La Giaconda: Streamlined
“When I paint the original, people complain. They say she no have the — what’s the word — accessibility, so I make a new one that everyone can enjoy! In La Giaconda Prima, the colors, they were too much for some viewers, so I say ‘No more of the color!’ Now many people look at my painting, an’ enjoy! Si, molto buono streamlining!”
Porsche Type 911: Streamlined
“I was never happy with the car the way it was originally designed. It was too difficult for people to get into, and the concept of a daily driver that’ll go from 0-60 in 3.2 seconds is absurd in this trying economic climate. We redesigned the 911 in order to accommodate the widening demand for mediocrity across a variety of economic strata.”
‘Butzi’ Porsche, 2009
Atlas Shrugged: Streamlined
“I wanted to tell the story about an engine that stopped a man of the world, and this was the result. I resented and still resent the necessity of the pseudonym, but I think it’s a better book for its simplicity and its violent relationships. Some critics claim that the clown is gratuitous, and to them I say ‘go to hell.'”
Ayn Rand, 1972
RMS Titanic: Streamlined
“After exhaustive research, the engineers at White Star have devised a solution to the lifeboat conundrum that so vexed the Titanic: The entire ship is now a lifeboat, eliminating the need to deal with passengers, meals, amenities, and of course, that niggling iceberg issue.”
J. Bruce Ismay, 1922
Mass Effect: Streamlined
This game could be subtitled “an attempt to please the multiplayer-only gimps who’ve been lapping up the rancid droppings left by Gears of War for three years and who refuse to handle anything more complex than pulling a trigger and ducking for cover.”
Those of you who thought the first Mass Effect’s inventory system was cumbersome and ill-implemented, fear not; it’s gone. Not reworked, not redesigned, simply gone, making this — you guessed it — an “RPG” without an equipment inventory.
Those of you who thought the vehicle segments of the first Mass Effect could have been handled better; fear not; they’re gone. Again, not redone, not improved; eliminated. Those of you who disliked having to (GASP!) press a button to restore your health during combat by using a medi-kit, fear not; they’re gone too. Right again — this is an “RPG” without a user-implemented health system. So what do you do when your health bar dips too low? By now you must know the answer to this one: hide behind shit (HBS) and pray.
This time around, the cover system is vastly improved over the one in the first Mass Effect; snapping to barriers is done with a press of a button, instead of the maddening sticky-wall approach that the previous game used. It’s much more fun to HBS your way through harrowing situations this time around, and that, as they say at Martha’s house, is a Good Thing, because it’s the only way you’re going to survive.
Those of you who liked Mass Effect’s story presentation — two people standing around chewing on hunks of exposition masquerading as dialogue — will be glad to know that it has survived, fully intact, ready to gag you with its ham-fisted, Bubba-sized helping of stiff animation and waxy-looking characters. Developers don’t seem to understand this, and the more that the mass media fawns over “stories” like the one found in both Mass Effects, the less likely they are to ever understand it: Games are not movies. They are not TV shows. If Aaron Sorkin ever pulled the same kind of expository dialogue dump that Mass Effect gets away with — indeed, is praised to the rafters for — he’d be scrubbing toilets at Yankee Stadium, and rightfully so; two people standing in a room for fifteen minutes talking about the story is NOT storytelling. Sorkin integrates action and plot, exposition and dialogue, better than anyone, yet his methods have yet to find their way to the theater of so-called “cinematic” video games.
You might say that Mass Effect 2 experimented a little in college with becoming a full-fledged role-playing game, but it never pursued the matter much further. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s a fine action-shooter with slight RPG tendencies, but it’s a little too much in love with its own presentation. I could give less than a shit about listening to Martin Sheen prattle off line after line of dialogue while I select responses to his ramblings that have little or no effect on the story or the gameplay, and such conversations comprise much of the time you’ll spend with the game.
Taken by itself, for its own merits and shortcomings, Mass Effect 2 is a helluva game. Its predecessor primed me for an entirely different experience, though, and it’s not always easy to get past my own expectations to enjoy what’s there, instead of what I wish were there.
(Mild revision and addendum 1.31: It should also be noted that experience points are no longer awarded for defeating enemies, as they were in the first Mass Effect; instead, you’ll earn experience only upon the completion of missions and quests. This change is especially troubling, as it seems to mimic a burgeoning, industry-wide trend — BioWare went out of their way to intentionally limit the amount of feedback given to the player at any one time, presumably to avoid overtaxing the cognitive ability of those who consider playing the Uncharted games a deep and rewarding experience.)