February 18th, 2010

Sarah ShepardI played the original Mass Effect on Xbox 360 in 2007 as a male Infiltrator who followed the Paragon path. This was characteristic of me because I rarely play females and almost always play “good” characters. I think the only time I’ve defected to the dark side was on my third time playing of Knights of The Old Republic. But for the next two years I’d hear praise for female Shepard’s voice performance, and arguments in favor of the Renegade path.

I resolved that, when I played Mass Effect on PC, I would play as female Shepard, and I’d also play as a Renegade. So I created Sarah Shepard; I expected playing her to be fun, but not superior fun. I also expected to hate her. I didn’t like myself as a Dark Jedi in KoTOR. Force Lightning was fun, but I was a selfish asshole. I didn’t save the galaxy, I took it. My choices on Mass Effect’s Renegade path didn’t all result in such extremes, though; I could save the galaxy without having to mollycoddle everyone. I’d do it efficiently, and by my own rules. Playing Paragon or Renegade is analogous to playing as Superman or Batman would — that is, if either approved of killing.

Sarah Shepard the RenegadeI began Mass Effect 2 the day it released, mere weeks after completing my second run through Mass Effect. I found that Sarah Shepard had changed, and so had Mass Effect. But my Shepard was still a hard-ass who demanded respect, and who had a galaxy to save. I proceeded to oblige, this time with a new ship, new team, and most importantly, no inventory. The very facet of Mass Effect that most bothered me hadn’t just been changed, it had been discarded. Direct sequels usually just bring about new gimmicks, not fundamental design changes. The Mako was removed, and with it, so was planet exploration, which abetted making each assignment unique and meaningful, when before they were generic and menial. The Mako’s absence also changed the way we gather resources. Now we gather them as any sensible future person would — with probes, from the comfort of orbit. These refinements, additions, and omissions coalesced to form the best sequel I’ve played since Half-Life 2. It’s going to be very hard for there to be a better game this year.

Almost as soon as I finished playing like Batman in Mass Effect 2, I moved to playing as Batman in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Everyone was right: that game is good. It was all I could think about for a few days. I finished with just under 15 hours played and all Riddler challenges complete. Partway through playing, I began considering that I may not enjoy the game as much if I weren’t playing as Batman. I decided that I wouldn’t have. I also decided that I can’t count that against the game. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed Mass Effect 2 as much, either, if it had been built around lesser fiction. Arkham Asylum played well enough to make me feel like as though I was Batman, the baddest ass mortal in American fiction — that’s no small feat.
The Joker
Neither is following those two games with a third — nothing I have in my game queue can compare. While coming down from this video game high, I’ve been dabbling. The Bad Company 2 Beta has been fun, though it keeps making old man jokes about my computer. And despite an epileptic episode, I’ve played a lot of Lumines. I’ve tried to get into a Total War game again (Medieval II), but I think I play those games incorrectly. I also started Yakuza for Playstation 2; that game has style. Still, I feel as though I’m just killing time until Final Fantasy 13 releases in a few weeks. I’ve never bounced between games this much.

Maybe I’ll make a male Paragon.