Dec 28, 2007

Mass Effect: Navigating the Hemorrhoid Field

Commander's Log: Stardate 122807

Hard to believe it's been a month since the last Mass Effect post - December was so busy!

Well, I'm still early in the game - maybe a dozen hours or so. I've finished the quests at the Citadel and have traveled on to the frozen planet of Noveria.

The graphical glitches bothered me much, much less during my intervening playing sessions. Everything is more flawed under a microscope, and I was obviously looking too closely. That said, the shadowing effects seem to be the biggest culprit regarding my earlier misgivings. The engine doesn't seem to have quite enough horsepower to do proper on-character shading, so why implement it?

In that vein lies many of Mass Effect's problems. Yes, the game is pretty, the conversations intriguing, the plot engaging, and the combat system promising. The underlying game engine, however, can be a chronic source of posterior pain. Why, oh why were so many of KotOR's nuts-and-bolts problems not ironed out during the development of this game?

Yes, the ME combat system (like KotOR's before it) can be unforgiving and even a bit random at times. I can deal with that. What I don't want to deal with is a minute-long loading pause before resuming combat. Why are the assets for the area I was just inhabiting reloaded each time I die? Could the code not simply check to see if the player were re-playing the same area he just died in? Obviously, if a player were to load a save in a different locale, the game would have to import those resources, but in this case we're replaying the same damn room!

Loading pause aside, I am then forced to re-watch the short video sequence that takes place before the combat is triggered. Every time I die. Ugh. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I've mashed every button on my controller trying to skip the same clip featuring the same bunch of Geth unfolding, jumping up onto a wall, and posing menacingly - for the sixth time. I know they're there - they just killed me. Let's get on with it already!

Then there are the ambiguous "where the hell do I go now?" moments - those places where the quest system seems to forget what you were doing and forgoes implying any sense of direction. I was told to go talk to Guy X, but Guy X strangely doesn't have anything to say to me - now what?? I'm also supposed to go to Place Y and do something, but Place Y doesn't show up on my map. Even so, a deadline timer is still ticking down and I have to save the people at Place Y before it expires. Grr.

Finally, one last rant - this time about combat vehicles that are strangely incapable of shooting up or down. Yes, Commander Shepard - you have a groovy prototype space tank with standard features such as Hypercrystal Ceramisteel Armor Plating, Diminished Mass Effect Jump Jets, Excited Tachyon Pulse Lasers , and a Mark IV Phasing Ultra-Cannon. A weapons turret featuring both side-to-side and up-and-down movement is beyond our technological capabilities however - so sorry!

In a way, I think that EA purchasing Bioware will have a positive ending. Bioware does so many things well story-wise, but their games can be very clunky from a mechanical aspect. In my eyes, the resources that they should be able to take advantage of under EA will hopefully enable them to create the nearly-flawless game we'd all like to play. Until then, I'll continue to be dazzled by the dialog while raging about the rough spots.


Ken Newquist said...

Replaying of cut scenes always drives me nuts. You'd think, 30+ years into video game development and design, that programmers would have realized that WE ... HATE ... REPLAYING ... CUTSCENES!

Ken Newquist said...

We experimented with this last night, and we can now happily report that the tank in Mass Effect CAN fire up/down in addition to left/right.

No idea why it didn't seem to do that when you first played the game, but I think our clipping/weird geography explanation may be as good as any.

Lance said...

Thanks to Ken for making me wonder if I'm actually going mad.

Me: "Yeah, Mass Effect is fun, but I hate how the tank can't fire up and down."
Ken: "What do you mean - sure it can."
Me: "Dude, it totally can't."
Ken: "Let's fire it up and test it out."

At least on Ken's box, it can. I have no idea why I was having so much trouble. I'm interested to play it again and try it out, but for the moment I'm currently sucked back into Oblivion.