12/28/07

PROBLEMS AND FIXINS: Mass Effect

In Brief: Weapon holstering is a wasted button, and the squad commands, though not horrid, is lackluster. Texture popping? Really?

In Long:

Ah Mass Effect. How I remember when I first read that preview in EGM so long ago. The promises, oh the sweet, sweet promises. Oblivion in Space?!!? FUCK YEAH! Take Everything I love about Oblivion, and put in interstellar travel.

I should have realised it was to good to be true. Oblivion's world was jam packed with stuff to do; it seemed like with every five steps i took I came across 2 dungeons, 3 camps, 5 quests, and a dragon. Replicating this shit-to-do/land-area ratio across the entirety of our Lactose Avenue of a galaxy was far to tall an order.

This is not to say that Mass Effect is a bad game, it is merely not the game I wanted, or rather, hoped for. What is here is most excellent; a story that, for the first time, actually made me care about the characters, an immense world that, while not dense, is still pretty cool, and of course, freaking sweet weaponry.

But that being said, there is plenty here to hate. What can loved has been done already by others far more prolific than I, so I will go into what to hate about this game. Once again: I like this game. It is one of the few games that managed to actually make me excited about shooting the Bad Guy (tm) as a bad guy, not as a general obstacle in my path. It ambitious, so I find it hard to outright hate it. However, if we molly-coddle it, then we do the game a disservice. We owe it to Mass Effect to frank about what sucks


To begin: I MOTHERFUCKING HATE THIS GODDAMN CONTROL SCHEME SO MOTHERFUCKING MUCH. I hate it for a variety of reasons. Number one, I hate it because it didn't tell me how to do much of anything. Oh sure, it told me how to point and shoot, but crap, I've played GoW for Pete's sake. I KNOW HOW TO MAKE THE ENEMY DEAD WITH MY GUN. What I don't know is how to switch my gun, how use my abilities, how to aim my abilities, how to boss around my squad, how to heal my squad, how to equip myself and my squad, etc. So, first point the game does not tell you how to talk to it. The game to does not tell the player how to properly interact with it.

To elaborate: This control scheme is so horrendously inefficient, it makes me want to read Garfield so I can remember how to hate things that AREN'T Mass-Effect-Control related. First, off, when I say inefficient, I mean that there are button presses that don't need to be pressed, sticks that don't need to be pushed, things that can, and should have been mapped elsewhere. Inefficiency is an underrated crime in my book.

Five (5) buttons all do the same thing (draw your weapon). But that's 0kay; all five of those buttons are combat related (weapon switch, shooting, aiming, power-using and the dedicated weapon draw button). But only one (1) button puts away your weapons (still-okay). BUT this button is NONE of the previous buttons. And indeed, this completely separate button has only ONE FUNCTION: putting away your goddamned weapon.

How to fix this? Move all weapon functions to left bumper. On tap draws weapon. Tap again to swap to last used weapon. Hold to bring up weapon menu, and double tap to holster. And now, all attack-related commands are on the bumpers and triggers, which means only 2 fingers can access those commands

In the last of my moanings on Mass Effect's controls, we come to squad commands. This is where that right stick could have really come in handy. You see, my problem with Mass Effect's squad system isn't so much that it is outright BAD it's just it could have been better. As they have it, you control your squad with the D-Pad (The only arrow I know does anything is the top one, but that ties back into Issue 1). It's not bad per se, but if Bioware had access to an extra button or two (the weapon draw/holster ones) it could have been better. What I was thinking is that X brings you into squad command mode, where you issue movement orders (Attack orders already work rather well)

Next, we come to technical problems. Normally, console games pride themselves on a lack of such things. But Mass Effect has one HUGE technical problem. Texture popping. Every damn texture in the game seems to pop nigh constantly. Turn a corner? Pop. Enter a building? Pop. Reach a cutscene? Pop, pop, pop.

My recommended is fix goes like this:

1. Take Bethesda Software out to drink.
2. Get Bethesda Software very, very drunk.
3. Sneak into Bethesda Software's offices, and copy the loading code they used for Oblivion
4. Implement code in Mass Effect.
5. PROFIT!**

And of course, there are the general crashes that come with being a 360 game. Fucking Micro$oft, AM I RITE?!!11one?//1

And so, we come to the biggest problem of them all: the actual combat. This combat ranges from almost fun, to game-quitting frustrating. Part of this stems form the fact the Bioware at times don't seem to appreciate that, for all their RPG trappings, they ARE MAKING A THIRD PERSON SQUAD SHOOTER. Let me repeat: SHOOTER. You do not put SHOOTERS on long, poorly lit, bland catwalks and corridors. You put SHOOTERS in nice, open areas, with ample cover. At times, Bioware seems to know this, and at times they don't.

So that's it. Maybe later I'll talk about I liked about Mass Effect.

*UNLESS it's a Platformer or that's the whole point of the game (Echochrome, or, The Reason I'm Seriously Considering A PSP)

**4 and 1/2. ???

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