Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tales from the USS Workstation

Well, I'm able to access my blog at work, and today is not a particularly active day, so I thought I'd throw up an entry while I'm here to give me something to do. Today, I think I'll try something I haven't really done before - I'll try to give short reviews of several video games I have been playing recently. I have no background in this, so don't expect brilliant wit, but it could be interesting.

Mass Effect 2 - this game actually came out in late January of this year. It is the sequel to Bioware's popular Mass Effect, and uses an interesting system in determining how the story goes - if you have a previous saved game from Mass Effect 1, you can transfer the pertinent story details to Mass Effect 2, so any choices you made in the first will carry over. If not, you can just go with the standard set of choices, but those choices are ones I found to be sub-optimal.

Mass Effect 2 is a sci-fi action game, mostly an RPG but with a fair amount of 3rd-person shooter elements. You captain a ship, seek out a crew of violent misfits to help you in your quest, and lead a three-person team down to planet or space-station surfaces to accomplish missions. Like most Bioware games, there is an alignment system; you can choose to go Paragon, the goody two shoes guy, or Renegade, the Jack Bauer of the cosmos. You can actually progress in both; earning points in one won't make the other go down, though getting one alignment up high opens up different conversation options as you progress.

It changes the combat system from the first game, simplifying the weapons choices, changing the overheating firearm mechanic to a reloading mechanic, ad makes taking cover very important - even with a number of personal shield and health upgrades, staying out in the open for more than a few seconds of fire will get you good and dead. The story is a continuation of the first game, and is just as compelling; the biggest flaws I've found in the game can be the long load times between some areas, much like the long 'elevator' sequences in the first game, and the replacement of the often frustrating tank-driving quasi-minigame from the original with a planet-scanning minigame to net yourself the minerals and ores you need to purchase upgrades.

I purchased this game the day it came out, and played it almost 8 hours a night for a week until I finished it; if you like previous Bioware games and can handle RPGs that have real-time combat, this is a good choice.

Alpha Protocol - this game actually came out at the beginning of this month, and while it isn't the type of game I normally pick up, some things I had heard abotu it intrigued me. After watchign a friend play through Batman: Arkham Asylum, I thought a stealth game might be fun, and Alph Protocol offers a robust stealth system. In Alpha Protocol, you play a secret agent, working for the titular group of Alpha Protocl, a secret agency kept secret even from others like the CIA, NSA, and FBI. It plays, when you are in mission mode, from a 3rd person perspective, giving you a decent idea of your surroundings.

You have a choice of a number of character options, which determine the skill-set your character will be best at; Soldiers are good with guns, with some training in Toughness and Tenchnical Aptitude; Field Agents are stealthy, good at martial arts, and have some pistol skills; Tech Specialists are good at Sabotage, with skill in Technical Aptitude, shotguns, and a hint of Stealth; and Freelancers can choose their skill allocations. You can also choose to play as a Recruit, where you start with no skill ranks, but finishing the game as a Recruit unlocks Veteran mode, which gives you 3 ranks in every skill to start, and gives you some extra options later in the game. You spend a lot of the game making contacts, whether friends or enemies, and how you interact with them determines how they treat you; the three standard conversation approaches have been called the 3 JBs: the James Bond (suave) approach, the Jason Bourne (professional) approach, and the Jack Bauer (rampant aggression) approach.

As you progress, you gain levels to improve your skills, money to upgrade and alter your weaponry, armor, and gadget arsenal, tips to help you on missions, perks depending on how well you do some things (in one mission, if you attack nobody and attract no attention, you get a perk that decreses cooldown on your Stealth skills), and can even choose your mission handler at times. There are four main mission hubs, and after you complete the first, you can then go throught the next three in any order - if you find one too hard, you can skip over to another for a while to try and improve your skills. I, personally, went with a sneaky martial artist; it was fun sneaking up behind unsuspecting guards and knocking them out with sleeper holds, though I could just as easily have killed them.

The way you interact with people you meet, and how you complete missions, changes the progression of the game so much that the game would seem to have almost infinite replayability. The only problems I've had with the game is that at times the graphics can seem somewhat dated for a game this new, and the sheer number of options and decisions available can be mind-boggling. As I noted before, this is not the kind of game I normally pick up; I generally prefer sci-fi or fantasy RPG-type games, but the sheer amount of fun I had with this game means I highly recommend it.

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