Saturday, May 19, 2018

Mass Effect: Andromeda: A First (and quite possibly last) Look

There's on phrase that, if uttered within 20 minutes of starting a game, doesn't bode well for a game.  That phrase is:  WHAT THE FUCK WERE THEY THINKING?

Right off the bat, that phrase came out when the game presents you with a laughable character customization system.  If your custom character is anything but an Asian then you're stuck because there's no way to change the eye size or shape.  If there is, then MEA still loses points for having a hugely unintuitive interface.

Okay, fine.  I'll role-play as my half-Vietnamese half sister then.  No bad thing, that.  But part of the joy is hacking together something vaguely unique to experience a story and at kneecaping that right out of the gate does not bode well.

So, off goes Nguyet Ryder into Andromeda.  The opening cutscenes drag on forever but that's Bioware, and I'd have been vaguely disappointed if they didn't.  Okay, so now we go on the mission, tediously going through the stealth tutorial.  I see at first that the Paragon/Renegade system is gone.  Good riddance.  Moral Choice Systems are deep-fried bullshit and I wish they'd disappear as quickly as possible.  Ultimately, they're built into everything in one way or another, even if it's just an optimal path for gameplay.  Even the creators of SimCity must have had a "correct" way to play.  But trying to decide what's right and wrong is a matter for endless philosophical debate and just constrains a player in a video game to act irrationally.

But we already knew that, didn't we?  The conversation is pretty clumsy, having to pick between attitudes that flavor the response you need to give and, as usual, the responses you can select from are a little vague and don't match what actually comes out very closely.  But all good, we're told who we are and how to get dressed.  The interface is a little different but easy enough to learn.

So, the mission begins.  And the shuttle landing on the strange new world crashes.  If I had one wish it would be to go back in time and sneak into the Half-Life:Opposing Force developer meeting and do anything I could to make sure the game didn't popularize the "crashing vehicle" opening.  When in the future does Driver's Ed stop being a thing?  So the usual stuff unfolds:  You're lost alone except for a "helpful" NPC support character who gives you the usual stealth tutorial - which, as usual, tells you a combination of far less that you really need to know and stuff you figured out already.  The interface is clumsy and somehow even worse than ME1 so doing things like trying to  operate key systems in combat is made a complete joy be having to press those tiny little "start" buttons. 

 Alec Ryder then appears.  And since the option is there to adapt the face of Alec to Nguyet, he kind of resembles George Takei on the morning after an all-night Castro District bender.  Obviously Bioware doesn't poach talent from Bethesda, otherwise they know this adaptive model technology was tried in Fallout 4 and sucked just as bad in that.

But, as I said previously, I try not to pick on graphics.  So, let's pick on more shitty game play.  Eventually you come back to your crashed shuttle find the rest of the team, and also find a nice sniper rifle.  Oh boy, you think!  I have a large number of ranged enemies here and how can I equip this to swap out my useless pistol?  Oh, I can't - or maybe I can but there's nothing like a weapons locker or other interface because the game might not tell you that, just plink away with the standard rifle, yay!  And I have these ammo powers...which are temporary because the game can't afford to piss off the multiplayer yobbos by making single player play substantially different than multiplayer so...woohoo, I guess?

So after about 30 minutes of combat (easy but not tedious and a bit streamlined - they did learn something after all) the opener is about to come to a conclusion.  After the landing shuttle comes to grief earlier, Nguyet gets blown out of the shuttle, falls about 10,000 feet and is mildly stunned and with an easily repairable crack in her visor.  In the closing cutscene of the act, she's thrown about 20 feet and has her faceplate completely shattered.  Only so Alec Ryder - who is quite literally The Most Important Human Being in the Galaxy - can remove his helmet and sacrifice his life for Nguyet.  That's right, the one person this entire, multi-generational effort depends upon for success kills himself because hey, he's a really cool guy like that.

What really baffled me are the choices for voice actors.  Again, listening to voices on a 1980's PC speaker in Mean Streets impressed me enough that it's not something I've really been hung up on since.  It seems that they tapped the same actor for the Salarian as they did for the Krogan.  I woudn't mind but that means that they both sound like Richard Simmons on Ambien.  Hearing a swishy, fey voice out of an 8-foot tall armor-plated killing machine caused whatever goodwill I had left for the game evaporate.  Maybe I'll look it up and find it's a female, maybe there's a subplot where he was just hanging out with Salarians for too long but at the moment I have no interest in finding out.  I'm not being homophobic here, it's just a major source of dissonance that is just mind-boggling.  I'm honestly worried about how many other things someone should have asked "Are we really sure we should do this?"about and how much worse it can get.  The clusterfucky method of finding and setting waypoints and navigating the maps does not fill me with hope.

Stay tuned...


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