Thanks to Call of Duty‘s fetishistic devotion to weapon mods, we’ve gotten choosy when it comes to guns. Shall we sellotape an uzi to our shotgun? Or would sir prefer an automatic silenced laser sighted rocket launcher? Getting your loadout exactly right can mean the difference between airstrike and Copycat, urging an entire generation of online players to duke it out for the most bling-bling boomstick. But even before CoD went global, games like Half-Life and Doom had us juggling weapons. Their gigantic arsenals offered just as much choice: pulp a squad of demons with your hefty chain-gun, or pop them from a distance with a crossbow to the headcrab?

From GTA 4‘s dopey cops to Uncharted‘s burly henchmen, Goons just can’t wait to line up between our crosshairs.

But none of this customization is worth it without the satisfying, bloody death throes of your unfortunate prey. Watching some poor OpFor sod fly ten feet into the air after a blast from your gold plated, extended mag, double chocolate AK-47 is exactly the reason we bother to beef up our guns in the first place. Nothing says victory like a gory death animation; that killer gratification you feel every time you put down another bad guy just isn’t the same without a hefty splash of blood. Euphoria and Havok physics are designed around our lust for violence, and the more fun we can have with them, the better. So for that, we pay tribute to the Goons.

These are the guys that love to get shot. From GTA 4‘s dopey cops to Uncharted‘s burly henchmen, Goons just can’t wait to line up between our crosshairs. They might act like they want to live – ducking behind walls, returning fire, calling reinforcements – but really, they’re only happy with a headshot between the eyes and a grenade around their ankles. Take Max Payne 3‘s gun fodder. Sure, they pretend to be taking cover, but they always leave a fat chunk of forehead poking out for us to aim at. Then there’s Crysis, where the bad guys can’t wait to find us just so they can call up more of their Goonish buddies for a spontaneous death party.

And back in the days of Goldeneye and Metal Gear Solid, Goons were plain suicidal. Sluggishly patrolling preset routes, the self-respecting Goon would offer himself up by keeping his back to the action. So-called “guards” would stand still at the end of a corridor, diligently inspecting the wall tiles while the player took aim with his PP7. Engaged in frontal combat, the professional Goon was just as useless; standing perfectly still, he needed half an hour to figure out which end of his gun was the loud one. Even with the help of ten or more friends, Medal of Honor‘s meat targets were hopelessly outmatched by your trigger finger. They might have managed to kill you once or twice (especially if they’d got their badly rendered hands on a rocket launcher) but generally they’d end up shafted by their own AI, running at you from the same direction every time.

That’s the point. We don’t go gunning for the Goon because we think he’s fair game; it’s his willingness to eat our bullets that makes him so much fun to play with. But even more than that, he’s ready to play solider. Today’s Goon presents an illusion of challenge; ducking and weaving, dodging and flanking, he’s the perfect blend of can-do spirit and suicidal intent, always ready to break cover before we have a chance to get frustrated. Pulping zombies with your Electric Rake can be fun, but it soon gets tired without a competitive element. Lurching towards you with bovine gormlessness, Dead Rising‘s shuffling corpses are the perfect squibs, exploding into bloody red fireworks at the slightest hint of a sledgehammer. But the Goon, with his slick, modern AI and cover system connivances is the discerning player’s most dangerous game. He’ll take some hunting down, but once you inevitably get the Goon zeroed in, the resulting display of ragdoll physics is more rewarding than a hundred headless zombies.

The Goon comes in many different flavors. First there’s your basic dumbass Goon, the straight up chaff found in Perfect Dark and Half-Life. These guys are basically target practice, jumping in front of your gun just for the sake of it. Then there’s the melee Goon. Like the henchmen in Arkham City or the militia in Assassin’s Creed, these guys are consummate professionals of making you look cool, sacrificing their jawbones and ribcages for the sake of your combo chain. Then you’ve got the guard Goon, a nosey bugger generally found in Splinter Cell and Hitman. Unlike his FPS cousins, the guard Goon won’t play shootout, preferring instead to hit the alarm and spoil your fun. Smart, curious and often frustrating, the guard Goon is an acquired taste, but take the time to learn his nuances and nothing is more rewarding than getting the drop on this fella.

From stealth-’em-ups to platformers, the Goon is a gaming mainstay, always at the ready to be shot, bludgeoned and exploded for the sake of our gory thrills.

You’ve also got the gangster Goon, who rears his shootable head in pretty much every crime sim you can think of. The ones in Saints Row aren’t bad – plentiful and dim-witted, they’re easy prey for your airstrike-wielding avatar. But for true gourmet gangster goonery, you need to head over to Red Dead Redemption. Here the Goons are as mean as they are many; stay too slow on the trigger and they’ll take you out with a sharp shot to the Stetson faster than you can say “draw.” Plug them first however, and the subsequent euphoric death ballet is as good as it gets.

Lastly is the soldier Goon. Well-armed, wily and totally disposable, these plucky rent-a-troops have been stuck in the limelight ever since CoD conscripted first person shooters into the war genre. The product of off-screen respawn points, this lead-loving jarhead usually comes charging at you with twenty identical buddies. You’ll likely put down a hundred of these Goons on every level, but don’t take them lightly: What used to be a fumbling comedy Nazi has evolved to use flanking manoeuvres, covering fire and M203s. Get too close, and he’ll stick you with his knife. Throw a grenade, and he’ll throw it right back. It takes a certain level of military cunning to successfully counter the soldier Goon’s programming, but land a few good M4 rounds and he’ll keel over like the rest of them. Unless he’s got Last Man Standing, in which case you’ll need to kill him again.

Of course zombies are fun; there’s nothing quite like punching a flesh-eating fat bloke to second-death with a gigantic foam hand. But most stock enemies can’t hold a flame to our faithful Goon. You get the odd star – Resident Evil‘s chainsaw wacko, Fallout‘s Deathclaws, Dead Space‘s Pack – but even this ensemble cast of mutants, freaks and aliens has nothing on the Goon. From stealth-’em-ups to platformers, the Goon is a gaming mainstay, always at the ready to be shot, bludgeoned and exploded for the sake of our gory thrills. Where robots drop dead with a half-hearted spurt of bolts and sparks, the Goon sprays blood and flails his limbs. Where aliens and mutants attack with predictable single-mindedness, the Goon picks his path, takes his cover and forces us to earn our kill. There’s plenty of buzz in jamming your energy sword up a Hunter’s weak point, but you’ll never get tired of taking on the Goon; you’ve been doing it for years, and he’s been right there with you, perfecting his act with each new console generation.

So the next time you go joyriding through GTA, or globetrotting around Modern Warfare, spare a thought for gaming’s most faithful antagonist – the Goon. From Wolfenstein 3D to Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, the Goon has been at the center of your videogames; adaptable, versatile and constantly in the firing line, he’s an enduring part of every gamer’s history. Half bad guy, half stress ball, today’s Goon represents the ideal balance between challenge and good fun. Whether he’s swinging at you with his two-handed mace or cutting you down with suppressive fire, the Goon deserves our upmost respect. So flip on your console, grab your akimbo sawn-off Dragunovs, and go pay your tribute in the most violent way possible.

Ed Smith is an aspiring writer looking for all the work he can get. You can usually find him drunk and mumbling to himself on Twitter @mostsincerelyed.

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