on Jan 13, 2009
It’s unusual that I have to break up my nitpicks post into two parts, but Mass Effect has forced my hand and brought this punishment on itself. The game is not nearly as awful as these posts might make it seem, but it does have egregious flaws that need to be recorded and cataloged.
The game is saddled with heartless, incessant, and tediously flow-breaking loading screens. Some are disguised as elevators. The game is just a jerk when it comes to squandering slices of time. For example, if you have a mission that calls for you to visit the Citadel:
- Bring up the galaxy map, set the destination.
- See a short but un-skippable animation of the ship going through the Mass Relay.
- Back to the map screen. Use the map again to direct the ship to dock at the Citadel.
- Loading screen.
- See a short but un-skippable animation of the ship pulling into dock.
- While not a loading “screen” per se, the game pauses for a few seconds while the word “Loading” appears.
- Exit the ship and choose your away party.
- Loading screen.
- Get in a mandatory long-ass elevator ride. (A loading screen, really. A long one.)
- Once out of the elevator, use the “fast” transit system to go to the right part of the station.
- Loading screen.
- Unless you’re very lucky, you’re going to have to hike for a distance to reach the person you’re looking for.
This adds up to a couple of minutes of semi-interactive waiting so you can have a fifteen second conversation.
|Thanks Garrus. Thanks so much for that.|
Combat taunts are repeated with a frequency capable of inciting madness. A firefight against human opponents will provide a chorus of the same two or three (dumb) taunts over and over again, as if the bad guys had a cliché-only version of Tourette’s Syndrome. “You must DIE!” Really? Enthralling. Tell me again. (And again.)
The weapons are serviceable, aside from the sniper rifle – which is bad enough to ruin Christmas. The weapon only has two zoom modes: Too Close, and Even Closer. Most of the battles happen in confined spaces where the sniper rifle is useless, or at a distance when you’re in a vehicle. If you really want to make enough use of the sniper rifle to justify putting points into it, you’re going to have to keep getting in and out of the vehicle (where you could just nuke the bad guy with the main gun) just so you can fiddle around and line them up for a sniper shot. Looking through the scope, your view bobs around like you’re shooting from atop a rowboat in a storm. While drunk. And being attacked by angry bees. Maybe in real life I might have this much trouble holding a rifle still, but I’m not a super commando from space using future weapons. I actually found the constant oscillation to be nauseating. All this, and the weapon overheats ridiculously easy. It’s actually easier and more expedient to snipe with the pistol. The assault rifle can clear an entire room in the space of time it takes to drop a single foe with the sniper rifle. An unbalanced weapon is one thing, but here they have perpetrated the greater sin of making it not any fun to use.
The rest of the weapons are serviceable enough, although they’re a bit homogeneous. Your starting assault rifle looks and sounds pretty much like the ubergun you’ll have near the end of the game, it’s just (maybe) painted a different color.
And whoever mapped the “talk to teammate” button to the same button as “run”, and then made both actions active during combat: You are a jerk and I hate you too. I got very sick of my teammates screaming at me that they were too busy to talk as I darted around the battlefield looking for cover. There is no reason to talk to teammates during a fight. Why make it possible to try?
And while we’re at it: A space commando that can run for five seconds before becoming helplessly fatigued? I’m a middle-aged asthmatic and I can do a lot better than that.
Given the copious and diverse loading screens, I thought I would return the favor and cover this issue twice.
Noveria was particularly cruel when it came to elevators, sometimes requiring two or three elevator rides between each step. The initial section in Port Hanshan is a four-stop quest that requires seven elevator rides:
2. Administrator & assistant
4. Lorik Qui’in
7. Data from Lorik’s office
10. Garage pass from Lorik.
12. Exit facility
Also notable is the absurd and glacial elevator in the middle of your ship, the Normandy. (Imagine replacing all the steps and ladders on a warship with a single shared elevator. While I would not put it past a government to make a blunder like this, it does interfere with the fiction that your ship was built by the best and the brightest.) It’s a pointless time-sink.
|No trees. No grass. Just a two-color blanket of unnaturally jagged terrain to bounce over on your way to wherever it is you need to go. (Which will invariably be on the opposite side of the biggest, roughest, most pain-in-the-ass mountain.)|
The terrain generation system they used was much too noisy. A good terrain should not reveal the polygon size to the user. Little pyramid-shaped spikes and pits populate the terrain, and it’s obvious that in this universe, erosion is a phenomenon unique to Earth.
The Mako, despite its tank-like appearance, handles like a golf cart running across railroad tracks. The gun can’t aim as far up or down as the reticule leads you to believe, which leads to a lot of situations where you seem to be drilling an invincible foe with gunfire. After a few seconds you’ll realize that they are a couple of inches above or below where you can actually aim, and you end up fussing around and looking for a hill so you can angle yourself to take the shot. (While they pummel you with impunity.)
The planets end up being boring to look at, annoying to travel on, and frustrating as a place to fight. So much for the awe and grandeur of space exploration.
The central problem with the game is the amount of time you must spend just getting to the gameplay. For every five minutes you spend in combat or in dialog, you’ll spend twice that walking, driving, loading, riding elevators, watching unskippable animations, and fussing around with the inventory. You spend more time getting to the fun than having fun.
That’s it. I’m out of rotten tomatoes to fling at this game. Next time I’ll get into the parts I loved.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.