Thursday, 2 October 2014

Ms. Mass Pac-Pix

A bit of a round-up post today. First up, Mass Effect. I finally finished Mass Effect 3 and thus the whole of the Mass Effect saga (so far). What can I say, I loved it. It's a uniquely epic space opera where you pull your team of heroes from humble beginnings through to the end of life as we know it. Things changed throughout each game, but all in all the combat and exploration were fantastic, with a hugely satisfying collection of quests and diversions. Even after, Lord knows how many, hours of playing the three games, my first thought on finishing it was - "I wonder what would happened if played it this way with that character and those sidekicks...". If it wasn't for the immense backlog towering over me, I probably would have started it over, and I don't feel that way about many games. So it's good; no, it's great, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to nitpick for a while. First up, the mechanics of the game are sometimes a bit too bare. Obviously it's a game so it's going to have mechanics, but it wants to be a story, and it succeeds in some respects as a story, but some of the mechanics get in the way and destroy part of the magic and nuance. The most obvious example of this is the conversation system - it works well, but it never really gives you any choice. You can either be good or evil, there is no grey area, and the good and evil choices are always in the same place on the conversation wheel. So basically, take the top-right option for every conversation and you'll be a paragon, take the bottom-right option and you'll be a renegade. It basically removes all conversation choice after the first time that you decide whether you're going to play as good or bad. After that, it's just joypad muscle memory to select the conversation options for the entirety of the three games. As I say, it works as a game mechanic (and the writing and voice work are generally top notch), but it's in no way a conversation. In some ways, you don't really need the two good and evil pathways, just having a system of actions and consequences would have felt much more natural and alive. If you need to keep the mechanism for game tracking reasons, then keep it hidden, don't score me on a good and evil tally of points, let me be who I want to be. The other mechanical nitpick I wanted to mention was the combat system. In some ways, I can't really comment on this because I played the game on normal and I didn't try to enjoy the combat, but essentially I just pressed one button throughout the whole game. There were no strategies or tactics - at best I ducked behind a wall for cover, but the majority of the time I didn't even bother doing that. I just used my auto-targeting biotic fireball to zoom over and fry every enemy. Some enemies had shields or armour, and there are weapons and powers in the game to target those specifically, but those things didn't negate my fireball, they just slowed it down. Essentially, instead of taking one shot to kill a baddie, it might take two or three...that's not really a hardship. There's also a system in place where weapons have weight, and heavier weapons slow down your biotic recharge time. That could have been an interesting system, but essentially it just made me focus even more on my over-powered fireball and completely ignore weapons. It meant that for the whole game I only carried one, light pea-shooter with me and left the other weapon slots empty so I could maximise my recharge time. There were what, 80-90 weapons in the game maybe, and I used one of them. Of course, you can say that was my choice and blame it on my play-style (and you'd be right), but the game never gave me a single reason to alter that play-style - I never faced a single encounter I couldn't deal with by pressing my one button. Of course, I could have played it on Insane difficulty and maybe that would have forced me to use different tactics (although I'm curious to know now if it actually would...), but it would have been nice if the game had pushed me to try different things a bit more...maybe a few enemies immune to biotics, or just immune to fire, or put me in a situation where my biotics have been neutralised, or have a consequence to excessive biotic use...there are tons of ways it could have been done. On the plus side, it meant that I never had to wander round looking for ammo! One final quick nitpick springs to mind before I get started on the main one (yes...it's coming), the sidekicks. Yes, there are some great characters there, and again, they have some great writing and voice work...my criticism is that they're kind of pointless. You can only take two of them with you on a mission, and most of the time you'll take your favourite two along on every mission. Again, maybe on Insane difficulty there is a more strategic choice in who you take...maybe a bruiser for mission X, maybe a biotic for mission Y...but really, I doubt it makes much difference at all. I think there are a couple of things that could have been done to improve this. Firstly, they could have gone the Baldur's Gate et al route and not have every companion traipse along in my party. Have them available to me so I can go back and pick them up if I want to, but why make me drag them through space with me for not other reason than to make me feel guilty for not using them? I had the only Prothean alive in the galaxy with me, and all he did for the entire game was stare into a pool of water. Why not have him stationed on the Citadel teaching the lessons of his civilization or learning the lessons of ours - I could still grab him if I needed him, but otherwise he would be doing something useful with his time. My other suggestion would be to have more missions where your choice of companions was dictated to you - this happened to some extent with a few missions, but it could have easily been done in a lot more. Oh, and the mechanic for scanning planets for information was an utterly pointless hang-over from the previous game, there was no reason at all to have it here.

Right, that's the minor points out of the way...the elephant in the room is, of course, the ending. To be honest, I would have had no problem at all with the ending if it hadn't been for all the internet furore. It would have been a bit of a "meh" ending, but so many endings are, and it wouldn't have bothered me in the least. But because of all the uproar I did study the ending more than I would have, and I do agree it could have been handled much better. There is so much history and lore both in the wider Mass Effect universe and in my player-created story that they had a million options they could have taken. The most obvious of which would have been to have had me and the allies I'd spent hundreds of hours building up actually make a difference at the end...that would have been one route, but I'd have accepted others that had something to do with the history the game had set up and accumulated. What I do find a bit odd is that instead they chose to introduce an all-powerful macguffin in the last minute of the game and have everything I'd done up to that point be completely irrelevant. The star-child route they did go down doesn't even make any sense...why would this omnipotent being who's controlled the fate of the galaxy for countless millennia suddenly decide to instead ask a lone human her opinion on how the future of the galaxy should play out? As I say, it doesn't really bother me in any way, it's just a game, and game endings rarely make much sense, but even so, as game endings go it was a pretty rubbish one. I do want to re-state, though, that the game series is absolutely fantastic - I criticise things for a job, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy them.

Okay, that took a lot longer than I thought! A couple of quick ones now. First up, PixelJunk Racers. I didn't really get on with it the first time around, and things weren't any different for the second lap. I don't really enjoy racing games that much as a rule, and even this top-down arcade slot racer didn't really do it for me. Even the controls messed me up. They're incredibly simple - the track is made up of a number of "slots" and you move between these slots by pressing left and right - that's how you move around the track and avoid other cars. Easy. The problem is that while pressing left might move your car up when you're travelling in one direction, it'll move you down when you're moving in the other direction. It's relative to the movement of the car and makes perfect sense, but for some reason, when the car's zipping round a tortuously twisty track, my brain just can't cope. I found myself constantly hitting the wrong direction and having my car plough into the back of another driver. It just wasn't fun and I wasn't improving. Next up on the PS3 list is Stick Man Rescue! It's an old PlayStation Mini that was on Plus years ago. It looks a lot like Volcano that I used to play on the Beeb (I even made a Flash version of it!). I'd guess it's based on an arcade game, as may of the titles of that age were, but I can't see anything obvious. Essentially, you control a helicopter and have to fly through obstacles to rescue people and get them back to base. Looks like good clean fun.

Finally for this post, there's Ms. Pac-PC. Well...not much to say, it's Pac-Man. I played it for a while, and it seems pretty authentic, but I'm not going to dwell on it. Onwards!

Next up on the randometer is...M1 Tank Platoon! It's a well-respected war game, but I don't know much more about it. I'll hit Ultima 2 first.

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