There's something oddly compelling about Mass Effect

Originally posted to    

Fallout 3 is one of these games I always hear people talk about as an incredible experience. People always have anecdotes about how they solved these crazy questlines with ghouls and vampires, or how they nuked Megaton off the map. I don't see any of these things when I play it, though – I end up wandering around this ugly looking landscape, not caring about the main quest and wondering why the game doesn't play the way a shooter should. It just felt like Grand Theft Auto always feels to me – a game that is so broad, and encompasses so much, that they can't possibly make sure all of the stuff that's in there is good. 

I played Mass Effect again in preparation for the sequel, which you can hear all about in our first Broken Face Podcast. I'd looked back on it as an unfinished mess, just like Fallout or Oblivion, but when I got back into it, I really enjoyed it. I couldn't tell you why. It's the mix of the skill progression, paragon/renegade choices, and the new game + at the end of the game. It's also a world that I enjoy much more than Dragon Age fantasy tropes or broken down anything.


The game's broken – the combat is awful, since cover is so finicky and the reticules are gigantic. I'm always selling my entire inventory because I just can't be bothered to actually manage it. I can't imagine ever enjoying the prefabricated buildings in the sidequests, or driving around on uncharted planets in the Mako, which I don't do – I actually get out of the vehicle instead, because it's actually easier. Last of all, it has its framerate and loading, which make a lot of the game a chore to play through.


Still, I loved it. I'm playing and enjoying it again for a Renegade character right now and it's so fun. The problems still suck but there's something about it that keeps me coming back. Even now with Mass Effect 2 out, where others are saying that they really can't go back to the original, I'm still enjoying it quite a bit. I just wish I could get into Bethesda's games the same way, because then I'd have double the amount of incredible games to play every few years.

Start the Conversation

The Downward Spiral.

I find that as each one of these giant releases comes out, I understand a little bit more about the video games media and why things are the way they are on message boards and such. The cycle happens pretty frequently. Pre-release hype, fever pitch and climax during the weeks that reviews hit and the game releases, and finally the growing backlash to the game itself but more often just the reviews and media presence in general. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I haven’t been following this industry as closely as I do now for very long. It’s basically from the beginning of this generation of consoles starting with the Xbox 360’s launch that I really started posting and reading boards and following most of the news out there. I’ve seen it countless times already, though, and it happens to every game without fail. Of course the most recent victim is Metal Gear Solid 4.

I’m thinking that some of the reasons that the cycle occurs with people on both sides of the fence is just because of the way this industry is structured, especially the way most reviews are written for AAA game releases. People are used to reviews where they can see a perfect correllation between positive points in a review and the review score. People talk this way on the boards as well, as if a game starts out at a 10 and points are subtracted as flaws are tallied up. So in the case of MGS4 which recieved a 10 from many publications, we see overwhelming amounts of hyperbole and praise, and if flaws are even mentioned, the reviewer practically apoligizes, because a game that is a 10 obviously has no flaws.

I don’t necessarily think this way of thinking is wrong, per se. I had that kind of opinion myself back in the day when I was younger, reviewing games and giving scores. A 10 is perfect and nothing can actually be perfect. This line of thinking sends mixed signals, though - are reviews meant to be advice on how people should spend their money or is a review a factual statement of game quality? I try to review games with neither of these things in mind, but those are the two general philosophies I’ve seen around on the internet, and it’s why it contributes to the message board kids’ confusion about why their favorite game isn’t a 10 or why this game that has so many flaws can’t possibly be a 10 under any circumstances regardless of opinion and whatnot. A review can’t ever be an absolute statement of fact, but so many people treat it as such, which is why those two arguments can happen. And then you have a different kind of message board dweller concerned about sales and whatnot who treats a lower score for a game as a blow since the game can’t sell nearly as well with a bad review score, which is part of the console warz phenomenon.

I try to operate here under the assumption that people can find all the praise they want for a specific game in any other place. When I talk Metal Gear Solid 4 in a review, I’m not going to talk in detail about the graphics, or the changes in the control scheme and how it affects gameplay. I’ll probably touch on those to quickly give my opinion but those things are oversaturated right now and I have to assume anyone who finds my blog will have either already played the game or has read about it. This is why you might read my thoughts on Bioshock and think that I despise the game when I think it’s perfectly fine. You also might think that I’m purely reactionary from the rampant praise that the game got last year, and I’m sure there was some of that, but it didn’t inform my entire opinion in that I was out to hate it from the beginning. The truth is, I was out to love the game from the beginning since it was an incredible experience for the first few hours. I preferred to talk about what I didn’t like, though, since you can go anywhere else to read about how brilliant the game is, and most people didn’t go into detail on the failures of the game.

I talk this same way on message boards, and I’m lumped in with the backlash, which offends me. Backlash by its very nature is a reaction to the praise of the game, and usually in the games industry it’s a reaction to the “perfect scores” that MGS and GTA recieved. I’m not concerned with a number. I don’t assign numbers to anything anymore, and if I did, I wouldn’t think that my number is better than someone else’s number. My number is just information on how much I enjoyed the game. It’s no better than anyone else’s. I don’t take anyone else’s numbers into account when formulating mine. The fact that people gave MGS4 a 10 doesn’t change my experience of the game in any form. The truth of the matter is that people let that number get to them too much, though. They always want their number to be the same as everyone else’s and that informs their opinion of the specific site, podcast, whatever.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that people who like a game don’t want to hear anything negative about it. I would rather cite negatives instead of positives and people don’t like it. Metal Gear fans listened to the GFW Radio discussion of the game and came away thinking that they nitpicked the game and hated it because in their minds, the GFW guys didn’t “get” the game and all those negatives couldn’t add up to a positive final impression at all. But if a game can overcome those negatives, then it must be a pretty fucking good game.

Start the Conversation