Friday, September 2, 2011

Mass Effect 2 Part 2

I’m breaking this review into two parts, because you have to do as many reviews of a game as there are sequels.  So, Mass Effect 2 = 2 Reviews.
This is why I stopped playing Final Fantasy.
Last time, I covered the most important part of the game: sex with hot babes.  This time, I’m covering the least important part of the game: free will.

Game makers like to think that they give players something they can’t get anywhere else.  No matter what form of entertainment you choose: movies, books, plays, conservative radio humor, you never participate in the story; you are a passive consumer.  Romeo and Juliet always die (unless you’re watching the Nicholas Nickelby version).  Luke always blows up the Death Star.  Snooki always…  Does whatever she does.
Not that I'll pass up a chance to blog about hot babes.
(Snooki is a person, right?  What is Snooki?  She’s not a cartoon animal or race car or something, is she?)
I found this image on Google and am still not sure which one is Snooki.
Video games are supposed to be different; they try to let you have some choice in what happens.  If Shakespeare had written Hamlet as a video game, Hamlet could have killed Claudius and become the new king, married Ophelia, and made Polonius his most trusted advisor (or court jester, your choice).  Hamlet could have a happy ending, if he just did enough side-quests and got enough points.

In the Mass Effect series, the designers try to give players freedom of choice through conversation.  The player can either choose a good thing to say/do (called the “Paragon” choice) or the bad thing (called “Renegade”).  The more you choose good or evil, the more you get points in your Paragon or Renegade scores, opening up new, better dialogue options.

(And don’t try to tell me Paragon and Renegade aren’t the same as good and evil.  The more Renegade points you have, the more your eyes glow red, the more your face is covered in creepy scars, and the more copies of Dick Cheney’s autobiography appear in your cabin.)
"Honest, I just put the saving of all life in the galaxy over some ethical concerns!"
I guess I wouldn’t have a problem with their system if I agreed with their labeling of each choice.  Keeping technology that will help you in a war against an unstoppable foe was deemed evil, while blowing it up was good.  Brainwashing an entire race was good, while killing them all was evil (as if either option is even vaguely ethical).

Mass Effect doesn’t give the player freedom of choice.  It gives a player a choice and then punishes them for that choice.  It isn’t fair.  It isn’t free will.  It’s theology.

This is where the game falls apart.  If you don’t want to be all good or all evil all the time, you don’t get enough points to unlock the better dialogue choices.  The lack of better choices means fewer points, which means fewer choices, which means…  Well, it just spirals down from there.  Suddenly, all of your teammates are mad at you, your ship is falling apart, and you don’t get the sex scene you saw on YouTube… 

Or new guns for your ship.  I meant to say new guns for your ship.
"It's too bad you don't have enough points.  Now he dies and I won't sleep with you."
Not that the choices you make are really choices.  No matter what your character says to the guy keeping hostages, you still have a firefight with him.  No matter what you say to the boss who knowingly sent you into a trap, you have to keep working with him.  No matter how bitchy your crew is (caused by not having enough points in Renegade or Paragon), you can’t throw them off the ship with tape over their mouths into a black hole.
"You said you want to see me in the airlock?"
You want to know what real freedom of choice looks like?  In the first game, the big bad guy (a giant machine named Sovereign) calls you up and you can talk to it.  The conversation is short and uninteresting, pretty much coming down to:

I hate you.  Join me.
No.  You are evil.  I will
kill you.
You will lose.
No, you will lose.
Well, nice talking with you.
You too.  See you at the
big finale.  Buh-bye!

That isn't free will.  This is:

Join me.
Why should I?  You’re
big and evil.
I’m really not all
that evil.
Not at all.  Plus, my employees get
free vision and dental plans.
Fine.  I’ll help you, but you have to
promise: no more grinding my hot secretaries
down into grey goop.
Oh, all right.

Now that is freedom of choice.

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