Mass Effect: I don’t think you want to do that.

You may recall that I wrote a very tangential piece a few months back that was, in theory about homosexual paths in video games, which then developed into a general theory that, for the most part, choice in video games is an illusion – and is closely tied into character or lack thereof.

I think that, in finally obtaining Mass Effect, I have discovered true choice and character! I have become quite attached to my plucky redhead Spectre LL Shepard and her ragtag squad consisting of a reptilian wonder, a Protoss with Saiyan technology, a blue hermaphrodite, a Snifit and, I guess, a couple of humans.

The thing about this game, I’m finding, is that it probably naturally gravitates towards the way that the player would consider situations in real life. If you know anything about it, you know that you get an answer wheel that can best be summarised by reading this page of Ass Effect. The upper options are the more “good” actions while the lower are the “evil” choices. The way I read the options, to be a rogue you’ve pretty much got to be a dick. I don’t feel like being a dick for no reason, so that’s not the way I’m playing the game. I don’t quite know why I, who tries to avoid confrontation in real life, am playing a game which involves shooting people and making their internal organs implode and disabling their brains the same way. If I break into someone’s compound and hold a brief meeting with them, well, this is the way it’s going to go:

Bullrush Antwerp: You should not have come here, Commander Shepard! I now command the galaxy’s entire ice cream supply!
Shepard: Are you sure that you need all of that ice cream? It could be used to assist the survivors of Eden Prime!
Antwerp: You fool! With all of this ice cream at my disposal, the children of the universe will be at my beck and call!
Shepard: Whoa, back off there, Antwerp. I can’t even remember having seen a child since I left Earth. All you’ve got here is a frozen asset that needs liquidation.
Antwerp: Now that I think about it, you’re entirely right. I guess I’ll go home. Here: have a tub for the road.

1250 EX +
Paragon 8+
Ice cream

However, maybe someone else would prefer to play it like this:

Bullrush Antwerp: You should not have come here, Commander Shepard! I now command the galaxy’s entire ice cream supply!
Shepard: Cut the crap, Antwerp: the sweet stuff’s all mine.
Antwerp: You can’t just take my ice cream from me! Do you have any idea how hard it is to organise the space freight on all of the ice cream in existence? I only stole the damn stuff because I couldn’t afford it after buying this storage station!
Shepard: That’s enough out of you!
Shepard shoots Antwerp, and kicks him into a vat of ice cream. As Antwerp sinks out of sight, Shepard puts her finger in the vat and tastes some of the ice cream.
Shepard: Aww yeah; that’s the stuff.

1250 EX +
Renegade 8+
Ice cream

That’s a really bad example because I actually like the idea of drowning someone in ice cream and tasting the spoils of victory. But the point is you can talk people down from stuff, like the time I dismantled a criminal syndicate through the power of words. Words that I had to level up to be able to use, mind, but words nonetheless.

The rest of the gameplay isn’t too shabby either, but the point I’m trying to make is that I feel like my choices have some small bearing on the outcome of the situation, while still making Shepard into a reasonable character. Of course, sometimes it strains credulity to be entirely Paragon like in nature, or just a total dick – and you can make contextual decisions without totally breaking character. It’s like in that other hit game I’ve quite enjoyed, Bass Effect: each time you catch a fish, you can choose to let it go, hit it with a hammer until it dies, or give it to a starving orphan. Different situations call for different solutions.

I’ll get back to you some more when I stop playing so many side missions and get further into the story proper. I’ll let you know, though: from 12 hours play, I’m enjoying this far more than I did GTA IV, but that’s another story entirely.

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