Archive for March, 2012
..because I’ve got Mass Effect.
UPDATE! In fear of the game being spoiled for me by people talking about controversy etc, I rushed to the end last night, addendum at the end!
UPDATE2! I have had more thoughts on the ending, and whilst not spoiling it personally, I link to a site that most assuredly will!
NOTE! This contains no spoilers per-se for Mass Effect 3, tho perhaps a couple (hidden) for the first game… you have been warned!
Few modern games captivate my attention. These days I like short-attention span friendly games, like Bad Company 2/Battlefield 3.. I can dip in, play for a bit, get bored.. and stop playing.. returning later as and when. This is much to the annoyance of my regular play-buddy who *loves* stats analysis and progression.. and .. stuff.
The last few years have seen me look at the odd AAA class title – Batman Arkham Asylum I thought was wonderful.. but I only played about 30 mins of it all-in. Fable 3 was a nice diversion – again tho, aforementioned gaming-mate was thwarted again as I simply lost interest RIGHT AT THE FINALE! lol One notable exception was the very fun Saints Row the Third, which I at least managed to finish in its joyful co-op mode with my long-suffering gaming-buddy!
Right now I’m playing Mass Effect 3, and i guess that I am about 85% complete – I cant be sure as everytime I think am starting the endgame, the plot deepens, much to my joy.
..and it is here I can tell you that Mass Effect 3 is probably the most enjoyable gaming experience I’ve ever had. Yet for many I suspect that my play of it would be regarded as the opposite – the most boring *game* gameplay ever. This would be because I played the game in “narrative” mode (or “Story mode” as its called on the Xbox/PS3 versions)
In narrative mode, there are still shooty shooty run aroundy findy pushy buttony bits, but I noticed a definite “easiness” to it versus playing the first 2 games. Yes, I still died – but probably no more than 3 times (so far) in the general combat bits – I died a BAZILLION times in one of the major battle sequences, but that was ok, it was afterall A STUPIDLY BIG LASER SHOOTING AT ME!
I was vaguely aware of Mass Effect being “big” – I initially wrote it off as being just another console game that wouldnt be to my taste, though the screenshots intrigued me – the ones showing character interaction etc. So I picked up a 2nd hand copy off ebay of the xbox version – it was cheap, and i wasnt really aware of the PC version (which came later I believe anyway)
Immediately I like what I see, there’s a choice of gender, and quite extensive face/character customization. At my other-half’s prodding I endeavour to have my Commander Shepard resemble myself – complete with my apparent “cat mouth” (a bit like duck-face, but perhaps, I hope, not so daffy looking )
..and so the game began with a very cool opening sequence – it seemed very cool to be aboard a seemingly realistically crewed ship, oh and look, Shepard is the XO of it, cool.
One thing I found initially odd was that here seemed to be an already fully formed story universe, with backstory and history – I felt like I’d missed a big intro or something, or a previous game – but it worked as I felt pretty immersed in it straight off.
Or I would have done, had I not been generally RUBBISH at the shooting bits with the xbox controller! I learned shooters on the PC via the wonder of Quake etc – mouse and keyboard all the way, baby! So I had a bit of a struggle with the gameplay mechanics at first, but soon got a reasonable hang of it. I quickly learned, however – that I preferred in general the plot developing character interactiony bits versus the roaming around shooting – with the exception of the bits in the Mako vehicle – unlike many, I actually quite enjoyed bouncing around in it
Soon the plot had me gripped, largely influenced by the acting – with the exception I thought of a rather wooden Marina Sirtis (spoiler) of all people – but then i’ve never really forgiven her for weeping and moping through the first few series of Star Trek:TNG !
I was aware that Mass Effect allowed the developing of a relationship with a character in the game, but to be honest, my Commander Shepard was all business like and had no time for such frivolities, though I took an interest in Liara – but largely as a kind of comforting pseudo-maternal relationship after what happens. It was therefore with some degree of suprise that one Kaiden Alenko made the moves on me in my cabin on the eve of the final battle. But I was all like… F*** it! Could be dead tomorrow!
Having written and re-read what I just typed above has me consider what is to me one of the greatest strengths of Mass Effect. Mass Effect – all of them, are games. Impressive looking, but still JUST GAMES. You make decisions in the game, they are largely binary, but most of them subtly influence later options in the game, though a few are critical that change event outcomes in a big way. But they still boil down to a kind of adventure-game-by-flow-chart design. What makes these games so impressive in my mind is the amount of emotional investment that I had in making those decisions – I would often sit fretting over a decision of what to say/do in a situation for ages before eventually fearfully deciding on one. In the first two games this is hamstrung by the requirement to have to “do stuff” in order to open up the paragon or renegade options (essentially good/evil or nice/nasty) – this seems to have been marvellously done away with in the third game if playing the narrative mode.
By the end or Mass Effect 1, I was loving it – despite some infuriatingly boring (for me) shooty bits with “bosses” – the final scene of my crew-mates crawling out of the wreckage, being comforted as it is assumed that Shepard be dead.. then the music rises and out she comes, injured, but with a little smile.
So, at the end, I was hooked. So much so that I bought the game on the PC too – cheap as a download by now – and replayed the whole thing, tweaking options and decisions to alter my outcome ever so slightly, and being able to enjoy the bonus of taking screenshots of my Shepard doing her thing Mouse and keyboard proved to be much more to my liking – tho I still found the combat annoying in general.
Then it was announced that there was to be a sequel – damn right there should be, given the impending plot. When it was released there I was with my PC pre-order, and straight in to a fairly shocking start and a very different – initially – set of characters and circumstance. Initially I was miffed, where were my awesome squadmates from the first game?
Ofcourse what it then turned into was a really cool kind of “Magnificent Seven” (or “Battle Beyond the Stars”, Sci-Fi fans) – building up a squad of awesome crew, both old and new. Some characters I could not be bothered with in the slightest – Jack, I initially thought could just f*** right off, and Miranda needed to take the Cerberus brush out from between her implausible arse cheeks. I would later (after managing to keep them alive throughout on a 2nd play with the aide of some cheating – more about this in a min) be glad I did as I cant imagine how certain events in the third game would be the same without them, and in the case of Jack in particular it was almost like being rewarded for my perseverance. Others like Mordin I literally wailed “NOOOOOO!” when he got shot by a random blast towards the end (through action/inaction I took earlier in the game) . and… NOBODY TOUCHES GARRUS! He’s my right-hand guy, my rock.
Again.. this shows an emotional attachment to the story and characters that goes far beyond simple decision making choices. I was actively alternating my choice of squadmates on missions based on whom I thought needed a break, and who was best suited to a particular environment! THIS MAKES NO SENSE! My characters didn’t get tired – maybe thats something for a future game:
Garrus:”Shepard, let Tali take this one, I’m exhausted, I need some shuteye!”
However, something strange happened to me during my Mass Effect 2 play – I was hooked on the unfolding story and plot developments.. but I was becoming fatigued by the “in-game” gameplay… to the point that the gaps between me returning to play got longer and longer. It was actually nearly a year after purchase that I eventually returned fully to play Mass Effect 2 to its conclusion… but this was with the aide of a cheat/trainer. I made my character invincible and gave her 1-hit-kill ability, allowing me to sweep my way quickly through the remainder of the game. This did not affect plot outcomes – their destiny was defined by choices earlier and throughout the remainder of the game, as well as stuff like getting upgrades to the Normandy and the like. I did not feel like I was missing anything, as there wasnt really any story progression during the shooting/running/fetch sequences with only a couple of exceptions.
So, with the aide of the cheat, I finished Mass Effect 2 and my interest was reignited. so much so that I played through it again, this time with the cheat on throughout. I tweaked my decisions, made some alternatives, and actively worked to do the so-called “side-quests” – something I didnt feel comfortable doing, again because of the bizarre emotional involvement with the story – the fate of the universe was at stake FFS! Who cares about proving whether or not a Quarian shoplifted or not! 2nd time around I spent more time with this kind of stuff.
Crucially around the time of the 2nd play I began to be interested in the wider-universe stuff of mass effect. Books, comics etc. I found these to be actually hugely enjoyable, and brilliantly filled in the gaps in the story for me.. as well as having me realize just how villainous Cerberus were, which had me completely reverse a decision I made at the end of my first ME2 play in favour of another!
So.. I awaited Mass Effect 3 keenly. I followed developments, tried with fellow tweep @jenjenrobot to convince the developers to allow for a near-sighted Shepard with specs (I guess in the future they’ve eradicated poor eyesight!) – noted that this “will be the last we’ll see of Commander Shepard’s adventures, but not of mass effect” ,raised an eyebrow at the inclusion of multiplayer, and took special notice of the selectable “story modes” … but awaited with interest the arrival of the game.
When the demo was released I steadfastly avoided it, I wanted all the cake, not just a slice.
Villainous Electronic Arts released the game first in the US, then a few days later here.. by which time some people were already tweeting about the game and worst of all complaining about the ending. ”That does not sound good” thought I, imagining all sorts. Even as I type this I’ve seen a tweet this morning that claims that “Fans Report EA To The FTC Over Mass Effect 3 Ending” – I’ve not dared look for fear of any kind of spoiler, but am already fearing a 70′s movie bleak dystopian ending! The mere discussion means that I’m likely to be faced with something controversial.
Well, I’ll come back and update this post once I’ve finished the game with my thoughts on that matter!
However, Mass Effect 3 arrived and installed on my lovely laptop (fear not, its a monster, well up to the task of the game) and right from the outset there was a sense of gravitas about this being a final chapter – the choice of Clint Mansell, a noted film composer to score for the game proved to be a good one straight off.
A minor blip arrives in the form of being unable to properly import my Shepard of ME1&2 into 3. All the “character references” are there, but not so the face. so began the usual 20 minutes of getting the face close to the previous incarnation as possible… then off!
Suffice to say that within the first 30 mins I was blubbing, so powerful was the combination of visuals, music, and story. Special mention also to the use of sound-effects, which are kind of part of the music, and use motif’s to signify characters/events much as John Williams has so successfully with his film scores for Jaws…. and Star Wars.
..and here’s the thing. I grew up with Star Wars. I was slightly too young to enjoy Star Wars properly, but by the time The Empire Strikes Back came out, I had enough grasp of Star Wars to love it, and be hooked. a 3 year wait and Return of the Jedi came out, and closed a book on a superb Space Opera that hinted at a much wider universe and story. By the time I was a student The Empire that is LucasFilm had finally granted the rights for expanded universe novels, notably Timothy Zahn’s direct sequel s, and that was good. Here was someone who understood the characters and was able to provide us with a “fix” on our desire to know more. Other great books would be released – the Tales of the Cantina and similar were also great. A few other books diluted the joy of the stories and characters, but.. well… we didnt have to read them or even take them as “canon”.
..and here’s where Emperor Lucas had the last laugh.. all the books were granted permission to exist on the proviso that LucasFilm could nullify their validity with any further movie expansion they chose to embark upon later. Thats exactly what happened ofcourse. First the trilogy was tweaked, subtly at first, but there were some real klangers too – we all know at least one in particular. Then came the prequels… and whilst at first there was joy at this expansion, it quickly changes to disappointment.. then hope that the next one would be “darker” and less “stupid”… only to be disappointed again, and again. Then the original trilogy was tweaked again, and again. And again. Here was something that was dear to us, being bashed around by its angry petulant creator, seemingly unhappy at his own creation, modifying it to a seemingly constantly changing vision of “how it was supposed to be”
Throughout this.. videogames have been evolving, approaching a point where whilst not photorealistic by any means (which is a good thing, since a realtime rendered character is capable of far more plot options that the old interactive movie CD-roms of yesteryear! ) the visuals are sufficiently imbued with enough character to make emotional investment a possibility.
In the midst of this comes Bioware with Mass Effect. A sci-fi trilogy featuring an ensemble cast of characters, all memorable, all playing a part in a developing story spanning 3 games, shaped by the player. A story that is enhanced by spin-off books/comics following side-characters, carefully written so as to not disturb the player’s view of *their* Commander Shepard.
People talk of the desire to have a Mass Effect movie. I do not. Any Mass Effect movie would feature (or not?) a Commander Shepard that is not *my* Commander Shepard, it is someone else’s. Looking different, being a different gender, a different outlook etc. I might sway at the notion of Jennifer Hale (Voice of female Shepard) starring in the film, but even that would not be enough.
For me, Mass Effect has superseded (transcended?) the traditional linear format of a movie/story, and whilst I might enjoy peripheral stories set in that universe (if it exists post ME3!) the only real way to expand upon the standard set by the games, would be to have more games set in that universe. I especially think this because for me at least, Mass Effect 3 reached near perfection for my own personal gaming/movie tastes.
With the addition of the “narrative” mode, all decision/speech options were opened to me, and the combat sequences were made easy – not easy as in say “easy mode” in another game, rather they were easier to push through without constantly being killed, or getting stuck in an endless loop in a difficult section (with the exception of aforementioned BIG FECKING LASER!) and *crucially*… this time around the plot is constantly unfolding within these sections.
The games are not without their problems, though the third installment is damn near perfect for me. I await my previously mentioned gaming buddy’s opinion… tho seemingly in revenge my for my previous gaming-attention span he has said “meh.. I’ll pick it up sooner or later” !
The third game suffers from a dreadful amount of NPC animation clipping – arms passing through character’s own waists, heads turned at The Exorcist angle levels of horror. Getting stuck inexplicably on the spot necessitates a save bounceback. These are minor issues, but they are jarring on a immersion level, especially in one otherwise beautiful scene laden with gravitas, an intimate moment between two characters is ruined by one of them becoming invisible in one camera-view!
My other half – The Boffin – she *loves* Mass Effect too, but finds that she cannot enjoy playing the games as she is worse than me with controls etc – so, since taking the game back to the PC/laptop, I am required by her to record the key unfolding plot stuff for her to watch on the big telly afterwards! This has become wonderfully problematic in Mass Effect 3 as the plot is unfolding constantly throughout the entire game experience. My hard-disk, it runneth over!
So. As I write this, in my late 30′s I find myself feeling like a kid all over again. I want to hoard everything to do with this story that I can get my hands on.. the books, the comics, the art, the music… I’d even like the figures/maquette things, providing a: someone does one where Liara doesent look like a child with Impossi-boobs(tm) and impossi-waist…. and b: some clever clogs invents a way to import your Shepard’s face and cast a figure of it so that its the REAL Shepard! – Maybe the space-helmet is the way to go on that one!
I’m also determined that before I’m 40 and would look like a fool that I’m going to Cosplay as an N7 armoured Commander Shepard.
It shall be so.
Holly Conrad, I envy you SOOO much
Therefore I decree that Star Wars is dead, long live Mass Effect – a new generation of Sci-Fi space opera, and a new method of story telling is upon us.
…ofcourse there’s every chance that I may throw the toys out of the pram when I get to the ending… but given the impending sense of doom I’ve had anyway… I doubt it, and it will have been a hell of a ride
Share your thoughts with me on Twitter!
UPDATE – The End.
No spoilers. I can see why people were upset – I was too, but not for reasons of lack of clarity or resolution, I was upset because it ended, period, and that end was not too far removed from how i thought it might go. In retrospect my rushing the end cost me, as I didn’t give it my full attention, and worse yet the laptop hard-disk was starting to buckle under the strain of the 160gb or so of captured footage for The Boffin! – the result of this was choppy gameplay, so I will be replaying it, and adjusting my choices at the end
Overall.. I love Mass Effect, what an experience – combining the depth of series like FARSCAPE, Babylon 5, and Battlestar Galactica (reboot).
I also think that Mass Effect 3 even more so than the previous games deserves replaying, and the option to make different choices.. it only from speaking to others that I’ve learned that certain events I thought were set in stone could actually be changed…
I will finish by saying that the Mass Effect trilogy has been the most enjoyable fictional entertainment experience I think I’ve ever had . Not just a game, more than a movie, an experience.
UPDATE 2 – Serious spoilage
Ok, having had more time to absorb the ending via the requirement to replay the last 30 mins or so in order for The Boffin to see it too, I’ve had some more thinking. whilst I dont find the ending horrid (in the sense of being rubbish) I will admit to being disappointed in the somewhat leftfield nature of its direction. What I will say is this, having reluctantly deciding to read some other player’s woes about the game I came across the somewhat amazing “Indoctrination Theory” – which even if it turns out to be false (and I’ve been disappointed in fantastic fan theories before, eg throughout the entirety of LOST people were coming up with their own ideas regarding mysteries. Some were close, others completely wrong but arguably more amazing than the resulting “truism”) it will certainly be the most amazing piece of alt-fiction/plot ever, which if *not* true, perhaps ought to be!
It can be found here:
http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/355/index/9727423/81#9776530 - DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVENT FINISHED THE GAME!
..even if you’re content with the ending you should read it, as it is a fascinating notion
For the record, The Boffin was similarly baffled by the “out of the blue” ending solutions of the game…
…and as an aside, check out the C64 SID in the music of the “Purgatory” nightclub in the Citadel of Mass Effect 3!
…and no, I havent forgotten that I’m still to finish my FemShep version of this song:You'll never be better than Commander Shepard, who is male, but only for the moment!