Thursday, February 04, 2010

Et tu, ME2

"Mass Effect 2" arrived on the shelves without the fanfare of its illustrious predecessor. No talk of banning the game for perverted sexual content, no appeals committee set up to review and repeal the ban, nothing. And indeed, there is nothing in the game that looks controversial enough to warrant even a raised eyebrow, except the one on the forehead of the most rabid anti-violence militant or repressed pro-celebacy Taleban enforcer. This sequel seems much more careful not to incite the wrath of our censors this time, but has lost a little bit of it's "bad boy" appeal because of it.

But it's still fun to play. What's not to like when your character develops the power to shoot incendiary bullets at enemy targets? Zooming in with the sniper scope reveals said enemy performing an "OMG, I'm on fire" dance, frantically trying to beat out the flames before collapsing into a shower of blackened, powdery particles. Or picking them up with TK powers and slamming them around the room, onto the walls and floor, or dropping them off the edge of a bottomless precipice? Hilarious.

But this isn't to say that the player is all-nigh invulnerable, though. I've died several times too due to successful enemy flanking manouvres catching me in a crossfire or surrounding me in a swarm of melee attackers if I can't put them down fast enough. Or more irritatingly, when an overexcited button push vaults my character over cover instead of ducking behind it. When that happens, I'm directly in the line of fire and then I'm dead in seconds. Bah. Design flaw.

The fun part is to gather a team of badass squaddies, each with their own back stories. In order to unlock their special abilities each of them needs their baggage resolved. Most have problems with either their parents or their children, which seems like an odd collection of problems to solve for such a hardcore bunch. Maybe it's because they weren't loved as children that's why the became such badasses who can't deal with their own children? I dunno.

What's missing is the randomness of battle encounters that the first installment had in spades. Now almost every mission has some purpose towards the immediate goal rather than building up a picture of a universe far larger than the obvious. Most side-quests are of the find-fetch-deliver variety which are mundane at best, and no setting people on fire while we're at it. Meh.

Depending on the player character's selected gender, there are a few teammates that can be flirted with throughout the mission. However out of the many dalliances, the player has to choose only one to complete the romance narrative with. But all that takes place in a blackout between cutscenes, so there's hardly anything to get excited about. Perhaps alien-human pairings are too biologically complicated to animate? Or a parent control lock somewhere I haven't disabled? Or maybe I just have a whitewashed no-controversy S'pore version of the game? Oh, well.

Anyway, I'm just playing ME2 for the story only. Because the choices I made in my playthrough of the previous game persist and even affect the events and relationships I can have in the sequel, it really does feel like being part of a coherent epic story. If I replayed ME with different choices, my ME2 experience would also be different. And so will it be for ME3, whenever that comes out.

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