Down Write Daily – December 28, 2009

by Mitchell Dyer

Some things stay the same no matter how much you see it, hear it, or are around it. Mass Effect is such a thing. In preparation for its sequel, I blazed through it today (for the fifth time) so I had an end-game save file to import. I wanted to ensure that the council survived along with Wrex and Ashley Williams. Mass Effect is one of my all-time favorite games in spite of its technical issues, but there’s so much about that game that sticks with you, even after your fifth run.

For instance:

David Anderson, actor Keith David’s character, is a relentless badass. He headbutts a turian in his feline face, then takes a bullet to the back, to ensure I escaped a hostile politician’s grounding on the Citadel. Hell yes this man is my Council correspondent.

The writing in this game is friggin’ incredible. There’s a line spoken by Sovereign in the latter part of Virmire that goes, “We impose order on the chaos of organic evolution. You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it.” It’s haunting coming from this as-of-yet still-unknown enemy with unthinkable power.

The voice acting is also spectacular. The main character, Shepard, along with each of his alien comrades, is completely believable because they’re given unique personalities that you can relate to. You can’t help but sympathize with an agitated Urdnot Wrex when the cure for his dying species is so easily obtainable. On the other hand, Shepard himself (or herself, if you opt to play as a lady) is extremely convincing when he counters Wrex’s arguments. That makes the choices difficult.

Choices stand out, too. Wrex wanted me to eradicate a lethal insectoid species because they’d done a number on his krogan people in the past. I’ve only committed this act of instant genocide once in my five runs through Mass Effect, and I felt awful. Even if they did try to kill me. Wrex, too, has some interesting decision-making moments that paralyzed me in anxiety.

The good stuff isn’t the only thing that stands out as memorable, however. Mass Effect is a technical catastrophe. Elevators get talked about a lot as loading screen disguises, and rightfully so. There are so many elevators in this otherwise-believable world that it takes you out of it. Really, the ancient ruins of Ilos operate on lifts? Give me a break and let me get back in the action.

If I ever have to drive the Mako again I’m going to pay a very special visit to BioWare. I’ll drive my car the two hours it takes to get there, too, because my Pontiac is a manageable vehicle. I’ll get there without having to stop in frustration because it’s an intolerable POS, which is more than you can say about the Shepard’s space-APC. Ugh.

Texture popping bugged me a bit when Mass Effect first hit, but I was so enamored by the world that it didn’t distract me after long. That’s still kind of true. There are moments where I’m so into the game that a turian with peanut butter rubbed all over his face doesn’t faze me. The last few times, though, it irked me that cutscenes couldn’t keep up with themselves. I really hope BioWare irons that crap out the second time around.

I have faith that they will, especially after being blown away by Dragon Age. Despite the bad, there’s still the good, and the positives in Mass Effect heavily outweigh the negatives. Five times is enough, though. We had a good 65 hours together, Mass Effect and I.