Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Top Ten Favorite Games: #3—Mass Effect 2

Eat, sleep, play Mass Effect 2. That was my daily routine for a month upon the release of Mass Effect 2…. I’m actually listening to the soundtrack as I’m writing this. And I would go to sleep and dream of playing Mass Effect. I’d wake up and play just a few hours, for a taste; go back to sleep, the abruptly wake again to play some more. It didn’t matter how late at night it was, or early in the morning.

I was addicted to this game. But not like a WOW addiction where it tempered and last’s for a long time. This was a situation where for an entire month all I’d do was play this game. And I loved it. It was a weird time in my life. Few games have dominated my very existence like this one…in fact no game has, Mass Effect 2 was my life!

By comparison—there really is none, but for the sake of this retrospective I’ll say it—by comparison the original Mass Effect was a shitty science fare project. Mass Effect 2 reached a level of polish that the original could only dream of.

I actually just wanted more of the same from Mass Effect 2. “Just give me an upgraded version on Mass Effect and I’ll be just fine”, was my thought process. Balls! I truly wasn’t expecting to get such a better game. The original is for babies!

ME 2 feels like a shooter, that's a good thing if I need to remind you!

From top-to-bottom, to the end of the far reaches of the galaxy, Mass Effect 2 fixed almost every gripe and issue I had with the first game, and then some. It also went on to surprise me in ways I didn’t know a video game could.

Mass Effect 2 is a shooter. The original really wasn’t. At first I thought taking away some of the more Sci-Fi aspects like overheating weapons and replacing them with guns that use ammo was a step back. I was wrong. It’s such a more satisfying feeling shooting a enemy in the head—something you just couldn’t do accurately in the first game because you’re accuracy was based on stats, not physical aptitude—and reloading you’re weapon with a smack to the side of it feels right.

Slamming shoulder first into cover, popping up then throwing out a few shots, ejecting an ammo clip for a new one is just a visceral “shooter” experience and it just made the combat so much more enjoyable.

Your squad having more intelligence than a cinder block also helps. I love that you can launch a power (from cover) then without order or directions your squad member uses their own abilities in combination with yours to create a seamless display of teamwork. I never felt handicapped by having one character that was good for a very specific situation, which is the trap the original Mass Effect fell into. Each squad member was useful and I mixed and matched each member of my team on every mission for a different flavor.

I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of squad members, it was a perfect balance.

This game was all about assembling the best team for an impossible mission. It’s considered suicide to follow Commander Shepard this time around, but that’s what makes it so enjoyable. You’re this “dirty-dozen”, this badass squad of assassins, psychos, killers and thieves and you’re the only hope for humanity. It reminds me of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai: you’re this group of people (or in this case aliens) with different backgrounds and past’s joining together for a common goal that may lead to certain death. And the ending to this game is suspenseful and heartbreaking--probably the best ending to a game I’ve ever played. 

All the things I loved about the first game are still here. That hasn’t changed, the universe in which Mass Effect takes place is still just as interesting as ever before. But it’s more grounded in personal issues with Mass Effect 2. Talking to each person on the Normandy yields so many differences between one crewmember and the next. It’s not that this guy has gills shooting out the side of his head, or this alien has a bone in the middle of their face; each crewmember actually has a personality. And whether or not you want to help them isn’t based on how they look; it’s how you truly feel about them as individuals. It’s such a unique trait for a game to have, to actually make you care about something that isn’t even real. I don’t know how Bioware does it, good writing is a start, but it’s something more…

Us vs. the Galaxy, let's do this!

Mass Effect 2 isn’t a perfect game. I loathe the planet scanning. And taking away aspects like planet exploration via a vehicle; looting and other RPG standards are tough to get by. But those who shortchange the game for the things that are taken out miss the refinements in other areas.

The story and dialogue in Mass Effect 2 are much deeper. And the streamlining of the RPG elements leads to a faster playing game. You don’t have to pause in the middle of combat, powers and abilities just flow together. And just being able to place shots where I want to in order to dismember an enemy is fantastic.

Few games turn themselves around to make a sequel that’s so far superior to its predecessor that one thinks lesser of the original. Mass Effect 2 achieved that. Bioware set out to make a game that was better in almost every area, and they largely succeeded. Small issues aside Mass Effect 2 is a masterpiece and the standard by which all games should be measured this console generation.

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