Spoilers for the first two Mass Effect games below!
The Mass Effect series is chalk-full of brilliant decision-making moments. As someone who just finished the second game recently, I was surprised at how often a conversation put me in difficult situations, forcing me to judge two sides of an argument and make a tough call. Mass Effect 1 alone has plenty of these difficult moments. There’s that scene where I had to choose whether to let the Rachni live or not (I did). There’s that one mission where I had to decide Wrex’s fate (Ashley killed him, RIP). Oh, and my favorite one: the moment I had to choose whether to save Kaiden or Ashley. I sat there for a minute or two – I wasn’t sure who to save!
Mass Effect 1’s decisions are difficult enough, but you have the opportunity to stay in your seat and think on it for as long as you need to. So when I whooped Saren, put Anderson in charge of the citadel and started Mass Effect 2, I was delighted by one of the series best features: Interrupts.
Interrupts, in a Nutshell
To downplay it a bit, an interrupt is a QuickTime event – a prompt to press a button during a cutscene. An example: There’s one scene where Commander Shepard is bickering with a dangerous gang leader. The tensions are rising, and a red circle briefly pops up in the right-hand corner as Shepard walks towards the leader. If you don’t press anything, the scene continues, and nothing happens. But if you’re feeling a bit murderous, you can press the right trigger and watch as Shepard snaps the gang leader’s neck.
Not all the interrupts are this violent. Throughout the story, there’s an even split between “Renegade” (evil) and “Paragon” (good) interrupts. While the former portrays Shepard as a ruthless monster, the latter can be emotional and endearing. Take the mission “The Ardat-Yakshi”, for example. There’s a moment where Shepard speaks to a woman who’s lost her daughter to a serial killer. She’s comes close to breaking down in tears when a blue Paragon circle appears in the left-hand corner. Press the left trigger, and Shepard will step forward to comfort her.
The brilliance of these cutscenes is how fleeting they are. Any other dialogue-based decision in the game gives you time to think about the consequences. But interrupts test your choices right then and there, and if you aren’t decided in an instant, the moment will pass you by. It’s a reflex test – a way to test your moral muscle in the heat of the moment, without any prior notice. It’s genius.
Some of The Best Examples…
In the plague-ridden sector of Omega, a Batarian is on the verge of death, cussing out Commander Shepard and the rest of humanity for “giving him the disease.” If you hit the left trigger, Shepard will step forward and silence the Batarian… by healing him with a med-kit! Now that’s repaying evil with good.
On the laboratory that Jack grew up and was tortured in, the crew will run into one of the scientists that ran the facility. If you’re a goodie-tooshies, you can have Shepard prevent Jack from shooting the guy in the head… OR, you can force Jack to shoot him in the head, despite some hesitation on her part. “That felt… good,” Jack will reply, to which Shepard says, “A bullet in the head solves everything.” Yikes.
When you’re hanging around Cerberus, you might notice a Quarian being questioned by a police officer and a Volus. The Volus claims he saw the Quarian steal his credit chit, but after some investigation, you’ll find the chit at a nearby store. But the Quarian isn’t getting off that easy. When Shepard tells the officer and Volus where the chit is at, the Volus comes up with an excuse, saying “she could have stolen it,” and the officer threatens to run her in for vagrancy. If you’re feeling charitable, you can press the left trigger and have Shepard chew both the Volus and officer out for not giving the Quarian due respect. Now that’s justice!
Shepard will corner an Eclipse mercenary towards the top of a building in Illium, and question him for a bit. Now, you could totally just ask him some questions and set him free, but what’s the fun in that? Instead, just push him out the window when you’re done with him! That’s much better.
Alright, one more. When Shepard and Tali are exploring the breached ship on the Quarian Fleet, Tali is shocked to find her father, dead. If you’re sympathetic (which, you should be!) press the left trigger and Shepard will give Tali a big bear hug.
Connection Through Immediacy
There are dozens more like that, and most of them are just as fantastic. The interrupts put you in control of the situation, bringing you closer to Commander Shepard and the character they’re talking to. If you ask me, the interrupts are what make Mass Effect 2 better than the first game. Alright, the combat’s a little better, too.
If you’ll excuse me, I have to go play Mass Effect 3. I’ve heard some things about the ending; what’s that all about?