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Monthly Archives: March 2012

*Warning Spoilers for ME 3 follow*

At the end of the hit sci-fi game Mass Effect three you run into a completely new character out of the blue. A God-Child computer program that designed the Reapers and enables them to reap all sentient life every fifty thousand years or so. This God-Child gives you three choices, Control the Reapers, merge organic and synthetic life in a new matrix, or wipe out all synthetics in the galaxy. Thats it. No choices, no options, not even a little bit of the character righteously asking the God-Child ‘why, why must I do this?’

And thus completely destroying almost one hundred hours worth of game play involving deep player choice and control over the most miniscule of details. But beyond that it also ruins the theme.

And really goes against one of the personal themes that has been set mainly throughout the entirety of Science Fiction. The idea of personal choice.

In Mass Effect you were supposed to have the ability of full player choice. That your actions and in actions had dire and dramatic consequences for the world you lived in and the people who surrounded you. Who lived, who died, who you helped, who you condemned. Which had an impact on the storyline and how effectively you were against the Reapers, or at the very least who you brought to the final dance.

But yet at the end you are limited to three contradictory and insulting choices without as much as a howd ya do.

In most science fiction stories that I know of to an extent it is all about human progress. About humanity and individual actions raging against the machine and those in power. It is very…libertarian. And perhaps one of the reasons I have so much respect for individual freedom, choice, about small Government ideals and not judging people not by the color of their skin but by the content of the character. It has, as I said, a very real effect on my personal, social, and moral development.

Characters challenging Governments, Gods, would be Gods, demi Gods, and any person in authority that was deemed to have the temerity to dictate terms. Even going so far, again, to challenge characters and entities that claim to be God.

In Star Trek V Captain Kirk and crew go to the center of the Galaxy on a search for God and when they find Him Kirk challenges the entity in question leading McCoy to utter one of the most famous lines in Star Trek: ‘Jim, you don’t ask the almighty for his ID’.

To the Stargate franchise which dealt with in its flagship show Stargate SG-1 the battle between a team of US elite military operatives and a race of beings that were impersonating ancient deities from various cultures. As they challenge these claims to their God hood and eventually help ferment a revolution against those beings.

To the two-part series of Star Trek Deep Space Nine where Benjamin Sisko leads a revolt against the benevolent authorities of the United Federation of Planets who under pressure and fear from imminent invasion by a hostile species imposes strict martial law on their inhabitants beaming down armed troops into the center of major cities and declaring a curfew to try to crack down on enemy agents.

To Babylon 5 where the main character John Sheridan leads a civil war against his own Government who was shooting down civilian transports and bombing cities in the colonies to impose his iron fisted will on the people.

Science Fiction has always represented a challenging of the status quo, at least to me. To saying, wait a second, who are you to play God? What is your authority here? Do you really make sense? Is what you are telling me factual? Sadly a lot of people in the science fiction community does not seem to appreciate these lessons.

Even television shows, movies, and books with no user input has a challenging of choices presented by the main character where they, often, are faced with an impossible situation but move on, grow, adapt, challenge, and overcome.

But yet Mass Effect a franchise that was based on the pinnacle of player choice and a personal story designed by the player does not do this. They do not challenge, they do not let the player control their destiny. At the height of the action with everything on the line your character can either disintegrate herself, throw herself into an energy beam…and disintegrate herself…or shoot a power conduit which causes an explosion killing themselves unless you meet a certain amount of pre set conditions.

Everything falls apart at the last moment.

Thus betraying both itself, its medium, and the genre it is playing in.

Sorry for the delay on not posting for a while and I promise to get back to more political and religious and social commentary soon, but I thought for my first blog back I would post a review for the popular game Mass Efect 3. Obviously massive spoilers will abound.

Now I know usually this is a political, religious, or social blog but I thought it wouldn’t be too much of a deviation for me to do this. Especially since I already do a lot of pop culture points and to keep up with the entertainment going ons and usually making a political point about it.

But…without further adu…

The entirety of the Mass Effect franchises is one of the greatest stories ever told. Its writing, action, and level of player involvement is deeper than any game that I have ever personally played. As you take on the role of Commander Shepard in a desperate bid to save the Galaxy from sentient star ships that are millions of years old. Along the way you recruit allies, settle disputes, and save people from day-to-day terrors, discovering the secrets of the universe and the Reapers themselves.

By the time Mass Effect 3 rolled around the reapers had arrived and you were now forced to wage all out Galactic War.

Gameplay 9.6/10: Mass Effect 3 is one of the smoothest game play experiences I have had. Miles above ME 2 where Shepard now has full control of her (or his) body. Able to perform combat roles, go into cover, climb up ladders and have full access to the battlefield like never before. The other systems, system scanning, and the collection of war assets is vastly superior. The Secondary missions now have their own stories and story importance where you can do them to add depth to your experience like running into old crew members.

The only disadvantages to the game are the quest system, and the dialogue. These are slight and minor but they are still annoyances. The quest system is not as complete as it was in ME 2, having no minor subobjectives or real hints on where you can go forcing you to go through the many levels or systems of a place, especially if you haven’t done it in a while. And you don’t get as much control over the dialogue wheel as before, there are now just two choices (Paragon or Renegade) instead of three with one potential investigatory option or Paragon and Renegade convince.

Custimizablility/ Player involvement: 9.6/ 10: Mass Effect as a game and as a series allows for deep layers of personal involvement as you forge a characters race, gender, creed and *gasp the orientation. Shepard can be whatever you want her (or him) to be. And your actions and choices have legitimate effects on the universe. Who to save, who to kill, who to let go. Sadly I don’t think ME 3 went as deep into this area as it could have gone where your decisions didn’t have that big a difference depending on what you did in previous games.

Story: 10/10. ME 3 is one of the finest stories of any medium. Right up there with the very best that can be put out by a Babylon 5 or a Doctor Who. And while the story may not have been as customizable as a lot of people would like (me included) the story itself has almost no problems as you go on a single epic to try to save the galaxy. And be the hero forging your own path in the process.

Music: 8.8/10: While not as good as previous installments and not having the epic tracks like a Normandy Reborn, Suicide Mission, Endrun, or the purely cool tracks like Virmire Ride, it still stands its own.

With tracks like Mars, Reaper Chase, Leaving Earth, An End Once and for All, Sur’Kesh, I’m proud of You the music is a true mix of bad ass with other poignant songs like I was Lost Without You. Reaper Chase even sounds like something a John Williams would do.

Emotional Impact: 9.8/10: ME 3 is one of the most emotionally engrossing stories of all times, unrivaled in the video games that I’ve personally played. Except for perhaps Ace Combat 5. The deeply personal story and the deeply personal gameplay as your Shepard, your creation, and your actions begin to matter throughout the entire Galaxy as you begin to struggle. This character in some senses becomes you, a creative extension of yourself because you are making the choices that this character does. On how to save, who to save, if you can save, forging a deeply personal journey. One that I realize I did not always use to its fullest making ample lessons of mistakes to forge the ‘perfect’ path without actually doing much role playing. But nevertheless it was still one of the best and most awesome experiences ever.

Bugs: 8/10: I am not really that big into bugs and I don’t notice these things, and with ME this is no exception. But I did fall through the map once and it still had a lot of problems with loading.

The End: 4/10: Usually I wouldn’t mention the end and leave it for story or some other section but the ending was so noticeably separate from the quality and commitment to excellence of the other 100+ hours of gameplay. It made no logical sense, only gave your character three choices that didn’t work for the plot (Control, Destroy, and Synthesis) and was full of plot holes and frankly breaking of Character as your crew and squad after three games of intense devotion and love abandon you in your greatest time of need.

However it is not irredeemable. It does have its moments. And is pretty solid in some respects, the music of the end just blow one out of the water as it’s a perfect complement to the sad and bitter circumstances surrounding the events on screen. But apparently we might get a better one.

Final Verdict: 9.3/10. ME 3 remains despite its very real problems one of the most enjoyable game experiences in my life. Worthy of a Conflict game or an Ace Combat 5. And despite its ending that lost it major points I highly recommend it and think of it as the best of the entire series.

Special Note on the Ending: I think it can be changed. I really do. It can be fixed and quite easy. With the choices presented by the Catalyst one can still fix it by giving Shepard more options in line with the plot. Like add to it bringing up the fact that you just helped the Quarians or the Geth, or allowing it for Shepard to explore these options.

Special Note on the Advertisements: I know that ads and commercials often do not reflect the product that we are given but in this case I feel that this is…special. The entire or the vast majority of the media leading up the launch of ME 3 in March was this idea of TAKE EARTH BACK. As Shepard triumphantly went to Earth and kicked some ass. I know we don’t always get that but that set the tone for the entire game in my mind, the triumphant hero coming home at the head of a multi species fleet to kick the Reapers the hell out of our Galaxy once and for all. Sadly this didn’t happen.

Sure there might not have been much of an Earth left. But the point is that even if there was something to save, or someone, we should’ve had the option of doing so. And making them safe, definitively.