Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ME3 Review

This review contains spoilers for Tali's mission, and extremely minor spoilers for everything else.

Let's talk about Mass Effect 3, one of the very few AAA games I played and enjoyed in the past year. This is a review in the literature sense, so don't expect a rating or fanboy gushing.

Firstly, I'm not playing to get a perfect. I'm pretty much playing through with a "whatever happens, happens" mentality. With that in mind...

One of the most irritating things about the ME franchise is that it imports your saves... but if your saves were on a different kind of machine, there's no easy way to replicate the choices you made. This wouldn't be a huge problem if canon-Shepard didn't always make precisely the opposite choice that I made in literally every situation.

For example, it's revealed that canon-Shepard killed the last Rachni queen. Really? My default personality is "unapologetically murders helpless species"? You want me to play a character that literally killed a whole sentient species while it was helplessly imprisoned? After it had been tortured for years and was talking, lucidly, about just running off and finding a planet somewhere? You want me to play someone who unabashedly murdered a torture victim and the whole sentient species they belonged to?

As personality traits go, it's hard to think of a more horrifying one.

Well, whatever.

Playing the game, I'm trying to figure out why I'm only touched by certain scenarios. The writing is pretty solid, but a lot of the things that are obviously supposed to be touching just aren't. But others are. What is it?

After a while, it became clear: I was having a really hard time empathizing with anyone that had a face. The facial animations are still so... weird and creepy. Ash and that white-hexagon-ass psychic lady especially. This was true in earlier ME games as well, but it bothered me less for some reason. The female faces are especially creepy: the men are okayish, but the women all strike me as zombies. And there are a lot of human-faced women in this game - around half the cast. The other half is filled out with all the men and the women who don't have human faces.

So I was running around the game world empathizing with the fat little environment-suit aliens and the walking tanks that say their emotions and the Turians, and along comes Tali's mission. The Quarians against the Geth, HUGE SURPRISE.

I pretty much already knew everything that was "revealed" about the Geth, because it was painfully obvious in the previous games. However, whoever animated the helpful Geth was a real master of conveying emotions without using the face.

Once again, I renewed my knowledge that the Quarians are total monsters who basically want to murder their own children. And me being all paragonny, I say "well, I'll go in and broker peace, somehow. Tali's my favorite character, so I'll try to get her people to be less horrible."

Unfortunately, the writers for ME3 made the Quarians incredibly aggressive, genocidal to a psychotic degree, and completely unwilling to listen to the two people who had literally saved their species twice already and were actively saving it again (me and Tali).

As a result, I basically said "fuck the Quarians, I'm siding with the gentle, intelligent, promising young Geth. They've been given a bad rap for defending themselves against psychopaths."

Unfortunately, the Quarians were ever more stupidly aggressive and unwilling to listen to the people who were actively resolving the situation, and in the end I had to murder an entire species in order to save the Quarians from the catastrophe they had created. For the fifth time this freaking game.

Every even vaguely intelligent NPC is like "oohhh, you should have found a way to save the Geth, you're awful!"

Here's the problem. There is no dialog option for "fuck off, you don't understand shit".

I'm sure there was a way to save both, hidden somewhere for people with a walkthrough or enough time to try every permutation of the event. That's what they are saying. Like when Eve died because I didn't, I dunno, talk to her enough or something, everyone kept harping on it. "If only Eve hadn't died!" Because Eve can live. That's what they're telling you.

But that's not the game I'm playing. In the game I'm playing, Eve died, and I can't rewind time and change that.

In these games, they give you a "paragon" option or a "renegade" option. Which is slightly better than "good" vs "evil" but still not very good at representing your character. There is no ability to tell people how you are feeling, or that they are being really horrible.

Because here's what I wanted to say to the Quarians after the mission: "you're all monsters. You forced me to murder a species in cold blood because you couldn't be assed to fucking listen to me. I've saved you from your own catastrophes at least half a dozen times, and you continue to cause them. You would all be dead if I didn't like Tali this much. Get off my fucking ship."

Hell, I didn't even want Tali on my ship after that, but I couldn't see any option to kick her off.


I sincerely doubt that the writers of ME3 intended for this to be a huge affair for the player. They don't seem to give a fuck about genocide between two species without human faces. To me, it's a big deal, and the Quarians are clearly the monsters.

So, ME3: poignant when it doesn't mean to be. Still has pop-in textures and very stiff facial animations. Pretty good, although the battles are definitely oriented towards heavy-gun Shepards.


Random_Phobosis said...

When ME3 managed to kill off three of my absolutely favorite characters in the universe (Tali, Legion and Mordin), it occurred to me that I really, really cared. And the more I now care for other NPC, plastic faces or not. They have something that player character has not - mortality.

Sure, Aeris was killed years ago, but here the nagging thought "nobody had to die if only Shepard had done things right" really makes the difference.

I'd say the moment when Shepard had to choose between his beloved (in my playthrough) and saving a whole Geth race from genocide (and even uplifting it to sentience), this was the moment when he really became a hero, one way or another.
Hero isn't tough guy who kills lots of aliens, hero is a tough guy who makes tough choices and lives with consequences. Mordin was the true hero all along - now Shepard is, too.

Since the Quarian fleet suicidal, self-destructing motivation is vague at best, I guess not much thought was put in this particular plotline, but by far it had greatest impact in the series on me. And even if this wasn't intentional, I think it's great nevertheless.

Especially after Dragon Age 2 :/

Craig Perko said...

Maybe it's because too much time passed between my play of ME2 and ME3, but I didn't have a strong emotional attachment to most of the characters.

I did really like Tali, until Tali's plotline. Garrus was also fun, but he could never be in my party since my character build clashed with his. The rest of the characters never really gelled with me this game.

Bronzite said...

I just completed ME3 on Sunday, and I'm very much with you on the facial animations. My theory is that the writers and the voice actors have gotten sufficiently better at writing and voicing the characters (especially at expressing affection and camaraderie that isn't romantic in nature) that now the facial expression don't seem right for what the characters say and how it is being said. I feel like this is why I developed a sudden appreciation for Garrus far beyond what I had previously; since the facial expressions weren't human, they didn't give me the same cognitive dissonance that I experienced with the human and human-faced (I'm looking at you, Liara) characters.

Random_Phobosis said...

Maybe faceless-ness isn't the only thing. Some examples, just for laughs.

In System Shock 2, I didn't really care for NPC damsel in distress (faceless, voice messages only), but was charmed by Shodan AI.

In Zone of the Enders (especially ZoE 2), I empathized with characters (since they were animated stand-ins for humans, there was no plastic-face dissonance), but my favorite was A.D.A., the best AI character I ever encountered in videogames.

On the other hand, EDI appears to be more interesting in ME2 than in ME3, for obvious [spoiler] reasons.

Must be some kind of fetish, I guess :D

Craig Perko said...

Well, everyone has their preferences, too.