Friday, July 16, 2010

Does this make me a xenophiliac?

Photo credit: Mass Effect Wiki

So I just finished barreling through BioWare's latest science fiction epic, Mass Effect 2. While the game provides numerous junctions at which the player can make small choices, the most intriguing (as in Dragon Age: Origins) was the protagonist's choice of romantic partner.

Male versions of the heroic Commander Shepherd have three options on which to focus their courtship: the down-to-business and initially cold-hearted Miranda, the extra-terrestrial Tali, and the foul-mouthed convict Jack.

Jack, a psycho-killer bitch with tattoos running the length of her body was an automatic out - particularly since I ended up having to choose early on between her and Miranda. Jack might have been fair romantic game for more adventurous gamers... Stewie perhaps?

Miranda seemed a perfect win. Voiced and modeled after the smoking hot Yvonne Strahovski (Sarah Walker from the TV series Chuck), she was the first character Shepherd met in the game and was responsible for bringing him back to life from his untimely demise at the hands of an unknown alien menace. Furthermore, she sported a sexy Australian accent, she was genetically engineered for both combat prowess and the aforementioned smoking hotness, she walked with swagger, and she blew through battles wearing ass-accentuating spandex and high heels (okay, the high heels were actually a bit of a turn off... but I imagine for many people it would not be). Indeed Shepherd spent most of the game getting to know Miranda, and Miranda had all but given the wink wink nudge nudge by the time Tali joined his crew.

Enter Tali. Tali was an alien engineer as well as one of only two companions to reprise their role on Shepherd's crew from the first Mass Effect. As such, bringing her on board felt like bringing back a long-lost friend, and the interactive dialogue suggested as much. Tali, however, is hardly what one would consider a sensual character. First of all, she's rather shy and awkward, unlike the assertive Miranda. While she's humanoid in form, she also only has three fingers and three toes per hand or foot, respectively. Her race of aliens has such a weak immune system that they have to wear environmental protection suits at all times - the Mass Effect equivalent to the bubble boy. What her skin or face looks like is a complete unknown. She could be a five tentacles squid-face under that mask (her species name "Quarian" is indeed uncomfortably similar to the "Quarren" of the Star Wars universe). As if that weren't bad enough, kissing or making love to Shepherd could result in her contracting an infection severe enough to kill her, requiring that she load up on antibiotics and immunomodulators before engaging in any hanky panky - talk about taking the spontaneity out of a relationship!

While Tali is a returning character from the first game, she was never a contender for Shepherd's affections (though I had previously considered that she should be). He was too distracted by his gunnery chief Ashley Williams and the blue-skinned and bisexual Liara T'soni. However, when Tali returned for Mass Effect 2, Shepherd's ship counselor gave him the heads up that Tali's body language indicated that she was out for more than just friendship.

Let's break it down then:

Door #1: Smoking hot Australian girl who Shepherd has been courting for the whole game and has already said yes to him.


Door #2: Socially awkward immuno-compromised alien with only six fingers. Could die from sex.

Yet, as straightforward as this decision seemed, I found myself vacillating from one to the other. When push came to shove, Miranda was a barely compelling character who seemed transparently placed in my crew to a) kill things and b) be sexy. She had very little meaningful dialogue and even less in the order of meaningful personality.

Shepherd's idea of a pickup line for Miranda came while she was brooding about how she was nothing but the sum of genetic engineering experiments and how her body and talents were not earned. Shepherd threw in something along the lines of, "So I'm not allowed to admire your body or your talents? You're great because of how you choose to live, not where you come from."

She tossed back a fantasy win, "Wow, thank you. Nobody's ever said anything like that to me before, and maybe I wouldn't mind if you admired my body." /gag

Tali, on the other hand, had loads of character. She was defiant in the face of danger, loyal to her family and friends, and awkwardly adorable in her banter (in real life, this is one of Sandlot's many charming traits). Dialogue with her felt warm and familiar, and she often invoked adventures she and Shepherd had braved together in the original Mass Effect.

Having Shepherd choose between Miranda and Tali felt like a choice between lusty good times and potential true love. Tali was an alien with immune issues and an unknown face. Did she even have the requisite... parts? What she and Shepherd did have, however, was chemistry. Miranda on the other hand had the face of a Hollywood actress, an alluring Australian accent (I cannot overemphasize this!), and was willing to strip down and dry hump Shepherd in the engine room. Could I really deprive him of that?

In the end, I threw hotness to the wind and paired Shepherd with Tali - she just had so much more character. Shepherd went to tell Miranda that it was over, and to be honest, she didn't seem too broken up about it. "Oh, I'm sorry that you feel that way. Still, it's probably better this way. Simpler. Strictly professional." We'll see if I regret this when my decisions get imported to Mass Effect 3. If Yvonne Strahovski steps it up a notch in the sequel, I may need to change Shepherd's mind.

Martin Sheen and Yvonne Strahovski?! Watch for more.

On the plus side, choosing Tali is not the weirdest possible outcome. Female versions of Commander Shepherd can have sex with Garrus. /gag


FleurLapin said...

I have yet to play Mass Effect 2. Sounds like an interesting game!

a_ndy said...

Ah, one of Turtle's followers hopped over to my blog and even left a comment! I'm honoured.

Did you play the first Mass Effect? Mass Effect 2 is prettier, more cinematic, and has better gameplay... but the storytelling is quite a bit weaker.

Mass Effect 2 is a lot of fun, but I guess the plot suffers from being the middle child in a trilogy.

sandlot said...

I want my male shepard to romance garrus!!!!! He's so dreamyyyy.

a_ndy said...

While Garrus is fully into other species, he's purely a ladies man.