24
Dec
10

City 16's Top 10 Games of 2010: #2

It’s Christmas Eve, which means one thing for this blog: time for the runner up!

It also means that I’ve totally run out of things to say in this intro. Actually you may have noticed that I did that days ago and have just been writing any old shit before announcing that day’s game. Instead of doing that today I’ll just say this –

My second favourite game of the year is:

Mass Effect 2

Holy shit this game has an exciting start. A lot of people like to praise the Half-Life style of introduction; a long tram ride allowing the player to exist in the world and understand the character before shit goes down. Mass Effect 2’s take on gently easing players into its story is to say “fuck ’em, they had the whole first game to figure out the world and character, shit goes down now!” Still, it works. As the Normandy explodes around you and Shepard barks orders at crew members it’s hard not to smile and think, “Shepard’s back… My Shepard’s back.” And then she dies.

Fuck!

[On Shepard: I’m actually quite glad that all the marketing and promotional videos that come from Bioware to advertise the Mass Effect series feature the male Shepard. That typical macho-marine looking douche bag bears so little resemblance to his female counterpart that they may as well be showing a completely different character. What’s far worse is to see another player’s female Shepard. It’s jarring; they use the same voice and tend to look ever so slightly similar to mine but, importantly, they’re not mine – the true Shepard. Because despite being voiced by the same person, my Shepard feels entirely my creation. She’s quite probably the best character in videogames.]

Of course after the start the plot falls back to the familiar routine of finding a new team and proving yourself to them. Cleverly this time round the purpose of the game is to prepare for a ‘suicide mission’ the details of which you’re pretty hazy on. It means that unlike the first game, which always stressed the urgency of the main plot but allowed you to explore side-missions anyway, Mass Effect 2 is all about the side-missions – finding a team, gathering materials for the mission, helping the team work through their problems so they’ll be more focused and loyal.

The team you can accrue is far bigger than in the first game as well. Luckily this means you can pretty much avoid the duff ones – Miranda and Jacob replacing Ashley and Kaiden for the title of Most Boring People in The Universe and the entirely pointless Samara being entirely pointless. The rest of the team are a joy to be around; from Mordin, the hyperactive scientist both proud of and tormented by his role in the genophage, to Thane, who manages to be a brooding assassin without falling completely into the cliché brooding assassin archetype. Even Jack, the star of one of the most obnoxiously bad trailers I’ve ever seen, actually has some nuance and depth to her character.

Of course having a new team means that the old team have been left to do their own thing out in the Universe. Only two of them rejoin your team, Garrus and Tali. These were probably the best choices, not only because they were two of the best characters from the first game but because they allow the sequel to do interesting things with the relationship between them and Shepard. Tali’s addition means players finally get to experience a quarian ship in a fantastic courtroom scene. Garrus is the really interesting returning character though, his time in the interim between games having been spent following Shepard’s lead; gathering together a team and taking down criminals using not altogether legal methods. It’s all about the results y’see.

The rest of the old team stay doing their own thing. This is one aspect of the game that isn’t handled particularly well, with most of them not only not showing surprise at seeing their old Commander alive after years but also having pretty crappy excuses for not rejoining. Wrex is the only character that both seems happy to see you and has a genuinely good reason for not rejoining, which is lucky because he was the only other character I’d have wanted back. While I’m ripping into the writing I should bring up the whole Illusive Man/Cerberus thing. A lot of the framework for the story comes across as wanting to get to a specific place for the third game but not really having the a good idea about how to transition there through the second. As a result some parts of the set-up just don’t make any real sense.

Still, so much of the game is more enjoyable than its predecessor. I’ve not even touched on the shooting, inventory and alignment mechanics, but they’ve all had something of a makeover and work a whole lot better. Really though, the reason I’ve spent so much of this post talking about the characters is because they’re what make Mass Effect 2 special. It’s one of the few games where I’ve actually played the character and not the game. Usually I’m content to make choices that will lead to in-game advantages for me – like playing the good route to get shop discounts and benefits from characters. In Mass Effect 2 Shepard has a personality which she acts according to, rather than working toward some possibly beneficial future outcome for me. In the final decision in the game I picked the renegade option, after long minutes of deliberation. It was obviously a bad idea and is probably going to backfire somehow in Mass Effect 3, but it was also the choice my Shepard would have made. Nothing speaks to the quality of an in-game character more than that.

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