On the Ball

On the Ball: Scanning, for Fun and Profit

Jordan Deam | 10 Feb 2010 21:00
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2. It's tiring.

Not mentally tiring - the process of searching for minerals requires so little brainpower that I found myself wondering how to activate my TV's picture-in-picture function so I could catch up on The Daily Show while I mined. I mean it's physically tiring, which is not something you'd expect from a game that doesn't involve flailing around a remote or doing push-ups on a Bluetooth-enabled bathroom scale.

There's only one way to improve your scanning speed after you upgrade your ship's sensors for the first time: Instead of keeping the left trigger depressed, you "fan" the trigger so that your targeting reticle skips, rather than glides, across the planet's surface. It's not perfect - you might miss a node if you don't space out your scans correctly - but when done correctly, it can shave a couple minutes off each planet. The one major downside is that by the time you have enough platinum to research the Medical Bay, you'll likely have carpal tunnel syndrome. And the alternative of keeping the left trigger depressed isn't much better - you end up with your left hand frozen in a claw position that gets increasingly uncomfortable the longer you go without finding a node. I realize ergonomics aren't necessarily of primary importance to software developers, but when your game encourages behavior that becomes physically painful over the course of a half an hour of play, you're probably doing something wrong.

3. It's pretty much mandatory.

For a AAA title, Mass Effect 2 is pretty damn harsh when it comes to punishing player incompetence. Neglect to upgrade your ships cannons or shields, for instance, and you end up losing party members before the final mission even gets off the ground. What's frustrating is that as it currently stands, there's no way to acquire minerals in any significant quantity aside from scuttling across the galaxy and scanning every planet you come across for the stuff - the amount of minerals you find in a typical away mission is less than a few probes' worth.

Mass Effect 2 is a pretty flexible game when it comes to letting you choose how to play. There's a decent amount of variety in the class system, and thanks to the Advanced Training and Tactical Shift research projects, you can experiment with a variety of abilities and specializations in a way the original game didn't allow. But if you want max out the firepower of a specific weapon, outfit your party with better gear or, heck, prevent your squadmates from dying, you have to mine, and mine a lot. There's an entire Asari planet that functions as a sort of galactic stock exchange, and you're telling me I can't buy raw materials on the open market?

It's telling that after narrowly preventing the extinction of the human race, what I was most happy about was the 50,000 Element Zero the game granted me upon completion. I may have saved the galaxy ... but more importantly, I saved myself a few hours on my next play through. Maybe then I'll pick the lives of my crew over those last few points of damage for my assault rifle.

Jordan Deam will probably pick the damage bonus to his assault rifle all over again.

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