Old vs New: Star Control II vs Mass Effect II

Of all the games I played last year, these two sci-fi planetary exploration types were amazingly similar considering the 18 year gap between them. While the tone, humor and actual gameplay were completely different, Star Control II often felt like the precursor (excuse the pun, sort of) in many ways to Mass Effect 2. What follows is a compare/contrast I felt like doing for fun.
NB: Please note that I am no way insinuating anything on Bioware's part. This blog sounds kind of accusatory, but it's totally not the case. These are both great games and I recommend that any fans of one should play the other if they haven't already. With the impending GOTY-Edition-esque PS3 copy, the original 360 version is pretty darn cheap at the moment. And, of course, Star Control II is free in the form of this awesome fan-made version:  http://sc2.sourceforge.net/downloads.php

The Setting

Uh, the Milky Way Galaxy? Sorry, this was a bad one to start on.

The Plot

Ah, this is more like it. The plot of both games is to fly around space recruiting people to fight the big assholes that are currently killing everyone. While this actually sounds closer to what Mass Effect 3 may well end up being (free peoples of the alliance vs the giant laser crayfishes of death), it's not too dissimilar from ME2's recruiting-heavy multi-branching meat. In both games, Humans are in dire straits (though not as badly as some of the other races as it turns out) and you're pretty much the only savior the human race has. It also helps that you have the best ship in the human star army fleet forces (or, indeed, most other star navies. Are they navies?). Finally, your adventures have you bump into plenty of eccentric characters from many different races, and a chance to bone a blue chick. More on that later on.


The impetus, which is a nice way of saying a fucking time limit, is evident in both games, but not very evident IN-game. ME2 drops theirs in at a late stage in the game, whereas it is there from the start in SC2 but completely unknown (and unknowable). Both have an interesting similarity in that when the time limit is up, people start dying, but not all at once. In ME2's, you can [SPOILER] until only [SPOILER] and although it doesn't lead to a game over, it's still pretty [SPOILER][SPOILER] and baseball bats [SPOILER]. SC2's, on the other hand, will eventually (and rather rapidly) lead to the vaporization of the Earth and the entire human race, which is apparently enough of a bad thing to cause an early game over. Another interesting coincidence: The first victim of either game happens to be the cutest and most likable one ( Kelly / Zoq-Fot-Pik), as if to really rub it in.

The Aliens

Going by trope:
Space Jews - The Space Jew is kind of a disturbing trope - is the trope invoker the anti-Semite or is it the writers behind the race in question? SC2 has the Melnorme, which aren't to be confused with Mel Tormé, even though the Jazz singer was apparently the obvious inspiration for these acquisitive space starfishes. ME has the Volus, which were all but absent in ME2 excepting a few that were chillin'(ium) on Illium.
Misunderstood Warrior Race - SC2 has loads of these, due to the main enemy forces' habit of offering the chance to become "battle thralls" to any race they conquer, effectively enslaving them to fight their battles. Obviously, any particularly aggressive race went for this option. A short list includes psychotic spider-people the Ilwrathi, thuggish rhino-people the Thraddash and on the alliance's side the suicidal dodgy-Japanese-accented koala-people the Shofixti. ME2 has, of course, the Krogans, a race used as the Council's Rottweilers, with a complementary spaying and neutering.
Green Skinned Space Babe - This trope is absent in both games, since the obvious reference to Star Trek is obvious. So in both games the sexy alien chick is blue skinned. The Syreen and the Asari, respectively. Both are depicted as kind of promiscuous as A) The Syreen are almost wiped out, have hardly any men left and are actually compatible with the humans and B) The Asari apparently go through a "phase" where they'll do anything that moves and C) Sci-Fi is written by misogynists. Okay, that isn't fair, it may well be the case that they're pitched to misogynists. Wait, that also isn't-
The Greys - Or "grays", or whatever your dictionary spells it as. The weird little guys with the giant almond eyes. SC2 has the Arilou, an entirely way-too-creepy race of extra-dimensional beings that have been either improving or protecting the human race, or possibly neither. They think we're cute. Like puppies. ME2 has.. well, it's not clear. The Protheans? They've been messing around with us since the stupid ages according to that one side-mission in the first game.
Insectoid Aliens - Again, the Ilwrathi of SC2 and ME2's Rachni fill the usual mold of dickish monster insect people, though the Rachni were kind of coerced by the Reapers. Tell it to the gas nozzle, Clicky, Shepard's too busy kicking ass to care. Also ME's Keepers kind of look like SC2's Supox, even though the latter are a plant-based species.
Mechanical Aliens - The awesomely-named Mmrnmhrm, who clearly need to speak up when talking to other races, are SC2's resident silicon-based lifeform. They merge with the crystalline Chenjesu to form a symbiotic entity of pointy glass metal things. ME2 has their various "synthetics", most of which are blown up on sight presumably because someone back in the Citadel's vast history was a sore loser at chess. Most notable are the Geth, who again are a hive-minded species taken for a ride by the mean old Reapers and their ability to indoctrinate whole swaths of them at once, Borg-style. Geth are also serious gamers. Believe it.
Space Jerks - The Space Jerks of ME2 are the Reapers, a race constantly on the look out for organic species with superior genetic diversity to transform into Lil Lisa's Patented Animal Slurry for a new Reaper to be built out of. The Jello molds they use are enormous. By "genetically diverse" they apparently mean "crayfish, crayfish, crayfish, squid, crayfish, goofy Terminator". SC2's Space Jerks are the eponymous Ur-Quan, who want to enslave everyone else as either a gladiator or one of those strippers in a glass box at those fancy elite clubs (I'm so sorry, I think my analogy generator's busted). Their current rivals are the Kohr-Ar who, for a refreshing change, just want to kill everyone and use the skulls to fill their giant skull buckets. Apparently they like their Chuck E. Cheese ball-pits hardcore on the Kohr-Ar homeworld.


So, in order to upgrade pretty much anything, you need to go out and mine some planets. In SC2, you do this by launching a lander towards the planet to sweep up a bunch of dots (but no Cherries or Power Pills) of varying value while avoiding the geological dangers and alien races (but no Ghosts). Filling up the storage bays and dropping the phat lewt off at the nearest (only) friendly starbase allows you to then upgrade your flagship as well as purchase fuel, extra crew and extra fighter ships. These little sweeper mini-games are just fun enough to not get too repetitive on resource-runs. ME2's mining game is far more clinical, a sort of hot-or-cold game where you look for radar spikes and send probes down planetside to dig them out automatically. It's actually more boring than it sounds. It's basically the video game equivalent of checking your testicles for lumps. Plus it's always the same four elements you keep finding that seemingly power everything, whereas in SC2 there's dozens (handily sorted into seven different tiers based on value).

Ship Combat

ME2 doesn't have any. That you control, at least.

On-Foot Combat

SC2 doesn't have any. I'm doing this bit ass-backwards, hang on...


Okay, here we are. So combat is the most different aspect of the two games: In SC2 it's done with fighter ships (and occasionally the flagship, if you want to risk it) and the player fights in one-on-one duels (other ships get tag-teamed in as their allies blow up) with the opposing forces. ME2 has you and a small team running around smashing skulls and breaking hearts. To be fair, both systems are so different that it's not easy or indeed relevant to compare the two. Wait, does that even count as "contrasting"? I think I should prob-


Now this is where things get interesting. In both games, you can end conversations one of two ways: Finding a mutually beneficial solution to both sides, ushering a lasting friendship and allegiance against a common foe, or telling the other guy to go fuck himself and then opening fire on his privates. In both cases, the latter is more fun, though more trouble than it's worth in the long run. In both games, the interaction with other people from other races is often the best part, as they're well-written, interesting, branching conversations which on occasion can be quite hilarious.
So that's a pretty exhaustive list, right? If I remember anything else they have in common I'll add it.
Incidentally, does anyone else know of any more games like these? They were pretty much my two favorite games in 2010 (alongside Little King's Story). Preferably with more of the chilled out planet-studying/resource-gathering stuff and less "getting my head blown off because I called some space lizard guy a dickwad" (which I could just not do in the future, I suppose, but ehh).