So I realized something the other day. I was playing "Mass Effect 2" because I'm too broke to afford new video games and consoles and "Mass Effect 2" is one of the best games I've ever played. Maybe this is something other people have noticed...it only just occurred to me for the first time recently.
So, if you're unfamiliar with the game, "Mass Effect 2" is a direct sequel to the first game of the same name (besides the "2", obviously). It pioneered a feature that would import data from the first game (if you played it through to completion), thus applying the consequences of said choices to your new game in "ME2", the first game in history to do this. It begins by establishing that you are, once again, Commander Shepard...the same Commander Shepard from the first game. Without spoiling anything, I'll simply add that in the first five minutes of the game, it makes things pretty clear that aside from Shepard, everything that was true and baseline for "ME1" has been thrown directly out the airlock.
Instead of fighting for the Alliance Navy, Shepard takes up with a shadowy black ops organization backed by an eccentric multi-billionaire, known only as The Illusive Man, who is voiced by none other than Martin motherfucking Sheen. He's basically Kevin Spacey's character from "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare" if he were about 1000% wealthier and 10,000% more charismatic. In the picture below, he's wearing the future space equivalent of a $3,000,000 Armani suit. The bourbon isn't fancy future bourbon, though. It's just damn good bourbon.
|You know he's a bad dude because he smokes CIGARETTES.|
If you played through "ME1", you might recognize the name of the organization - Cerberus. If you didn't, all you need to know is that Cerberus funded a number of illegal genetics labs you can find in the first game, and ordered the assassination of an Alliance Admiral, whose corpse you eventually find should you seek out on the necessary side-missions.
It's obvious Cerberus aren't exactly the good guys. A big part of the game's first few hours are characters addressing the moral grayness of Cerberus while considering that their current goals, stopping the abduction of hundreds of thousands of colonists outside the Alliance's jurisdiction, is an unambiguously good one. Still, your new ship includes an illegal artificial intelligence, most of the specialists you're told to go recruit are mercenaries and criminals, and the crew all speak glowingly about Cerberus and how happy they are to work for them in a way that, before long, makes you start to feel like you've joined a cult.
It's established several times throughout the game that the Illusive Man is shrewd, but definitely not trusting. He's laid bugs all over the ship, and your XO, one of his most trusted agents, regularly sends him secret reports about your activities. Which brings me to my revelation.
The loading screen of "Mass Effect 2" is quite different from "Mass Effect 1", or even "Mass Effect 3". In the latter two, your loading screen is of your ship traveling through space at Faster Than Light speeds. If you travel to significant locations, like the Citadel, sometimes there's an omniscient third person shot of that instead...that is, an objective perspective outside of any character's point of view. The only exception is that your loading screen is sometimes that of Shepard's personal work computer. That's not the case in "Mass Effect 2."
|See the difference?|
That's not the only thing that's different. In "ME1" and "3", there are generally only ambient sounds accompanying the loading screen. In "2", you hear ominous music, a far cry from the silent hum of mass relays in "ME3" or "ME1". No loading screens where the Normandy is shooting through space from planet to planet, either. Just ominous music, and an orange technical display of the Normandy SR-2 that highlights different areas as you move through the ship. It appears to be tracking your movements.
Occasionally you need to make landfall in locations and situations where a bulky spaceship wouldn't fit or would attract too much attention, so you get transported to your mission in the Normandy's UT-47 Kodiac drop shuttle. In such situations, you see the readout of this as well.
The presence of the spooky music does a great job of supporting the tone of "ME2", which is intended to be the dark middle chapter of the series. It's also the only installment in which Shepard fights for Cerberus. I kept coming back to the music and the weird tech readouts of your ships. It just seemed strange that this was the only game whose loading screens were designed this way.
Then, I realized something...earlier in the game, we see a similar HUD somewhere else, being read by someone very significant to the plot. I still can't believe I never realized this before.
The loading screen isn't just a loading screen...you're seeing what the Illusive Man sees. The loading screen is his perspective while he's spying on you.
It's an old game at this point, but it still holds up. I first played through "ME2" in 2011, yet now in 2017, I'm still finding new things about it to love. Brilliant, subtle game design choices like this are the mark of a truly great video game.