Tag Archives: Casey Hudson

Mass Effect 2 (2010)

MassEffect2_cover

“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

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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)

An impressively constructed RPG with some serious storytelling issues.

My favorite moment in any piece of Star Wars media comes early in Return of the Jedi. When Luke Skywalker attempts to rescue Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, he must face a hideous beast called the Rancor. It’s an ugly, unsympathetic monster, the kind that lives in a dank, bone-filled cave and devours innocents for the amusement of its master. Naturally, Luke handily defeats the creature and is soon whisked away to new adventures and trials. But not everyone can part with the dead quite so quickly, and a fat, half-dressed man begins to weep for the fallen Rancor. Whether this man considered the creature a pet or a friend is unclear, and the moment not only hilariously undermines our expectations for the scene, but also achieves something legitimately sweet and sad as we consider a loss that is literally alien to us.

This is the way I think Star Wars works best, in individual moments that achieve something at once bizarre, awe-striking, and unselfconsciously goofy. I’m thinking of things like the cantina scene, the twin sunset, Luke’s first moments with Yoda. So it’s a shame that for all its flights of fancy, Star Wars interprets creativity in the most literal way possible, as in, “making a bunch of shit up”; there is almost no experimentation with form throughout the saga, no interest in the abstract or thematic beyond its much-ballyhooed Joseph Campbell legwork. Continue reading

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