Mass Effect And The Importance Of Theme
My review of Mass Effect 2 will go up later tomorrow; in the meantime, consider this a preface.
As time goes on and technology advances, developers are capable of delivering bigger, deeper adventures that feature gigantic size and scope. At first, it was all about size: the bigger it was, the more amazed we were. Remember the impact Grand Theft Auto III had on the gaming market? If it was bigger, there was more to explore, although not necessarily more to do. Also, because we were still somewhat limited, the lack of detail would contribute to a corresponding lack of player involvement.
But these days, every virtual landscape supported by a big budget and talented developers can be both enriching and entrancing. However, as the environment becomes more authentic and more believable, it also becomes more important. In other words, I think we've reached the point where if we're not a fan of a particular theme or setting, no matter how great the game really is, we'll always feel a little...out of touch. We'll feel as if the designers sort of missed us; like we're outsiders. Perhaps it's akin to all the girls who were dragged to the theater to watch "Star Wars" by their boyfriends. They're pretty sure that what they're seeing is special in some way, but that "way" just isn't resonating in their minds.
Take Mass Effect 2, for example. The sci-fi setting is quite vast and intricate; it actually does remind me a lot of "Star Wars." There are different species of humans and other creatures, there are space stations and a whole universe of planets and moons and what have you, and you even travel about on a full-fledged spaceship. Therefore, the sci-fi enthusiasts will almost surely be hooked from the outset. In contrast, I have always been partial to the more medieval surroundings; i.e., the sword 'n staff theme rather than the guns-in-space theme. Therefore, I can absolutely guarantee that if ME2 was identical in terms of story, presentation, gameplay and just about every other element of game design, only it was set in a time of yore, I'd be overjoyed.
As it stands, I sort of feel like that girlfriend back in 1978 who could only shrug her shoulders after watching the movie and go, "well, I'm glad you liked it." And as theme becomes more and more crucial in our increasingly larger interactive experiences, I have a feeling that personal preference will begin to play a more significant role than ever before. There are some potentially universal themes, though; I'm not sure how anyone could be turned off by the Uncharted setting. I mean, it's like Indiana Jones and who didn't like that? ...well, wait...I'm sure there's someone. The point is, we must always remember that for games that strive to engage us on every possible mental level, we will have to make the connection ourselves. And if we can't, something will just feel out of place.
Finally, I would like to add that I try not to let personal opinion impact professional reviews, so don't think that this editorial gives away a lower-than-anticipated score. I will assign the score I think it deserves, with only a dash of my personal reaction. Call it reviewer tilt, if you like.
1/21/2011 Ben Dutka