Mass Effect 2 (2010)

Never have I been more impressed, and disappointed with a game sequel.

ME2 manages to fix many of the issues I had an issue with the first game. Elevators have been removed, resulting is much faster loading screens. It was actually playable on the Xbox because the combat system was streamlined, and you could map more actions to hot keys, etc… The “playing a movie” feel was removed, and replaced by a much more open ended style of game play. I frequently describe the story as “Oceans 11 in Space.” The Mako is no more. And, they even added a few different hacking games, so you aren’t stuck doing the same stupid thing every time. Unfortunately, it seems like for everything they fixed they nerfed something that was good before.

For some reason, beyond all comprehension they replaced the galaxy map with some bullshit micromanagement thing. Now instead of just making a course, you are forced to deal with getting fuel and manually navigating your ship from planet to planet, system to system. Here is a tip game developers, micromanaging shit is not fun. For example, in the first game it was kind of pain in the ass managing all your equipment, converting things to omnigel, etc… So, in the second game they basically eliminated armor, and limited the weapons do to about twenty (more on this later). The new streamline system actually works pretty well, and helps you spend more time focusing on the fun parts of the game. On the flip side, in the first game you could survey some planets but click on “survey” when you navigated to them. It was quick, painless and earned you some experience. This has been replaced with one of the single most infuriating game requirements I have seen in recent years: the resource mining mini-game. This is a task that makes absolutely no sense for your elite captain to be doing. You have a full crew, you could have the slowest guy shit down and scan a planet. Or, better yet use the ships frickin’ AI system. It does not require the captain’s attention to hold down a button and sping a sphere. It is boring, time consuming, and really ruins the core of the game for me.

Back to the equipment situation. One of the things I liked about ME1 was that there were so many custom armors for all the characters. Well, I guess the developers figured fuck that, and went with the really annoying “one outfit, with an alternate unlockable.” And, to make matters worse, the things the people wear make absolutely no sense. The Miranda character you have for basically the whole game goes around in a skin tight spandex suit that shows off every single curve of her body. I’m sure that provided a lot of protection against explosives, or mosquitoes. The outfits are definitely more details and individualized, but they are not practical. At least Shepherd actually wears armor, and his armor is customizable.

When I found out that they stripped out all the weapons, and upgraded I thought that it would be really frustrating, but it worked out alright. I did not really spend much time thinking about the particular gun that I was using. Although, it was kind of lame that I was still using the same pistol I got towards the beginning of the game near the end. In the first game you spent a lot of time going through your inventory finding better versions of the weapon you had, and better versions of the upgrades you have on it. Although the upgrades in the first game did allow for some interesting options, such as making your gun basically never overheat so you could just shoot forever.

In ME2 you cannot shot forever, not even fucking close. In the first game I was cool with the overheat system. I figure directed energy guns would overheat. It was a good balance, you never had to worry about running out of ammo, you just needed to shoot at a pace that prevented you from overheating. ME2 replaced the overheating system with an ammo system. The explanation for the change is pretty stupid, and given the explanation some things in the game make no sense (i.e. Jacob’s loyalty mission). I suppose it would not be too bad, but the ammo in the game is pretty sparse. It is very frustrating to be forced to primarily use the pistol because your assault rifle/whatever burns through ammo so fast. And, once you run out of ammo you cannot fire, period. I should mention that it is technically not ammo, they call it  thermo clips. Rather than having a cooling system link in the first game, the heat from firing is absorbed by chips which have to be ejected, etc… I do not necessarily mind the idea of ammo, but I would have liked to have been able to fire after I am out of thermo clips. Ideally, the clips would allow you to fire quicker, but when you run out it should fallback to a cool down system similar to the first game.

Another backhanded improvement is the hacking game. Sure there are different mini-games, but you are forced to play them, you can not longer bypass hacks. So, but the end of the game I ended up skipping a lot of things because I was sick of the mini-games.

Leveling is a mixed bag. No longer are you awarded experience for dispatching foes. All experience is strictly regulating, and only dispensed for completing missions. Gone are the days of leveling in a difficult battle enabling you to gain and edge and win. Since you no longer receive any benefit from killing enemies I spent a far amount of time trying to figure out ways to progress without grinding through the enemies. Unfortunately, the game designers anticipated this, and made many sequences require you to kill wave after wave of enemy before you are allowed to advance, lame. On the other hand, it only takes 1,000 xp to advance a level. So, getting to the maximum level, 30 (that’s right the level cap is half the first game) can maybe be done on the first play through, and if not almost immediately on the second.

I believe that takes care of all my gripes for the game. This game was much better than the first. While the story is not remotely as epic, it was a hell of a lot more fun to play. I particularly liked that you had much more control over what you did in the game. Sure, you cannot do all the missions out of sync, you do get a lot of control over what you do, and do not do in the game. You do not need to get a full crew, earn their loyalty, or upgrade your ship. You could make the final mission a true suicide run, it really just comes down to what you want to do. This is how games should be.

Ultimately, this game does deserve a good rating, even though they did some incredibly lame things, I am going to focus on the good and hope they cut the BS from the final game in the series. After due consideration I will give this title a 4 on my undecim scale.

Mass Effect (2008)

Thanks to the Steam holiday sale I finally got around to playing this game. Originally, I bought this game when it first came out and was receiving a pretty good critical review. At the time I was busy with graduate school, and work so I did not have the time to play the game. Only recently have I really thought about trying to get back into it again. A few months ago I popped it in the Xbox 360 and gave it a go.

Mass Effect on the Xbox is absolutely dreadful. I played up until the Citadel, and hated every single second of it. The film grain and motion blur made me dizzy, the frequently lag and slow down were jarring. And, Shepherd felt sluggish and unresponsive. To make matters more annoying, the tackle system in the game was poorly developed. Gone are the days of careful strategy of KOTOR. They simplified the combat system, but only in a detrimental way. Sure you can give your party members directions, but the AI is pretty shotty, and you are limited in the things you can do, for example you have to issue both team mates the same command.

I put the game back in the box, and moved on with my life. I did a little digging around, and decided that I would probably enjoy the game a lot more on the computer, and I found out that Steam had a $5 sale on it a little while ago, so I hung around to follow the holiday sale around Christmas. Lucky for me they had the sale again so I purchased a license.

Mass Effect on the computer is not exactly what I would call fun, but it was much more playable than on the Xbox. I also did a bit of digging around to find out that I could disable film grain and motion blur, and my computer was fast enough to render without dropping frames. So, once I finally got past the technical issues facing me I was able to dig into the meat of the game.

I would say both the best and worst things about ME is the story. While the story does steal many elements from other science fiction stories, it does come across as quite an epic battle. Unfortunately, this epic battle requires you to be dragged around by your balls through out the game.

Yes, I understand that you spent a lot of money on animating cut scenes, and you want me to see the whole story, but please NEVER employ unskippable cut scenes. This is an unforgivable sin of modern game development. At lesat in ME the story was good, but there are so many games out there with a shitty story that I don’t care about, I just want to skip the cut scenes, whether it is my first or fourth play through.

The other issue is the whole “playing a movie” concept. I know that some people like this, but I personally hate it. I don’t want to have a few moments of shitty game play capped by yet another cut scene. I get that you want to maintain the integrity of the story and atmosphere, but it is really annoying and is just another form of enforced linearity.

The game gives you a couple of choices, because you can execute some missions out of order, but you have to do the missions, so it is really just an illusion. Sure there are dialog options, and side quests and things, but once you screw around with them you realize how pointless they are in the grand scheme of things, and you are still just following a strick path the developers laid out for you.

Hacking mini-games suck. I am not exactly sure why game makers have been using them so much lately. I did end up playing ME and Bioshock back to back, so I was already sick of hacking games when I started ME. And, to make matters worse it was the same annoying mini-game every single time. At least you always have the option to just skip the game by paying with omnigel.

Let’s make vehicles drive like the warthog? I know I had a few trouble adjusting to the controls back when the original Halo came out, but once you get the hang of it, you’re golden. Go with one stick, aim with the other, it controls just like running around with your character. Instead in ME you get the abortion that is the Mako. This thing controls like fat man in an earthquake. I thought the controls were bad on the PC, but they are borderline unusable on the Xbox.

And, the last major thing that I did not like was the elevators. There are a couple of major problems with them, the first, there are simply too many of them. Second, they are scripted loading events so installing the disk to the hard drive (on the Xbox) does not improve loading times here. I did kind of like that there were short dialogs, or news updates though. One of the things I missed from KOTOR was the ability to have dialogs with party members during missions. If you could have advanced dialog with your party members doing elevator scenes you could have killed two birds with one stone.

Having said all that the game actually is not that bad. Once you get the hang of combat, and deal with all your equipment, and getting enough omnigel to bypass the hacking game, the game starts to get pretty funy. I think my judgements are a bit jaded because I am still steaming over the rancid Final Fantasy X, and that I picked one of the more difficult classes to play on the first play through, adept.

There are some things about the game I think they got right. For example, navigating across the galaxy is managed from an intuitive map inteface that allows you to jump from system to system with ease. And, I liked how you were able to equip diffent weapons and armor that changed the appearance of your characters. In some many games you are pretty much stuck with one appearance, and maybe and alternate you can unlock somehow.

This may be the first time that I have spent almost and entire rant bitching about something, and then still turning around and recommending it. Ultimately, I did end up having some fun playing the game towards the end, and the story is quite impressive. So, in spite of all its flaws I will give Mass Effect a 2 on my undecim scale.