Mass Effect 3

May 21st 2012

Well, that was an experience. I completed ME3 a few weeks back and while i enjoyed 80% of the game, there was one large glaring error with the game. While i dont think the error ultimately led to the downfall of the game (it is still mostly great), it does demonstrate a genuine step backward for the ME universe. Yep, it was the end of the game (not the ending...), yep it was disappointing and yep, I got bored with the game because of the lazy scripting. That said, there were some great moments in ME3, and in the interest of balance, I'll cover both the pros and cons. First up, what i liked...

1. Faithful to the ME universe (on occassions)...

The game does stay true to its rootsin 2 areas.. It is, at its best, an exciting action RPG with plenty of interesting tactical fights that offer a number of ways of resolving them. It also boasts a wide range of weapons, alarge number of interactive characters and, it genuinely tries to expand on the universe without stamping all over the reasons why fans love it. Your core gameplay remains the same - travel, explore, fight and learn about your people, but the game does at least try to make it bigger and better, particulary during some key early exchanges. It would be tough to say that both the combat and tactics are not bigger and better than previous games.

It is actually very important to me that a sequel does not simply rinse and repeat - thankfullyt ME3 treads that fine line between doing what its good at over and over again and building on its truly exceptional parts. For the most part of the game, it doesnt disappoint and there is, initially at least a genuine feel that the game is bigger and better than its predecessors. In particular, look at the fights - more enemies on screen and more going on in the background - some fights feel genuinely like they are part of an epic war. This is no mean feat - other games like GOW3 try, and for the most part fail, to create an illusion of epic war, and for me ME3 is the first game to truly capture this, on a few occassions at least.

2. Shepherd

I'm not going to say much, but in Shepherd, like Solid Snake, Bioware have created a legendary character. Unlike Snake however, Shepherd is each players own personal creation. For example, I restarted the game after an hour of playing as (for reasons unknown) my previous Shepherd didnt look quite like the one I had played the previous 2 games with. I wanted my Shepherd to finish the game. In this sense, ME3 carried on that emotional connection already established and, while this may have more to do with ME2 and ME1, ME3 certainly places great emphasis on the emotional journey of Shepherd as a human and leaves plenty of clues to his background. During one stand out section, you are treated to voice recordings of when Shepherd was held by Cerberus. In the scope of the game, these are minor, but add depth and weight to character who seems more like a movie star than a mere CG animated avatar.

3. The End of the Game

Yes, I loved the very end of the game, as in the last 5 minutes. There is a great twist, a difficult choice and, for what its worth, the level of ambiguity played out very nicely against the backdrop of intergalactic war. For me, it was as if the game was saying "nothing is simple in life", and, while the execution of the ending was a little off (the end of the game + the fact i was unclear what choice i was making), the actual plot was, by this point, well developed and at least took the time to cover off some of the more interesting lose ends. I liked it - it was fun, entertaining and, genuinely made an effort at creating a strong story arc for one of the most loved game franchises.

What I didnt like...

1. The Ending of the game...

This is very different to the point above. I hated the last 2 - 3 hrs of ME3. I got so bored with the rinse and repeat action, artificial ramp up in difficulty (fight more of the same monsters over and over again) and complete abandonment of emotional connection to the main characters that for me, ME3 totally lost itself. It could so obsessed with creating what felt more like a long QTE than an epic ending to a great RPG. I mean, even the fight through "London" lacks any heart or soul. One big ben shot aside, "London" is really just a series of streets and alleyways in various states of ruin that you fight through. It does nothing to create atmosphere or any sense of urgency.

This lack of urgency is not helped at all by the fact that you effectively ditch all the characters you care about prior to landing on earth and all you get is to basically talk to them - some in person, some via VC - about the end of the war. It feels more like a token gesture to them and it ultimately relegates the secondary characters that made the games so special, to nothing more than bored bystanders with repeated dialogue. So dissappointing.

2. The "Love" Triangles

I am not going to say much about this except that compared to the first 2 games, the romance options are a joke. Not only are they badly executed (i spent time on one relationship only for her to inexplicably disappear about half way through the game, to then show up again as if nothing had happened later on), but they are also tacked on. There is no real screen time given to investment in characters. Fair enough you may say, this is all out war, but this genuinely hurts ME3. Previous ME games were elvated above their status as good games to being outstanding becasue you bought into and believed in the supporting cast - it was a believable universe. Here, and I hate to say it, all you get is well scripted dialogue that has minimal impact on the outcome of the game. It all felt as if the designers thought they had to give the fans a romance option, so hey, here it is. This was unrewarding, frustrating and felt superficial at best (i can imagine one or two of my colleagues saying "what else do you expect from a relationship).

3. Finally... the bosses

Action games arent made great by their bosses, but having ones that are interesting at least do help. Another way of making bosses relevant is to ensure that you require genuine strategy / ingenuity to beat them. None of that here - ultimately you are asked to fight bosses that generally look good, but are all beaten the same way you beat other characters in the game. There is not one boss that I would say is stand out. Even the most ridiculous fight in the game (you fight a reaver ship) is ludicrously dull. It even has the classic "do this attack 3 times and avoid its attacks and WIN". I ended up feeling bored and disengaged, mainly because at no point did i feel that beating a boss was making any kind of progress in the game, it was always an artificial milestone required to complete the game, rather than any sort of accomplishment.

Other gripes? Yes, but it would be unfair to include them in my issues with the game. The multiplayer is somewhat inaccessible, mainly because i have no idea what it contributes to the main game (yep - the "galaxy at war" motto was lost on me - felt like boring skirmsihes in a poor mans gears of war to me). Secondly, during the game, there is no real context that what you are doing is making a difference - yeah you can get loads of cool stuff and make loads of decisions (or at least have the illusion of decision making), but these dont really seem to impact the outcome of the game, or the pace at which you progress in it.

For me, the game tried too much and obscured most of what made it great. The online play, the decision trees and even the supporting characters all seem insignificant in the designers agenda. And herein lies the problem, what made the first two games great was just that - the attention to detail in the secondary characters and the wonderful supporting cast. Here, they were all sidelined for greater good of galaxy survival.

On paper, that makes sense, however, in a game built on players emotionally investing in its world and iuts inhabitants, ultimately the game left me with a feeling that it was sterile and a step backwards, not forwards for the series.

Overall - if ME3 was swapped with ME2, then everyone would hail ME3 as a great step forward. However, the bar was set so high with the ME2 universe, that ultimately ME3 fails tolive up to the high standard of its predecessor.

The game is good, well executed, well designed, but for me, stops short of being a true great becasue of its lack of attention to detail where it really counts (characters unexplored, poor communication of ideas and a lack of emotional investment) and a lazy ending that leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth.

Rating - if i were a ratings man, I'd say it was a solid 8 out of 10. I'd not dissuade people from playing it, but I'd recommend the significantly stronger ME2- both as a holistic gaming experience and a simple RPG - over ME3.


PS have just started playing Skyrim - totally different type of game, but enjoyable. Will update on it at some point...

Mass Effect

January 14th 2012

Before X-mas I bought Mass Effect 1 to play, mainly becasue my X-box save games all went caput and I wanted to play something interesting. I was also able to pick it up for about £5, so bargain for me and I jumped right into it. I dont have a huge amount to say about Mass Effect 1 to be honest - it is a great game but as I played it after I had completed ME2, my experience was slightly impacted. So, rather than do my usual notes on a few different elements of the game I loved,  I've decided to go for a few thoughts on what I thought was interesting about the game, specifically in relation to ME2.

1. Very much its own game, but not without problems....

ME1, as far as I am aware was released relatively early on in the Xbox360 life, but it does not show at all. The visuals are superb, voice acting excellent and the concept of the game incredibly well executed (a role playing sci fi epic where your choices and decisions genuinely matter). I loved it - every minute of it, but some elements felt half baked, under developed or just filler.

Specifically, the sections where you drive around barren planets in a buggy are a pain - the graphics are often superb, but here the game design is lazy at best and cheap at worst (drive here, check this, go to next way point and fight a monster). They dont detract from the overall game experience, but they are so in contrast with the high quality story / combat that they feel 'tacked on' to lengthen the game. And, talking aout combat, man do they make it harder than it has to be...

The combat is part 3rd person shooter, part cover based, part squad control and part "use biotics" (think magic / powers). THere is alot going on and they dont quite manage to pull it off, but you do forgive the game for trying so much, even if it is very glitchy and extremely clunky. It is, on occassions, almost as if the designers werent really sure just what they should make the game excellent at and instead went for a hybrid approach that comes very close, but falls just short.

2. It is its own game, but feels like a trial run for ME2

The game has its own plot, decisions, dilogue but as I had played ME2 and knew what could really be done, the game almost felt as if the developers were testing a load of ideas for the inevitable sequel. I know that I am probably saying this only because I had completed ME2 before this, but at least one person I know gave up on ME1 because it felt inacessible and tough. The game is not really, but the menu system, inventory management and clunky combat dont make for a fluid 3rd person RPG or 3rd person shooter.

With that in mind though, I actually think I enjoyed it more because i had played ME2 before this - I knew they could do so much better - and after 3 hours of playing I was engrossed in the story and able to ignore the problesms. Interesting, becasue I always felt like I was forgiving the game because it is worth perservering with as ME2 is that good. Make no mistake, when you do get into it, it is a superb game that really engrosses and exites in equal measure.

3. My one big mistake...

Because I played ME2, I decided to play ME1 on the easiest difficulty level. I almost NEVER do this with games as I enjoy both the challenge of a tough game and the satisfaction of become excellent at it.However, I never really got to this point in ME1 as I was effectively breezing through even the toughest bosses. Around half way through, I realised that this was a massive mistake - the game is definately good enough in its own right to warrent a proper play through and I didnt really get this.

However, this did mean I completed it relaively quickly and moved straight on to my 2nd play through of ME2, and boy did I enjoy that. In fact, I would go as far to say that I enjoyed my second playthrough of ME2 at least as much as the first as I was able to appreciate the in-jokes, see my decisions of the first game echoed in the sequel and appreciate the breadth of the plot of both games. All in all, I absolutely loved the second play through and felt like I was exploring a new game afresh, not merely repeating a great experience on an old one.

So, in summary, I strongly recommend playing both ME1 and ME2, in no particular order. When ME3 comes out, no doubt it will be an epic experience and enhanced by the time that I have already put into both of its sequels, and by the end of the second, all I wanted was more.

Two truly great games - superb story, great action and a fantastic cast of characters. The fact that ME2 goes toe to toe with GOW on the action, Red Dead on the story and other big hitting RPG's on the character development is testimony to just how far the games concept had come.

Enjoy them both, at least once, probably twice...


Mass Effect 2

Thursday 31st March 2011 - completed ME2

Well, what can I say, other than what a game. From the first bit of dialogue to the last, I loved ME2, despite not having played the first one. Everything from the tight story, engaging and, dare I say it for a video game, believable characters to the relentless action and amusing sleaze hit all the right notes with me. In short, I loved the gamestart to finish and there are 3 main reasons why...

1. Shooter and RPG and adventure game...

You basically get 3 games in one with ME2 - you can play the majority of the game as a shooter, ducking in and out of cover a lá gears of war, firing off lighting bolts, fire and many other powers as and when you wish. The cover works well, as do the different weapons you have.

However, what was really refreshing was that the all action, violent and breath-taking assaults was played out under the back drop of an RPG in the way GOW wasnt. You have choices to make, people to talk to, people to rescue and aliens to seduce - and in many respects this did not detract at all from the combat, rather it enriched it. Everything, all your actions and choices felt like they had more weight than in GOW because you care about the universe you are exploring. Yes - GOW combat is tighter, more refined and more tactical, but ME2 is every bit as rewarding.

The adventuring elements of the game largely involve exploring strange new worlds and talking to strange new people. These elements can git a bit samey after a while despite the incredible art design of the game, but though the exploration can be repetitive, the dialogue choices and conversation tree's are down right brilliant. You can have plenty of fun just strolling around talking to your shipmates, various street merchants and other random NPC's. The universe is kept well and truly alive through the great characters that inhabit it.

2. The Dialogue and art design

A great deal of effort clearly went in to getting talented voice actors, designing the characters and writing a script that has less quantity than, say Metal Gear, but as much depth. You don't watch cut scenes, you take part in them, guiding what feels like actors rather than game characters to say what you want, how you want it. Add to this the structure of the conversations, your choices are made based on a word or two to give you a flavour for what the character will say and you have a game that feels entertaining and fresh.

Add to this art design that would look at home in one of the modern star wars releases and you have a game that is well and truly immersive and genuinely fun to explore. The fact that different worlds have their own rules, customs and unique feel and at no point did I feel like I was exploring a boring world.

3. the sleaze

Honestly, I had so much fun just wandering around the ship making a (male) Shepard say chat up squad members and the crew. I don't know what it was, but I think the fact that a lot of the humour in the game comes from the ideas of romance against a backdrop of interstellar war ensured the game didnt take itself too seriously. It was amusing to think that despite being about to go out on a suicide mission and having being dead for 2 years you stillfind time to hit on some chicks. Hilarious stuff...

And Finally...

Any gripes? No major ones, mainly that the game does quite a good job of disguising how linear it is through the varied dialogue and loyalty based missions, but ultimately you end up in exactly the same mission and the only variety appears to be in who dies. Also, on the side quests - I found to be mostly dull. They appeared to be mainly of the "go here find this bring back to me" type that leave me cold.  Another gripes would be that the combat was not really all that varied as it is in GOW or even Vanquish, but then again, the game was not just a combat game.

All in all, a cracking game and fair entertainment that worked out (I realised) at less than £1 per hour (it took me roughly 25 hrs to complete the game. Quite simply, one of the best games I've played.