Nov 28, 2007

Mass Effect: Deep Space Graphical Anomalies

Commander's Log: Stardate 112807

I finally carved some time out last night to jump deeper into Mass Effect. I'm probably about six hours into the game now, and I wanted to touch on two aspects of the game that made an impression immediately:

  1. The visual presentation is amazing.
  2. The visual presentation is rather glitchy.
Now, to form the complete picture, note that I'm a new Xbox 360 owner, and also a new HDTV owner. I'd been holding off on buying the former until the time was right to splurge on the latter. I just couldn't see playing next-gen HD games on a standard def TV. Being a long-time PC gamer, I'm used to high def, impressive graphics. OK, I'll just admit it - I'm a bit of a video snob.

That said now, for the past few months I've been thoroughly enjoying some of what the 360 has to offer: Halo 3, Carcassonne, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Gears of War. Such great stuff. I've become accustomed to how beautiful 360 games look on my new 50 inch 1080p Samsung DLP display. Even so, Mass Effect manages to step this great platform up another notch - sort of.

Yes, the character models, facial animation, and lush environments are all gorgeous. Poking through this captivating but thin veneer, however, are some irritating problems. Firstly, the engine can't seem to keep up with the visuals. The frame rate is inconsistent and unpredictable. Awe inspiring, cinematic character conversations and cutscenes lose their punch when a slow camera pan lurches jarringly during a dramatic line delivery.

Then there's the facial modeling. Bioware has definitely taken this craft to the next bar. Why then allow this beautiful technology to be marred with strange clipping and texture anomalies?
In mid conversation, a character will spontaneously sprout a weird texture effect, like some insidious attack of rampant space blackheads. Then, seconds later, their Proactiv Solution kicks in and like magic it all disappears.

One last complaint: horizontal tearing. I know the 360 is essentially just a PC under the hood, but this is literally the first time I have ever witnessed tearing on a console game. The incidence isn't super-frequent or severe, but this is one last dent in an otherwise flawless paint job.

All this might come across as hypercritical bitching. Make no mistake - I absolutely love this game and my follow-up posts will certainly be detailing my positive experiences. I'm certain that the highly impressive presentation of this game makes these little imperfections all the more evident. In the end, Bioware is a RPG developer - not a shooter developer. So perhaps given the grand scope of their universe and the enthralling depth of the story and dialog, one should forgive these minor complaints. Developers must deal with ship dates, and these few glitches were likely one last facet that just couldn't be addressed before the holiday street date.

Myself, I'm rooting for a patch. Bioware has created another console RPG work of art, truly taking the genre to the next level, and an early patch addressing these few technical snags would leave the fans (and press) with a flawless, shining gem. I'd love to see Bioware receive the accolades they deserve, free of any minor gripes (like the ones I've ungratefully brought to light here).

1 comment:

Ken Newquist said...

I'm curious to see what this looks like on your TV. Since I'm still in low-res hell, I didn't notice most of what you're talking about.

There were a few oddball texture/lighting effects, but for the most part I was satisfied with the visual performance. But then again, my TV's about 1/4 the size of yours, and standard def, so it's very possible I'm missing it simply because I can't see it. :)