Jim Sterling's Terrible Bucket List: Mass Effect
By Jim Sterling
So, Mass Effect. Everybody loved it. I did not. Apparently that makes me some sort of malformed, malcontented freak who should be shunned from polite society and consigned to myth and fear as parents tell children stories of my wickedness at night. Well, I say bollocks to that, as Mass Effect not only wasn't half as good as people think, it was actively dreadful. I'm here to explain why.
First of all, let me say that I love the idea of Mass Effect. Its premise of a humanity struggling against racial prejudice in a universe far older than itself was really promising, and taking the Western RPG into an original sci-fi setting is always worthy of a fair shake. However, BioWare is easily among the most overrated developers in the industry -- the studio makes great titles at times, but its backside isn't home to an endless stream of golden eggs, and I think Sonic Chronicles can back me up on this.
Back to Mass Effect. I have never liked this game and I've been hounded to the ends of the Earth by... hounds... because of it. Well, now I've got a stage upon which to unfairly rend apart any game I so desire, and there's no better jumping point than Mass Effect. You may think the game is awesome, engaging, innovative, or any other buzz word, but you're wrong. That's not opinion, that's just objective, scientific fact.
Now, I have no issue with the RPG aspects of Mass Effect. What I do have issue with is that the story misses a few opportunities to say something meaningful about prejudice and social attitudes to outsiders, but it's a decent sci-fi yarn. I love the dialog system and the characters. Unfortunately, when Mass Effect tries to be a full-on game, it falls painfully short.
The combat in Mass Effect, for want of a better phrase, eats the rich creamy stink from the puckered, milky backdoor hole of Satan's most decomposed pet donkey. How does it suck? Let me count the ways!
First of all, Mass Effect is a game that contradicts itself on the most fundamental of levels. It tries to be a cover-based, methodical shooter, so what does it do? It consistently pits the player against fast-moving melee attackers that bum rush the party without warning. In fact, most enemies move much faster than the main characters can, totally putting paid to the idea of methodical, tactical combat and attempting to be more of a twitch shooter with player characters that weren’t designed for it.
While we're on the subject of player characters, it doesn't help that your allies in the game are not only made of paper, falling down dead if an opponent even so much as looks at them, but things are made worse due to their complete lack of a survival instinct. It's almost like they have moths living in their chests, driving them to run towards the bright flashes of enemy weapons as quickly as possible. For a cover-based shooter, these guys don't like cover all that much. They seem to prefer holding competitions to see who can get filled with as many holes as possible.
In between the combat, of course, we have the Mako, although it should have been renamed The Magical Bouncing Rubber Jelly Car. Like the Gummi Ship in Kingdom Hearts, this totally pointless vehicular section is as insignificant as it is overused. The vehicle is frustrating to control, due to the fact that it grips to the road like a bucket of semen on a seesaw covered with soapy water, and yet BioWare thought we'd have incredibly amounts of fun bouncing around desolate planet crusts while attempting to shoot at the same collection of tank robots. Sign me up!
In fact, the whole vague navigation system aboard the Normandy seems designed entirely to bore and irritate the player, all the while bumping up a playing time that is already pretty damn long. Was it too much to ask to just give a list of places the player can visit in order to progress the story? Or at least inform players about navigation rather than letting them figure it out for themselves? Apparently not.
Mass Effect always had promise. BioWare, as a studio, always has promise. Unfortunately, the bizarre gameplay choices never seem to work out well, and the fact they've been deliberately engineered that way makes it worse. If it was some sort of screw up, it would almost be forgivable, but BioWare made Mass Effect this way on purpose and thinks it's good. In fact, loads of people think it's good, and that's an awful, awful thing to comprehend.