Mass Effect 2

ME2 was on sale, so I picked it up. There was a bit of unpleasantness about my ME1 saves: I replayed the game recently to get the right ending, and then my hard disk fried itself. I’m now an apostle of Flash drives as well as

Shepherd at Rivet City, I mean, Korlus

The game is great.  It’s far better than ME1, which was no slouch: the graphics are better, combat is better, the hacking games are more fun, dumb things like the Mako missions are gone.   The character models are improved: Shepherd can smile now.  There’s even things to do in the captain’s cabin.  The Normandy now has restrooms, which must be a big relief to the crew.

Combat is more of a challenge.  Clips are limited, especially for the heavy weapons; enemies are strong enough at Veteran that you really need to use cover; the different types of weapons now actually feel different, yet without the dozens of inventory-clogging upgrades of the first game.  Also, the game now reacts to headshots, which rewards skill and saves ammo.  There are interesting new mass effect options like Charge, but I can’t say I’m good at integrating biotics with weapons. 

The basic plot feels much less like Star Trek, because you’re no longer working as a straight-arrow commander, but for a slightly dodgy private outfit– though you’re still fighting evil Reapers, the moral universe is less goody-goody. 

The new characters are fun– I especially like Mordin, his thoughts spilling out in chaotic clipped sentences– one of the few convincing portraits of a really smart person in pop culture.  The amoral Jack is also good.  The interaction with crewmates, however, is one of the few areas where the game steps backwards.  In ME1 you could have long dialogs with Liara or Joker or Garrus; now for the most part you’re limited to romance… but that’s a disappointment too as you really can’t pursue your romance from ME1.  (Plus the romance options, though wider than ME1, seem less interesting.  Why can’t a female Shepherd go after Jack?)

T’here’s a few cheesy bits– the Scots engineer; renegade Shepherds’ scars; the Illusive Man and his cigarette.  One colony responds to low power conditions by bright flashing LOW POWER lights, which strikes me as being unclear on the concept.  The e-mails are a nice touch, but the in-game news reports would be a little more convincing if every one didn’t reference stories relevant to Shepherd.

Just look at those... tattoos.

Bioware is increasingly adept at eroticism that stops just short of being explicit.  Even in a hive of scum and villainy like Omega, the dancers wear bodysuits.

Anyway, the game is everything that Dragon Age Origins should have been but wasn’t.  I’m only about a third of the way in… this is a big game.  More later…

Back to the Makeup Chair

A comparison of how Back to the Future projected Marty McFly’s looks thirty years into the future, and how Michael J. Fox looks today:

Even granted that McFly was supposed to have had a hard life, that’s a pretty bad idea of what near-50-year-olds look like.  And maybe a bit too thick of a false forehead.

Great Middle East news

No, nothing about the stupid Israeli raid.  The news is that the West Bank is prospering under a new prime minister, Salam Fayyad.  Ramallah is getting fancy new buildings, the economy is growing at 7% a year, and the security forces are becoming trained police.

Fayyad has probably done more for the Palestinian people in two years than Arafat did in forty.  Terrorism was a dead end and Arafat never bothered to actually govern.  Fayyad is very consciously laying down the foundations for a Palestinian state, and his non-violent methods go down well with the Israelis.  (Not that he eschews strong political gestures; he’s backing a boycott of settler businesses– another clever idea.)

After years of news stories about how we wouldn’t see progress in this area for decades, this was a very refreshing story.