What’s a Batman without his Joker? Similar to a riddle without a punchline: unsatisfying.
With no colorful Rogue’s Gallery, Bruce Wayne would just be a billionaire in rubber pajamas hammering the crap out of low-level thugs night after night. Entertaining, but not super necessary. What would young master Link do with no Ganondorf to kick around? Fish and hang-glide, probably? Where would Tupac and Biggie be today without their famous rivalry? Bad example.
The takeaway is, incredible and captivating bad guys are at the heart of almost every good adventure story, especially in the realm of video games. A truly iconic Final Boss can make your franchise, and if your baddie is awesome enough, we’re even willing to overlook things like “logic” and “reality.” Who cares if their scheme makes “sense?” As long as by the end of it all we’re shaking with a hard-earned dopamine release while hurling our rival into space, or locking them up, or gunning them down, you’ve likely got yourself an awesome villain, a well-defined hero, and a fun game.
So it is in no way to detract from their grim legacies that we lovingly profile the gaping holes in the maniacal machinations of these three sinister psychopaths.
Liquid Snake | Metal Gear Solid
As is revealed in Metal Gear Solid, both Liquid and Solid are clones of the notorious Big Boss, the greatest soldier of the 20th century and famed cardboard box innovator. Liquid inherited all of Boss’ recessive genes, while Solid got the dominant ones. Liquid has felt “less than” his whole life as a result, despite leading a band of child soldiers and becoming the youngest person ever to serve in the British Special Air Service. He hates his clone-daddy for spawning him, hates his clone-bro for killing Big Boss before he got a chance to, and would do anything to prove his worth to his dead dad and the whole Snake Family at large.
Which is odd, because that’s not how genes work. In reality, dominant genes aren’t inherently “better” or “worse” than recessive genes; they’re just the genes more likely to manifest. The gene for Healing Factor could be recessive, while the gene for Adult Onset Diabetes could be dominant. In fact, Liquid Snake is ultimately found to have the “best fighting genes of all” between himself, Solid, Solidus and Big Boss. “Fighting genes” also not being a real thing. Although genes are indeed the blueprint for life, that doesn’t make them a Dragonball-style Power Level dictating whose genes would win in a fight.
All of which is information you’d think Liquid would know, given the fact that his plan for global domination involves genes, cloning, genetic manipulation, DNA-housed superviruses, and replicated soldiers. Even if Big Boss said he was inferior as a kid, he should have figured out it was a lie by this point in his life. News flash: if you’re going to mutate a clone army to do your bidding, you’ll need to know what an allele is and why brown hair is more prevalent than blonde hair.
Dr. Ivo Robotnik | Sonic Adventure
Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik’s goal throughout the new-canon Sonic games is to found a robot utopia by any means necessary…those means inevitably involving recovering the Chaos Emeralds so he can harness their energies to power a series of ur-devices and super-weapons. Unfortunately for Ivo, the magic batteries he wants almost always seem to be buried right around where Sonic’s chillin’, and Sonic doesn’t take kindly to you interrupting his chillin’ by roboticizing all his furry homies. But what about that Death Egg? You know, the Eggman’s-face-shaped Death Star that’s not to be confused with the Space Colony ARK, which is the HALF-Death Star shaped like the face of Eggman’s grandfather Gerald.
Without getting too deep into the history of the Robotnik line, let’s just say that the Death Egg appears in a multitude of Sonic games, and inevitably shuts down, crashes to Earth, or otherwise fails when Dr. Robotnik can’t get the Chaos Emeralds together and Sonic or an associate wrecks up the place. It’s easily the size of a mountain, and potentially the size of a small moon or big asteroid. It’s also filled with incredible robotic technologies, and in Sonic Battle we find out it has a Final Egg Blaster weapon that’s capable of wiping out whole star clusters even without the Emeralds to charge it up.
So what’s he waiting for? Instead of constantly antagonizing a hedgehog who tends to hang out on one particular tropical island, maybe he should go live in the orbiting robot utopia he’s ALREADY BUILT. Take your ball and go home, Ivo! You did it! Go build as many robots as you want on your massive robo-moon that looks like your head! In the wise words of Emerl the Gizoid in Sonic Battle: “If you’re smart enough to build a huge battleship like this I’m sure you can find other things to do.”
Before there were Ghosts making sure we never died no matter what, there was a Forerunner Monitor named 343 Guilty Spark, making sure of the opposite. Obviously the Covenant and Flood are the true villains of the Halo storyline, but I think a lot of us felt pretty betrayed in Combat Evolved when 343 calmly and suddenly tried to get us to wipe all sentient life from the galaxy. No wonder you’re guilty, 343! We woke you up and introduced you to our virtual girlfriend and now you’re gonna blow up the quadrant? Punk move.
But a move that makes sense, since 343 Guilty Spark was left behind by The Forerunners, the ancient race who built the Halos in an attempt to keep the galaxy free of the insidious Flood, no matter how many times they return. What makes somewhat less sense is WHY the Forerunners did that, from their own perspective. Now, Halo is fraught with lore, but bear with me as I split my consciousness into two halves and pit them against one another.
We’ll call them “RED” and “BLUE,” for obvious reasons.
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RED: So…if you’re The Forerunners, and you build a complex of superweapons, shielded worlds, and containment areas for studying The Flood, then decided they were such a threat that the only choice was to wipe out all sophisticated sentient life in the galaxy, why leave a few Flood contained safely ON the Halo? It’s like burning your restaurant down for the insurance money with the insurance policy still inside.
BLUE: Whoa, slow down Red! I already hate you, and here’s why: The Forerunners kept a few Flood in containment in the hopes that someday a great thinker might find a way to subdue or destroy them without resetting the galaxy. It’s out of hope for the future.
RED: But why would you need to discover a “safe” way to wipe out The Flood if the Halo Complex can wipe out ALL The Flood by starving them of their food source? If I cleared all food out of my house and waited in a space-ark outside until the many rats that infest my walls died of starvation, I wouldn’t keep one rat alive as a pet to learn more about rats. It’s moot! Strangle that one rat and you’re done dealing with this.
BLUE: Because The Flood are insidious, you moron. If you missed even one tiny colony of Flood in the whole galaxy, when you tried to re-populate it you’d eventually end up re-Flooded and you bet your ass you’ll wish you had more data on those suckers when the time comes.
RED: But if they’re such an unstoppable threat, why only allow entities deemed to be Reclaimers to fire the Halos? Why not let 343 Guilty Spark fire that thing all by himself? No need to convince Master Chief, no need to explain, just an immortal AI standing ready to do what needs to be done whenever it needs to be done.
BLUE: Because, you insufferable asshat, AIs are fallible. They fragment over time and give way to rampancy and other flaws. The ancient race called the Precursors, who handed humans the Mantle of Responsibility of caring for lesser life-forms, and the Forerunners who intercepted it, killed the Precursors and devolved humanity, are at least all mortal beings who have some skin in the game and might think twice before wiping out all complex life in the whole galaxy. It’s the same reason we build nukes but by and large try not to drop them if we can avoid it, and don’t let a computer decide when to launch.
RED: But not only would they think twice, almost any sentient being would never pull the trigger. Why build a super-duper-mega-weapon and trust the decision of whether to fire it to organic life forms? You know, their minds can fragment too. It’s called “emotion” and “mental illness,” and I feel like we’re exhibiting both right now.
BLUE: Calmer’n you are.
RED: Some would argue that an AI, however flawed, that’s able to maintain a space station as well as its own consciousness for a hundred thousand years, has experience simulating trillions of firings of the Halo, and was once a living, organic human named Chakas before his consciousness was transferred into a Monitor body and his stores of information augmented tremendously, might actually be MORE TRUSTWORTHY than a puny mortal whose fallible meat-brain is under intense stress and being forced to make sweeping galactic decisions moment-by-moment. And if you can put peoples’ souls into little flying bots like 343 Guilty Spark, why didn’t the Forerunners just do that to their whole species before triggering the Halo? Since it only affects organic life, you’d all be immortal robots and your enemies would all be dead and unable to eat you anymore.
BLUE: Then they’d all be AIs and wouldn’t have been able to trigger it! AIs can’t trigger the Halo. They aren’t Reclaimers, because they’re not a human “reclaiming” the Mantle from the Forerunners. That’s why the word is “Reclaimer.” That’s just the way it is.
RED: But only because The Precursors chose to make it that way. They could have given the Mantle to multiple species, but they picked a favorite and sparked a galactic civil war. Then in a last-ditch attempt to not get genocided they turned into space dust that eventually became infected and turned into The Flood. That’s why The Flood can access Precursor Tech. One of The Flood Graveminds even says it kind of considers itself still a Precursor, and “won’t let their creations rise up against them again.” I mean, for a God-like race they seemed to have lost a lot. I think the Mantle is just a code of beliefs they founded, not something with objective reality. Like the Constitution!
BLUE: First of all, the version of the Mantle The Forerunners practice is very different than the original body of beliefs founded by The Precursors. They rewrote it to justify their slaughter of The Precursors and try to maintain an endless galactic hegemony.
RED: Which implies the Mantle is something that can change over time.
BLUE: SHUT IT! AND, although the Precursors WERE once simply an alien race, you have to understand that they became so advanced that we can’t even comprehend the level at which they could warp reality. Like Arthur C Clarke said, “any technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic.”
RED: Especially fidget spinners.
BLUE: So in a very real way, YES, the Mantle has to go to humanity because The Precursors said so. They get to say so. Them and The Forerunners are out here evolving and devolving entire species! Precursors were basically Gods, from our point of view, and The Forerunners are messing with the natural order they set down by perverting the Mantle to suit their own species’ purposes.
RED: According to Precursor and Forerunner mythology, but that’s also fallible. We see throughout the series that all of these races are susceptible to in-fighting and disagreements. After all, if Precursors really had the ability to warp the fabric of reality, you’d think they’d have made some rules like “No existential threat to the galaxy will ever come to exist, and also free ice cream for everybody.” The fact that they couldn’t create a galactic Utopia with a snap of their Lovecraftian tentacles implies they were, although incredibly advanced, just super cool aliens. Hell, they got killed off by The Forerunners; how omnipotent could they have been? They were limited as opposed to infinite, and it’s therefore POSSIBLE for them to have had a bad idea. For all we know, the Halo Complex was a bad idea on their part, and now we all act like it makes sense as a response to The Flood just because it’s been floating out there for a really really long time and old stuff must be true, right? The ancients must be right about everything, right? Because they’re old and dead now?
BLUE: So what are you saying, you hate Halo? You think I’m stupid because I like Halo?
RED: No, I just —
BLUE: F*** you! F*** you dude!
Wow, that got out of hand. Do you have any favorite villains whose plans fall apart if you think about ‘em for too long? Or do you simply disagree with my interpretation of Halo lore? If so, then by definition you agree with the other version of me, so ha! Either way, let us know what you thought down in the comments, and for way too much unpacking of all things gaming, keep it dialed to IGN!
Michael Swaim is Manager of Video Programming for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter.