Friday, March 12, 2010

ME2, pt.2: Science Fiction

The story in Mass Effect 2 deserves praise because it goes further than most games do. Characters have developed personalities and interesting stories that revolve around situations reflective of their alien physiology and culture as well as the universe at large, and the game experience revolves almost entirely around gathering new personalities and advancing their character arcs, nearly to the point of forgetting the primary plot. This may be a good thing; though its focus on character is something I wish more games had, the antagonist failed to impress.

Science Fiction
What appeals to me about science fiction is taking a hypothetical possibility about our universe and pressing hard on its rational consequences, resulting in antagonists that elicit interesting character behavior and insights about modern life. ME1 had interesting hypothetical possibilities, like what life would be like interacting with its particular brand of alien species, and what it would be like for humans to come late to an intergalactic community.

What frustrates me about ME1+2 is that these interesting hypothetical situations seem to have a role secondary to a seemingly generic one. The great antagonist in ME1+2 comes across as a "destroy it all" species with no reason beyond twirling its mustache, and no approach better than napping while your enemy builds up strength before arriving to zap it. How menacing is an intergalactic threat that hides for decades to construct an incomplete torso you defeat with your pistol?

Story is hard. Constructing complicated stories in a tight timeframe is difficult, and it would be interesting to be a fly on the wall of the story team. I wonder how -- with so many interesting elements are at play -- this antagonist became the focus? Humans being late to an intergalactic community, for example, is interesting and a plot against human inclusion could fuel multiple games. It already exists as a sub plot in the story, it allows you to experience the same universe, it buys time for introducing a "rarrr kill" species if necessary later, it lends itself better to insights about humanity, and it protects nuance and intelligence that seem to exit stage left when the priority is a big, dumb threat. Or so it seems.

To Be Clear
My complaint isn't about an "evil" trope. ME has species tropes like the hive-minds (the Flood), the aggros (Klingons), robo-zombies (Borg), logic-lovers (Vulcans), and empaths (Betazoids); but these elements come across as internally logical and consistent. I just wonder why the primary threat to the universe did not.

I had a much more to say about story than I expected, so I'm adding the following topics:
  • A Hive Enemy
  • My Protagonist
  • My Ending

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