It was big news when Jason West and Vince Zampella, two of the three co-founders of Infinity Ward, were dismissed by Activision back in 2010. After all, the pair was instrumental in creating the Call of Duty series, and genre-defining entries such as Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Following their departure, they co-founded the aptly named Respawn Entertainment, and with a few dozen of their former co-workers, began development on Titanfall. The multiplayer-focused first-person shooter was highly regarded when it released in early 2014, and remains one of the noteworthy Xbox-platform exclusives of the generation. It wasn’t until the follow-up that Respawn captured my attention: they included a single-player campaign.
The year is 2069. Once common forms of government now occupy historical archives on the dataverse, having been supplanted by mega-corporations decades ago. These mega-corporations, or syndicates, are few and amongst them Eurocorp is dominant, thanks to their invention of the DART chip: a neural implant allowing access to the dataverse. Unique syndicate specific versions are embedded in roughly half the world’s population, creating a societal divide between the haves and the have nots, metaphorically illustrated by the lush skyscrapers users live, work, and shop and the destitute “downzone” areas on the surface. As they’ve vied for control of the populace and protection of their intellectual property, corporate espionage and outright warfare have become standard, necessitating the need for bio-engineered agents enhanced with the latest in chip technology.
When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.
Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure is a deceptively charming game. One part platformer, one part tile-matcher, all parts difficult! Players navigate the upstanding British adventurer on his quest to attain a golden suit in standard action-platformer fare. Jumping around and attacking enemies is the name of the game. This is all relegated to the top screen however; the key differentiating feature is the tile-matching game that takes place on the bottom screen. Players must switch between both screens to stay alive, and gain power-ups in order to survive and excel. That gets tough too as the game’s difficulty curve eventually skyrockets. It was too much for me to bear and it remains unfinished. It’s a well-crafted and unique game nonetheless.
The developer might come as a surprise to some: EA Tiburon – the Madden NFL studio. The figureheads behind the game broke out and formed their own company afterwards – DreamRift. It was published by EA Games in North America on the Nintendo DS on March 17, 2009.
Set about 500 years in the future, Dead Space centers on Isaac Clarke and the horrific events surrounding the USG Ishimura. This “planetcracker” is a mining spacecraft that recently sent out a distress signal which Isaac and a small squad is answering. What he and his cohorts find is multitudes worse than what most of them could’ve imagined. Any hopes of the mission being routine are thrown out the window when almost immediately the squad is attacked by garish creatures – “the ship’s crew slaughtered and infected by an alien scourge” to quote the back of the box.
The underpinnings of cultish intrigue are soon the full-scale narrative driver of the game. As Isaac survives his way through the Ishimura, he learns of the crew’s discovery of the Marker and the impact it had on them. Supposedly a holy artifact for the Church of Unitology, the discovery is of great importance to many of the ship’s members who then change course at the direction of Captain Benjamin Mathius. This wasn’t the only discovery they made however. Coming along with the Marker is an unknown alien life form that begins ravaging the crew and turning them into Necromorphs.
These creatures are grotesque abominations of former crew members who are anything but gentle. With repair objectives taking him all over the Ishimura, Isaac runs into hundreds of Necromorphs. Equipped with a plasma cutter and an arsenal of other weapons, it’s soon made clear to both Isaac and the player that the most effective way of combating this enemy presence is through dismemberment.
I found the gameplay loop that dismembering small groups of Necromorphs turned into, to be highly enjoyable. The precision and power that the plasma cutter ripped through these fiends was such a satisfying and visceral experience, encountering groups of Necromorphs almost wasn’t scary. After a playthrough and a half, I’d recommend not using any other weapon; the plasma cutter is that incredible.
It’s that gameplay loop that kept me jiving on the game for so long. The narrative unfolded at a brisk pace and I learned much about the goings on before Isaac arrived via plentiful text, audio, and video logs, but the chapter objectives were so drab. I felt like Fix-It Felix as Zach Hammond and Kendra Daniels (fellow crew members responding to the distress signal) issued Isaac around the Ishimura having him repair broken equipment. Aside from some awesome boss encounters and a handful of entertaining tasks, the chapters mostly felt like a means to an end.
Somewhat memorable was Dr. Challus Mercer. After the captain was accidentally killed by Dr. Terrence Kyne, Dr. Mercer assumed control of the Ishimura. He is more of a cultish zealot than Captain Mathius was and this is seen firsthand by Isaac. With an ever watchful eye on Isaac, Dr. Mercer always seems one step ahead of Isaac, Zach, and Kendra. Their run-ins usually entail a challenging combat sequence. Paired with that sequence is a dose of Dr. Mercer’s maniacal devotion to the church and his belief that transformation into Necromorphs is humanity’s higher calling.
Dr. Kyne plays a role soon enough and eventually they are led back to the planet where it all came from. He is a character with good intentions consumed by the hallucinations of his deceased wife. He and Isaac aren’t dissimilar; Isaac is also haunted by increasingly lifelike hallucinations of his deceased girlfriend Nicole Brennan. Nicole and Dr. Kyne are key figures in returning the Marker to its former resting place, hoping to calm the chaos and prevent the Necromorphs from reaching Earth.
Dead Space was a game with loads of prerelease marketing courtesy of Electronic Arts and among the content were a handful of developer diaries. In one of these, it was mentioned that the intention was for Isaac to be an “everyman” but I don’t think this was achieved. I feel this way solely because he was a silent protagonist interacting with very realistic characters. Much of the dialogue consisted of other people speaking directly to Isaac, and his lack of speech created a weird dissonance.
That’s about the only gripe I have as far as the audio/visual qualities are concerned. The game looks remarkable, but there isn’t a lot of variety outside of the sterile, futuristic corridors splashed with copious amounts of gore. The soundtrack was used more to cultivate a continuous sense of fright regarding what’s around the next corner instead of building up to an ultimate crescendo over and over again. Jason Graves’ score, composed of mechanical sound effects and haunting instrumental bits, helped in creating a dreadful ambiance reeking of Doom 3’s impact.
It was with Dead Space that EA Redwood Shores, now Visceral Games, was given the chance to moonlight with a new intellectual property and I think they knocked it out of the park. The cultish narrative was intriguing enough, although it was the dismemberment gameplay loop that carried the entertainment weight for me. The plasma cutter offered such precision and power that dealing with groups of Necromorphs was something I looked forward to. After, I got over the fright of them appearing of course.
Who is Commander Shepherd? Is he simply an avatar for players, or is he a distinct character who evolves over the Mass Effect series? Since beginning Mass Effect 3, I began pondering this question. In the most recent game, BioWare and EA made this game more open to new players by introducing a mode where decisions are taken out of the player’s hands, in essence creating a Shepherd with a personality, morals, own thoughts, et cetera. Not only that, but Shepherd has dreams in Mass Effect 3, implying further that he is his own person.
I believe Commander Shepherd is a blank slate. Through the decisions the player makes, he gets filled in. As the three-game story arc progressed, Shepherd grew, maybe. As the player, we can make any of the available decisions we want willy nilly. I assume that most players are role-playing their Shepherd as either a paragon (good) or renegade (bad). However, we can ultimately make nearly any decision we want, whether it fits in line with our Shepherd’s alignment or not. So long as we’re role-playing Shepherd with an eventual goal in mind, he does grow as a character. Otherwise, he’s just a mishmash of what we’re feeling at the moment.
I argue that Commander Shepherd is an avatar for the player so they can build an emotional connection to fully enjoy the depth of the games. The positions Commander Shepherd takes are entirely representative of us. My Shepherd had distinct characteristics that are also found in me. I imagine this is the same for anyone who describes Shepherd as “their” Shepherd. The only reason we would ask ourselves what Shepherd would do in a specific situation is because we have already crafted what Shepherd would do because he is a version of ourselves. Shepherd isn’t a distinct character that has his own viewpoint, his viewpoint is ours.
However, for Shepherd to truly resonate with us and allow us to build an emotional connection, he does have to be a distinct character. He has a back-story and interacts with others more so than a silent protagonist. In reality, he’s akin to the silent protagonist of so many other video games. In a way though, Shepherd is the next step of the silent protagonist. He is a blank slate for players to utilize and choose their own choices thereby creating a character, but he does have a voice (figuratively and literally).
Writing down my thoughts about Commander Shepherd has made me think more about the avatars we play as in video games. There are many ways to get players involved in a video game and there are a lot of variables. Commander Shepherd can’t be pinned down as a silent protagonist or a distinct character because he’s a combination of these two alternatives. Truly though, I’d argue he’s closer to a silent protagonist because the decisions he makes are in the player’s hands and therefore, they’re really the stars of the game.
I had a difficult time tracking down a copy of the Mass Effect 3 collector’s edition because I didn’t preorder it. It’s readily available at online retailers, but it’s pretty pricey – seventy dollars used. Still, it’s a collector’s edition that packs a punch.
Like most other collector’s editions worth their salt, or money as it were, Mass Effect 3 comes in a flashy tin case. On either side are images of the stock male and female Shepherd. Fleshing out more of the game’s art is the miniature art book the collector’s edition comes with. I’m usually opposed to these miniature art books (especially in Skyrim’swake) but Mass Effect 3’s is okay thanks to its detailed descriptions. Then again, it’s actually excerpted from a larger (page count and size) art book that’s available for sale.
There’s also a short comic book starring the queen of Omega, Aria T’Loak. It’s interesting and accounts for her time between Mass Effect 2 and 3, but it seems more like an advertisement for the related graphic novel, sort of like the art book being a “taste” of the full-size art book. Also related to the art is a lithograph of the Normandy. It’s really just a postcard without the necessary information, but it’s a cool picture of Normandy nonetheless. Another inclusion is a code to download a digital version of the soundtrack. I’d really like to give it a listen, but I wasn’t able to redeem it because I accidently have more than one EA account. To redeem it, I need to know what my EA account is that I signed into Mass Effect 3 with, and I don’t know what it is.
There’s a ton of digital content included too; namely, the From Ashes downloadable mission, character, and so on. It’d be great if used copies had unredeemed codes for this, but they probably don’t so it’s not much of a bonus for most. The rest of the digital content isn’t worth the extra money, and like From Ashes, they’re probably not available in used copies. Still, there are plenty of weapons, extra outfits, and other digital gear.
At twenty dollars over the standard edition, I think the extra content is worth it. Especially considering that From Ashes alone costs ten dollars itself. Oh! The collector’s edition also comes with an N7 patch, so yeah… There’s no dearth of content in the collector’s edition. Plus, Mass Effect 3 is a pretty darned good game.
Mass Effect 3, what a game! BioWare and Electronic Arts have closed out the trilogy amid much controversy. The increased amount of related downloadable content and the botched ending have irked many people. Still, the proof is in the pudding and Mass Effect 3 retains the high pedigree associated with the previous two games.
As was the case with Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3 plays more fluidly than its predecessor. Commander Shepherd has a newfound agility that allows him to weave around a battlefield much better than he’s ever been able to. Still there are some annoyances that make Shepherd’s movement feel very rigid. Turning while running was a process I had to become accustomed to and getting into cover was oftentimes finicky. For instance, when I’d run into a wall at an angle, Shepherd wouldn’t get into cover; to get into cover, I’d have to hit it head on. These are a few minor annoyances but overall, Shepherd’s agility is net gain in my book. As far as other elements of the gameplay getting improved, any enhancements were either very subtle or not worth mentioning. The game plays better than ever.
I’ve played as a soldier in each of the Mass Effect games and compared to the other classes, it’s a relatively boring one. Thankfully, the big addition to the series – multiplayer – allowed me to play as the other classes and experience their specialties easily. It’s a much lower barrier of entry then just creating a new character for the single player.
In the multiplayer, teams of four battle through about ten waves of enemies. Most of the time, survival is the only focus although every few waves, teams are tasked with uploading important data, guarding an important terminal, or taking out specific enemies in a timely fashion. I thought the multiplayer was okay, but feeling like I had to do it dragged down my feelings of it.
Mass Effect 3 integrates the multiplayer into the single player and represents the conflicts as actual battles that the good guys are fighting. Each multiplayer arena resides in a galaxy and each galaxy has a readiness rating. Each galaxy begins at 50% and for me, it was necessary to get the average up to about 70% to get the “perfect” ending. And since I was getting it that high, I figured I might as well get the overall number up to 100% to get the achievement for doing so. This was additional time to me because it forced me to halt my single player game and focus on the multiplayer for about ten hours, instead of enjoying it after “the main attraction” concluded.
“The main attraction” in my book is the story and with this I was fulfilled. It was inevitable that the trilogy would end with this, the third game, but as the first few hours of Mass Effect 3 make clear, there was still much work ahead of Shepherd. Constructing a force large enough to deal with the Reapers required Shepherd to put to rest events that have affected the galaxy for hundreds of years. Dealing with the genophage and the Quarian/Geth problem are two of the subplots that stick out largest in my mind.
Still, I can think of other, very memorable moments that may not have had a major impact on the universe as a whole, but affected me greatly. Whether it was losing close allies or making gut decisions on the fly, Mass Effect 3 had some memorable moments. Plus, seeing people I spared in the previous games reappear and discovering how past decisions reverberated was neat too. All the while, these decisions played into Shepherd’s war assets. In combination with the aforementioned readiness levels obtained through multiplayer, the war assets dictated what endings would be available. It’s weird to have every decision I’ve ever made to be distilled into a quick number, but it’s great for comparison to other players!
When everything is said and done, Shepherd once and for all deals with the Reapers. There’s been so much fuss over the ending that forming an opinion is a tough task when there’s so many others floating around on the internet. I had multiple options available to deal with the Reapers, and they were pretty diverse. While I got the “perfect” ending, everything didn’t turn out perfectly. I believe a lot of anger has been directed at the vague resolution of what key characters do after the events of the game, and that’s fair. I also think it’s fair that if players have spent over one hundred hours in this universe, they have enough to go on to form their opinions of what everyone did. Still, recent revelations over the “true ending” downloadable content give me a sourer outlook of the ending.
Overall, I’m pleased as punch with Mass Effect 3. It’s the best playing game in the series and thanks to the multiplayer I have a better understanding of every character class. Leveling up characters in it is pretty fun to boot, as long as I’m not “forced” to do it; most importantly though, I’m pleased with the conclusion of the trilogy. The bevy of events throughout the game was entertaining and I know that if I slightly changed my decisions, they could’ve ended up entirely different. Ultimately though, Commander Shepherd did what he set out to do from day one: deal with the Reapers.