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ME2’s Out: The News Can Wait

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doug_thompsonBy Doug Thompson

“Mass Effect 2” came out Tuesday. As I wrote this on Monday, at least 300,000 illegal downloads of the game had already happened. That’s some kind of record for most ripped-off new video game title.

Such a heist is a sign of the anticipation of this game by fans. I’m one of those fans, but I also have a job and a family I love. I don’t have a day or two to disappear in front of a computer, so I’m in no particular hurry to get the game started. I intend buy my regular retail copy — without going to the midnight launch party — and to savor it.

So what’s all the excitement about?

Time magazine, in one of the more rapturous reviews, calls this new installment of this three-part game “the Avatar of video games — except it is better written.”

It is well-written. There are better, more exciting shooters. The appeal is the story of “Mass Effect” is to see what happens next. Not plot-wise, though; The plot is “save the universe,” “you’re the only one who can do it” staple space-opera stuff.

It’s the dialogue and the characters giving it, plus the fact that their fates are largely in your hands. It’s a game where you get to make choices, literally life-and-death ones. Still, it’s the dialogue that’s the main attraction.

There’s a beautiful speech in the first Mass Effect. It’s by the last sane, surviving member of a once-great civilization who’s a prisoner. She pleads with you against execution and extinction. It’s dignified, but still a plea. The speech sounds like Maya Angelou giving a recitation. There’s poetry and cadence.

The character giving the speech is a giant cockroach who uses the corpse of a blue-skilled lady with octopus tentacles for hair as a ventriloquist’s dummy.

Try pulling that off sometime and not getting laughed at in any kind of dramatic setting.

I was impressed. Writing good dialogue is hard.

The best line in the whole game comes during another scene, an argument on a beach: “Why is it when people say ‘With all due respect’ what they really mean is ‘Kiss my ass?’”

This is a game where one of your teammates is a really big, mean toad. When somebody chides him by asking if “Krogan” always sizes everybody up for a fight, even friends and allies, the Krogan replies, with mild surprise, “Yes.”

“Just because I like you doesn’t mean I won’t kill you” the Krogan, named Wrex, says at another point. There’s another scene where he’s arguing — against extinction again, this time for his own kind. You have to convince him what you’re doing is right, or he has to be killed. The first time I played the first game, I didn’t save him. I figured out what I should have done and never lost him again.

By the way, I’m an insufferable goody two shoes, the Dudley Do-Right of space opera games. I played “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” numerous times and never played the “Dark Side” narrative. Essentially, I denied myself half of the game’s replay value, leaving a lot of different situations unexplored.

You get to make “moral choices” in ME but most were no-brainers for me. I let the giant cockroach live every time. I played the first game enough times to win every “merit badge” there was — except one. I never got the “Renegade” award. Never will, I guess; Something about playing a bitter bigot just never appealed to me.

Every member of my team survived except one. That came during the “Sophie’s Choice” dilemma built into the first game. You have to choose a crew member to leave behind. For me, it wasn’t a problem. One was a good soldier. The other choice was a good soldier with “special talents,” or “Force Powers” if you want to call them that. I chose to save the one with talents that were harder to replace. It was that simple.

There’s a lot of melodramatic heartstring pulling in ME. It’s more like a flag waving World War II movie than “Citizen Kane.”

It still works on me.

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