This week on Zero Punctuation, Mass Effect.
I've already covered in this weekly adventure into good-natured, fond ribbing that I think JRPGs can all suck on the unpedicured toenails of a menopausal Valkyrie. Western RPGs, on the other hand, I've had a more changeable relationship with. While JRPGs generally involve a bunch of angsty twenty-year-olds with stupid hairdos following a strictly linear storyline when they aren't standing in a row in front of dancing goblins arguing who's on potion duty, Western RPGs tend to feature more variety and less skinny, underdressed girls claiming to be men.
Some day I want to make a list of all the games that feature as the protagonist a grizzled, generically handsome, short brown-haired guy. I'm sure I'd end up with something populated by roughly 70% of all the games ever made ever. Mass Effect is gratifyingly different by letting you choose between various styles and shades of short brown hair and fully customise your generic handsomeness and grizzledom levels. Well, that's a little unfair - you can be a grizzled, short brown-haired girl, too. I eventually went for an ugly motherfucker who looked like a cross between Pete Postlethwaite and Thom Yorke so it'd be funnier when all the female characters started wanting to ride my purple python.
This is the part where the reviewer talks about the plot to put off having to actually make valid points. It's half-past the future, and humanity's up on the galactic political stage having a dick-waving competition with a variety of alien races (who all speak English in pleasant North American dialects for some reason, but I guess it's preferable to all those Wookiees in Knights of the Old Republic gargling in your face all the time). The main guy, whose last name is Shepard and whose first name, in my case, was Titty, is a human soldier guy who gets a new job as a galactic peacekeeper guy called a Jedi - I mean, Spectre. Soon enough, the shit hits the hyperdrive, and it's down to Titty to save the galaxy. Now pad out my last few statements until this paragraph is roughly the same length as Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu and read it out loud to yourself while occasionally flinging the text across the room so you have to go pick it up again, and you'll have a pretty good idea of the Mass Effect experience.
People often say to me, "Yahtzee, you callipygian Superman, how can you, a game writer yourself, complain about a game having too much dialogue?" I would reply, "for the same reason that a hairdresser is entitled to complain when someone fills their car with shampoo." The best writing in visual media is succinct and punchy, something a lot of webcomic writers need to understand. Mass Effect is like an incontinent who just drank six bottles of Mountain Dew, so full to bursting with dialogue that it leaks out at every turn. Characters will spout their life stories at the slightest provocation like you've got a documentary crew with you. A mere glance at a computer screen or starship component will dump an entire Reader's Digest into your journal. To the game's credit, you never actually require to read any of this, but not doing so leaves me with the strange feeling that the game somehow resents me for it.
You see, whenever you drag the game kicking and screaming away from its beloved dialogue and force it to live up to the whole "action RPG" thing, it throws a great big sulk. During combat, your companions get in your way constantly, possibly because they want to be ready in case you order them to give you a reassuring cuddle. Some enemies seem to be affected by the same motivation and will run right into your face. And since there's very little immediate visual difference between an enemy and a friendly of the same race, the word "clusterfuck" ceases to be adequate. Then there are the unavoidable driving sections, made frustrating by a vehicle that handles like a fat man on a unicycle.
The menu system isn't what you'd call intuitive - the game brings over almost everything from Knights of the Old Republic for better or worse, including the tedious micromanaging of equipment like some fussy mother getting her children ready for the first day of school. And I was six hours in before I figured out how to install weapon mods. I could have looked in the manual, I suppose, but by then I was halfway through the game and reading the manual at that point felt like a sign of weakness.
I knew this review would be difficult going into it, partly because I skipped all the side-quests and probably missed half the content and partly because I suspect that some of the things I didn't like are the same things that RPG fans find attractive. The first point probably doesn't matter so much unless one of the planets boasts a magical "make the game better" button, but the game's sheer head-crushing depth will probably make up for everything for some people. So what I saying is if you like RPGs (and Knights of the Old Republic in particular), then take this review for the ignorant hate speech that it is. But if you don't like RPGs, then Mass Effect isn't going to cause an epiphany.
Finally, the smartest idea BioWare had was to leak the fact that there's sex in this game. That probably doubled the sales figures right there, because the nerd is a tiresomely predictable creature to whom the promise of boobies is like a bacon sandwich to a starving wolf. For the record, it was the female human I ended up filling with my toothpaste of love, but since her name was Ashley Williams, which I'm pretty sure was the full name of Bruce Campbell's character from the Evil Dead series, it made things rather uncomfortable for me. You only get to see like one second of bare arse anyway, so it will hardly make your mass erect.
- Space oddity: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Yeah this whole review was leading up to that horrible pun at the end
- Okay, I did Mass Effect, can I go back to indulging myself now