Why We Game: The Unlikely Hero (Mass Effect 2)

Welcome to our new series on Everyday Gamers, “Why We Game.” In this series, we will be taking a look at moments, innovations and experiences in individual games that made us stand up and take notice. You know, those experiences that transcend the game, sticking with you long after you are done playing. Those moments about which you must speak with a friend, but you hold back till you know the person with whom you are speaking has played that part of the game so you don’t ruin it. The innovation that seems so simple, and yet it completely redefines a game style or genre. It’s the moments, innovations and experiences that make the games stand out in your mind, and they are what lead us to spend so much time and money on this hobby.

So, without further ado, let me kick things off with one of the most defining moments in what we at Everyday Gamers chose as our Game of the Year for 2010, Mass Effect 2.

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains major spoilers for Mass Effect 2. If you do not want a major part of the game revealed to you ahead of time, stop reading now.

Enter the Joker

Joker is not exactly an imposing figure.

You meet Jeff “Joker” Moreau in the first Mass Effect. He is the pilot of the Normandy, and it does not take long to find out he is not your typical military pilot. A bit of an outcast who tends to come across as arrogant, Joker is made more than just a 2D character when you discover he has Vrolik Syndrome, a health condition which makes his bones especially brittle (think “Mr. Glass” from the movie Unbreakable). He promises you his health condition does not affect his piloting skills, and he proves that at the end of the game, leading the Alliance charge during the Reaver attack on the Citadel.

Not surprisingly, Joker makes his return in Mass Effect 2. He is the first former member of your crew to join you in the mission to stop the collectors, and he provides insights into your new team members while fighting with EDI, the ship’s AI. While his piloting skills are unquestioned, you do find yourself wondering a bit why they made such a big deal out of his medical condition. After all, it does not affect his ability to fly the Normandy 2.

After getting the IFF from the derelict Reaper late in the game, you find yourself having to take a shuttle to your next mission as the crew needs a little more time to integrate it into the ship’s systems. Joker advises you that everything should be set once you get back. You and your team leave the ship…

And all hell breaks loose.

An Unlikely Hero

So there you are, lumbering down the corridor... and I do mean lumbering.

Not long after the shuttle leaves the ship, a collector ship attacks the Normandy 2. Turns out the IFF was wired to lead them right to the ship while disabling its defenses. The only hope is for someone to break the restrictions which have been put on EDI so she/it can regain control. The problem is the collectors have come aboard the ship, and they are taking crew members captive. There is only one person on the ship who can get to the computer core and then engine room to give EDI the freedom she needs….

And suddenly, the player is put in control of Joker. All you can do is lumber about, trying to keep from being discovered by the collectors as you make your way to the AI core. You walk at an extremely slow pace, only picking it up slightly by pressing the “sprint” button. You have no way to defend yourself; if you are spotted, you fail the mission.

After what seems like a really long time, you are able to make your way back to the AI core, release the locks that have hindered EDI and get to the engine room to reboot the engines. EDI then takes control, removing the collector threat from within and jumping to a sector of space away from the ship. Joker, the least capable “soldier” in all of Commander Shepard’s crew, is the only one not captured by the collectors.

From that point on, the game changes. You are left with the impression that you need to hit the Omega 4 relay as soon as possible to get your crew back, and as Shepard, you cannot help but notice a change in the relationship between Joker and EDI. The two of them start working together, something they will need to do if you are to survive the final mission.

That is not all that changes. At the end of the mission, if you make it back to the ship, you will notice something you never thought you would see: Joker standing in the airlock, armed with an assault riffle and helping cover your back as you make the jump to the ship. You are left with the impression the moment changed Joker in ways we can only hope Mass Effect 3 will explore.

Playing as the Weakest Link

Joker has your back, and in the end, that is a comforting thought.

So why did I pick this for the first article in this series? The answer is obvious. In games like Mass Effect 2, you take control of characters who are among the best at what they do. Heck, Shepard is the first human Spectre, and it would probably be impossible for anyone else in that universe to assemble the team he does, let alone survive the battle ahead. You don’t play as the gimpy pilot who has to stick to the shadows to survive.

Yet the game has you do just that. Not only do you find yourself playing a character who is almost Shepard’s polar opposite, but you get to play through a defining moment in that character’s story. As Shepard, you get to assist the members of your team in dealing with their own issues so they can better assist in the final mission. As Joker, you actually play through his defining moment, taking what was already an interesting character and making him a truly memorable one. By forcing gamers to play someone so vulnerable, Bioware is able to relay to the player just how critical this mission is. Playing as the weakest member of the crew during one of the most crucial segments of the game gives players a whole new perspective.

A Section to Remember

Mention Joker to anyone who has played Mass Effect 2, and they will know exactly what part of the game you are referencing. Bioware’s decision to force you to play as the handicapped pilot stands out more than any other part of the game in my opinion, helping build up to the final mission.

In the end, it is moments like this that make us gamers. Saving the world as the weakest character on the team? That is why we game.

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