Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Five Best 2010 Games: Mass Effect 2

Lists. I don’t know why, but I love them. And if everyone else can do them, I asked myself, why not me? So, prompted by being asked to name my three favorites this year, I’ve elected to take a break from the TV stuff, go two better, and do a top five. Today, it's Mass Effect 2.

RPGs are traditionally deliberate, meditative affairs, so it feels a little odd to claim that Mass Effect 2 had some of the most truly exciting moments I played this year. But it’s true. ME2 is almost perfectly on my wave-length—it’s exciting, tactical, customizable, open, sprawling, diverse, and lets me immerse myself in a vivid universe, explore its seamy underbelly, gather a gang of colorful slimeballs, interact with them, and ultimately lead them to victory as we outrun an explosion.
            The first Mass Effect was a fine game. I liked it a lot, but outside some transcendent moments and characters, I didn’t love it. Tech issues played a part, but ultimately it was too Star Trek. Fun, rich, and deep, but a little too clean. Shepard visited distant colonies and unexplored ruins under color of authority granted him in the halls of power. ME2 feels much closer to Farscape, which I like a lot more, as I wandered through the galaxy’s wretched hives of scum and villainy, assembling a crew of killers, mercenaries, and terrorists that marketing rightly connected to the Dirty Dozen. Now Shepard doesn’t invoke his Specter status, but lets his fearsome rep do the talking. A villainous presence in the first game becomes his savior and benefactor, but remains duplicitous and untrustworthy. There’s a moral uncertainty that adds a lot of tension to the experience.
            Key, though, was the cast, the motley band of murderers, mercs, sociopaths, and soldiers-of-fortune who would eventually follow me. I loved stopping by their stations and seeing what they had to say—this game could have easily been higher on the list if there had been more. The warrior space lizard who punctuates his violent puns with air quotes made with his talons. The genetically-engineered perfect woman and her strange self-esteem issues. My favorite, the alien super scientist/super spy, at once a cold pragmatist and haunted by his cold pragmatism, who, when asked, will sing Sondheim. Mordin’s the best, but also typical, a perfect symbol of the ME universe—full of contrasts that make him fully-fleshed, if you’re willing to engage him.
            Oh, and the music is pretty sweet, too.
Quasi-Celebrity Appearance: An embarrassment of riches for a voicehound such as myself! Keith David, Seth Green, Hottie Cylon and One-Eyed Tigh of BSG fame, Trinity, Animal Mother, Giles' nemesis, Shohreh Aghdashloo, sweet, sweet Claudia Black, and magnificent Martin Sheen. Oh, and you can pitch woo at Yvonne Strahovski's character.
Purest Moment: The thrill of entering the endgame, unaware if you've fully prepared, matched by the thrill of leaving it, seeing that you did.

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