italy with the grace and faultless footsteps of a womanising mountain lion.

The real reason Ezio gets on this list, though, is because he manages to make everything he does look so infuriatingly cool. Sure, you might accidentally throw him face-first off a building from time to time, but even then his ice-cold composure doesn’t break.

Add to that a smouldering sex appeal and the undeniable fact that he achieves all of this whilst basically wearing a dress, and it’s hard to quibble about his status as the greatest free runner the Italian Renaissance produced.

Just don’t mention Leonardo’s flying machines.

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The Agent – Crackdown

If Ezio is a graceful, feline creature, then the Agent is a lump of incredibly bouncy steel. There’s a distinct lack of subtlety to all aspects of Realtime Worlds’ police ’em up, from the deliberately OTT voiceovers to the garish colours and cel-shaded graphics. And, in the centre of it all, the Agent, a one-man crime stopping machine who can leap buildings in a single bound, throw tanker trucks half the length of a city, and run fast enough to overtake cars.

The silliness that gloriously pervades every aspect of Crackdown is made manifest in the Agent, a faceless rent-a-cop who thinks nothing of ignoring crime for a while in order to go climb an enormous tower block in search of glowing orbs. Said orbs then grant him even more impressive climbing, jumping and running skills, which he can use to find harder to reach orbs. It’s a never-ending cycle of addiction, and it’s bloody good fun.

The Prince – Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time

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The Prince really kick-started the parkour craze in videogames. Sure, there had been three-dimensional platformers before, but most of them were slow and cumbersome, lacking the fluidity of the philosophical French way of running.

The Prince changed all that, making it de rigeur to have sections in your game where you ran along the side of walls. Or up walls. Or near walls. Walls became involved after the Prince.

Granted, in the end he became a bit of a floppy haired, angst-ridden example of teen-directed marketing, but in his first outing in 2003, the Prince was at his very best. Without him there would have been no Altair, no Ezio, and this list would be an awful lot shorter.

You – Kinect Sports

What do you mean you’re not athletic? Just look at the impressive, wiggling things that you can do when you put your mind to it. Kinect Sports is the logical conclusion of a thought process that started with Wii Sports and has ended up invading living rooms with lots of tiny points of infrared light.

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Being the controller means you have no excuse when things go wrong. Blaming the input method doesn’t really work when you are the input method. Carpenters can’t really blame their tools if they’re using their forehead to bash nails into wood. Sure, you might not be able to reach the free running levels of Anon and the others on this list, but you could at least try.

Faith – Mirror’s Edge

Faith was a lot of things to a lot of people. To some, she was the first believable female heroine in a videogame, to others she was a revolution in head wobbly, movement-suggesting technology. And to others still she was a retch inducing, nausea fuelled hell ride that had them reaching for their sick bags. Because I presume everyone plays videogames with a sick bag at hand.

While other first person games are populated with burly space/ground/sea marines, Mirror’s Edge went in a totally different direction, eschewing genre tradition to create a first person shooter that had very little shooting in it. In fact, it should really be called a first person runner. Because that’s what you do. Run.

Seeing the world through Faith’s eyes is a truly astounding experience, and intuitive controls and an overwhelming sense of motion set Mirror’s Edge apart from the crowd.

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Sonic The Hedgehog – Sonic The Hedgehog

Who wants to play as a fat, dumpy plumber anyway? Speed is where it’s at. Speed and rolling into a little blue ball. And jumping on robotic monkeys. So, it’s speed, rolling into a little blue ball and jumping on robotic monkeys. That’s good, because Sonic The Hedgehog does all of those things. Sometimes in that order.

Perhaps he’s not as fluid as the other entrants on this list, perhaps he’s not a ladies’ man or an unhinged crime fighter, or a courier trying to save her sister, but what he is is the first. Sonic not only made video games fast, he made them cool.

Cool in a 90s way, which isn’t exceptionally cool these days, but it was still a bit of a triumph. The years may not have been kind to Sonic, (although the excellent Sonic Colours means his midlife crisis seems be coming to an end), but few of us will ever forget the first time we threw ourselves headlong round a loop-de-loop, nothing but a blue blur and a massive grin.

Lara Croft – Tomb Raider

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Lara Croft made leaping around, grabbing onto ledges and climbing up ropes sexy. Before her, if leaping was your thing, you inevitably had to try and engage with some sort of anthropomorphic duck or tiger or dragon. Lara banished these cartoon schmucks to the sideline, and wiggled her behind provocatively at an entire generation of video game players.

Refined and deadly, Lara added a sense of femininity to the slimy, dank dungeons she inhabited. She also killed dinosaurs, rolled around a lot and became a cultural icon the likes of which the videogames industry hadn’t seen since the heyday of Mario and his brother.

It goes to show that a well-timed leap can bring you an awful lot more than just another platform to clamber on to.

Tron: Evolution is due for release on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PSP on 26 November, with a PC version following on in December.

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