Thursday, 7 February 2013

Great Fictional Villains: Yuri

    No Comrade Premier, it has only begun.

OK, so we’ve now entered blogging silly season. While nuanced villains with complex and engaging motives are all very well, there are times in the life of every seasoned armchair hero when he wants to gaze at his computer screen and find pure, calculating, cartoonish evil staring back at him, stubbornly, creepily refusing to blink.

The true mastermind behind the Soviet invasion of America in Red Alert 2, Yuri is the power-obsessed spawn of a Communist plot to create mind-enslaving psychics, booted up by none other than Stalin himself (my biggest disappointment with the Red Alert sequels was the lack of a snarling, zombie Stalin, so Yuri has to step in as the deceased despot’s successor). Thanks to his knack for snapping the wills of Allied spies, the Soviets are able to able to storm the mainland United States and sweep through their major cities with total surprise.

In the Allied campaign, Yuri is an unnervingly focussed and competent antagonist, an island of soft-voiced and understated malice amongst the pompous preening and hammy hostility of the other Soviet villains (outrageously larger-than-life characters are a franchise staple, which makes Yuri stand out even more). His strategic ploys have a markedly sinister edge, even for the atrocity-prone Soviets; as early as the vanilla game he’s mind-controlling the ordinary people of Washington D.C. and sending them swarming into the teeth of their countryman’s guns like zombies. His contributions to the Bolshevik war machine include bubbling cloning vats and throbbing psychic beacons, helping to push the Red Alert franchise away from any tenuous realism and into the realm of full-blown pulp-science, where brightly-coloured livery, thunderous firepower and sizzling ultra-tech swirl and collide in an endless, glorious ballet of mass death.

The giddy excess continues in the expansion pack, where Yuri defects from the Soviet cause and unveils his private army of leather-masked cultists, corrupt mutants and the single most evil feature of any Command and Conquer game ever; the sadistic Grinder, a towering device that mashes its occupants to a pulp and breaks them down into raw materials to fuel Yuri’s egomaniacal cause. By this point, with his tattooed skull, twisted arsenal and creatively deviant followers, Yuri has basically graduated into a Warhammer 40,000 villain.

But he’s at his most unsettling in the original Soviet campaign, where it soon becomes obvious that’s he’s just as dangerous to his own side as to the enemy, thanks to his single-minded fixation with power at any cost. Steering the Premier like a puppet, invading the mind of any Soviet bigwig who outlives his usefulness, overseeing Stalin-flavoured purges and infighting, before finally unleashing packs of his psychic clones on any homeland forces opposed to his takeover; Yuri is truly the foremost bloodthirsty supervillain of the C and C universe. There’s one exception to that, of course, but I don’t play the Tiberium games. Not enough cartoon Communism.   

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