Monday, April 2, 2012

Text Readability

I recently ran into an issue while testing the beta for Tera Online. The issue being text readability.

Tera Online.
 In Tera Online all text is anti-aliased to the point of unreadability. It seems Bluehole Studios (creators of Tera) were obsessed with style over substance, wanting the HUD to be as least obstructive as possible. The result - HUD fails it's primary function, which is display of information. This is easily noticeable when comparing in-game screenshots of both Tera and Lineage 2. Even in thumbnail form the differences are clear.

Lineage 2.
 What Lineage 2 did, and did very well, was clearly and effectively provide feedback and information to the player on what's going on in the game. The downside of Lineage's HUD is that it blocks the screen more than the one in Tera. But the main question is this: Is it worth sacrificing readability for sleek-looking visuals? I sure as hell don't think so. It's kind of established that games are about gameplay and both of these games require you to be fully aware of what's going on around you at all times, and at this respect, Tera unfortunately falls short.

I might expand on this later on, just thought I'd write this observation down for now.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Mass Effect 3: Part 5

You might want to wait for a firing so-
 Previously in Mass Effect 3: Absolutely nothing note-worthy happened, so I'm glad we get to start off with something really dense.
 We get off to a flying (no pun intended) start , as the Normandy arrives at Palaven. It starts with a cinematic, in which we see a turian fleet moving in to engage the Reapers. The ships start firing at the Reapers, missing most of their shots. Now, how did that exchange between the Gunnery Chief and Serviceman Burnside go in ME1?

Gunnery Chief: This, recruits, is a 20-kilo ferris slug, feel the weight. Every five seconds, the main gun of an everest class dreadnought accelerates one to 1.3% of light-speed. It impacts with the force of a 38-kiloton bomb. That is three times the yield of the city-buster dropped on Hiroshima back on Earth. That means- Sir Issac Newton is the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space. Now! Serviceman Burnside! What is Newton's first law?
Serviceman Burnside: Sir! An object in motion stays in motion, sir!
Gunnery Chief: No credit for partial answers, maggot!
Serviceman Burnside: Sir! Unless acted on by an outside force, sir!
Gunnery Chief: Damn straight! I dare to assume you ignorant jackasses know that space is empty. Once you fire this hunk of metal, it keeps going til it hits something. That can be a ship. Or the planet behind that ship. It might go off into deep space and hit somebody else in ten thousand years. If you pull the trigger on this, you are ruining someones day, somewhere and sometime. That is why you check your targets. That is why you wait for the computer to give you a damn firing solution. That is why, Serviceman Chung, we do not "eyeball it". This is a weapon of mass destruction. You are not a cowboy shooting from the hip! 

...solution.
 So by the end of the engagement, Palaven would be nothing more than a giant pile of smouldering rubble on one side. I cannot believe Bioware would contradict the lore like that just for the "cool factor" of giant spaceships going pew pew all over the place.

 As a side note, why don't the Reapers just take control of the Mass Relays and disable/enable them to control space traffic, handicapping the opposition? They're the ones that built them in the first place. That would mess up the plot though...

Shepard fights a husk.
 There's a brief exchange between our squad and Shepard, after which we get to play. The gameplay here is basically shooting husks from the shuttle. If you feel like not shooting, it's okay - you can just take whatever's left out when the shuttle lands. The game rarely manages to build up any kind of tension because of inconsequential scenes like this one. The shuttle lands, we get to fire bullets at stuff to make the bad guys fall down, so we could move on.

Is it too much to ask for?!
 Team Shepard arrives at a turian defence outpost and meets General Corinthus, who's having problems with a comm tower. We learn that Primarch Fedorian is dead and only the Palaven Command can tell who the next Primarch is. Of course what all of this means is that we're going to have to fix the tower ourselves.
 Why couldn't we just use the Normandy to contact Palaven Command? Previously in the game, specialist Traynor told Shepard that the Normandy was retrofitted to be Anderson's mobile command centre. It's even quipped with a quantum entanglement comm device. However, as logic has no place in this game, we stroll to the tower and fix it ourselves. Also, you get to choose who repairs the tower and it's either James or Liara. I guess both have joint honours degrees in turian comm technology & plot convenience.

 Our team heads back to General Corinthus, who still doesn't know anything about the new Primarch. Suddenly, out of nowhere:
Turian Soldier: I'm on it Shepard. We'll find you the Primarch.
Fancy meeting you here, guys!
 Lo and behold, it's Garrus! Come on, Bioware - are you even trying? Why don't you just mail us all our old companions in bubble wrap while you're at it. Liara on Mars, Garrus on Palaven's moon, what's next?
 Now we need to track down General Victus, who's to be the next Primarch. Corinthus will try to contact Victus and Shepard will have to shoot stuff in the mean time.
 Gameplay starts and we get to shoot the same, boring, zombie-like enemies again. I have to ask why are most of these husks here human? You only encounter turian husks a bit later on and in smaller number. In fact, I haven't seen any Dragon's Teeth - the devices that actually turn people into husks.
 After even more shooting, Corinthus contacts Shepard and requests assistance because the advanced turian soldier can't fight for their lives. We get to shoot a stationary turret this time. This is as boring as you'd expect - just point and click until the game prepares another set piece.

Cutscene induced stupidity.
 A cutscene starts, where we see a huge turian husk charge and hit the turret platform. Suddenly, Shepard is no longer standing behind the turret. The cutscene teleported Shepard in front of the turret, where he gets knocked down to the ground, near the turian monster. What kind of nonsense is this? Shepard is a complete moron in cutscenes, and we'll see this notion being reinforced throughout the game.

Complex enemies my ass.
 Mass Effect 3's gameplay designed Christina Norman, during the GDC conference announced that one of the goal of ME3 was to have more complex enemies. Boy, was that a failure on her part then.
 The enemies in this game are not hard. They're only artificially hard, because of the amount of health they posses; enemies can only win by sheer health bar size. Take for example this turian husk: He stands still for a moment, charges and then crashes into something, as you roll out of his way. This is simply lazy. Batman: Arkham Asylum had these kind of bosses, and they were just as stupid. People didn't like them but atleast in that game they were more of a challenge, because you constantly had to dodge their varied attacks and counter henchmen in hand-to-hand combat. Later on, the game will just start spamming the turian monsters to compensate for the non-existent difficulty.

How cool people traverse slopes.
 Afterwards, Corinthus still can't get any word on where Victus is, so Shepard just asks Garrus to take them where he last saw him. While the team heads there, the guys exchange a few words of exposition, filling in the clueless ones about krogans and salarians. There's a moment during the journey, where Shepard walks up to a slope and slides down. The HUD disappears and the player loses control for a second while this happens. Absolutely pointless! Can't Shepard walk down slopes without sliding down? It wasn't even that steep to begin with.

That ship just stood still, shooting
space the entire time.
 We get to a turian outpost and after more attrition battles we finally find General Victus, who's now a Primarch, I guess. Shepard convinces him to come along and the team leaves. Garrus comes along too for no reason, even though some time ago, he was talking about how important it is not to lose this moon. Wha..?

 It's worth noting how we never actually get to see or experience the Reaper invasion at the front lines ourselves. We hear people talk about it, we get set pieces in the background, but never do we really see the onslaught of a full-scale invasion. There should be hundreds of soldiers all around the battlefield moving back and forth between enemy lines. All we get are these enclosed spaces with husks coming at us in small groups.

The game is big on breasts.
 Back on board the Normandy, Shepard has a conversation with a Council member and Admiral Hackett. Afterwards, while walking around the ship, we see the lights flicker. Apparently this meant that EDI went offline. Not sure exactly why this would affect the lights, but let's just roll with it. Also, why is Shepard the one sent into the AI core chamber? Does he have a background in computer systems? Regardless, he enters the room and out of the smoke comes out EDI in Dr. Eva's body... oh wow. She's still wearing that ridiculous looking visor. Why? If you're an android, I doubt you need that.

Now that we got Joker a new sex toy, we can conclude this part. Hope you've enjoyed it.

End of Part 5.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mass Effect 3: Part 4

 Last time we saw the Normandy escape Mars just as imaginary Reapers entered orbit. With Ashley injured, Liara advises to leave the Sol system and head for the Citadel.

Shepard: Get us to the Citadel Joker.
Joker: Roger that.

What's the worst that can happen?
 Does that mean that the comms are always open in the medical room? I guess Joker loves listening in on Shepard.
 They dump the android body in the same room with Ashley while Liara gets to work on recovering the Prothean information. Shepard sure is foolhardy, leaving the killer robot with a gravely injured person. This isn't the first time though - in ME2, he left Legion in the same chamber with Normandy's AI core.

 EDI informs Shepard of an incoming transmission from Admiral Hackett so he jogs over to the comm room.

Shepard: [...] EDI and Liara are analysing what we recovered.
Admiral Hackett: What have you learned? Was it worth the effort?
Liara: Preliminary evidence suggests the data is a blueprint for a Prothean device.
Admiral Hackett: Device?

Every call is a hologram call.
 Why do they need to analyse the data? Dr. Eva stole the data that Liara had access to and was studying for a while now. She had already figured out it's a Prothean device/weapon/egg whisk or whatever and told Shepard on Mars. It was previously revealed that Liara and Hackett have been working on this project together. Didn't the guy keep tabs on Liara's twitter? You'd think he would keep an eye on something as important as this.
 After the conversation with Admiral Hackett, Shepard inquires as to what state Ashley is in:

Shepard: And Lieutenant-Commander Williams?
Liara: I've done what I can for her. She needs proper medical attention soon.

More dimensions than the video
game counterpart. Also, 80 bucks.
 That led me to wonder: What kind of scientist is Liara? According to the Mass Effect wiki page, she's "an asari researcher [...] studying Prothean technology and culture, specialising in the Prothean extinction." She also appears to be competent in medicine and computers. This a weird portrayal of a scientist being a jack of all trades. It's not a major point but it always bothers me how in bad science fantasy movies scientists are proficient at anything the plot requires them to handle.

Winning wars in the editing room.
 Upon arrival at the Citadel, Ashley is rushed to a hospital and Shepard is greeted by Captain Commander Bailey. The team splits up, so that the programmers wouldn't have to deal squad mate AI getting in your way all the time since the Citadel has changed layout for no reason and there are a lot more tighter spaces now.
 On his way to the Council, Shepard runs into a military reporter named Diana Allers, who wants to join the Normandy to get footage for some show. I didn't take her aboard because I thought it might end like the Babylon 5 episode "The Illusion of Truth". That, and the whole "organic life is under the threat of extinction and there's no time to spare" thing. Also, the voice acting for Diana is atrocious.

We soon come to the Council meeting where discussion is already taking place. The council is awkwardly standing in a line - not a comfortable way to carry out a conversation. Human representative councillor Udina and Shepard ask the other Council members for help:

Shepard: The reports are accurate. Earth was attacked - a full-scale invasion. And it's just the beginning. We need your help. Everything you can spare.
Asari Councillor: Earth may be suffering, but our worlds are falling, too. The turians have lost Taetrus.
[...]
Asari Councillor: The Council cannot give Earth the military support it needs. Our own planets must come first.

After the Council meeting, Shepard meets Udina at his office, where they discuss what just transpired in the meeting:

Councillor Udina: They're a bunch of self-concerned jackasses, Shepard. We may have a seat in the Council, but humanity will always be considered second-rate.
Shepard: How can they be so blind?

Humanity's finest.
 This is the kind of situation that you'd need a thesaurus to do justice to. It's arrogant, uppity, egoistic, insolent, presumptuous and audacious to just assume that you're entitled to immediately get assistance from the other Council members. Everyone is getting attacked and is engaging in combat. What exactly makes Earth so special? Why not gather and defend the Turian home world? Heck, what about the Batarians? They were one of the first ones to be attacked. This entire situation paints Shepard and Udina as a bunch of selfish assholes.

That's what s- forget it.
 Also, during the Council meeting, Liara shared the Prothean device data with the Council members... by flashing a hologram in front of them. However, apparently that was enough for the Salarian representative who remarked how immense and intricate it was. How did he get that from just looking at a low-detail hologram and at a distance?

It feels like we've forgotten something...
We're soon joined by the Turian Councillor, who asks Shepard to retrieve Palaven's Primarch Fedorian and if he's in a good mood - he might decide to help Earth. The Council also reinstates Shepard's Spectre status, which comes with certain resources. What are the resources? You get access to an intel console, weapons that you need to pay for and a shooting range... Don't you just feel like an interplanetary super agent? Also, the Spectre-cave or whatever it's called is conveniently located right next to Udina's office.
With all that done, we hop aboard the Normandy and leave for Palaven.

I don't even...
 After we depart, one of the dumbest sequences of the entire game starts: it's a dream sequence, which takes place in what appears to be a forest. Shepard sees the kid that died at the beginning of the game. This is where the gameplay starts and the player is supposed to run after the kid in slow-motion. Why. Someone please tell me why the hell is this section even playable? Giving the player control in this situation achieves absolutely nothing. It's not the whole dream thing I don't like but that it's playable. There is absolutely no reason for it. Maybe the developers felt they needed to remind the audience that they're still playing a game?
 When you catch the kid, you get a short cutscene where he's scared off by a Reaper-like light and sound. Then, you need to catch him again. It's so pointless and boring. When you catch him for the final time, he spontaneously combusts and the dream ends. Oh and just in case this wasn't mind-boggling enough, you get to play this section again later on in the game.

 Shepard wakes up in cold sweat (I assumed; hard to tell with such life-like facial expressions) and a moment later Liara knocks on the door. Wouldn't they use something equivalent to a doorbell on a spaceship? I doubt the Hanar could knock. Whatever, let's move on.

I put as much work into this as Bioware
did into the Reaper mini game.
We're going to skip some conversations and move on to the galaxy map. Like in the previous Mass Effect titles, Commander Shepard can interact with the galaxy map to set the destination. There have been two changes made to the map. First, it's now possible to scan planets and solar systems for points of interest by pressing a button and scanning the surrounding area. Second, the inclusion of a Reaper alertness bar, which fills up as you use the scan ability. If the alertness bar fills up, Reapers enter the system and start chasing the Normandy.

Pretty much that.
 This right here has got to be the laziest, most half-assed and bewildering addition to the game yet. What the hell is wrong with you, Bioware? What's the bloody point?! If the Reapers catch you, it's an instant game over. What's going on here? Was there a retarded idea quota that EA asked Bioware to meet? If you're moving the game from RPG-centric to action-centric, why not commit and make space shooter mechanics? I guess that would involve actual work though.

Oh well, maybe next time something interesting will actually happen! Stay tuned.

End of Part 4.




Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mass Effect 3: Part 3

 In the previous part, triggers were pulled, questions were asked and choices ignored while the Normandy somehow fled Earth. While everyone is still hot-headed from the surprise Reaper attack, Shepard receives a distorted transmission from Admiral Hackett:

Admiral Hackett: First, I need you... iance outpost on Mars... ore we lose control of the system.
Admiral Hackett: ...been researching the Prothean Archives with Dr. T'Soni. ...found a way to stop the Reapers... only way to stop them...

"It's not the end of the world...
but you can see it from here."
 Mars? The place we first found Prothean technology also contains a means of fighting the Reapers, is within relatively short distance and my former squad member is there? How convenient! Not to mention saying that it is the only way to stop the Reapers is quite a leap. Heck, as we'll see later on Shepard and the gang can take on a Reaper without a problem.
 Team Shepard arrives on Mars not encountering a single Reaper. Shepard, Ashley and Vega take a shuttle to the planet surface, although I don't know why they don't just take the Normandy all the way down - they did just that back on Earth.
 As our team prepares for the gameplay section, James says:

James: Still no contact from the base, but we've got a massive storm headed our way.
Shepard: How long till it hits?
James: Half hour, tops. After that we're gonna have difficulty keeping up comms with the Normandy.

Perfect if you have a form of ADD.
Should we just assume that James did the maths in his head on how soon the storm would reach them? Did he check the Extranet for a weather report on Mars? Or is Alliance technology suddenly worth a crap? I guess it is when it's accommodating for the plot. On a related note, do you think the incoming storm affecting comms will be used as an attempt to increase tension (unsuccessfully) later on in the mission? Don't be silly!
 As the gameplay starts, we're soon introduced to a new gameplay feature: Whenever one of those swell set pieces happen within gameplay, the player can hold down the V button and the camera will automatically point and zoom-in into the point of interest (using the term point of interest quite loosely). This adds absolutely nothing to the gameplay and only serves to show what the developers think of their audience's attention span. Here's an idea: why not just design the levels in a way that attract your attention to the point of interest? In this level, it's first used to bring your attention to the approaching storm, but the storm is giant and is hard to miss hence the focus feature is not needed.


Disingenuous assertions, Ash.
 After a bit of uneventful walking, our group encounters a bunch Cerberus soldiers. I should probably mention that your squad AI is pretty bad. Not the Half-Life 2 level of bad, but pretty bad nonetheless. Aggressive negotiations ensue with Team Shepard emerging victorious of course. The presence of Cerberus is too much for poor Ashley and she starts off a most annoying paranoia-driven frenzy that will continue for the entire mission. It starts when she asks what Cerberus is doing on Mars and if Shepard knows anytthing:

Shepard: I'm not with them anymore, Ash, if that's what you're asking.
Ashley: It wasn't... but you have to admit, it's a bit convenient.
[...]
Ashley: I need a straight answer, Shepard.
Shepard: About what?
Ashley: Do you know anything about this? What is Cerberus doing here?
Shepard: What makes you think I know what they're up to?
Ashley: You worked for them. How am I suppose to believe you've cut all ties?

Air Vent Passageway trope in action.
 After a brief conversation Shepard asks Ashley to trust him so we could move on. Right after we cut to Liara crawling through an air duct while Cerberus soldiers crawl after her. One thing I'm most certain of is that shooting inside an air duct is a bad idea if you want your hearing intact. Whatever, rule of cool.
 She gets out of the duct and throws a Singularity attack at the troops. One could of course ask the completely reasonable question why she didn't use her powers before that - seems the air duct would be a perfect place to trap an enemy.

 After a quick reunion with Shepard Liara starts explaining the situation:

Liara: Maybe. I've discovered plans for a Prothean device. One that could wipe out the Reapers.
Shepard: We've known about the Archives for decades. Why now?
Liara: Process of elimination, mixed with a little desperation.

“Ah, yes, ‘Reapers’. We have dismissed
this claim.”
 Process of elimination? Elimination of what? Was there a list Protheans left of potentially useful devices? Isn't it convenient how information on this device was uncovered just in the nick of time? What were they doing all this time? Even if the device was known before Reapers hit Earth, why didn't the Alliance start pouring all their resources into it right away? Cerberus is naturally after this data and Team Shepard has to beat them to it.
 The conversation ends with an abrupt interruption by Cerberus forces. We then get to play for a bit. Then the game explains how to use squad abilities. A couple of soldier will stay in cover forever until you draw them out using Liara's Singularity ability. Once in a while she barks out a line:

Liara: I can use singularity to draw them out!

Heavens forbid moral ambiguity!
Why don't you use it then? Are you looking for peer approval? While this is a way to hint the clueless players into holding Liara's hand while she fires her space Hadouken, it is a common miss-step in video games. It's an obvious clash between narrative and gameplay that a lot games have. Another example of this is how in Star Trek Online you receive a group of crew members as an inventory item.
Not sure if...

 Shepard and friends clear out the room of Cerberus agents and try to override the Tram controls in order to get to the Prothean archives. The override plan fails, prompting Ashley to devises a ridiculous plan - They will find a Cerberus helmet-to-helmet transmitter and convince the opposition to let them through.
 Ashley locates a dead Cerberus soldier and opens his helmet in order to take out the radio. She gasps in surprise as it's revealed that Cerberus troops have been changed into husk-like creatures. This is laughable. It wasn't enough that all Cerberus agents were redesigned as faceless, robot-like soldiers that the player wouldn't feel guilty killing by the hundreds while talking about saving humanity. They're also "monsters" now as well. Heavens forbid the game have any kind of moral ambiguity!
 Ashley starts the whole paranoia frenzy thing again:

Ashley: That could've been you, Shepard. For all I knew, that's what Cerberus had done to you.
Shepard: How can you compare me to that thing?
Ashley: I don't know what you are... not since they got their hands on you.
Ashley: I'm just talking out loud. I don't need you to answer. I doubt there's anything you could say to convince me.


The man's got a point.
Isn't this the kind of crew mate you'd want to have with you when going on a civilization saving tour? I can see what Bioware was kind of going for here - fear and uncertainty can turn friends against one another at times of war, but the way it was done in this game just didn't work.
Finally Shepard and friends reach the Prothean Archive and are confronted by the Illusive Man's hologram. This is what really got to me:

Illusive Man: You were a tool, an agent with a singular purpose. In that, you were successful. But like the rest of the relics in this place, your time is over. Don't interfere with my plans, Shepard. I won't warn you again.

I could not find a picture to illustrate how
ridiculous the chase sequence is,
so here's a picture of ugly Shepard.
The only thing that was going through my mind at that time was "Where the hell is Ashley??". The Illusive man just flat out told that he's through using Shepard and no longer associates with him. Meanwhile Ashley is somewhere off-screen. Did Bioware do that just so they could drag this paranoia thing through the better part of the game?

Afterwards, Ashley pops out of nowhere and finds Cerberus agent Dr. Eva hacking into a nearby computer terminal. Eva takes the data, smashes the terminal and makes a run for it. This is where the final gameplay segment starts. The player is supposed to chase after Dr. Eva before she escapes. So here's the problem with this section: If you stop chasing her, she will stop running... I'm dead serious. I think the only time you can lose is if you stand there when the chase begins but not if you leave the archive room.

I knew I liked him for a reason.
 After the chase, Dr. Eva gets on a Cerberus shuttle and prepares to take off only for James to slam his own shuttle into theirs. This almost kills Shepard and Liara. Why didn't James use the turrets that are mounted on the sides of the shuttle? Shepard doesn't even say anything to James after they meet up again.
It's revealed that Dr. Eva is an android when she kicks the burning shuttle door open and emerges wearing a cheesy set of space shades. Eva then proceeds to grab Ashley and, with the Illusive Man's approval, finish her... if by finish her he means slam her a couple of times into the side of the shuttle.

Jokers soon-to-be sexual fantasy
Dr. Eva CorĂ©
Eva then starts running at Shepard with bullet-time on giving the player time to just shoot her in the face repeatedly. Why was this short part even playable? It was no longer than 8 seconds and involved absolutely zero skill. They could've just made it a Quick Time Event like they usually do in cutscenes and nothing would've changed.
Also, somebody tell my how the heck is Liara getting away with only using a face mask and not a helmet? She never uses a helmet no matter what atmosphere she's in. Liara isn't the only one though - other characters do that too.

Shepard and James grab both Ashley and Eva's bodies while generic dramatic music plays in the background and the Normandy... is hovering near them. What the hell. Why didn't it enter orbit the first time they arrived? Then Joker says:

Joker: Shepard! We've got Reaper signatures in orbit.

 Apparently the Normandy can detect Reaper signatures but no other piece of technology on Earth can? Do they really expect us to buy this crap?
 They all board the Normandy and swiftly leave with no Reaper ships in sight of Mars' orbit.

End of part 3.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mass Effect 3: Part 2

 Let us start talking about the game and the best way to do it is to start from the beginning and work our way through. We will cover the gameplay briefly because there really isn't a lot to cover. All the patterns are detected and mastered within the first half hour, discounting some gimmicks that are thrown in as an attempt to add variety (we'll cover those as they come along). Since ME3 relies heavily on it's story, the ability to make choices and interactions between characters I will be picking those apart as well.

We'll be seeing him a lot.
 The game begins with a shot introduction video that we will be skipping. We transition to an in-game cutscene where a boy is playing with his model ship while Shepard watches from a  nearby building. Did you ever notice how the kid is on a weird small rooftop of sorts with a little garden on it? What is that?
 We're briefly introduced to James Vega, a guy with the most preposterous looking physique. He informs Shepard that the defence committee wants to see him so they both leave. On the way they run into admiral Anderson who explains the situation:

Anderson: I'm guessing word's made it to Alliance Command... something big's headed our way.
Shepard: The Reapers?
Anderson: We don't know. Not for certain.

Who do you think has the bigger tits?
 Is the audience suppose to accept that? The game is taking place in approximately the year 2186. So the Alliance has no long-range sensors, probes or anything of the sort? How about matching energy signatures with the ones from previously encountered Reapers? And even if you can't get accurate readings from Earth why not dispatch some ships floating around the area? Maybe contact a colony that's closer to the signal and have them take readings? Of course not, that would ruing the plot.
 Shepard soon runs into Ashley who looks nothing like she did in the previous games. Suddenly she's a super model wearing... something that I'm sure is not standard Alliance issue.
We're soon presented with another scene when Shepard and Anderson confront the defence Committee. Here's what they have to say:

Alliance Council: The reports coming in are unlike anything we've seen. Whole colonies have gone dark. We've lost contact with everything beyond the Sol Relay.
Alliance Council: Whatever this is, it's incomprehensibly powerful.


Alliance Council enjoying the ME3 trailer.
Oh wait...
 From the ME lore it is known that the first Mass Relay discovered by humans was called the Charon Relay. Now are Sol and Charon Relays one and the same thing or are they separate ones? The Council explains that they are unable contact anything beyond the Sol Relay and that somehow means that the incoming... thing(s) is incomprehensibly powerful. So far the Alliance's space-age science has only determined that something very big is moving towards Sol. That's it.
Lasers in Mass Effect 3
 Then out of nowhere an officer reports that they lost contact with Luna base. All of a sudden it jumped from not being able to communicate beyond the Sol Relay to not being able to communicate Luna base. As the name implies the base is stationed on the Moon. So are we to believe that they still can't identify the invasion force when it's right on their doorstep? And to top it all off, within the span of a 7 seconds the Officer displays incoming footage from the UK where apparently the Reaper invasion is already taking place. It's worth noting how the top right window on the display is showing space debris burning up in Earth's atmosphere. It's not the fact that they reuse trailer footage that bothers me (although shameless asset reuse will be a common theme in ME3), but that it would've been impossible to take that footage the way it was taken.

 As everyone just stands there puzzled a wild Reaper appears and the first beam it fires conveniently (we'll be using this word way too often) hits the Council chamber. Naturally the beam creates an explosion (as lasers tend to do) right behind the Council table killing everyone except Anderson and Shepard to prove that shit is about to hit the fan.

Anderson: Lieutenant-Commander Williams, is that you? What's your status? I can't raise the Normandy. You'll have to contact them. We'll meet you at the landing zone. Anderson out.

 For some reason he cannot contact the Normandy, even though I didn't see him try. I guess it's just so we can finally have some gameplay. This is where the tutorial starts. Now if we were to play as a female Shepard, first thing that we would notice is the running animation.


Shepard's worst nightmare.
 I guess Bioware just recycled male Shepard's running animation and thought nobody would notice?
Let's talk about the gameplay. For the most part it's like playing ME2 so people familiar with the previous games will quickly breeze through this section. One thing that really annoyed me however is how you need to  stick yourself to cover if you want to jump over/on it. It just prolongs the time required to traverse obstacles for no reason. Would it really have been that hard to have a button for that? Even squad mates can jump without having to take cover.
 After some running, ladder climbing and pistol-whipping Husks we get another cutscene with the kid we saw earlier. Shepard hears a sounds and sees the boy hiding inside a ventilation duct. Touching piano music starts playing as Shepard tries to convince the kid to come with him. Our hero fails a speech check roll or something and the kid says:

Child: You can't help me.

Mass Effect is a pretty cool guy.
 Then he sneaks off while Shepard looks away for a few seconds. Without making a noise. In a ventilation duct. This entire scene made no sense and was just there to tug at our heart strings once again.
Anderson and Shepard make their way through piles of debris while chatting about how Shepard needs to get the Council to help them. At last we get more gameplay. After a bit of shooting and a pointless action cutscene that only took a few seconds we find a couple of Alliance troops:

Medic: Our gunship was shot down... we barely made it.
Anderson: You have a radio? We're trying to contact our ship.
Medic: No. there's one in the gunship, but it's gonna be crawling with those things.

And the Oscar goes to...
 What did Anderson use to try and contact the Normandy before? A cell phone? Maybe they need a stronger radio or something. A few shooting galleries later we locate the radio... which is outside of the gunship and set up for immediate use. Not only is it a radio but it also doubles as a distress beacon.
 The final gameplay bit of this act begins where we have to fight off Husks. This could've been a decent stand-off moment but instead of actually having to survive for long enough until rescue arrives, the Normandy arrives exactly when both your weapons run out of ammo.
 The act ends with a cutscene. Anderson stays behind to lead the resistance regardless of what dialogue options you take. As the Normandy takes off Shepard watches the kid board a shuttle craft and take off only to be shot down. Quite an emotional scene if this is your first ever encounter with a story-telling medium. They also reuse music from Mass Effect 2.

 I could go on about how obviously manipulative this scene was or question how the Normandy can even hover inside of Earth's atmosphere, but I'll just end this part here. Hope you've enjoyed it.

End of part 2.

Mass Effect 3: Part 1


Intro


...C-commander?
Mass effect 3 is an awful, transparently manipulative video game with cheap production values that was made by Bioware and published by EA. It’s got repetitive, padded gameplay, a forgettable soundtrack, bad, lazy writing, and meaningless, inconsequential choices. In fact calling it a video game is being quite generous. The closest thing to it I can come up with is the Full Motion Video games from the 90’s. You know, where it’s more like watching a movie rather than actually engaging in meaningful gameplay. And yeah while it does look like a movie everything about it is just wrong. The writing wouldn’t even pass for a B movie. But I’m getting ahead of myself here; we’ll get to the festering mess that is Mass Effect 3 in a minute.


Retrospect

So like I mentioned previously the game was developed by Bioware – a company that was known for games like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. In 2007 Bioware was bought by EA, a game company infamous for their dreadful games(Everything), milking franchises to the ground (Dragon Age, Harry Potter, Madden), terrible marketing (Dead Space 2), buying up competent game development companies and shutting them down (Westwood, Pandemic, Origin Systems) and just generally horrible or badly executed ideas (Origin).
From 2007 onwards Bioware has released the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises both of which were original IPs but relied heavily on use of cutscenes. This was the first sign of decline. At the time no one really paid attention to it or just weren’t bothered by it. I mean yeah the gameplay quality was alright and the writing was okay for a video game (by okay for a video game I mean that it was pretty lacklustre by any other standard).

Mass Effect 2's plot.
In January 2010 Bioware released Mass Effect 2 which was more of a Hollywood movie than a game. At this point the merchandising of the franchise had really begun with the release of countless books, apparel, art, accessories and Downloadable Content all based on the Mass Effect universe. Many of people complained about how the game was dumbed down with a lot of the RPG elements stripped out or simplified some even going as far as calling it a Gears of War in space; quite unfairly in my opinion since Gears of War was far better gameplay-wise. The gameplay was repetitive but solid enough, your choices had varying degrees of impact ranging from minimal to none at all, the voice acting was great and it was an overall enjoyable ride as far as gameplay was concerned if you don’t mind just bashing buttons. The writing, however, was even below for what’s acceptable for a Hollywood movie (yet again another sign of Bioware’s decline since being bought by EA).
In December 2010 Mass Effect 3 was announced and everyone was pretty excited for what was to be the epic conclusion to Commander Shepard’s story. However nobody knew just how awful the game was going to be; that it would completely invalidate any choices made up to this point and totally contradict the established rules of the Mass Effect universe in favour of moon logic just to satisfy whatever shitty writing the game would have.


Games Are Games

Before I begin talking about rotting innards of ME3 I want to touch up on things that happened pre-release. The lead writer for Mass Effect 3 is a guy who doesn’t have his own Wikipedia page, Mac Walters. Walters has said that the writing staff was to treat the game like it was a movie. I cannot stress enough what a ridiculous decision that was.
Games are completely different from films and both mediums have completely different ways of delivering a narrative and/or experience to the audience. There’s this game designer named Raph Koster. He’s worked on games like Ultima and Everquest, and published a book called “A Theory of Fun for Game Design”.
In the book he writes:
"The commonest route these days for developing games involves grafting a story onto them. But most video game developers take a (usually mediocre) story and put little game obstacles all through it. It’s as if we are requiring the player to solve a crossword puzzle in order to turn the page to get more of the novel."
Movies rely on the “Show, don’t tell” approach while games rely on “Do, don’t tell”. Telling your writers to treat a game as a movie is completely crazy.


The Advertising




Another red flag popped up to me after the cinematic Take Earth Back trailer came out. I mentioned before that this game is very manipulative and that also extends to this trailer in particular. I’m going to mention some of the things that stood out for me.
Both the game and the trailer use kids to get us emotionally invested into the whole Reaper invasion. Never mind that the entire galaxy is under attack, they’re killing children!
Past the half way point of the trailer we see Shepard and Ashley who looks nothing like she used to in the previous games. Suddenly she’s a supermodel whose wearing her hear loosely in the middle of a battlefield. That doesn’t seem very practical, does it?
Then a bit later we see the Normandy SR-2 doing an overhead run with other alliance ships? You would think ships of that size would not be able to enter the atmosphere that close to the ground.
Towards the end of the trailer we see Shepard pulling out his omni-tool and using it as a blade. Never before have holograms been used as melee weapons and aren’t used by anyone else in any of the ME games.
These are all, of course, minor points but all of this already clashes with common sense. It’s not a good sign if you’re willing to bend the rules of your established universe in order to make something look cinematic. The trailer also clearly shows how Mass Effect has shifted from science fiction into science fantasy territory.


DLC

Moichandising!
Mass Effect 3 also had downloadable content on launch day. The news about launch day DLC availability has been met with criticism. A hacker uncovered that the DLC files are shipped with every copy of the game suggesting that portions of the game have been stripped out in order to maximize profits. Since then Bioware has come out and stated that that is not the case and that the DLC was created after the game was completed.
Under normal circumstances, if the DLC is developed after the game is finished I do not have a problem with it, however in this case I would not put it past EA to actually remove content from the game. Not only that, but the “From Ashes” DLC adds a new squad companion - a Prothean. This already raises a lot of issues like the fact that all Protheans have been extinct for thousands of years. Content that can have serious implications on the games universe should not be part of day one DLC.


End of part 1.