This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Mass Effect 3.
A word, then, on the subject of trilogies. Bollocks. That was it.
Trilogies seem to be a greatly desired state of being for intellectual properties, and yet there are very few cases in which the third installment is popularly considered to be the best. I mean, once you're past the peak and ideas run thin, it's only a matter of time before you introduce Gwen Stacy slapfighting an Ewok. Think of it in terms of shagging three times in a night: it sounds like a bragworthy proposition, but while the first time is all right, if a little nervous, as you figure out how to prop yourself upon the squeaky mattress; and the second time was the best, 'cause you're all warmed up and open to experimentation with the contents of her bottom drawer; when it comes to the third time, it's four in the morning, both your breaths are starting to smell, and you're just tokenly sawing in and out like a carpenter who's pretty sure he's about to be fired, trying to get it over with and not think about having the launder the sheets before you go to work.
But will Mass Effect 3 be a wheezing mechanical obligation that leaves you sleeping on the wet patch? Pretty much yeah.
We return, then, to the life of Titty Shepard, the science fiction military commander who was sick the day everyone else was learning about delegation. Having been going around telling everyone that the Reapers are coming to kill them all, the navy have taken him off duty on grounds of making everyone depressed at parties. Then the Reapers show up and start killing everyone, and Shepard's able to say "well, look who's come crawling back" in the brief moment before he's forced to scarper and leave Earth to fall into Reaper subjugation, jetting off to gather support for a counter-invasion from the other galactic races.
Basically, the Reapers are what the Bush administration were hoping al-Qaeda would turn out to be: an all-powerful organization who are categorically devoted to the systematic slaughter of everything that isn't them, while the other races are all being what the Bush administration thought Europe was being. "Um, er," they um and er. "Yes, it's a terrible shame about your planet, but when they say they're going to eradicate all life, that doesn't necessarily include us, does it? I mean, look how pretty our planet is. No one would smash up that scenery. It'd be way too poignant."
Most importantly, though, Shepard can now be a gay man. Yes, after all these years there's now a big burly shuttle pilot you can gay it up with. And I know what I'd be saying if my Shepard was gay: "Oh, I see. Just because I'm gay means I've got to throw myself at the only other sausage-squatter on board, does it? What if we find we've got nothing in common? Do I then try to make out with Garrus? That's sort of the vibe I'm getting in most of his conversations."
But who cares, unlike my Hawke, my Shepard is not gay, although in Mass Effect 3 he wasn't straight either, strictly speaking. From Mass Effect 2 onwards, all the love scenes just fade to black the moment you start making out, like your tongues are hooked up to the dimmer switch, and I found I just couldn't be arsed anymore. Besides, there's not enough fresh crumpet to despoil in number three. Presumably because copy-pasting character models from previous games saved time they could spend on prettying up the skyboxes, there are very few new characters introduced. There's like two squadmates who weren't squadmates in previous games - one's an upgraded returning character and the other's a complete ponce who looks like he spends all his off-hours kissing his biceps in front of a mirror.
The arrangement this time around is that there's a big fat bar graph representing what percentage of your arse will get kicked if you launch the invasion, and it goes up as you complete missions and gather troops and massive quantities of sandwiches to feed them with. It's sort of like the latter half of Fable III but not so much designed by a yogurt (no offence, Peter).
Now in Mass Effect 2, your ending depended on how much you upgraded the ship and did the squadmate sidequests before going off on the final suicide mission. The characters only get killed if you didn't love them enough. So what with only having four days to play through number three, I had to stick to story missions and blow off a lot of random passersby asking if I wouldn't mind fetching their car keys if I'm not too busy saving the entirety of organic life and went off to the final confrontation with a lot of unticked items on the to-do list. So want to know how much the ending changes this time around if you haven't polished your headlights properly before heading off? Not to any significant degree at all. Threw me a bit, really. I might as well have spent the whole game testing the swivel on the captain's chair flicking snot at Specialist Traynor.
The thing about Mass Effect is that, yes, rich universe, well-put-together story, blah blah Bioware blah, but it's never polished its headlights properly in the gameplay department. First there was that car that handled like a fridge on a roller skate, then there was scanning planets like you're picking litter off the school field. Now there's just kind of... nothing. You still scan planets, but now you do it from the galaxy map and instantly know if you're wasting your time or not. It's just cover-based shooting on the ground now, and it starts to get comical how they have to come up with a different excuse each mission why you can't just missile everything from the shuttle. Oh, there's AA guns. Oh, there's a double yellow line right next to the destination - better park farther away and walk up. Oh, the shuttle pilot forgot to put his laundry in the dryer - he'll just pop back to the Normandy and drop us off next to those friendly-looking chaps with laser rifles.
I don't know. When we're in space travel whoosh laser kapow times, pop-up shooting galleries feels unworthy of the concept, when we could be firing luminescent shrew cannons from a jetpack. The final mission in war-torn London basically plays like Call of Duty: Whoosh Laser Kapow Edition, and as a device to pad out the storytelling, it just turns into a chore. I'm just gonna say it: I liked the fridge roller skate car business in the first one. At least it made the galaxy feel like there were things in it besides linear arrangements of chest-high walls. Maybe people wouldn't have complained about it so much if they'd given it a rocket jump or a big pair of truck nuts. Removing it entirely smacked of giving up too easily.
Still, it's always nice to see a big property actually getting all wrapped up before it faceplants into too many yeast infections. It'd be difficult to think of a way any hypothetical cash-in future spin-off could possibly raise the stakes higher than this. I mean, what to you do after you threaten to destroy every living thing in the galaxy? Threaten to destroy every living thing and also their cat? Mass Effect concludes not so much with a bang or a whimper, more the sound you get from releasing a balloon and watching it fart its way around the lounge. I know a lot of people have been down on the ending, but I thought it could have been worse. That quote's not going to end up in any EA marketing material, but for what it's worth I'm not left disappointed. But then I am completely jaded. I'm having a good morning if I don't accidentally piss on the loofah in the shower.
- He came back from space: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Is it possible you're dissatisfied with the ending simply because it was ending, fanboys
- I always though the mass effect was when you fall asleep in a church