Thursday, August 5, 2010

Curbed Joy and Minor Rantings on a Science Fiction Classic

The name of the game is Mass Effect, yes, I'm a tad late to be discussing a game that came out in '08, but this is no ordinary review. No, hands down, all video gaming SF fans should play Mass Effect. That is no debate. If you haven't yet, do not read below.

Great, you're here! Ok, my first portion will be the good stuff about this space opera. To begin, this is the game where you can finally be Captain Kirk! The Normandy is basically the Enterprise. Many of the cohorts and crew have equivalents to the TV show and the act of exploring the unknown and aiding the random is a perfect match. And yes, you can even score the alien chick!
Next off, as you can see in the picture above, the game sports a variety of species. Few games can display an in-depth history for entire civilizations (and mind you the picture does not display all the Mass Effect sentients) The true talent that separates ME from other populated galaxies is the way the history is slowly released. The first alien encounter is right in the beginning, with the turian Nihlus. Now my first reaction to this scaly feline was "Oh great, a Protoss rip-off, and maybe some kzin traits to boot". And the game made me think I was right, Nihlus was too smug for his own good, I don't fault Sarren there. But once you get to the citadel, the other turians, though simple NPCs are not haughty. Some are merchants, some bystanders, and a certain Garrus the C-Sec detective is a bit weird yet trustworthy. Bioware did not let their creations be defined by one theme, each race displays a spectrum of character.
Another fine example are the Krogan. Again, I'm thinking, "Wonderful, reptile versions of Oblivion's Half-Orcs". Indeed, Wrex fits the bill as my tank, so I can't complain about Krogan fighting prowess. What makes a Krogan different is that you slowly learn about the genophage and the dooming of an entire race. No half-orc is that troubled about his very existence.

Assessing the Gameplay, Mass Effect is a unique RPG because I would go so far as to classify it as an Arcade RPG, similar to Starfox 64. Both games can be beaten quickly and are meant to be replayed over and over. Of course, Starfox takes no more than 30 minutes while Mass Effect will clock more time but compared to your other RPGs, American or Japenese, the fact that you can take Shepard on a direct course through the campaign hitting up 4 systems and the Citadel, I'd say that arcade mechanics are in play. And Bioware clearly had such intentions with its Achievements that are too varied for one character build to complete. This bare-bones ability to rush the story is wonderful and makes the player think "On my next play through I'll do this or that but I won't let it bog me down now". Mass Effect provides the option to speed up games in an era where lengthy engagements in a campaign or multiplayer are becoming too burdensome for many gamers with other things to do.

Flaws I picked up counter my two "Joys" about the game. First off, why the hell can't I bring a Volus, Hanar, or Elcor on my ship! If you have the aliens, make them an option for the Normandy's crew. How awesome would a Volus merchant or Hanar repairjellyfish be? Then travel to the methane worlds would be an option, and we can see the presumably mouse-like face under the suit.

Finally, the combat system that is streamlined for such speed runs is a mess in the final 1/4 of the game. The enemies are not unique, either storm-trooperesque geth that just get bigger and bigger, the little hopping geth, or those 4 legged walkers. Those are the 3 basic enemies you fight. All three just shoot at you, with the occasional rush and melee. Bioware failed with the standard enemy unit. If the geth are cybernetics why do they rely on humanoid figures? They should have a unique mold for any environment. In addition, these geth pansies nearly never use techs on you ( I assume due to synthetic existence biotics are not possible ).

The occasional and rare enemies: Krogans battlemasters, random alien beasts, Asari commandos, they are fine though again they often lack "magic" attacks and thus make them all susceptible to basic projectiles assuming you have the shields to hold off. No the other combat flaw is the bosses. Benezia is the only good boss, because she used minions in her fight. RPG Bosses must have minions or else there is not challenge in ganging up. Sarren is horrendous, he flys around on a metal magic carpet and three guys are just filling him with lead. You fight him this way twice, it's pitiful on a Spectre's part. No indoctrinated aid him, no geth bodyguards, just those freakish blue eyes. His title as Spectre clearly didn't require small skirmish knowledge.

Alas, these are just some problems I've had the fun of stylizing. Regardless I'll be playing ME 1 at least once more then delve into the sequel, at which time I suspect the 3rd should be out.

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