On 6 March, Mass Effect 3 was released to tremendous critical acclaim, lauded as the best in the series and a benchmark for other RPGs to emulate. It was also released with a £40 RRP. However, as someone gaining most of their pocket money for the finer things in life through submitting themselves to whatever experiments any nearby university psychology or economics department are mulling over, once again the glorious excitement of a new release was denied to me.
After another gruelling round of deciding on a scale of 1 to 5 whether or not I felt sad about eating chocolate or not, I decided that all would not be lost and I would spend my hard earned monetary reward on returning to the start of the series with the budget alternative of the original Mass Effect, available for literally a fraction of the cost at a humble £3.
…dispatching a small town’s worth of Stormtroopers…
The chief attraction of the Mass Effect series is arguably its billing as a full blown space opera, conjuring up ideas of epic space battles and swashbuckling heroes all played out over a John Williams styled swooping score, with maybe even a smattering of humour and romance to prevent things getting too Wagnerian. Mass Effect on the other hand seems to have a slightly different definition of what exactly is operatic, in both its action and its narrative.
BioWare faced a distinct aesthetic choice in bringing their first full scale RPG to the new generation of consoles, would they retain the turn-based system or attempt to incorporate a more action based approach? BioWare previously built most of its console based success on managing to excavate from intimidatingly nerdy backwaters a dice rolling math based system into something both understandable and immersive, leading to critical success most noticeably in the accolade laden Star Wars: KOTOR series. Generations have grown up now with the ultimate depiction of space faring action in Han Solo effortlessly dispatching a small town’s worth of Stormtroopers with enough breath left for an occasional quip, something that the turn based system of KOTOR allowed them to do in something a little different to a brain deadened shooter, creating their own blaster wielding heroes and heroines.
…a peculiarly space themed budget porn flick.
The decision to remove the turn based system in Mass Effect and replace it with interface free third person shooting (or at least its submersion underneath the facade of a shooter) completely removes any possibility of feeling like a space rogue, the game mechanics instead just causing a new identification with those ill-fated Stormtroopers doomed to uncontrollably run out of cover firing wildly from around five yards away at anywhere but Han Solo, before meeting an unglamorous demise at the end of a single laser.
Unfortunately, the combat is not saved by being a necessary evil to slog through to get to some quality dialogue driven traditional RPG enjoyment either, as the dialogue falls into an awkward (although admittedly accidentally hilarious) abyss somewhere between at best a B-Movie and at worst a peculiarly space themed budget porn flick. It has to be fairly doubtful that in anyone’s fantasy of travelling across the known universe they do so whilst pursuing a fascist female soldier who insists on “always calling you Skipper”. This, combined with the fact that a large portion of travelling across space apparently entails having to stare into the whites of your avatar’s eyes while he or she goes up or down a lift before getting out of said lift to visit a planet distinguished from its peers by being a slightly different shade of “desolate rock”, was enough to well and truly shatter any remaining vestiges of the notion that travelling for hours in a floating tin can was something to aspire to.