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The two purposes of a game map are to show you which direction you should be heading towards and more importantly, to indicate which area you’re yet to loot for power-ups and collectibles.
But some maps are made with so much love and serve up so many with original ideas that they deserve to be listed alongside the game’s bullet-points on the back of the box. Or at least detailed in a special online journalistic list-article comprising an arbitrary number of entries. Say… seven? Yeah, let’s go with seven.
Amazing because of it makes us feel like Vangelis-listening children
Not only is Mass Effect 2’s galaxy map an absolute visual treat, it’s also delivered in such a way that it feels like an integral part of the whole game and fits in seamlessly. When it all boils down, it’s simply a map, but it’s a bloody good ‘un.
You access the galaxy map aboard the Normandy and then pilot the tiny replica spacecraft over a superb intergalactic backdrop of stars and planets. There’s even a sci-fi soundtrack loop that contains shades of Vangelis, that provides a seriously soothing atmosphere for your planet-hopping. Even the much-maligned resource mining – where you suck planets dry of their precious metals to buy stuff - is an enjoyable and relaxing experience. For us anyway.
It’s the attention to detail that’s piled into the map that makes it so special and ultimately secures its place on this list. Each of the planets has a unique look and description/history attached to it. And of course, the map also allows you to visit our own solar system – complete with a little easter egg when you <ahem> probe Uranus.
But our favourite thing about Mass Effect 2’s galaxy map is that it takes us back to happier, pre-pubic times. Steering the tiny Normandy over the map reminds us when even a TV remote could be turned into a spaceship as we embarked on another game of ‘spaceman’ and spun round the living room before ‘docking’ with a startled cat – or Fur planet - as our imaginations ran wild.
If you’d told our innocent minds that we’d be able to do this very space travel twenty years from then, via a video game, then we’d have laughed and possibly reported you as a stranger danger. Well done, BioWare, your galaxy map really is out of this world.
Amazing because it is a bloody terrifying meta-game
Doom, eh? Scary game. You don’t go around with a name like “Doom” unless you’re intending to be scary. “Ultra-Blood-Kill” is another good idea for a scary game name. As is “Monster Face-Eating Party of Despair”. Or “Seething Bloody Carnival of People Getting Power Drills Shoved in Their Eyes”. But no game title says “This is going to be bloody scary” as simply, succinctly and powerfully as “Doom”. Dictionary.com defines the meaning of the word as “unavoidable ill fortune”, and no-one likes that. It also mentions ruin, death and the end of the world. And if that was the sort of ill fortune you were looking at, you’d bloody well want to be able to avoid it.
So, Doom’s scariness established, it would only make sense for Doom’s map to be bloody scary too. And it is. All too often, the video game map is the refuge of the weak and cowardly. The paper or PDA-based shield against all of a game’s stressful horrors. The mother’s skirt for hiding behind, if you will, only with more geographical information, and less gingham than the twee nostalgic, 1950s variant of that metaphorical image we currently have in our heads.
But in Doom, the map screen isn’t a safe place you can run away and hide in when it all becomes too much. In Doom, the map screen is even scarier than the main game. Because in Doom, the map screen is a playable, real-time, overhead wire-frame version of the in-game action. A big, empty, black wire-frame version, with none of the detail, none of the clearly visible monsters, but all of the horrible sounds of your impending – or currently occurring – death. In fact, with the “iddt” cheat (which shows the entire map immediately, without the need for exploration-driven draw-in) it’s probably technically possible to play the entirety of Doom on the map screen, and doing so would make it the hardest, darkest, most confusing, and ultimately manliest survival horror game ever made
It’s debatable whether it would be any fun, but that’s just how scary Doom is. Too scary to bother considering anything as petty as your positive human sensations like “fun”. Some versions allow you to overlay the map on top of the main game, yes, but that's just Doom's way of drawing out the wussy cheaters. So that it can eat their weak souls.