Friday, May 18, 2018

Massively Ineffective

I just wrapped up Mass Effect 3 and boy did it suck.  The ending is even worse than I've heard and, yeah, that's pretty bad.  All that time spent crafting a character and world and you are inescapably dragged into a relentlessly depressing ending - mad all the worse because you have to pick the shitty ending yourself.  I only played the 4000+ endings because I fucking well wasn't going to grind multiplayer for a higher score.  Mandatory Multiplayer is a dragon to be slain another time.

It's a letdown partly because the game needed a reward for having played it.  Graphics?  I never pick on graphics, really.  When I started PC Gaming all you had were gray, green and, if you were some mad avant-garde type, amber.  Consoles weren't that great either at the beginning.  Four really eye-scorching colors which burned out anything but a top-end CRT TV.  In the arcades, Pac-Man was, at the time, a step change in electronic visuals and you can still count the pixels.    But, getting back on track,  I still think the graphics could have been better.  I probably wouldn't have gone out of my way to mention them at all but as the series progressed my FemShep gradually went from "Cheerleader" to "Cheap sex-doll left too close to a fireplace" and really stood out badly.  To the games credit, I liked the design, inside and out, of the Normandy.  And they really did a comprehensive job of making the races look distinctive.

On the topic of world-building.  It was very flat, really.  I'm sure there was a lot of work put in but too often the alien characters just seemed like funny-shaped humans.  A few of the characters have distinctive speech patterns an mannerisms but they're far outweighed by the reskinned people.  I think the voice performances were okay, and it was nice hearing Marina Sirtis and Martin Sheen as voices in a mere videogame.  You could tell that Buzz Aldrin was new to this whole acting thing, but it's still a nice touch having someone who actually set foot on ground not of this earth.

Overall, the story is the strongest aspect but that has to come with the qualifier that moral choice systems are a monkeywrench to the story.  It's taking The Hunt For Red October and making it into a Mad Lib book.  The creators can only put so much variation (until the massively networked RPG from Ender's Game becomes a thing) so often giving a player a choice becomes pointless at best or causes the player to unwittingly miss out on content at worst.

And "unwittingly missing out on content" leads to the next major criticism and that is there is no way to know that you've passed a point of no return in the main story.  Maybe it's a meta lesson on not procrastinating but it's one of the things that had me almost quit during ME2.  I was taking the time and effort to do sidequests and then when I went to turn them in...well the quest recipient was a puddle of genetic goo by the time I got around to turning it in.  It was worse in ME3 because those side quests contributed to the score which decides the ending of the game.  You think they'd at least give you half points for finishing the damn things or, better yet, make sure the quest givers weren't the ones smeared into the Presidium carpets.

Gameplay.  The interface is clumsy and having to maneuver around the ship needlessly dragged the game out.  Especially in ME3 with the War Room.  The loading times (cleverly disguised as going through a security checkpoint) messed up any sense of flow and actively made exploring the ship not worth the extra time. 

Overall, I'd rate the combat "okay".  While it improved a lot over the series, it hung on to the worst mistakes.  3rd Person cover combat (3PCC) is something that I've always found to be too easy and Mass Effect proved to be more of the same.  it has the usual problem of trying to add challenge by just being obtuse.  It's made altogether more difficult due to the clumsy interface.  With the A button being used as the dodge command, sprint command and the cover command (or cover suggestion, really).  But, as is typical, they try to make up for the ease by just being obtuse.  They'll just mob you or throw in the bullet-sponge melee powerhouse and have you do the Benny Hill Battle style (running back and forth while taking potshots) all while doing a breakdancing routine because the game can't decide whether you want to cover, dodge or crouch.  Or you get hung up on the map because of some obstruction that you couldn't see.  So you get killed - and here we have my biggest complaint about the combat - and have to do an entire 20 minute, tedious battle all over again.  Or, better yet, have to go through a tedious dialog tree and cutscene, and then the 20 minute battle and all of which you'll have to do again because, in the heat of battle, you couldn't access the Medi-Gel after two tries because the interface didn't register that you hit it.  In short, checkpoints after the dialog and maybe a mid-encounter checkpoint would be positive developments.

But the endings, oh, the endings.  You would think that slogging through 3 long and involved games there would be a major, mind-blowing payoff.  You're all geared up for the climax of Independence Day and you get the ending of some depressing Eurotrash art movie - you know, the kind where everyone gets raped and/or murdered for absolutely no reason whatsoever?  It was like that.  All the crap you went through - in-game and out - and no matter what, at best it was for nothing and at worst, things are vastly worse than if you did nothing. 

I'm sure most people would have been happier just to experience a deep linear narrative rather than have been teased like that.  I would still recommend going through the trilogy if you find it in the GameStop bargain bin because it is a noteworthy entry in gaming history.  Otherwise, not terribly good.

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