Trite, late, end-of-year thing #3: Mass Effect

Ha! Ha! This should have been done a week ago. I suck.

Mass Effect
BioWare / Microsoft | Xbox 360 | RPG

I started writing about Mass Effect, but then it blossomed into a long, rambling thing that couldn’t fit in this space, so I guess it’s its own article now. Actually, the article is mostly just digression. And here you thought I’d outgrown that crap.

But of course, certain traditions must be observed:

If Mass Effect were music, it would be a rock opera. Big, grandiose, full of itself, alternately pretentious and preposterous… and wholly fantastic, if you can accept the blemishes as mere character flaws and simply appreciate its glorious fusion of narrative and rocking out. That Commander Shepard sure plays a mean pinball.

Few games in recent memory have drawn me in as deeply as Mass Effect. Yeah, it has problems. Yeah, the combat mechanics took a few hours to nail down. Yeah, I wanted to claw out my eyeballs after tooling around the 20th shiny rocky landscape in an excessively bouncy vehicle. But the game universe, the characters, the visuals, the shockingly smooth narrative presentation — they all more than made up for the long elevator rides and bumpy framerates and the fact that half my crew consisted of boring ciphers. I particularly liked the role that humanity played in the game: rather than being an all-conquering purveyor of pure awesome or a mewling, helpless victim of cosmic bullying, the human race is roughly on par with its CETI peers and maintains an uneasy (but not completely unfriendly) relationship with them. Also, being briefed on mission objectives by Lance Henriksen is totally sweet.

Is Mass Effect a better game, objectively speaking, than something like BioShock or Halo 3? Probably not. But it offered me the freedom of choice that BioShock merely gave lip service to, and it fleshed out its vast intergalactic world in a far more satisfying way than Halo. The end result was a game that made me a part of something big, yet let me feel like I was actually in control — like the decisions I made mattered. Being a galactic goody-goody has never been more satisfying.

19 thoughts on “Trite, late, end-of-year thing #3: Mass Effect

  1. Okay, reading that comment back, it’s not at all obvious that I’m being ironic and making fun of that “remote orgasms” dude. So… do not take the above comment seriously.

  2. Yeah, I was going to make fun of him but then I decided it would be best not to dignify his idiocy.

  3. I can’t remember the last time I hated a game so vehemently. I stuck with it, hoping that there would be some revelation, some reason to see why it has received such praise. But, nothing. Nada. El zilcho.

    The plot was predictable (the bad guy isn’t really that bad? you don’t say!). The combat was almost unplayable.

  4. I just finished it last night and I agree it was a great experience. Not because of its inner quality, but, perhaps, because if its context (and my context as a gamer). Of course, that doesn’t mean this game is doomed to be lost with its time (like Shrek’s jokes, for example). Mass Effect still have a big personality just by itself.

    The best and most satisfactory part, for me, is to see a plot actually developing acording to my actions, even if such ramifications are somewhat limited. Choose your words carefully and the game will reward you. Be an ass, and the game will respond accordingly. The game is by no means perfect, and I hope they fix many of its less than intuitive gameplay mechanics for the sequels, but aside from that, it was a good thing to play. I can’t remember the last time I went to three or so hours of dialogue in a game and actually felt satisfied.

  5. but only if you count the dudes who speak fluent Klingonese.

    Wouldn’t that just be fluent Klingon?

    I mean, uh, don’t look at me! I’ve only watched one episode of Star Trek! It was Voyager! I don’t even know if that counts!

  6. I don’t understand what you mean by “Is Mass Effect a better game, objectively speaking, than something like BioShock or Halo 3?” I’ve noticed you’ve phrased things in that way before: “Is A objectively better than B? No, but I liked A more.” How can a game’s quality be objectively measured? Is a game as mechanical as a car? Some would say so, but I disagree. As a game reviewer I respect, all I expect is for you to state your opinion. In fact, I don’t see why you don’t call your top 7 list the “Best 7 of 2007.” That’s what Ebert does.

  7. Because I feel there are empirical criteria that go a long way toward determining a game’s objective quality. And that’s not what these write-ups are about — they’re about the games I enjoyed the most. Mass Effect has a lot of shortcomings, certainly more than Mario Galaxy. But I enjoyed Mass Effect more than Galaxy, not for those empirical considerations but because it happened to come together in a way that made the shortcomings feel insignificant. This series is about my experiences, and I lack the presumption to assume my tastes are indicative of some broader metric of quality.

  8. I just felt like this game was a regression from what was established in Knights of the Old Republic. The choices between good and evil had punitive and advantageous aspects: you could learn new powers based on which side of the force you stood. Instead, you’re just treated with a bit more caution or optimism, respectively, with no real reward or punishment. Sure, you might get one NPC to say something unpredictable. You may get one of your party members to leave; but, in the grand scheme of the Mass Effect universe, I don’t care.

  9. Hey Jeremy, don’t worry about the digressions. When you do them, they are informative and entertaining. If you think you’re bad, just wait until the kids who grew up watching Family Guy/Adult Swim cartoons start landing writing jobs.

    Square-themed Retronauts? That would have to be over 8 hours long, or at least multiple parts! At 90 minutes, each significant game would get less that three minutes.

  10. Josh, I’m not entirely sure that restricting abilities based on one’s moral judgements really works all that well. Bioshock did something similar – you save Little Sisters, you get the awesome Hypnotise Big Daddy plasmid – and it merely encourages people to game the system to get the reward they want. It encourages people to pick the ‘good’ option or the ‘bad’ option, instead of being able to flirt with shades of grey. (“I’m good, but that particular alien race can go jump for all I care.”)

  11. Mass Effect is open ended. That’s why you like it, and it’s open ended in a cool way. See? Same thing that Ultima VII did, only you were reading Star Wars novels when playing that was cool. But what you like in Mass Effect is what other people found in games like Nethack, for example.

  12. I completely agree with you, Merus. The complaint I have with Mass Effect is something I don’t entirely care about in Bioshock. I dug the story of Bioshock, the atmosphere. I’ve never been a fan of science fiction, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that ME never took hold and revealed itself to me. I finished it, but, it didn’t satisfy.

  13. Oh man, Ultima 7 was great. You could kill a horse with a rake and eat it’s meat. Also, you could cause some trouble by stealing the triple crossbow early on and going on a rampage. I’m sorry. I just realized that I played the greatest PC RPG of the early 90’s like some stoned frat boy plays Grand Theft Auto. I would kill for a update to that with higher resolution and a better interface. I guess that’s what Oblivion is, though I’ve never played it.

  14. The most ridiculous fanfiction I’ve read in the Davin Felth vein is a story written from the perspective of the fellow Maverick Hunter who dies at the beginning of Mega Man X2’s opening stage. And I’m sure that’s not even close to the most arbitrary fic out there.

  15. Do you mean the Green Biker Dude? If so, it’s not arbitrary. GBD is a rampant meme in the Mega Man fandom.

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