Higher Fidelity Would Doom Me

by xaosseed

I’ve been playing lots of Mass Effect as Uber can no doubt attest. Its very, very good and I’ve enjoyed it hugely. I played through it the first time as a mean sod with no patience, cut off all the NPC’s in mid-exposition with curt ‘we haven’t time for this’ and took the race against time aspect of it seriously – as in when Fleet Command started wittering on about things that ‘only I could do’ I pegged them all at the bottom of my to do list and kept on after the guy who was trying to bring about Apocalypse. I mean seriously, either I believed he was an existential threat to the galaxy, or I didn’t, and if so there was no time for pillocking about rescuing kittens.

[SPOILER WARNINGS – All what follows]
What this meant was that rather than explore down the history trees of the NPC’s I tended to shout ‘we’re soldiers, damnit’ and glower from the command station as we chased the bad guy. So first time around, people died, other people acted like I should give a damn and mostly my take was ‘everyones expendable for the mission’ and so on. This was Renegade John, who was not a pleasant person and will probably be most missed by the makers of high quality assault rifles (of which he was fond) when he finally buys the farm. John ignored the humans on the crew in favour of the alien Merc and renegade cop who were both suitably … results oriented for him. John never even figured out where one of the crew could be found on the ship.

Second time around, I played as Paragon Jane the Sniper War Hero, who was initially based on WWPD (What Would Picard Do?) who Felt Your Pain and Did The Right Thing. This went well, mostly, resolving through silver-tongued charm much of what Renegade John did through snarling intimidation. Where the charm became odd though was when after spending time actually getting to know my crew, after one mission not one, but two of them seperately decided that Paragon Jane was delicious and they would have some, please. I nearly fell off my chair laughing and figured that channeling Picard had some how turned into channeling Kirk…

Well fine, a somewhat bemused but flattered Jane carried on around the galaxy righting wrongs and cleaning up the Admirals embarassing mistakes on the premise that if the council didn’t think there was anything to worry about and they’d been around a lot longer, who was she to gain say them. Mostly she did a lot of by-the-way mineral prospecting because she like driving around in the Mako and found that generally any settlement she buzzed past that took pot shots at a clearly marked, heavily armed APC was usually full of bad MoFo’s who needed a lesson in hospitality from a 155mm railgun slug. Then all of a sudden she gets back to the ship after yet another mission to find she has to talk down the two crew who’ve decided to make an issue over who’s the commanders personal plaything. Again, I fell around laughing, even Kirk never had to deal with this (afaik?).

By the time I actually got to the ‘this is a suicide mission bit’ – where John had been ‘shut up and suit up’, Jane was ‘oops, conflict of interest, um…’ and then – hilariously – scarpered off to rescue her honey leaving one of the hapless marines to hold down the trigger on a nuke – and this was the good and righteous thing to do in the eyes of the computer. Needless to say, the rescuee was very grateful for not being radioactive ash (more on this later).

Back to the Council, reported on what I found and again they went ‘meh, we’ll send some guys’. John had shouted and thrown things, Jane was still somewhat concerned she wasn’t hallucinating, so went with it. Once back in space, John had gone straight for the bad guys jugular, brushed off the crew whinging about dying on the morrow and got on with it. Jane took a big detour to find some antiques and kick the things known to be threats like invading Geth as opposed to what was potentially a prolonged hallucination that had been induced in both her and the bad guy by the same broken mcguffin. When Jane finally decides loose ends have been tied up enough and goes after the bad guy, again, the ‘night before battle’ plays out except this time Jane and the rescuee end up in the infamous Mass Effect sex scene, and again, I fell off my chair laughing.

Poor Renegade John, doubted and unthanked, like Ahab focused on his nemesis while the happy warrior Paragon Jane was the apple of her Admirals eye, beloved war hero to the public, flying around the galaxy with her crew fighting to share her bed. I think the system treated John a little unfairly – possessed colonists, people whinging about weapons research and all the Stuff That Doesn’t Matter If The Reapers Come – these things he brushed aside, drove over or filled full of incendiary death. This was because John took the mission seriously – Doom is coming, no I do not have time to hear about your sister, or fix what you dropped, or tell you its going to be ok – you’re a goddamn Colonial Marine, rub some dirt on it and get back in line!

This even came down to the very start – someone said ‘the captains waiting’ – so John went to talk to the Captain. Jane stopped to chat on the way – and actually got to know the Red Shirt from mission one; John had no idea who this guy was so when he earned his Red Shirt, he was somewhat less than crushed. Jane had actually seen the equivalent of the photo of his yacht, the Live Forever and went ‘aw…’ and meant it when she said ‘its a shame he got killed’ later.

But to get to the title of my post – playing through as John, its just and FPS, something like Half Life 2 – the people are there and you’re kind of attached to some of them but when bad shit inevitably happens, its not a tragedy. Playing through as Jane, actually getting attached to some of the people, I was really torn up at the end of it. These were my crew, I wanted that button from Civ where it lets you play on afterwards, just to keep beetling about the galaxy. I wanted to go sit on the beach back in Ilos and bullshit with them. I felt we’d grown as people *snfs*.

It managed to get me as invested in the characters as Buffy or Farscape at its best. This is from a 2D media which is at its core and FPS. I thought I was past all that, if not entirely immune, and so fully immersive, dedicated RP simsense would probably be my doom. Much like WoW, it is going on my preemptive Nyet! list.

Mass Effect 2 is due out in about six months or so, should tide me through next rainy season. Its supposed to tap the existing saves from ME1 and draw on the choices you made to set up the new character. Just enough time between this and then to play through it as a Terran Supremacist and see if I can surpass Renegade John’s badness (he kept getting brownie points for actually doing his job which kept him somewhat balanced). I think an biotic-slinging adept could be fun…