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Games You Probably Like, But Shouldn’t: Mass Effect

July 21, 2009

I think it’s about time that I have my first special for this column.  That’s right folks; I’m still alive after the M. Night ending of the last article in GYPLBS.  Some of you may think that’s a good thing.  Others may wish I burn in the flame wars that my articles seem to spark.  Anyway, since I bested Metallic Jackie Chan, I’ll be doing a two-parter special edition of GYPLBS that I’m lovingly calling “Decisions and Morality:  Who Controls Who?”  This week will be devoted to the decisions that we’re told we’re making.  Now, what recent game exemplifies this?  That’s right Shepard, Mass Effect.

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It’s already happening as you’re reading this.  There are people leaving hate mail about how much of a *insert a string of expletives ending in a noun* I am for trashing one of their favorite games.  Let me give a quick shout out to the Uncharted fanboys at N4G that have my last article removed no matter how much of a response it received.  The fact of the matter is, yes, I am about to rag on another game that’s claimed another pinnacle, especially for X-Box 360.  Seeing as I keep getting comments about it, let me say this right now:

I like Mass Effect.  I have played it through completely twice and intend to again before the sequel is released.  It is one of the better 360 games I have played.  If you comment saying what an idiot I am for not liking this game, you hereby declare yourself a mindless sheeple fanboy that didn’t even take the time to glance at this article.

Hopefully, in time, I won’t have to put modifiers like that.  Unfortunately, it seems that some of the readers are thinking that I hate every game in existence.  Mass Effect is a great game; that doesn’t stop it from insulting the gamer’s intelligence.  The designers over at BioWare got so much right when they were designing this game that the one thing they got wrong becomes a glaring embarrassment.

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What made me fall in love with the game the most was the lack of morality in the game.  Granted, there was Paragon and Renegade; however, these weren’t necessarily moral choices.  Yes, sometimes Shepard would seem flat out evil when choosing Renegade, but not all of them were.  It was about deciding whether or not the gamer wanted to follow inter-galactic laws or if he or she wanted to pave their own way.  The gamer’s decisions were to affect the flow of the game a step above whether you were good or evil.  In this way, BioWare became liars.

Let’s take one of the missions for example.  So, my Shepard, a strange heavily bearded Asian looking fellow that somehow pulled the look off, went down to a planet with two alien buddies.  Why two aliens?  Because humans are boring.  There they found a facility full of enemies…  Cue lots of bullets and other people dying.  Shepard and the two aliens make it to the back room; inside, one man holds a gun to a scientist’s head.  Long story short, Shepard can keep both of them alive, have them both die, or kill the scientist himself and keep the armed man alive.  Out of curiosity, I used the save features to do all three.  Here are the admiral’s responses paraphrased:
1)      “Good job, Shepard.  The scientist will be put on trial and the guy will get the help he needs.”
2)      “I heard what happened, Shepard.  It’s disappointing that it had to go down that way.”
3)      “You did what you felt was necessary, Shepard.  I understand.  I may have done the same in your shoes.”

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So, I continued with each out of curiosity, as an experiment with Shepard in a way, which is ironic if you decided he or she was a “lone survivor” earlier in the game.  Did Shepard get any additional quests through any of the choices?  Did anyone react to Shepard any differently?  Were certain areas locked or unlocked?  No.  None of them.  All that happened was that the little meter in the character screen said Shepard was either more Paragon or more Renegade.
I can hear it now, “But Brandon!  Wasn’t that just a side mission?  Isn’t that a bad example?”  No, it’s not a bad example when the whole game is geared like that.  At every avenue, whether you choose Paragon or Renegade, the same things happen.  It doesn’t matter if it’s during the main plot or if you’re on some random chunk of rock.  The most you can actually decide with an effect is whether or not you want additional characters.  Sure, you tell the council to basically go screw themselves, but you still go after the bad guy and the council still calls you with the same dialogue.

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Like so many “decision-based” games, the only noticeable change is in the very final few minutes of the game.  You have the choice of two to three endings depending on the choices you make at the end of the game.  Very little of it is actually depending on how you’ve spent the last ten to twenty hours.  You can go through the whole game helping everyone and just decide at the end to let basically everyone die.  “But Brandon!  What about the new dialogue options that open if you’re far enough to one side or another.”  Okay, so you can talk down a situation or shoot everyone in the head; you still get basically the same things and the plot doesn’t deviate.

This is the obligatory wrongess of game companies these days.  BioWare created a game and said, “Play through it and enjoy it; then you can play it again with completely different actions!”  Yes, understand that there are different classes and that varies things up a bit, but the initial promise of “Your decisions affect the game,” is an outright lie.  Rath

er than making well fleshed-out games at a decent rate, video game designers have become accustomed to designing games that are worthwhile the first time and then, compared to the lies told, waste the gamer’s time until the companies can produce another game the requires multiple play-throughs to hear every variant of dialogue.  The idea of replayability due to amusement, power of plot, and intense game play has been replaced with the gimmick of “variable plots” that leave way too much to be desired.

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So Mass Effect is a good game the first time, great even.  Heck, just enjoying the game play through other classes is a great experience; however, we as gamers have been lied to and we need to stop accepting these broad promises spoon fed to us.  As gamers who deserve to receive what is promised, Mass Effect is a game you probably like, but shouldn’t.

-Brandon

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