Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Continuing Adventures: Love, Lies, And Objective Reality

I went to the Big Angry Brush size for most of this due to time constraints, and even then this is several days late. Sigh. I will never learn. Here we have Shep being pensive on the eve of the assault on The Illusive Man's Base.
Hey guys, Counterfett here. I will make a confession before I start: I've been writing this installment for a while. Most of the Continuing Adventures have been extemporaneous and off the cuff, but there was just so much I wanted to say about this one, that I started writing it a few weeks ago. There are some pretty heavy literary themes here, and I feel like someone better than myself should explain it, but since I have no other contributors, it'll have to be me. If you want to skim through and look at the pretty pictures, I'll understand.

Liara comes to keep us company. She's so well written...
First off, Liara! I know I mentioned in Painting with Paint that why I like Liara so much is that she's so well written, and all of the content I have posted on her lately was leading up to this. This is close to, if not the, pinnacle of her story arc. Whether you went through a romance with her or not, this is a woman (wom-alien?) who leveraged her entire life; fortune, future, friends, and morality, on the off chance it was going to bring you back, literally, from the dead. She's young, her mother Benezia was presumably quite well off, she could have started over pretty darn easily. A lot of people don't like Liara, but like I say, I think she's a character that's well written enough to be one of the central figures in a game full of well written characters.

Oh, and she's hot. I'll admit to spending more time on this one and used a smaller brush. Only because I wanted some of the smokey biotic stuff to show up. Yeah, that's totally why.
After that little bit of fun between battles, the real work begins; dealing with Cerberus. After a rousing firefight through the Illusive Man's space station, EDI directs Shep to a console which contains information on Project Lazarus, the program which brought Shepard back to life. There are a couple of themes which have threaded through the series which come to a head here, and I'll tackle them one at a time.

1) Cerberus
I love this part. Cortez is totally 3P0 to Joker's R2. Ah, by the way, that lens flare annoyed me so much that I left it in to annoy all of you as well. Feel. My. Pain.
There are a lot of folks who I have seen talk about how Cerberus was good in the second game, then suddenly evil in part three. This console shows us (and really, the clues were all there, if you chose to see them in Mass Effect 2) that Cerberus was always, always, ALWAYS bad. Everything that Shepard and the player see in Mass Effect 2 of Cerberus is engineered to make them seem misunderstood. But when the layers are peeled back and you really think about it, you can see them for what they are. The Illusive Man deliberately packed the Normandy with people who would send a certain message.

There were three categories of crew members in Mass Effect 2. The first type were people Shepard already knew and trusted (Garrus, Tali, Chakwas, Joker). The second were people who, disgruntled with the Systems Alliance's inaction to protect the colonies, join Cerberus and the great Commander Shepard to stop the Collectors (Donnelly and Gabby, Gardner, Jacob). The last class are what might be termed 'sympathetic fringers,' those who have loyalty which can be purchased or bargained for (Zaeed, Samara, Kasumi, Grunt, Thane), who do not reflect on Cerberus at all, for good or ill. Heck, even the 'Cerberus Cheerleader' Miranda had to sell herself into indentured servitude to protect her sister. This is ironic as come to find out later, it never really worked; Cerberus wasn't shielding Orianna, they were the ones holding Henry Lawson's leash the whole time.
I think I like this part even better than the shuttle ride. They go pretty heavy on the Cerberus/Tartarus imagery. I like it. A lot.
Cerberus really is as bad as they seem, and they always have been. Sure the Taetrus facility went rogue on Jack, acting outside of their mandate from Cerberus but why were they experimenting on kidnapped children in the first place? Not a good guy act. Remember what Tela Vasir, the rogue Asari Spectre said? She refused to be judged by Shepard because he was working with Cerberus. She blew up a building and still felt she held the moral highground. While she was wrong about a lot of things, she was right about enough to make her a compelling character, and provide a little bit of valuable foreshadowing.

All of this adds up to show The Illusive Man for what he really is. A monster.

2) Is Commander Shepard 'Real?'

I told you right in the title that we would be getting into objective reality. If you didn't believe me you have no one to blame but yourself.
Behind every great woman, there's...another...woman? Wait.
Also, on the same console, it is revealed just how badly Shep was mutilated by the Collectors. This is why it's important to have Liara along for this mission. Because, remember, of all of Shep's friends, she's the only one WHO KNOWS. She saw what was left when she turned Shepard over to Project Lazarus. Shepard admits doubts about whether she is real after being put together by Cerberus. There was a lot of Chekov's Gun style foreshadowing, if you'll forgive the reference, to this earlier in the game. Remember the receptionist and patient arguing in the hospital, and Shepard's response "Is having a VI (virtual intelligence) drive your body really being alive?" Or how about what Joker says when the Commander comes back from the virtual interface of the Geth Consensus? "How would you know if you really came out?" Even Engineer Adams' arguments about the Reapers and Normandy being 'alive' because they are bodies controlled by sentient artificial intelligences plays into this.

Of course, Liara, the Paragon of Screenplay writing knows just what to say to ease Shep's doubts: "Shepard, why didn't you tell me? I knew you were real from the very first time I touched you again." That was all the way back on Illium, remember? Shep's been tormented about whether or not she's running her own show, or even if it's really happening, for almost a year.

I warned you this would be heavy. I really did. Now that I'm done waxing philosophical about it, we recover the Prothean VI and kill Kai Leng. Yeah, I felt it was a little anti-climactic too. In any event, I think the next installment of this will be the finale for Shep. It makes me a bit sad, but while this was a fun project, it was a LOT of work, so in that respect it's a bit of a relief as well.

'Till next time, gang!

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