24 November, 2009

Game Journal: Mass Effect

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This post was an hour and a half late. (I was recording more Batman.)

I wanted to say few more things about Mass Effect. Since this post is already a half hour late, we'll see how many I can remember in sixty minutes.

I felt weird reviewing it as an action game since most people consider it (and everything BioWare does) to be in the RPG category. But that's how it felt. The worst part was that I kept thinking, "this was done better in Ratchet & Clank". I don't think Ratchet & Clank was what BioWare was shooting for.

Honestly, though, I'm not sure what they were shooting for. Diablo (or in my case Titan Quest) is generally the touchstone for all action RPGs. But the game doesn't fit that mold. But there are so many games Mass Effect is "kinda" like.

It's kinda like Ratchet & Clank. You do many of the same tasks. Fight some guys. Do a hacking mini-game. Travel to the next planet. Upgrade guns. But it's all done better in R&C. Plus R&C does a much better job of making sci-fi settings that feel alive and interesting using the PS2. Plus there isn't a loading screen / protracted elevator ride every four minutes.

It's kinda like Brute Force. The generic setting, the way the player gave orders to companions, and the quality of AI of said companions are very similar. Brute Force had far less variety, and basically no story, but it simplified the action aspects in ways that were actually better.

It's kinda like Titan Quest (Diablo). But in TQ you've got tons more skill and loot choices that actually seem interesting / valuable.

I've been playing Republic Commando for the walkthrough lately, so the crappiness of Mass Effect's squad AI stood out even more than it might have. But I know Republic Commando had a more narrow focus, so I felt the comparison was unfair for the review.

It's kinda like Star Control II or Starflight in that you can explore alien worlds in a buggy. But the cool part of the buggy was upgrading it so you could take on more dangerous creatures and hostile environments and scan resources from further away. Plus the resources you mined were actually useful. Mass Effect has no upgrades and random collectibles, whether they're called minerals or dog tags or Prothean artifacts. They're just junk.

There were so many places Mass Effect was worse than games that came before it hurts my brain. And the interface designer should probably have just been fired (out of a cannon, into the sun). Of course, that's providing they even had a dedicated interface designer and didn't just dump the interface coding on some other programmer's already overflowing plate.

It's also worth mentioning that I was largely to blame for the crappy textures. I navigated the graphics options using the keyboard, which means I didn't see all the options available. In the normal world, things with settings generally have Low, Medium, and High. But it was foolish of me not to remember that in the videogame world, there's always an Ultra High. After I realized that, things looked fine.

Finally, (and this is a bit spoilery) Armin Shimerman died. Twice. Once wasn't on my watch as some additional character he played died in a cut scene. But it turned out that the decision I had to make regarding saving the council was completely jacked. I would have had to risk galactic annihilation to do it. The only reason to take that option would be morbid curiosity. And I'm pondering indulging mine.

I'm considering doing a second playthrough to see the Renegade path through the game... as Jayne Cobb from Firefly. For those unfamiliar, this would mean ignoring any sidequest that doesn't pay big money, and generally being a jerk.

Or maybe I should just buy a console so I have new games to play. :P

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