Sunday, January 31, 2010

Jack's silence.

Today, I finished Mass Effect 2. It would derail this post to explore my opinion of the game as a whole - that is, to take a step too far toward review - however I would be remiss to not establish firstly that I thought the game was often brilliant and immensely satisfying. "Often," of course, is not "always," and what led me to write the following is what I consider to be the game's most gruesome lapse of its aforementioned brilliance: Jack's silence.

A slight misnomer. Jack was never truly silent to me, Desmond Shepard (space-faring, biotic-weaving, thin-mustached renegade), she simply repeated the same curt line of dialogue whenever I attempted to speak to her during the second half of my thirty-so hours with the game. Every time I ventured into the bowels of the Normandy to see her, I hoped to hear something different, and every time I was disappointed in a manner that could most accurately be called heartbroken. I was taken with Jack from the first descriptions of the wild convict; imagining, of course, a male psychopath with tremendous biotic skill who far more embodied a character I wanted to play than Shepard. When she was revealed to be a female, I was smitten beyond redemption - instantly crushing on her precisely as I hadn't with Miranda. From that point forward, Jack was in my (arbitrarily limited [there's that creeping review tendency]) party for every outing, and her loyalty mission was my topmost priority as soon as it became available.

And, having never gotten so far into the first Mass Effect to experience the much-discussed (to note: the days of video game sex scenes being controversial seem refreshingly inaccessible - perhaps another blessing of conservatives having more important adversities with which to create loud punditry) copulation of one's virtual relationships, renegadedly having Jack was an exhilaration every bit as profoundly satisfying as it was awkward to watch a smirking Shepard attempt to be sexually commanding while sporting his effeminate casual dress-wear.

An exhilaration unfortunately marred now by the haunting thoughts of whether or not I permanently soured our bond by characteristically choosing the bottom dialogue options - a choice which granted me immediate sex at perhaps the cost of a healthily consummated relationship. I worry that I selected my words incorrectly during the critically applauded but, for me, evanescent argument between Jack and Miranda. And I felt betrayed, bitter and alone as the creeping suspicion that I would go no further with the most cherished of my teammates became realized. She vanished from my party soon thereafter.

If all that, however, makes it sound like the game is an unparalleled success in sagaciously extracting emotions from the player - you haven't played it.

This was an inner turmoil all my own, internalized and wholly independent from any kind of catharsis from the game itself. Jack didn't end our relationship in a way that was human - a way that truly stirs the inescapable melancholy of lost opportunities - she ended it by video gamingly repeating the same two or three sentences to me ad infinitum. That's as much of a believable conclusion to a relationship as characters walking into one another to conserve processing power in early Final Fantasies is a believable method of common transportation. Jack's so-called silence, while it anomalously evoked genuine feelings from me, is a gaming contrivance that is a flaw from every conceivable angle besides that of a group of developers sitting around a conference table asking one another how they can be rid of a loose end that was once an admirable aspiration.

To that point: I reached this terminus with virtually every other character as well. In me, this stirred nothing but the frustration of once again witnessing the limitations of my preferred artistic medium. This is, though, a common and dulled sting - one that pales in comparison to the sting of having the rug pulled out from under me when I'm caught vulnerably wanting for more. That is to say: at least when I'm welcomed to Corneria I don't have a crush on the gatesman.

It is a sad truth that can be proven by spending ten minutes searching the Internet (or worse, the impenetrably asinine strategy guide whose PDF was sincerely not worth the ten minutes and seventy megabytes it took to pirate) for instructions on how to survive Mass Effect 2's potentially amazing suicide mission finale that the mechanics behind the game and its character relationships are, at least for now, hopelessly obscured. I admit, I am territorially resentful of, say, Jeff Gerstmann for decrying Persona 4 for its poorly explained subroutines (as he would have it) but seemingly excusing Mass Effect 2 from what I would consider being far guiltier of that same crime. I would be shocked to have someone accurately tell me why my loyal Tali took a bullet to the face and died while assigned to the same task as so many others assigned her to, only to have her survive and allow that player their stupid No One Left Behind achievement that seemed so arbitrarily robbed from me (rest peacefully, Tali; sleep proud, Grunt).

And it seems, in principle, the same as my confusion over what I did that kept me from, at the most basic level, obtaining the Paramour medal with Jack. If it was simply choosing the renegade options when presented with them, then the game is far less balanced than I have been led to believe by its recent exaltation. If it is some other factor, which eluded me in such a way that in a month from now I will look like a complete idiot for registering this complaint, know that, at least at this time, I am outraged by Jack's inexplicable and overwhelmingly manufactured silence.

As well as the fact that, for whatever reason, I was never given the option to have Legion join my team. What the fuck, people?

Oh, and having to manually feed the fish every damn time I returned to the Normandy was pretty excruciating; there, that's essentially my review. Four of five stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment