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Posts Tagged ‘Mass Effect’

Mass Effect: First Look

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I’ve had my copy of Mass Effect (yes, the original) from GameFly for a month or so now. My son played it for a few straight weekends when he was visiting and finally finished it. Seeing how long it took him to go through has convinced me that I do not have the time to ever complete the game. However, I did want to get a feel for what it was like specifically for reference purposes. Here’s a few of my first impressions.

Good Dialog Animation

One thing I noticed that was rather pleasant was that the cut scene dialog animation was reasonably well done. This is even more impressive since there are at least a dozen races that I have encountered so far and all of them look believable when they are speaking. I happen to have a soft spot for ol’ Urdnot Wrex who looks particularly compelling when he speaks. Kudos to BioWare for pulling that off well.

Fixed Cut Scenes
On a down side of that is the fact that I now feel really rooted to the ground during those dialogs. Much of this is by an unfair comparison, however. After playing Assassin’s Creed where I could wander around aimlessly during dialogs, I found myself a little restrained during the Mass Effect ones (of which there are plenty). Which brings me to another point…

Odd Disconnects
Having been a veteran of Neverwinter Nights, I am well familiar with the extent that BioWare can take their contextual dialog trees. While I agree that this is still largely a necessary evil in RPG games, there are times when I am a little alarmed by a continuity disconnect.
For example, upon arriving in Noveria, I had a pleasant chat with the lady Gianna. She tells me upstairs at the security station to come see her to have an appointment with Anoleis. It took me less than a minute to get down to her office where she greeted me with the question, “What do you want?” It was rather startling to have just left her and have her forget that she told me to come ask her something specific. Of course, this is something that can be chalked up in part to poor writing. On the other hand, this is also something that could have been added as a trigger flag in the dialog tree itself. That is, if the player gets to you quickly, acknowledge it and say something appropriate. In this case, it would have been “Ah, you are here. Let me announce you to Anoleis.”
On the other hand, the in-dialog flags seem to be well done. Often, they will remember that I have asked about one topic in another branch of the tree entirely. That is well done. Of course, I was tickled when one character told me off by saying we have already discussed something. On the other hand, I can see how that would be annoying if you were distracted by something and didn’t hear what was said.
Another peculiar interaction was when Gianna met me outside a room after I had finished a combat sequence. (I believe it was outside that one dude’s office.) She told me to talk to her in the hotel bar before I spoke to the guy who sent me on the mission. Uh… OK. The problem was, as soon as the cutscene was over, she was gone. We didn’t get to see her walking away or going to the bar, etc. Not having anything else to do, I went to the bar and found her already there (she’s quick!). Again, this effect is a by-product of having the cutscenes be somewhat de-coupled from the actual live action gameplay. It’s mildly annoying.
Not much of that has to do with AI, however. This next bit does.
Combat AI
In a few of the combats that I have been in, I’ve noticed a peculiar combination of tactics. While I praise the design that puts some enemies behind cover for a while. It seems like they also leave cover for no reason, walk some pre-programmed path while still firing at me, then return to cover. If that doesn’t smack of a shooting gallery, I don’t know what does. Additionally, there have been times when an enemy inexplicably leaves cover and runs right up to me in the open. It seems to be a design decision to “mix things up” however. While mixing things up is fine, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense from a combat standpoint. Because of that, it makes the enemy look dumb. If the enemy looks dumb, people think the AI is dumb. It is unwise to intentionally write something into your enemy AI that people will perceive as being broken – either technically or in the “brain” of the enemy.
All in all, the AI seems to alternate between overly scripted or a sequence of randomly strung together actions. There isn’t that cohesive combat flow that I experience in the likes of Halo 3, Gears of War 2, or F.E.A.R. Interestingly, this makes the battles almost as mundane as the incessant walking (jogging) and driving that you have to do in the game. Where I would hope to have the proverbial minutes of terror to break up the hours of boredom, I don’t even get a rise out of the combat. That’s disappointing.
Anyway, while I don’t plan on finishing the game, I will put a few more hours into it and see if I notice anything else.

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