Time is of the Essence


*This post contains minor spoilers for Mass Effect 2*

I was helpless. I could only watch as my flirty PA was pulped, fed through a blender and processed into a human paste. Now a fleshy milkshake for the dastardly Collectors, Kelly Chambers was a victim of my tardiness and desire to fully explore the Mass Effect universe.

I had always presumed that Kelly’s fate was sealed the moment that the Collectors boarded the Normandy and whisked away the non-combatant crew, while Shepard and co were out on a mystery team-building exercise (paintballing on Eden Prime, I believe). I had accepted her messy demise as being outside of my control and was able to continue with the mission with a clear conscience, managing my team through a battle they had no business surviving.

That was how it went for my first playthrough of Mass Effect 2, back in 2010. Replaying it the last few weeks, I once again found myself looking on as the lovely Kelly was splattered inside a test-tube, only this time I paid more attention to the words of Dr Chakwas, the lone survivor of the kidnapped crew. She suggested that, had I arrived earlier, I could have saved everyone, including Kelly. Was it possible that the good doctor was onto something?

EDI was ignoring me, so I went straight to Google for an answer and was horrified to learn that the deaths of Kelly and crew could have been averted if only I'd headed for the Omega 4 Relay at the first opportunity, instead of fannying about with side missions of questionable worth. In a game where virtually every decision has a consequence, this was the only mission - to the best of my knowledge - that punishes you for not being on time, which made it such a surprise and even harder to stomach. My fish would go unfed and there would be no ME3 cameos for Kelly; Shepard hasn't been able to even look at a milkshake since.

While Frank stops to enjoy standing on cars, a young couple get brained in Burger King

If video games have taught me anything it's that characters and events will wait for the player, no matter how pressing the situation may be. Victims of a kidnapping will wait patiently until Kazuma Kiryu has finished his fortieth round of table tennis. Sephiroth will postpone his evil plans until after you've bred and raced that perfect chocobo, and Alduin will hold-off on destroying the world while you pick wild flowers and sip on mead. But every now and then a time sensitive mission or game will come along that challenge my understanding of the passing of time in a digital world.

With Dead Rising, Capcom have successfully built a series around racing against the clock. Missions appear and disappear within very short periods, and the game is kept within a time limit. You are constantly forced to make life or death decisions: should I spend the next ten minutes strapping chainsaws to a motorbike or saving a family from ravenous zombies? It's impossible to save everyone or sample every activity, and this is made clear from the outset with each mission being accompanied by an on-screen timer that ensures you are always on the move. The time sensitive elements of Dead Rising are never a surprise, affording you some control over whose face will be eaten. Within the confines of the story and setting, this ever present countdown works rather well, even if it does make you feel like you are being cheated out of content, through no fault of your own.

Hideo Kojima did a nice job of using the passing of time to add new and interesting ways to approach the showdown with The End, in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. The ancient sniper has kept himself alive just so that he may do battle with Snake, but you can cheat him out of this final skirmish by not touching the game for a week or so (or just fiddling with the system clock) which will cause him to die of natural causes/boredom. The key difference here, in comparison to Dead Rising and ME's Kelly, is that no matter the speed of your actions the outcome is the same: The End is dead. It does not withhold content, but merely gives the player yet another option of how to arrive at the same result.

I don't tend to enjoy time sensitive games or missions, as they often seem more punitive than rewarding. I have enough trouble trying to juggle everything in real life without having to worry about time management in video games. I prefer a title that won't punish me for taking my time, especially in a world as rich as Mass Effect where I want to give in to my wanderlust without fear of repercussion. If Kelly were still here, I'm sure that she’d agree.

Comments

  1. I just think you need to establish that time passes in your game, or that it doesn't, and stick to whichever lane you're in. Having no clock, except for one mission, is wonky.

    Plus, how are you supposed to know what's really urgent when everything is marked urgent? What was last not urgent? At least three quarters of all NPCs in every game are mid-crisis when you meet them. It needs to be flashing red or something if I'm genuinely supposed to drop everything and run over there.

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    1. Mass Effect 2 teaches you to ignore the passing of time and then suddenly, without much warning, punishes you for it. Fortunately, it doesn't have much of an effect on the game as a whole, but still a bit disappointing in a game that does pretty much everything else just right.

      NPCs should follow you around, constantly reminding you that time is running it, getting more and more agitated the more you ignore them. I'm sure that would be fun :)

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  2. My crew except for Chakwas didn't make it either. Fortunately, I had the luck to have Mordin escort her and sense to pick the other crew members perfectly on the suicide mission so they were the only casualties. I don't know if I could import a save file that has Tali and Garrus dead.

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    1. I too kept the doctor and all of my team alive. I love the tension that final mission creates, knowing that at any moment one of your remaining crew could die. I wouldn't have minded had Jack died, but I'd have probably re-started had anyone else been taken by the Collectors.

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  3. ahh kelly, how i miss ye... Great blog man! I had no idea that saving the crew was possible! I think its actually a nice touch. As with certain tragic those involved often regret their actions which weren't really in your power or knowledge. "What if I'd done this or that?" By making it possible to save the crew but only through a choice which isn't particularly in keeping with the game as a whole I guess possibly leads the player to regret their actions more - even though its totally understandable why you'd go on side-quests, etc. Otherwise you'd be free of guilt. But I see your problem, time is so unimportant to the rest of the game and series.

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    1. It definitely helped to make the final mission more memorable and added to the sense of all actions having a consequence. I'm playing ME3 now and keep wondering to myself whether the speed i'm doing missions will affect storylines and characters

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  4. didn't read this one because i plan on giving mass effect two and three another try after kingdoms of amalur and dark souls. i'm sure it was good though.

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    1. Don't put it off too long, it's a great series!

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  5. Daydream Drooler31 March 2012 at 09:59

    doesn't matter much, their deaths don't do much to alter the universe. its more fan service by putting them in ME3, Kelly has all of two lines before you never see her again in ME3.
    after my first playthrough of ME2 I found it really funny how many people I talked to after that that had Kelly die on them. I was one of the people who go a main mission and put it off well I explored the universe and did every side mission so by the time I got to the Reaper IFF everything was done so from there I did Legion's loyalty mission and once that was done the second I went to the galaxy map it trigger Shepard to take his team paintballing, its funny too cause when that first happened I insisted we go after the team but checked all of the galaxy map to make sure I had no more open mission. but yea pretty much everyone I've talked to lost Kelly and crew.
    I can't talk for Dead Rising but Dead Rising 2 I actually managed one playthrough where I did everything the game had to offer. it took a few playthroughs to figure out how to pull it off and its crazy, you really have to make every second count. I managed to keep my daughter alive, save everyone clear my name and fight every boss. yes I am that nuts, lol.
    anyway, sorry to hear about Kelly but I wouldn't worry too much about it, I mean that just part of your Shepard's journey... speaking of, after playing through ME3 four times now I actually wanna go back and make a few more files on ME2 and play even more files on ME3... its gonna take a long time, lol.

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    1. Glad to hear I'm not missing too much Kelly action!

      Wow, you mustve put a lot of thought into that DR2, complete run-through. I always found it diffiuclt to resist just going on a zombie killing spree and ignoring the missions.

      I'm making my way through ME3 now. Doubt I'll play it 4 times (!) but I'm really enjoying it so far.

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