May 28, 2013 by Pete_XXVII
With the next-gen just poking out over the horizon and this generation getting ready to start winding up, now might be a good time to start looking back on the games that have really shone over the last few years. Each week we’ll be looking at a game that has the honour of being called one of the best of the generation. First up we have Mass Effect 2.
With Mass Effect being an Xbox exclusive until late last year, it was the second entry in the franchise that was the first taste of the universe for many Playstation gamers. An exhilarating marriage between an RPG and a traditional third person shooter, it created an engaging scenario right from the start. Within the first ten minutes Shepard, fresh from defeating the geth and Sovereign, is looking for rogue survivors on-board the Normandy when they are attacked by an unknown enemy. The Normandy is destroyed and Shepard killed; not your usual start I’m sure you’ll agree and a bold way to introduce new players to the franchise.
It may be obvious, but this is only the start of the story. For those who played through the original first it was a devastating way to start off the game but for those fresh to it it showed a refreshingly novel approach to story telling. In fact the main story in ME2 is incredibly simple; go to the Collector home world and stop them from taking any more humans in an apparent suicide mission. But as many poets have (probably) said before, it’s the journey and not the destination that is important here.
Each of the characters you meet along the way are fully fleshed out, but only if you bother to take the time to talk to them and discover it yourself. This isn’t your usual fare of having a band of loyal soldiers who’ll follow you no matter what. You have to earn their loyalty and respect through talking, helping them with missions that matter to them and more talking. Only by engaging with the crew and the game will you get the full experience of it.
As you progress and learn more about your team-mates you get to learn each of their little quirks – Tali’s Quorian swearing, Garrus’ love of calibrations and Mordin’s love of …er Gilbert and Sullivan – and they start to become alive as real charcters of their own. You can even have a romance with them which, for once, doesn’t feel forced or tacked on for the sake of it. In short you begin to care for them.
It is this caring which makes it all the harder when faced with some of the choices in the game. As a small example during my playthrough I took Tali along on many of my missions because, well because I liked her as a character. This led to a problem when completing her loyalty mission as she begged me not to reveal what her father had been doing to the Quorian tribunal. Despite the fact that I knew the paragon answer would be the best in the long run, I decided to do as she asked and say nothing. Little did I know that holding my tongue here would have disastrous consequences on Geth-Quorian relations 100+ hours down the line…..
Of course all these little decisions build up to the actual suicide mission at the end of the game. When faced with the decisions of how to attack the Collectors there’s actually very little choice, more than in most games true but still not much in the scheme of things. The genius of the design is that you feel that every decision you make is truly yours, and yours alone. Will you send Legion or Tali to hack the tech; Garrus or Miranda to lead the fire team? The end result of these choices can have a big impact on the outcome of the game.
Despite it being a fairly simple algorithm for how the battle will pan out – have you got the loyalty of x,y,z? Who did you send to do task a,b,c? – it really is tense. I went into the battle knowing that I hadn’t gained the loyalty of Jack and Samara and fully expecting to lose the two of them. What I didn’t expect was to lose half of my (admittedly Cerberus) crew because I took too long to go after them. Neither did I expect to lose Thane to the swarm because Samara couldn’t protect him for long enough as we moved through – I still hold her responsible.
It is the way that this level is designed that makes it such a stand-out game for this generation. With such a linear pathway through the finale it’s hard to imagine how you would see so much freedom. The way that your choices are reflected back onto you is so well done, better than in almost every other game, means that you invest in the characters and believe in them more. It’s games like this that show where the real big leap in game design will come. Not more power for better graphics, but for better programming and AI. The fact that great design and scripting can create a more immersive environment for the audience has long been known in cinema; it’s nice to see gaming grow up and realise it too.