Friday, March 26, 2010

ME2, pt.9: The Shooter Option


I'm a sucker for shooters. They have so many advantages in their ability to thrust your eyes right into scripted story events that never break immersion by removing control. This is a wildly powerful tool for emotional engagement, which begs the question: why does ME2 ignore them?

The Shooter Option
The shooter mechanics in ME2 are decent, and perfectly acceptable since the primary emphasis is dialogue. The game gives me targets, I can take cover, AI carry out basic commands, and then we pew-pew duck-hunt. The various approaches to your character are mildly interesting but seemingly make little difference, and on normal difficulty, you can lean on your AI quite a bit. Enemy AI comes across as straightforward, impacts come across as a bit detached (perhaps a result of no blood, or less focus on hit detection and presentation than a raw shooter), and the different types of obstacles in the game (barrier, shield, health) seem to have little impact on how you play. This really is fine.

But the advantage of a shooter -- the reason first in my list for making a game in the genre -- is the ability to stage scripted events around the player to tell the story. So why does it waste so much energy on non-playable cutscenes? Am I missing something, or is it as weird as I think, that a company whose sole purpose is emotional engagement, and that picks a genre exceptional at it, throws those advantages out the window?

In the very first collector mission, when the big renegade AI robot appears, why not have that happen in-game, characters shouting surprise and all? When at the end, the Reaper makes appearances, why not let me marvel at it from gameplay? Cinematics interrupt my connection to the avatar, and I personally think that utilizing the full power of shooters with fewer-but-impressive scripted events would better ground me in the world of Mass Effect and do a lot for emotional engagement. But then again, I'm a sucker for shooters.


  1. You know one my main beef's with the first game was that rounds seemed to disappear into the targets so there was little satisfaction in shooting them with no registry on contact. ME2 appeased me on that front esp. with the incendiary rounds lighting enemies as they try to put the flames out.

    I agree about the constant cut scenes. They could easily have the game focus on having cut-scenes during lengthy dialogue, showing the Normandy swoosh by, and of course makin' out with aliens. You make a great point about the renegade robot too, the surprise and immersion of it appearing during gameplay would have made the experience greater.

  2. I'm glad to read that there really was an improvement with impacts. I couldn't remember.

    I think a lot of designers underestimate the little things, whereas others are very obsessive about them. I like to think of designers having various natural interest in three categories: high-level concepts ("let's make a game about love, revolving around kissing and hugging"), middle-level application ("in this level, you will want to hug this thing, but then discover you cannot, so you go around the corner, and talk to..."), and low-level polishing ("as you go into the hug, the aspect ratio of the camera changes so it really feels like you're squeezing in that character," or "some frames should be removed from the start of the hug action so it feels more immediate," or "the colors on screen should go slightly red to suggest some passion associated with the action"). I've always felt my own passions were for the high and low levels. I do a serviceable job with the middle-layer, but it feel like pulling teeth.