Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
Mass Effect 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Plenty of games have good writing but are totally linear. And while that's all well and good, they don't harness what's unique about games and the kinds of stories only they can tell, going the extra mile with reactive plotlines and branching paths. And to this day, I don’t think anyone has done it better than the 'suicide mission' at the end of Mass Effect 2.
(Spoilers warning, because as old as the Mass Effect trilogy is, you should still definitely play it if you haven't.)
Infiltrating the Collector Base to save the humans captured throughout the game, including the crew of the Normandy, is intense. In most story RPGs, your main character and major party members are relatively safe from permadeath unless they're scripted to die at a set point in the story. In this mission, anyone can die based on decisions you make. Even Shepard can die, and you can get a canonical ending where no one made it out alive.
If you dilly-dally too long before proceeding to the mission? People die. If you didn't fully upgrade the Normandy? People die. If you didn't finish everyone's loyalty missions? People are probably going to die. A lot of players found this brutal, but I think that comes from how much most games spoil us with happy endings. Mass Effect 2 is not a happy story, and it seems designed to make you experience tragedy you could have prevented. In my first playthrough, I made a bad call and lost Mordin, the singing scientist salarian, and I don't think the ending would have had nearly as much impact if I didn't have to stand over his coffin and confront my failure. Only by meticulous and extraordinary effort can you bring everyone home safe, and that's the way it should be.
Beyond that, the mission requires that you know your squad mates and what they're good at. There's no dialogue prompt to tell you that you should send Miranda to lead the second group. You have to have paid attention to her throughout the game to know that she's a capable leader. Only with knowledge of Jack's backstory can you correctly guess that she's the best choice to create a biotic shield and protect the team from a swarm of alien bugs. How much you engaged with the crew and learned about them directly affects your chances of success.
And, of course, it's an appropriately action-packed finale with awesome environments, epic music, great cinematography, and a major, macabre discovery about the reapers. I always have a hard time choosing between the first three Mass Effect games. But most days you ask me, I'd probably say 2 is my favorite. And the suicide mission is a huge, huge part of that.