“I’ll tell you what — you help me finish off these mechs, and I’ll play Twenty Questions with you all day.”
This is the first line of Mass Effect dialogue that got a smile out of me. It comes early in Mass Effect 2, as the recently revitalized Commander Shepard escapes a research station on the fritz. (Really, is there any other kind of research station in this universe?) Her newest comrade, Jacob Taylor, is an employee of the shadowy Cerberus organization, a company that trades in every morally ambiguous sci-fi conundrum you can name, from rearing Akira-like psychic younglings to reviving the killed-in-action Shepard for one last suicide mission. More importantly, though, he is the first person Shepard encounters with little patience for her pestering questions and complete ignorance of social cues. He’s understandably dumbfounded when she wants to play Sherlock Holmes 2185 instead of, you know, escape the explosion-filled Cerberus base swarming with deadly robots. His reaction is a small, practically disposable meta wink, but one of the series’ first character beats to read as recognizably human. Finally, a Mass Effect character reacting to a Mass Effect scenario in a manner similar to how I would!
Mass Effect 2 tweaks many aspects of the original (both for good and for ill), but perhaps the most palatable improvement is this subtle shift toward self-awareness and economy in its plotting. While Shepard eventually gets to play many insomnia-curing rounds of Twenty Questions, greater attention paid to form and phrasing finally tempers the blunt storytelling instrument that is the Bioware Cutscene. Continue reading