MASS EFFECT 2

a review of Mass Effect 2
a videogame developed by bioware
and published by electronic arts
for Microsoft Windows, the microsoft xbox 360 and the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system
text by Samuel Kite

1.5 stars

Bottom line: Mass Effect 2 is “straight-forward manipulation.”

I played Mass Effect 1, and though dreary in parts, I liked the fact that it was someone else’s universe, instead of Star Wars. It reminded me of an excellent game called Advent Rising, which was the epic opening to a trilogy that tragically died on the vine, and later became Chair Studios (Shadow Complex (*** – ABDN)). It also reminded me of Star Control 2, if Star Control 2 were made by people who had a mediocre sense of humor, wrote author-insertion fan fiction in their spare time, and had a surplus of engineers pushing technology to ‘improve’ a feature, instead of a lean and hungry pair of men trying to solve the problem of how to get the essence of a feature implemented, with limited know-how and time. When the climactic final battle of the game occurred, and you killed the angry zombie-rabbit alien and watched the cinematic space battles, I came away from the experience with vague satisfaction: I got my money’s worth. I wasn’t exactly apeshit for a sequel, like I was with Star Control 2, or craving more of the same like I was with Advent Rising, but it was good. It was fine. I was happy with it.

What more does anyone want, really?

When my friend, who liked Knights Of The Old Republic got Mass Effect 2, I reacted the way you could expect. “Oh, hey. You got Mass Effect 2? Oh, yeah, that’s right. You liked Knights of the Old Republic.’

“How is it?” I asked.

He said what I’d heard in reviews. That things were simpler and that ‘stupid’ stuff with the tank on the planet was gone (I loved the tank on the planet; it reminded me of Star Control 2, and if it dragged on a little too much sometimes, well, drive faster, hold down the fire buttons, and quit bitching — it’s your fault for checking out every crashed satellite when you’re not having fun checking out every crashed satellite). I don’t remember what else he said. He liked it.

I went over to his place one evening, and he showed me what the game was like. After several seconds of watching him shoot krogan, I hunkered down and asked him to keep playing. He went through some plot points, and scanned some planets. I was so riveted I was actually excited about the hide-and-seek mine sweeping of finding minerals with a geiger counter. I also told him to go probe Uranus, because I’d seen a video about it on the lines.

Who knows what drives men to lust, but it grabbed me. First thing, at home, I was purchasing it on Steam. In an evening, I caught up to my friend. By the end of the week, in after-work play sessions (which went way-too-late), I had finished my first playthrough as a female with the ‘Paragon’ approach. In the course of the story, I was giddy, amused, sad, aroused, deeply confused, and uncomfortable (I . . . don’t want to have sex with Garrus, but now that I’ve accidentally got him to agree to it, it would just be cruel to be a tease — this imaginary armored rabbit creature deserves better than that (the one I really wanted to have sex with was Legion)).

I shot guys, I refrained from shooting guys. In the end, a dear (imaginary) friend died because dialogue asked me to pick some people to do special tasks and I misread the order of the tasks and sent one of my flimsiest muffin creatures to do some John Wayne shit he wasn’t suited for, while some other wafer-thin mint took care of the easy stuff. On board the U.S.S. Epilogue, my razor-sharp cheekboned space-egyptian anthropomorphos exchanged meaningful nods with a herd of characters, each of whom owed me big time for taking care of personal business. I think there were three parent/child things, two child/parent things, two sibling rivalry things . . . and . . . huh. I guess it was all family business, come to think of it. Ugh. I feel so manipulated. Oh wait, no, Garrus wanted to shoot some asshole who he wasn’t related to.

People who fear the open discussion of sex are upset because they stake their peace of mind on the idea that doing it (snort, giggle) convinces them of the existence of God (as represented by a body pillow of full service omnipresent attention and care). Their brain chemistry and, specifically, the manipulation of their brain means something more to them than the mere accounting of their midichlorians; it’s mystical. If something feels good, it has to have meaning, because if it doesn’t, then all the feelings they have that form the bulwark labeled ‘God’ that holds back the normal, healthy degree of depression that any truly self-conscious being should feel must also be suspect. Maybe they transitioned from the phase of youth where any idea presented by an adult seems to be important, through the stage where any idea presented by an adult is farcical bullshit on the face of it, and into the waiting room of personal discovery where you realize all you’ve got to pass on, in the way of good advice (to the children) is a steaming pile that you just spent six-to-eight years convincing yourself had no value whatsoever. Desperate to prove themselves wrong, like a marathoner with OCD on a jog that will take their natural lifespan, they start counting cracks in the sidewalk, taking notes of landmarks, and telling themselves they’re 1/10th of the way there, 1/9th of the way, 1/8th, 2/9ths, 3/10ths etc, until they’ve reached that Philosopher’s Stone epiphany, that everyone else seems to have had (beaming from the rigor of their chimpish grimaces), which converts utter bullshit into golden certainty. Having not lived a thousand years, I can’t say for certain that this moment doesn’t really exist, but it seems pretty certain that, sex, at least, isn’t it.

Real sports and e-sports share an important component of devotion. The main difference is that, while devotion to a real sport is physically taxing, and legitimately requires rest and a life arranged to support it, e-sports have no warm up requirements, and no limits on practice. Really, if you can be awake, you can try to improve (playing competitively being a small subset of the possible activities someone devoted to a sport might undertake at a given moment). For the period I played football in high school (poorly), I recall thinking devotion had a serious cap set in place by circumstances. Between being slow and having a bad attitude about people barking at me to go faster, there wasn’t a realistic way that I’d get to play long enough in real games to get good or understand the game well. What I got very good at navigating was football practice, which, in terms of practice, will reward all the devotion you care to give it, since you could literally always be more exhausted or less charitable to your friend who told you he felt sick, right before you hit him hard enough in a blocking drill to give yourself a black eye inside your helmet. There is no limit on being a meatheaded prick (in theory (in practice)).

Playing an actual sport, though, is different. First, there is the personal goal to become better in your own right, so that some kid who thinks he’ll take you down with a late hit after the whistle ends up sitting on his ass seeing stars and wondering what the hell happened. Second, there is the team goal, to work as part of a plan and make winning possible. Third, and most crucially, is the personal interplay between subsets of players working toward the first two goals. These are the moments when you give someone else the time they need to run faster than they ever have, or make an incredible catch. They’re personal moments that young men going to war crave on the battlefield (and won’t find from impersonal long range munitions); a moment of true freedom in which no external social pressure or oversight is truly meaningful. Instead, their presence is what determines the fate of another person. In sports, these fates are almost always something exciting and not very dangerous, so it’s totally okay to be enamored by the honor and heroism taking place: the personal sacrifice of one individual to permit another to succeed, knowing they privately share the accolades earned by the scorer, because like It’s A Wonderful Life, it never would have happened without ‘me’.

In e-sports, with no limits on repetition, general and mutual anonymity (I would say strangeness), as well as the overall larger pool of candidates with which you play, one can feel a more profound connection to other people than in any other form of entertainment. Without personalities to love or hate, players on a team simply are people you need to help. With randomized games, even enemies become members of your team. Being a challenge for someone else is doing them a favor. When you play your best, you make their achievement more meaningful when they beat you.

But you don’t just automatically proclaim l’esprit de e-sport by making a multiplayer game with some kind of team based component. Doom, Quake, Halo, et al have long provided the deathmatch game type, which, even in a ‘team’ format, really means that you are sometimes not trying to kill a dude because he’s the same color as you (we’re still talking about video games). Without a goal outside of interrupting the play of another player, a game is just a contest between individuals with one winner and one loser; iterated as quickly as necessary, and tallied after some arbitrary number of minutes with no virtue in community whatsoever (like Basketball (Hey-O! (just kidding; basketball has that thing where you fall on the floor and pretend you’re hurt–that’s a sport, right? (still better than baseball (no, seriously, though, the act of passing the ball to the guy with the ability to sink it from anywhere on the court counts as cooperation))))). Continuing to rag on basketball out here, in the fresh air, team sports revolving around a one on one playstyle don’t have a strong draw to love your fellow man. Basketball can be played with two people. Go ahead; there’s nothing stopping you. In that case, the person who wins is the winner, and the person who loses is the loser. When you add four guys per side, it’s still one person versus one other person, only they get to pick who, and it changes as often as it has to until something interesting happens. Basically, the four people are there to keep the game moving, because, otherwise, someone could be a dick and play keep away for five minutes just to prove he can, or because he knows he can’t make it close enough to take a legitimate shot. Basketball is capture the flag. A team ‘enables’ a flag carrier only in so much as there is one flag, and the person carrying yours needs to die. If anything, capture the flag is slightly more complicated because it involves two flags, and that’s twice as much attention seeking behavior for coach’s sons to exhibit.

In most games with a capture the flag/team deathmatch base, the act of carrying the flag makes you more vulnerable, not less, because you are trying to achieve greatness, and you can’t do that unless someone ties an albatross around your neck to prove that you really are great, because otherwise how could you move with that albatross, there. Halo 3 is the best example, because, they’ve actually got the Deathball mode which is more or less exactly like basketball, minus the hoop, unless you count someone’s caved-in skull as a hoop (as you try to bludgeon someone to death before they shoot you in the face (they have guns)). On the few occasions you end up in a rocket launchers-only scramble on bikes or something, everyone is usually at a loss as to what they should be doing to make it work. Rather than cooperative, the ‘game’ the teammate plays is recriminating. Clearly, we did not get to that waypoint first because you can’t drive, or you can’t shoot, or you shoot at the wrong times, or someone, somewhere (China?) is cheating.

I mean, what would really be ideal is if you could just control these god-damned intractable humans like puppets. Then you might finally feel that sense of accomplishment of really helping someone by being utterly responsible for all their useful acts, instead of having to sit around, doing your part, helping them succeed, but waiting on their tiresome free will to circle the rim and finally go in.

This is a review of the second play through of Mass Effect 2, which started roughly two seconds after I finished the first, largely due to my enthusiasm for feeling what I felt the first time.

When I watched the American import of a Japanese horror movie called The Ring, I was pretty impressed the first time. I love obscure mystery in a horror movie that gives you clues to what’s happening without being enough to give it away, and I thought the directing did a good job of giving me something to be freaked out about on the way home. I was afraid of my TVs for a little while after watching that movie (because I am a suggestible idiot). However, when I went back to see it again, I realized something very important which ruined the movie, entirely, for me.

The little girl hurts people, because she is evil.

Really? That’s it? A tautological jerk off is all that’s waiting at the bottom of all the stuff about neighing horses, and flies on video screens, and nosebleeds? The Japanese version is slightly (only slightly) less pathetic, because, as a backdrop, there is Japanese culture, and there’s a genuine idea that, if someone were to have the psychic power to crawl through a television and kill you, they just might, because the society they live in is a nightmare, and being forcibly subjected to each other, twenty-four hours a day, without the relief available in moments of intense isolation which the Japanese hold sacrosanct (for the specific reason that, if they did not, they might all go cah-ray-zay) would logically lead to at least one of these people inflicting their psychic terror on everyone they could. Or perhaps, just the idea that the rental market in Japan, which has a cultural obsession with new things, and a distaste for used equipment, no matter how useful is a silent witness to the thousands of miserable lives which briefly latch on to it as it passes through miniscule, yet hollow and echoing apartments, and then return it to the rental office. Every video tape, if it could record misery, would contain an unholy feminine presence which wants you to die. Feminine, because inside every lonely salary-man is a little girl, trying to kill you.

The art I really love doesn’t completely collapse on a second viewing. It holds up. Sometimes it gets better. It may change, but artwork definitely follows the adage, Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice . . . can’t get fooled again.

The first thing I notice when I’m playing the second time is that interactions aren’t decisions — they’re social monsters that need to be killed to pass quests. When they die, you get experience toward paragon or renegade levels, which allow access to higher level conversations, which are basically social dungeons. The second thing I notice is, once you know, for certain, that someone won’t add any interesting new information to their initial, perfectly clear summary statement of their role in the story and your expectations regarding them, the game gets alot shorter. Except for when these people are expositing about some shoehorned summary that seems completely out of context, unless you pumped them for redundant information, earlier.

A good example is this space station prison from the early part of the game. In it, one of the armored rabbit people is serving as a kind of private sector warden. You go in, some guards say things about taking your weapons, you decline (either neutrally, or impolitely — thereby slaying the guard conversation monster and getting a couple renegade XP), and this tool wanders in to be polite and sort of arrogant. If you have a brain and it works, you’ll see where this is going at this point, especially since you can’t really talk to him much. You go down a hall and have a chance to ask questions, which is functionally equivalent to those little set-pieces in World of Warcraft that contain no monsters, are sort of out-of-the-way, and exist only to burn time sight-seeing. The only reason it’s like World of Warcraft miscellaneous set pieces, instead of the kind in every other kind of game that has graphics, is that the set pieces in most games are part of the framing of the story, and usually serve a purpose in terms of pacing. In World of Warcraft, at best, when finding one of these spots, you think “I wonder what they intended this to be, originally”, or “I wonder when they’re going to make this into something”, and, if you think about it too long, probably realize that its only purpose is to make you spend an extra ten minutes wondering what it’s for, adding that to the total time it takes you to complete your quest, hopefully ‘satisfying’ the demand that you got your ‘money’s worth,’ because it’s 2 am, and you’re only level 10.

Past him are a conversation monster and two completely irrelevant wastes of time. One of them is an edge case, because it’s a character with a ‘personality’ who reveals something about the story which isn’t necessarily abundantly obvious, unless you complete the previous ‘conversation monster’ with an emphasis on renegade — in which case your character’s reaction implies the story this guy is meant to flesh out. In fact, the only real relevant contribution of this guy is to, if you did the ‘right’ paragon thing in defeating the previous conversation monster, lay a guilt trip on you. One which is completely out of your control. Though, I suppose, they might be telegraphing a future paragon/renegade conversation monster that you might deal with in DLC, or in the inevitable sequel.

In any case, clearing that, you shortly end up in an action sequence. At a certain point, you get a chance to hear a monologue from the warden in which he talks a big game about keeping the scum of the galaxy out of . . . the galaxy. He launches into that without much prompting, and repeats in a louder voice, with less coherence, the salient points that you could have gotten out of the optional previous conversation. The first time through, the time wasted almost serves as pacing, and at the very least makes the ridiculous self-justification have a warmup period. The second time, when you’re not interested in his drivel, and would prefer to play the piece as an oblivious ‘renegade’ who expects nothing specific (because, hey, that’s just how things are, and what am I? a space farmer here to argue with every space rabbit about my space cabbage patch?), that role doesn’t really exist. There’s still this guy trying to explain something to you that you don’t really care about, and you can’t shoot him fast enough to effectively give the emotionless game engine the feedback you think it should hear (‘feeling of personal agency . . . not really satisfied’).

This is a recurring theme on the second playthrough. Most frustrating is that impatience which prompts you to skip listening to the unnecessarily long expositions which you already know about (and don’t change regardless of your choice of how to defeat the conversation monster) sometimes pop up the speaking wheel and trigger a response you didn’t mean to give, allowing critical conversation monsters to fail, unpredictably. Part of this may be related to the mouse and keyboard interface, and perhaps the skip-stupid-crap button is different than the poke-conversation-monster button on the 360 controller, but this is a serious point of irritation. Considering the game is entirely a matter of inevitable combat portions in between conversation monsters, with the random minigames and conversation ‘critters’ in between, for flavor, creating a random situation where understandable impatience can result in missing an opportunity is just bad design (like the randomized button inputs during the climactic battles of God of War series games, when you’ve spent five or ten minutes fighting some hideous serpent, and now it’s time to tear its throat out, only it asks you to press Square instead of Triangle this time, and you lose health and have to start the whole mess over). At the very least, in a game where, supposedly, what you say matters, there should be no ‘default’ selection for your next response, and instead require some kind of input to move the wheel to a choice. Is resetting a pointer position that hard, or locking down mouse movement while an audio file plays? Would I still be bitching about this if they had done so, and I had accidentally, in my irritation with being forced to pick every time, selected the wrong thing? Possibly. What’s your point?

Above all, the gating on various missions is bizarre. Many games have strict story structures that make certain kinds of events out of place if they happen at random. This is not one of those games. Of the few truly sequencial quests in the story, the majority of what stops you from moving forward seems to be an ambiguous amount of ‘stuff happening’ to allow for the feeling of time passing. Sometimes the person you spoke to twice wants you to do them a huge favor ten minutes later. Sometimes you can go repeatedly to some alien’s room, shake them like a naughty doll, and scream, “God Damn you, open up to me emotionally,” until you are blue in the face and they won’t budge. Then, abruptly, after doing something unrelated to their character, the ship’s slut/counselor, who could be replaced by the computer, if you were allowed to sleep with a blue media player visualizer, will announce that such and such a person wants to talk to you. At this point, and only this point, can you go and find out what’s bothering them. While some of these events could plausibly be triggered by the arrival of new information, in practice, it is obstructive.

Compare this to Star Control 2, or any of the truly great ‘role playing games’ of yesteryear. Some events did have time constraints. Those time constraints were real, and were part of the game clock. If you’ve played through once, then you know the amount of time you have to burn, and how long it will take to accomplish certain things. You’re not wondering what kind of magic alchemy you have to perform to unlock some event — events are bigger than you, in the world, and they just happen. Many events were driven, appropriately enough, by the player’s choices — whether it was the serendipity of landing on some planet with a bizarre artifact, a legitimate follow up to some ‘hints,’ or a matter of being funneled toward certain convenient encounters as a matter of circumstances (meeting the Melnorme for the first time, by running out of fuel in hyperspace, was a good example). Obviously, this is all a huge hurdle to people’s interest level, too. I mean, if someone had to actually pay attention and explore of their own volition, they might not bother, because there’s nothing to explore.

 

COMMANDER SHEPHARD IS A SEX GOD. HE SEXES CRIPPLED CHILDREN THAT PUKE FROM THE DISEASED FEROCITY OF HIS DICK

 

 

But at the core of the experience is a situation that I will have to describe with innuendo both for clarity, and out of an uncharacteristic sympathy for the ‘spoiler’-averse (which, in this case, is a sadistic desire to see other people experience this ridiculous issue and suffer as a result).

There is a cat in a room with a cat-eating alligator. The alligator is in a tank, and the tank is full of water, and the cat is outside the tank. The tank is built into the structure of the room. The room is designed to keep the cat safe from a particularly violent hurricane which is always raging. Now, at some point, you get the idea that, if the worst should happen, and someone were to shoot this room with a laser (it’s a metaphor), the cat might get hurt, either by the laser or the storm. So you specifically reinforce the alligator’s tank to make the room a little stronger. At some point, you buy a dog, because you’re not a really big fan of cats. Actually this isn’t quite right. This is a parrot. Okay, so, keep in mind, the issue with the alligator is also kind of not a concern, because, even if some bizarre thing happens and, somehow, the room isn’t destroyed, but the alligator gets out of his completely sealed tank, you figure a parrot could keep away from a lizard. This parrot is also good at repairing fish tanks, terreriums, and doing general weather stripping/home maintenance work. It’s a special parrot: canny and shrewd.

So it’s the parrot in his parrot bunker with the sealed tank with a parrot-eating alligator in it, and you buy a dog, because you like dogs and you can’t really play catch with a parrot, and you finished all your weather stripping, so the parrot doesn’t have any more work to do. He just hangs out in front of Home Depot, repeating the Spanish words he hears. You’ve also had sex with this parrot and the relationship kind of plateaued, at that point, and even though you can’t have sex with a dog, you want to enrich your life with other relationships (this is still a metaphor).

So one day, a burgler breaks into your basement, and you choose to bring the dog, because you’re trying to bond with it by doing stuff together, and because it’s better suited to the task than the parrot.

Because of this, the alligator’s tank breaks, it gets out, and the parrot is eaten.

I realize that wasn’t totally crystal clear, but it’s close enough to realize one thing; that parrot was killed by God, because God thought you loved the dog, and either as a punishment for not loving the parrot, or because it was trying to help you make a clean break with your parrot relationship by murdering it, allowing you to devote all your love to the dog, it decided to take unilateral action outside the scope of your plans.

In a real sport, or an e-sport, the presence of real people makes your contributions meaningful. If they don’t like what you’re doing, at least they can tell you about it, and you can change it. Maybe you can even stop playing with them; you have choices.

In Mass Effect 2, you are stuck with the characters whose lives it is your job to enable, and ultimately help succeed. You have the opportunity and desire to help or destroy them, but the best you can do is limited by their feeble A.I. brains and dialogue scripts. No matter how hard you try, they’ll never advance past a certain point, and hating them is utterly futile; there is no worse punishment than ignoring them (and they can’t respond to punishment, anyway).

Bioware, as the entity attempting to enable you in this game by providing you with the tools to feel like a hero, is constantly making mistakes of misinterpretation and ambiguous hints. In trying to live up to their attempts to help you you end up becoming even more frustrated than you would be if you just won or lost in a linear experience, without their help. Insanely, the necessary adaptation you undergo in trying to interpret their attempts to help you succeed end up controlling your choices more than your desires and participation in the story themselves. You want to be a renegade, only Bioware thinks that means you have to be a jerk, and they try to represent how being a jerk would work in a particular situation by giving you the option to tell someone to stop bothering you, forever. When you do this, you lose the opportunity to keep talking to them, and get more renegade points by slaying their conversation dragon in a surly, brusque fashion. How is this an interpretation of your desire? When do you know which kind of ‘help’ they’re offering you? Your free will in the game’s story becomes subsumed by the desire to understand how they’re trying to help you, and live up to that standard.

Religion seems to be the desire to understand God’s thoughts and purposes, so that you can bend your free will toward worthy pursuits and behaviors. Since there is more than one religion, and at least two of them believe that all other religions are wrong, in defiance of God, and heading for some sort of damnation, someone is doing their job poorly in terms of enabling their flocks to succeed, by enabling their faith in their purpose (and suggesting the best, hand picked purposes), and thereby share the glory of civilization and brotherly love which result. The people who pursue religion for this purpose, seem, if they do not develop a healthy dose of distance, to always be worrying that they’re about to lose their parrots when they take their dogs with them to investigate burglaries.

When you play a sport, you’re dealing with a person: a principal equal. When you’re playing a sport with computers, even if they’re better at it than you, they are not your equal in capacity for satisfaction, and helping them is charity work, unless they somehow help you. The more you have to give to get anything from them, the less useful they are as tools of entertainment (or even art). In terms of pretending to be God, by interpreting other people’s desires, the end result must be the trivializing of those desires; if they were really a matter of free will, you’d have no way to predict them, and cater to them, so, instead, you must provide a limited set of choices, all equally meaningless in their inevitability.

This is why there is more personal investment and narrative in a legitimate esport game (regardless of action, strategy, or any other format) than there can be in a single player experience.

Proposal for future timeline of Bioware releases:

Mass Effect 3 ends with Shepherd hanging him/herself in a closet, leaving behind the suicide note: “I want Legion to wear me . . .” This lays the groundwork for Mass Effect: Legion.

Followed by Mass Effect:Legion 2, The Future We Made. This will become known as TFWM. Spawning TFWM 2: Revenge of the Creators (a Mass Effect Game). Then Revenge Of the Creators 2: Geth Homeworld.

Followed by an RTS featuring the Geth saving the galaxy from new Rachni/Krogan/etc. type threats and joining the council. This will be a game series to forward the philosophical thesis that there is nothing more wonderful than giving birth to a new form of life; it is the noblest instinct of man (quarian parrot): a truly selfless artistic act in a meaningless universe.

Geth Homeworld: Heretics and Protestants
Geth Homeworld: Phalanx Of Consensus
Geth Homeworld: Disconnect

Referred to as the Geth Homeworld Trilogy, these games portray the rise of diversity in the Geth population and the resulting balance achieved between that diversity and their single-minded consensus. A unique and powerful blend of Tower Defense, old-school Roguelikes purporting to take place in the Geth Datanet, and open ended world-building, like Dwarf Fortress and Sim City, The Geth Trilogy is, in many ways, what Spore tried to be.

Fans of the Geth Homeworld Trilogy are eagerly awaiting the release of Mass Effect: Galaxies, which allows players to play as the Geth in a cutting edge MMO where they charter their own ship, and join either the Alliance Navy, Terminal System pirate and mercenary groups, or operate as a Spectre-like agent for a number of conflicting governments.

Rumors have it that the plot of MEG will revolve around the splintering of the alliance into factions consisting of the shortlived and long lived races, and a resultant war over irreconcilable differences in political tendencies.

None of that will actually happen, because my fetishizing of their imaginary machine race is a rare disorder. When serial fiction caters to its audience, it works because the audience can’t say no. The audience gets ‘what happens,’ regardless, and usually ‘what happens’ is subject to enough interpretation that they can just pretend what’s happening is what they want to see. Adding the illusion of choice just sucks the ambiguity out of the mediocre attempt to read my mind. The game becomes a cold reading attempt on a single person at a time, under the least favorable circumstances. If it works once, it never does again, because, rather than having sophistication that permits multiple readings, there is only straight forward manipulation that barely allows for one. A great artwork remains rich as you explore different avenues through the experience. Here, each replay underscores how little any particular element matters.

–Samuel Kite

Comments

15 Responses to MASS EFFECT 2

  1. This is an incredibly shallow thing to say, but it’s good to see some negative reviews!

    I’ve played neither Mass Effect, because I seldom enjoy choosing dialogue options. Mother 3′s “Yes/No”, I can handle. I suspect this is because in most games, I feel the desire to say what I actually would say in real life, but with yes or no questions there’s no room for that. Plus the context is completely to-the-point. It’s shameful when writers break down cutscenes into dialogue trees with no meaningful input. It’s dishonest and redundant. Against my will, I end up thinking about them – about either the order I’d say them, or I mistake them for actual choices and waste time choosing them. Perhaps this is because I wasn’t raised on Lucasarts adventure games.

    It would be stupid to say all stories should be composed so that the player only ever says yes or no. I dunno, though. Actions speak louder than words – no-one should ever say anything!

    It’s fascinating the way you describe them: “conversation monsters”. This makes a lot of sense. In a way, dialogue choices do challenge me – they challenge me to work out what is closest to what I’d say in real life. If you’re ever doing something, then it is because you want to achieve something else. Speaking -and speaking in video games- is no exception.

  2. “The more you have to give to get anything from them, the less useful they are as tools of entertainment (or even art).”

    This is one of those brilliant truths that seems really obvious when boiled down to a quip, and yet the knowledge it contains goes unheeded in so much modern media.

    Also, judging from the cover, I posit that the title of the game is actually Mass 2 Effect.

  3. Good review, even if I have no idea what you’re talking about half the time. Pretty depressing, though. I only played through it once (and really liked it) and I had ZERO desire to play through again. Maybe I knew in the back of my mind it would be a waste? Actually, I can’t recall ever replaying a game with a good/bad system in it.

    Anyway, here’s some rambling, semi-coherent thoughts about the game, mostly phrased as questions:

    Why is there so much pointless bullshit in these games? Piloting your ship around in space adds nothing. Why is there fuel? Fuck probing. Why are there resources? Why are there ship upgrades? Why is there money? Why do I have to go shopping for all this crap, anyway? They even tell you it cost them 50billionspacedollars (or something) to revive you, and they made you a sweet ship, why don’t they just give you the best everything possible? I guess “Get Stuff” has to be a major part of any RPG.

    Why does it have to be non-linear? Why wouldn’t the player not want to do everything? If it’s not worth doing it shouldn’t be in the game. Nothing important would be lost if you never even got to choose your next mission. That would really help the flow and prevent the whole arbitrary waiting period before you can talk to your crew again thing. It really should be more like a season of Star Trek.

  4. Good read, but I must admit I lost track of what the reviewer was trying to say by the end of the review. Well, maybe that was the point.

    Thing is, I actually kinda like Mass Effect 2, pretty much as I like Mass Effect. I won’t say that the reviewer has “missed” the game. I’ll simply say that we obviously didn’t expect the same thing of these games.

    I agree a lot on the overall “artificial time” issue, or to put it in much simpler terms, the fact that everything ever only happens by the command of the player. I mean it really sucks.

    But this complaint put aside, I think the game has great art direction, a “fresh” universe, a pretty bland story that raises some very interesting points, and most of all, cool game mechanics. The shooting aspects works, the dialog system works, even if, yes, it’s completely artificial.

    Obviously the resource grind is useless from an entertainment standpoint, but it’s also almost useless from a gameplay standpoint (the really useful upgrades doesn’t cost a lot of resources, resources you’ll gather eventually), so it’s a non-issue.

    Well, overall, I found the “pick your mission” structure to be working pretty well. And the characters, even if very archetypal, are interesting.

    But the thing that really makes me like this game is that it can make the player think about things that are not-so-frequently treated in other forms of media, namely the meaning of right and wrong when facing threats that are far bigger than your simple person, and dealing with the consequences of your choices. And I’m not only talking about some big events that were designed to slam you face but about so many minute details that were really designed that way. The pseudo emails, the galaxy news litany, your contextual teammates comments, overheard conversations, there are so many times that these little details just touches some very interesting points. Even if there’s nothing really groundbreaking in those areas, it’s still there, and the fact that YOU made some choices that have actual consequences, even in the form of a poorly written text, bring it to the next level.

    That’s not to say it’s the first of his kind (even if I can’t recall such things happening during the course of multiple games). It’s just very well done this time. Well, in my opinion, of course.

  5. Well, come on! Every game between Uncharted and FF13 got at least 3 stars. I love thinking that there are great games that I have yet to play, and I don’t think that they were undeserving, but I want things a bit mixed up to maintain reverence. My favourite review from 2009 was the Free Realms one. The only zero star review here at all that I dislike is the Electroplankton one (and the removed SCMRPG one).

  6. Hmm, I just realised something bad. When I said “This is an incredibly shallow thing to say, but it’s good to see some negative reviews!”, what I meant was that [b]I[/b] was saying something shallow. I wasn’t saying “This review was shallow but at least it’s negative!”

  7. It’s just funny, because this place built its reputation on unfairly ripping apart sacred cows just to “get hits,” whatever that could mean.

    Hey, I wrote that Free Realms review. Thanks for liking it.

  8. Ah ok, yeah, that review is the shit. I should thank you; I made a speech where I used it to talk about social conscience in game design. It was a pretty rubbish debate despite what I thought were going to be some good speakers, but you can listen to it here if you want: http://www.archive.org/details/BoI09_VideoGames it’s part of a tangent on censorship that I begin at about 36:40. Also be warned that I become the most timid motherfucker in ever to live before these people.

  9. So you reviewed a covertly shallow game with a handful of shallow tangents only similar in their shallow-ivity-ness … on purpose, right? To which I responded with an equally shallow but passive aggressive smarmcastic question not so covertly disguised. Oh, and my conversation tree is now closed with no hope of a random encounter or time sink to open me up again.

    Renegade ‘-0-, Paragon

  10. Do you ever get the feeling that video games are the medium by which we are collectively training computers to think like humans?

  11. Yes. Another interesting question: what is the place of AI in the future of games? It’s always been kind of relegated. Gamers pick up on it, but given that it has always been about enemies MAYBE running around corners before opening fire, no-one can pay too much attention. Most big game designers have previously been kinda snooty about it (Warren Spector, Bioware people, etc) leaving its nuances entirely to the programmers. In other words, it wasn’t heavily factored into their vision.

    Very few of the avant-garde games I’m playing make anything of it, with the exception of Love (which I recommend – c’mon guys, we never get more than ten people on the teamspeak server!). In theory, Shadow of the Colossus had AI that you were made to concentrate on. But I that’s all that stands out.

    Though now, soon Spy Party is going to come out – I think it’s going to revolutionise everything, but I don’t know how.

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