Friday, 03 August 2012 13:54
Games - Games
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So I did it. I played through Mass Effect 3, while probably annoying all of my dear Twitter followers with angry tweets every other minute about the things I disliked about the game. There were a lot of them—some predictable, some less so. Interestingly, the times when I did not turn to Twitter to vent and spew poisonous vitriol about the deficiencies in BioWare’s production and writing process, at those times I actually didn’t have a problem with the game. At those times I thoroughly enjoyed what I was playing.
The mind is a fascinating thing. While playing this game, I hated it. Not every minute of it, but quite a lot of the time I spent playing, I didn’t like what was going on. I didn’t like the writing—or rather, particular instances of writing. I didn’t like the story. I didn’t like some of the gameplay. And still. After having finished the overall game and having slept on it, I can’t honestly say that it was all bad. I can’t honestly say that I hated the experience. In retrospect, I actually like Mass Effect 3. And I have no rational explanation as to why, because as I was in the process of playing this game, I was really disliking what I saw and played a lot.
I was expecting that. I went into the game expecting to dislike it. I went into the game expecting to find evidence to my preconceived notion of Mass Effect 3 being a bad, essentially vastly overrated game. I mean, my reaction to the outcry of the fans about the ending was basically a broadly, self contentedly smiling ‘told you so!’. Karma is a bitch I guess. As I went into the game, I was looking for blood. Looking for traces of failure, for proof to my theory. Needless to say that I found plenty. The beginning isn’t very well handled, neither narratively nor mechanically. Which is actually something I’ll stand by even when seeing the game in entirety in a much more benign light now. A lot of the mechanics aren’t very well explained, a lot of the series backstory isn’t very well presented.
When the game comes into full swing, things get better. The main story comes along, more of the old characters turn up, and that’s where things start getting interesting. The main story though is not. Of course it’s a bit predictable where things are going with the Reapers having basically sacked Earth in the opening minutes, but all things considered, the main plot hinges a bit too much on its central, gigantic plot device. The subplots and character arcs are the meat and potatoes of Mass Effect 3. Which they also were in Mass Effect 2, so no surprise here really. Those stories are interesting, usually well handled and give the player a fair share of the series’ trademark ‘big decisions’.
Mechanically, not much has changed. Some things have been polished a bit, but overall Mass Effect 3 is almost the same game as 2. Which didn’t fly too well with me. Mass Effect 2 was fun and all, but it wasn’t the most polished or refined experience when it came to gameplay. Which in turn is also true for Mass Effect 3. The combat works, but that’s it. The controls are a bit unresponsive on console when it comes to cover - which got me into hairy situations a bit too often I might add. Combining power effects is a neat touch, however I could never shake the impression that this kind of game design really isn’t BioWare’s strong suit. Mass Effect 3’s combat just as the level design for the combat areas isn’t very good. Which doesn’t mean it’s actually bad, just that the combat areas remain rather unremarkable as far as shooters go.
And while combat sections were mostly fun if unremarkable, there still were some sections of the game that rubbed me very wrong. Forced failure bossfights, and some passages that made me wonder why those weren’t simply handled as a cutscene since repeating some ridiculously dramatic glorified quicktime event over and over again robs any scene of its impact.
The other part of the game, exploration and conversation, that’s still where the game shines. Character interaction is something BioWare has revolutionized with Mass Effect, and while the content they fill this interaction with is hit and miss, the possibilities are quite well done and I had fun playing and playing around with those most of the time.
The most pressing question is, what makes Mass Effect, what makes this third game a memorable experience. In the latter case, that it’s now all over. This is the swansong to all the characters that were with us since back in 2007. Depending on how the game is played individual fates can be observed and most of the time be influenced. It’s those characters that are Mass Effect, that carry the series and that, while they exist through sometimes somewhat unlikely and illogical stories, carry the franchise. Their personal narratives and the way the player has interacted with them throughout the three games matters and makes the game into a memorable and outstanding experience.
And then there is the ending. I found it surprisingly unproblematic given the other things about the story with its many plot holes and weird retcons that really left me cold. It’s hinted at during the course of the game at least once, and the big reveal isn’t that much of a big deal. But then again, maybe the impact on my was softened there by my having ‘indoctrinated’ myself beforehand by spoiling it for me early on since I initially had no interest in playing the game.
I guess one of the bigger mistakes would be to expect Mass Effect being harder science fiction than it actually is. The world building can be rather sloppy in places, and as far as science fiction tropes go, the setting really throws everything and the kitchen sink at the wall in the hope that there’ll be something left sticking. This might make the whole universe easier approachable, but the amount of hand waving and rubber science to justify certain things happening can be a bit much.
So, is Mass Effect 3 a great game? No. It’s a game in a series that has never fully overcome the problems the first part had. Sure, the worst offenders were axed and polished away. No more horrible inventory, no more tedious planet mining in this game. But while the action gameplay is a unique mix of power flinging, gunplay and cover tactics, it’s still roughly hewn, not very well refined, taking place in levels that might be nice to look at, but which eventually are nothing but glorified and rather empty corridors with few exceptions. It’s flawed game with streaks of greatness in its characters and the interactions with them and their stories. It’s a good game. But not great. In the grand scheme of things, as the third part of the Mass Effect series, it’s part of something great, which I cannot deny. Like it or not, Mass Effect has had a tremendous impact on the hobby as a whole, however dubious the qualities of some of its parts. There might not be much effort as far as the gameplay goes, thematically though, some of the minor aspects are tremendously important, since there are few (if any) mainstream games out there as inclusive as Mass Effect.
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Massive Defect So I did it. I played through Mass Effect 3, while probably annoying all of my dear Twitter followers with angry tweets every other minute about the things I disliked about the...
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