Batman: Arkham Asylum Is Guilty Of Half-Life 2’s Greatest Sin

Batman has existed for over 80 years and has become synonymous with certain characteristics. He’s dark, brooding, and generally no-nonsense when it comes to his duty of defending Gotham. This is why the Joker, a wacky, homocidal clown with an arsenal of deadly slapstick gags, juxtaposes so well against him. However, they both fail to move beyond these one-sentence descriptions during the story of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Batman is barely phased by the events around him, and by the end of the game is just as grumpy, grim, and serious as he was when he first sped through the gates of the Asylum in the opening minutes of the game. The Joker fares a little better, having been driven to infect himself with the Titan formula in a desperate attempt to defeat Batman, but is ultimately beaten and left to deal with the consequences during the events of Batman: Arkham City.

The other members of Batman’s rogues gallery fare much worse. Each is given one mini-thread as Batman wanders into their branch of the Asylum. They are then promptly defeated by Batman and shunted out of the story to make room for the next villain. The only exceptions to this are Harley Quinn and Scarecrow, who are recurring presences throughout sections of the game. Yet despite their increased screen time, Harley is never more than the ditzy, love-struck subordinate of the Joker, and Scarecrow’s nightmare sequences in Batman: Arkham makes him nothing more than a cackling giant in a fear-gas induced mix of parkour and hide-and-seek. All these elements combine to make Arkham Asylum a closed-loop story. It begins with Batman having defeated the Joker and ends with Batman having defeated the Joker, and no substantial story or character development happened in the intervening hours.

Half-Life 2’s Main Character Lacks Development

Similarly, in Half-Life 2, Gordon Freeman begins the game by being awoken from stasis by the mysterious G-Man and put on a train leading into the dystopian City 17. At the end of the game, he is plucked from events and put back into stasis by Half Life‘s mysterious G-Man. Between the two events, he doesn’t utter a word and is not developed in the slightest. This silence has been explained as purposeful to allow the player to imprint on Gordon easier. While this may be the case, it ultimately ends with the protagonist of the series being a blank slate with no character to speak of.

The side characters fare better in Half-Life than they do in Arkham Asylum, with more room to develop and show off their personalities. Though they have room to grow and explain themselves, they can’t change the fact that the protagonist of the story has no character or agency of his own. Gordon is driven from one location to another, always at the behest of someone else – just like Batman is by his villains in Arkham‘s first game. It is best equated to the game’s iconic teleporter malfunction scene. A rapid series of locations and characters with Gordon bouncing between them, propelled by a force outside of his control. From the moment he is dropped onto the train in City 17 to the explosive ending of the game, Gordon fails to make one decision for himself or do anything to prevent his story from being a circular narrative which leaves him no better or worse than he was when it started.

Ultimately, the shared problems of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Half-Life 2 boil down to character development and lacking story arcs. While both games are full of memorable locations and interesting side characters and villains like Batman: Arkham‘s Joker and Half-Life‘s Wallace Breen, they fail to truly take advantage of them. The main characters are largely unfazed by the events of their respective games and fail to develop in any meaningful way. Their stories start as they end, forming a self-contained loop that ultimately leaves the protagonists right back where they started.

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