Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mass Effect 2, on the best mini-game ever

I’m finishing two articles on Mass Effect 2, and this little item didn’t fit into either, but I don’t want to let it die. It’s about the planet scanning mini-game.

To acquire mineral resources that purchase upgrades, you need to find planets and scan them to find mineral deposits. Each planet has, maybe, twenty or more deposits to find. The interface for this has you use a thumbstick to move a reticle over a spherical model, like a cursor with a radius. When you hold down one trigger, the reticle moves slower, painfully slower, but you are able to detect deposits. A display on the right tells you if you’ve detected any resources and to what degree; you can find deposits with a range of amounts of one or more elements. When you’ve found a node, you can make smaller adjustments to find the local maximum, honing in on the greatest payout. When you’re ready, you hit the other trigger to fire a probe that magically scoops up your loot.

Yeah, we all hated it. It is simply a time filler. That said, the implementation is incredibly pleasing; when you hit a deposit, you receive graphical, physical, and audible feedback that indicate the presence and amount of minerals. For each of the four different mineral types, there is a distinctively different type of vibration and sound. The rumble feedback varies from a slow, pulsing throb, to a fast jackhammer. The graphical display is a series of squiggly lines, like an EEG, that spike at different points according to what mineral you’ve found. Maximizing your take involves moving the scanning reticle very small distances to make the line the biggest and the vibration the strongest. It’s captivating.

Yet, it goes over the top; I'm not sure why the screen shakes and there's an explosive shooting sound when a probe is launched, as if I'm firing a torpedo from a submarine instead of the most advance spaceship in the galaxy. And really, don't I have a science officer? Should I really be spending my time scanning for minerals? Furthermore, the game doesn’t let you know when you have ‘enough’. I ended the game with over 100,000 units in three categories of minerals; even after buying every upgrade I kept going as I thought there might be something more to do with them. I wish Yeoman Chambers would've leaned over and been, like, "Hey Shepard, I think you may have a problem. Put down the probes."

It’s a charming, annoying, captivating, and completely interesting little piece of this massive game. For what could’ve been a forgettable mini-game, with the amount of player feedback it gives, it’s the most polished and pleasing mini-game ever, and I’m still not sure if I love it or hate it.

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