Thursday, July 24

Sometimes fun just happens

Context: I'm a dedicated (aka hardcore) gamer with subcategories of completionist and co-operative play. My competitive subcategory score is quite low, in spite of what my friends might say.

There's a lot wrong with Mass Effect. The story is crap. The on foot game play very samey across all three pure classes anyway. The dialogue options - touted as revolutionary in the pre-release hype - felt arbitrary and had no real bearing on the 'plot'. Elevators. Doors. Maps repeated over and over and OVER. Copycat button press mechanics. Collect missions with no worthwhile relationship to anything. Incredibly long texture load times (arguably not Bioware's fault). Constant screen tearing. And the Mako, don't get me started on the Mako. I even found the graphics strangely sanitary, I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about it lacked personality, giving an artificial quality to every environment in the game. Virmire and Ilos did not suffer from this as much.

And yet, in spite of all of this, I had fun with it.

I enjoyed the story in the same way one enjoys a B grade movie. I laughed at many of the key dramatic moments in the story for all the wrong reasons. Alternatively I'd yell at the characters in the game for all manner of irritations. I also appreciated that there was so much material directly lifted from sources I had enjoyed in their original form, frequently naming such sources as they appeared throughout the game. This also served to underpin how deeply unoriginal most missions were as discrete units of the story.

The side quests, those with story elements weren't as laughable, even being mildly provoking at times. Seeking them out and exploring their permutations was rewarding for the first playthrough. This mirrors my experience with GTA IV, and even Oblivion where the 'major' story pieces often lack the quirkiness, honesty or creativity explored in the smaller pieces. The collect missions could be ignored - they didn't even have much bearing on the acquisition of achievements.

As a completionist I'm pretty forgiving of many things so I wasn't really put off by a wide array of irritating but not game breaking flaws. The repeating maps, meaningless quests, button pressing mini-games, elevators, doors and texture pop-in problems (which were admittedly pretty shocking) reduced the quality of the experience and were at times tiresome but I could bear it. Most games have flaws like these, mind you I've never seen such a high profile game with so many flaws. The screen tearing was a problem though, so bad at times that I had to stop and rest my eyes after only a relatively short play period (compared to my normal play periods).

The Mako was a gamebreaker, I say this because while I 'completed' the game, I constantly searched for ways to exclude the Mako from my play experience. It felt as though Bioware had gotten their hands on the code for the Warthog and then changed it in a way to make it as annoying as possible while maintaining a semblance of playability. In my travels I discovered that when the Mako was badly damaged it was far quicker to press 'X' while in the Mako to return to the ship, land again (wholly restored) and then return to the destination than repair a Mako and wait for the shields to restore. This includes load times! As I learned more about the game I no longer fought from inside the Mako, instead I'd park it, get out and fight on foot. The rewards were better, the play more fun and the recovery time much, much quicker regardless of the technique used. Except for the Thresher Maws. Fortunately the game was still playable without the Mako and its contribution could be minimised, but I'm convinced that the dev time spent on this abomination would have improved all those other niggling problems that lowered the overall quality of this title.

I got all the achievements. Go figure. I was hoping for a theme or something like a civilian skin for Shepard (jeans and t-shirt), or maybe some insight into the development of the game. I was hoping for something interesting - but I've already dealt with this in an earlier post. I satisfied my completionist urges and in gameplay terms I got a small cooperative play fix through the party mechanics of the game, so it definitely wasn't a waste of time.

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