Mass Effect : Andro-meh-duh

 

We Thought We Found Hope 

When Bioware introduced the original Mass Effect 10 years ago, the video game world instantly fell in love with the choice based narrative and amazing cinematic spectacle. Awesome Gamers everywhere were eager to take control of their own custom Commander Shepard and go soaring across the galaxy, saving the universe and getting it on with aliens! The game’s sequels, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, would only serve to improve upon the weakness of the game – namely the combat – and fortify it’s strengths – doubling down on the consequences of choice through the Paragon and Renegade story arcs. Bioware was praised for it’s brilliance, and the fan base grew loyal and strong. So, when  Mass Effect: Andromeda was announced at E3 2015, the crowd went wild! As time went by, more of the story was unveiled, along with screen shots and videos to whet the public’s appetite for space exploration and other worldly flirtations.

The timeline for Andromeda places it somewhere between Mass Effect 2 and 3, so instead of playing as Shepard, who is somewhere on the other side of the galaxy making all the tough choices, you play as one of the Ryder twins, Sara or Scott, as they discover what it means to be a Pathfinder, all while searching for a new planet for humanity to inhabit, fighting off a new alien species, and navigating tough intergalactic relationships. If it seems like a tall order, that’s because it is. Bioware isn’t a stranger to tall orders though, as this is the company that gave us Dragon Age, Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, and Baldur’s Gate, after all. So needless to say, fan’s weren’t worried, and the expectations were peaking. Unfortunately, it was due to those very same high expectations that fans felt they were let down so bad.

But There Was No Life Out There…

Let’s get something out of the way first, and come to a common understanding: the facial features need a lot of work. I know this. You know this. Thanks to the internet, everybody knows this. And thanks to the internet, we found out before the game was even released. So that’s a “check engine” light going off on the dashboard before the car even approaches the starting line. Red flag. Whatever, I already pre-ordered it, and I’ve played games with worse. Besides, you can always put a helmet over fugly. I brushed off the bad face memes and just went to watch more special ability videos on Youtube. Even though the faces looked ugly, these special powers look Nasty with a capital “N”, so I’m still in.

some examples of the female faces from the custom character selection

When release day came, ugly or not, I was ready to strap on some N7 armor and save the galaxy. I went with the pre-loaded Sara Ryder, opting to save my custom create-a-character for the “New Game Plus” feature on my second run through, with fingers crossed that Bioware would have patched up the faces by then. I wasn’t too worried about it, I was more hyped up for the combat anyway. Unfortunately, combat would have to wait, as the game forces me to wade through roughly 30 minutes of dialogue and interaction before I ever even get to pull a trigger. I honestly wouldn’t have minded so much, because there really is an interesting story buried in Mass Effect: Andromeda – awaking from a coma after traveling light years in space to find a new home, watching your father perish right before your eyes as he sacrifices his life for yours, adopting the mantle of Pathfinder and shouldering the hopes of humanity, and discovering the dark secrets of a new alien race: the Kett – there’s some real good stuff here. However, the problem is, it’s just not put together well.

A major part of story telling is HOW you tell the story. Whether or not you’re able to convey and connect with your intended audience. After a while, I was able to look past the sub par faces, but I still wasn’t able to fully connect with the game due to another fly in the ointment: the voice acting. It’s not that the game was voiced terribly, it’s just that coupled with the already bad facial animations, it created this huge emotional disconnect in the game for me. The lip movements wouldn’t sync up with the audio; the facial expressions didn’t convey the same tone or emotion as the actor’s voice, there was even a moment when the audio cut out altogether for a cut scene. It’s little things like that, these bugs and glitches, that kept pulling me out of what should have been a fully immersive space opera. It’s hard to care and to get lost in a game when it keeps stuttering and bugging out. At one point in my play through the game bugged out so badly that I lost all visibility on the planet I was on. I thought it was a loading issue, so I left the planet and came back, but there was still nothing to see. I ended up turning off the game and just walking away. When I came back to try again later things were working fine, but it’s things like that that take away enjoyment from the game.

The Search Continues…

Yes, there are things to enjoy in this game: the combat, for one. When I finally got away from dialogue wheels and cutscenes, the combat that I experienced was fantastic! The graphics, for another. Despite some poor choices in facial animations and character modeling, the environments and space itself look magnificent. The star systems are beautiful and vast, and the sense of awe is ever present in the design. It’s just unfortunate that the game lacked the cohesive polish that it needed to deliver a perfect package, worthy of being a contender for game of the year. There is so much to do here in Andromeda – a universe to discover, relationships to foster, drama to unfold – that it all just collapses under it’s own weight. If this had only been a new IP, like “Ryders In The Sky” or “Twin Galaxies”, and not Mass Effect, than it wouldn’t have been so bad. But unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The Mass Effect name carries with it a legacy of great storytelling and meaningful character arcs that really draw you in, however, Andromeda completely dropped the ball on this one.

Imagine it like this: You have a special Love in your life, and for this Love of yours you’ve planned what is promised to be, not just an evening of dinner and roses, but an experience you’ll both remember for a lifetime! You’ve been building the anticipation, sending picture clues of what the night has in store. A bottle of champagne. Rose petals on the table. A picture of the plate settings, the fancy china and the polished silverware. Is that a salad fork? Damn right it is, we’re getting fancy tonight! But as soon as you’re sitting across the table from the Love of your life, and you start to pour the wine in her glass, you realize that this magical moment has now become a Mylanta moment. “Buuuurp!” Not exactly the sweet nothings you were hoping of whispering, but oh well. You both laugh, because Love is like that sometimes, and you carry on with the evening. But it’s not just a one off incident. “Baby, do you know amazing you look right now – BURP!” “Ever since I met you, my whole life has been – BURP!” “Nuh-uh, You’re the best. No I’m not, You -BURP!” You try to get down on one knee to propose -PFFFT! More laughter is elicited, for sure, and the love you share is still there, undoubtedly, but the evening, for all intents and purposes, is a wash. Fun was still had, to be sure, because that’s what Love does, finds that fun in all the flaws. However, it wasn’t what it was supposed to be. It wasn’t what was promised or expected. It just wasn’t magical, just meh.

And that’s what Mass Effect: Andromeda is, a game filled with promise and expectation. A night alone with our Love that we had been promised, with our exceptions already high from the memories of what came before, to have them lifted only higher still with hype of what was to come. But what we got wasn’t a polished, pure, perfect expression of love – we got a bloated, gassy, glitchy expression of love. Fans of the game series, and those who truly Love Mass Effect are able to see beyond the flaws and just appreciate the game for what it is, because underneath the rough edges there still is a really good game here. I know I’m still playing the game, despite the glitches I’ve faced. But that’s just it though: because of those glitches, the game is just good. It’s not magical. It’s just meh.

Bioware has listened to the feedback however, and announced that they would address all the major issues, even listing out what would be tackled first on their patch notes. Whether it is enough to revive interest in Andromeda and save the game from going the way of No Man’s Sky is still too soon to tell. But Bioware, and Mass Effect fans everywhere, haven’t given up hope.

i wrote a Haiku for Mass Effect:Andromeda

First Impressions – FOR HONOR and For Glory!

Welcome to “First Impressions”, a new series on AGB where I take you through the first 30 minutes of the some of the latest and greatest of the gaming world’s offerings. You have my promise that I will be going through the game, whatever game it may be, for the first time live on video.  No betas. No demos. No second chances. Just First Impressions.

For the series opener, I’ll be giving you my first impressions on Ubisoft’s ambitious historical fighter, FOR HONOR.

 Live By The Sword, Die By The Sword…

Wheat blows gently in the wind as the light of the sun shines upon a warm and welcoming world.  But that welcome is lost, as the land shakes and the earth ruptures, and that which was once welcome is welcome no more. From below the ground, a cataclysmic disaster rips asunder any sign of man’s presence on the world. A voice is heard, telling the tale of woe and war. The voice belongs to knight clad in black armor. Apollyon, the bringing of war.

And that’s only the opening cinematic! WOO! Rivaling that of most animated movies, FOR HONOR’s opening cinematic is epic and breath taking and left me eager to start the game. As first impressions go, that surely was an impressive outing. I was blown away by the visuals, there’s no doubt about that.

I didn’t know much about this game before I bought it, however the one thing I did know was that I had to choose a faction: Viking, Knight or Samurai. I decided to align myself with the Samurai faction, although Knight and Viking didn’t make the choice easy. From there, I was allowed to customize my character emblem, and then thrown into a quick tutorial. Right away my mind was blown. I was a Samurai. The detail that was put in the armor and movement was incredible. The surrounding castle ruins, the fire dancing in the lanterns, the medieval banners blowing in the breeze, all crafted with love. I was most certainly impressed.

The words New Mission Objective flash across the top of the screen as a side bar appears and begins to instruct me on the ways of the sword. Holding L2 locks on to enemy, while the right analog stick controls sword placement and stances. At first I practice against straw training dummies, switching between targets and alternating stances. Then an AI bot knight appears from the castle to help practice blocking and striking. The sounds of swords clashing is just spectacular, and seeing the sparks fly when steel strikes steel is a treat within itself. After a few more strikes, I knew I was sold. I was in, hook, line, and sinker. And I still hadn’t even completed the training.

First impressions? FOR HONOR is simply impressive. The sound is fantastic, the graphics are eye-popping, the story is interesting, and the game play is engaging. In the video I only played for 30 minutes, and when I switched to Twitch, I played for another hour or so, and I wasn’t not disappointed at all in any way. When beginning the story mode I was forced to go through training once again, but if that bit of drudgery was a necessary evil to continue on with the carnage and chaos of war, then I accept it gladly. I honestly didn’t mind, because as I said, this game is impressive.

As of this writing, I still haven’t completed Story Mode, so a full review is still a work in progress. If you’ve played the game, or just watched me play the game in the video, then please write in the comments and let me know what your first impressions are of FOR HONOR. Also, if there are any games you would like me to check out, then write that in the comments, too! For now, the next scheduled First Impressions will be at the end of the month when HORIZON ZERO DAWN is released! Until then, gamers, stay Awesome!

Swamp Attack! Defenders of the Bayou!

Deep in bluegrass country, all the native wildlife have been zombified, mobilized, and militarized in an effort to take over the Bayou.  However, there’s one thing standing between them and total domination: you’re own little Home Sweet Home. Plants vs Zombies brought the fight to your front lawn. Outfit7’s Swamp Attack brings tower defense straight to your front porch! So grab a handful of buckshot, turn up the volume on the radio, and start shooting!

Just Another Quiet Night…

If you’ve played a tower defense game before, then Swamp Attack is familiar territory. You are just a good ol’ boy embracing your 2nd amendment right to bear arms and defend your home, as a carnival of critters, also embracing your 2nd amendment rights (because I assume animals don’t have a constitution, and if they do I highly doubt it’s in the same numerical order), come bearing down on that home that you have the right to defend!

You begin the game with only a shotgun and a handful of ammo to protect your beautiful homestead, as waves of crocodiles swarm to your front porch. Tap on each successive crocodile to help widen their smile by unloading double barrels of peril on the hapless reptile. As you progress, the animals get bigger, and the guns just get better!

Smoke on the Water, Fire in the Sky!

An evil cavalcade of creepers and crawlers will continue to come for you, ranging from upright alligators, beavers brandishing chainsaws, musket packing possums, and a myriad of other creatively killer creatures! However, fear not, for you don’t have to face these fiends alone! You’ve got your friends Smith & Wesson to help you fight off the hordes of hungry home wreckers!

There are guns galore available for you to unlock and upgrade! Shotguns, revolvers, uzis, crossbows and flamethrowers! Mini Guns! Laser Guns! Blast your way through multiple levels of mammalian and reptilian (and then alien!) mayhem to earn gold stars! Collect and exchange these gold stars for the weapons, and the upgrades to these weapons, in order to wage war with the watery n’er do wells! 

When the chair is a rockin’, don’t come a knockin’!

If you’re looking for a quirky little tower defense game that will put a smile on your face and a tap in your foot, then Swamp Attack is worth go. I played this game with my 8 year old nephew, we would take turns after every stage. He enjoyed played the new stages and seeing what kind of zany zombie animal would try to attack our porch next. On my turns, I would replay the previous levels, just to earn gold stars and upgrade the guns. Swamp Attack isn’t burdened down with a heavy story, so it’s perfect for pick up and play. As for replay value, Outfit7 is steadily releasing new episodes (there are 8 so far, with a 9th in the works) so the stages are plentiful. There is also a fun multiplayer battle mode, where you challenge an online opponent to see who will prevail, as you hurl pesky pests at each other’s porches! All in all, Swamp Attack is fun, funny, and a fresh take on tower defense! I like it! ;P

Domo Arigato Mr. Robot…no.

I’ve been loving the triumphant return of Mr. Robot to USA Network’s lineup this season, so it might come as no surprise to you that I was immediately attracted to their new iOS game by the same name. At $2.99, Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.ipa was a no brainer. You play the role of an Average Joe pulled unwittingly into a hacker’s scheme to pull of the biggest cybercrime in history.

Note: this game is rated for ages 17+ and contains: Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes, Frequent/Intense Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References, Frequent/Intense Profanity or Crude Humor, Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity. Viewer discretion is advised.

Launching the app continued to fuel my enthusiasm for the world of Mr. Robot that I had fallen in love with in Season 1. The game starts with an edgy fsociety hacktivism style video which ends with a call to action. Do you pick up the phone you see on the sidewalk? Of course you do! Setting up the phone to connect to E-Corp’s messaging platform is straight forward. The E-Corp messaging platform is locked by a fake thumbprint scanner that feels like something a near-future global tech company would impose on its users. Mr. Robot E-Corp Messaging MenuAt this point, you’re dumped into a mobile operating system that feels different, yet familiar. With just a few options, there’s not much to poke around in, but almost immediately you receive several notifications from the apps on the phone and the story is begins.

You’re introduced to a large cast of characters over the course of game who mistake you for the owner of the phone you stole picked up. Some of the conversations are relevant to the game’s plot line, and some are just frivolous banter. To complete the game, you must help the previous owner, Darlene, retrieve an important file from the phone. As you move through the game, that is essentially like guided texting, you have to help her complete other social hacking oriented tasks.

I think you mean “That isn’t YOUR phone.”

If I’m being honest, this game was terrible. Maybe it was my high hopes for this game to feel like I was being pulled into the world of Mr. Robot, but it definitely didn’t live up to my expectations. You spend the entire game waiting for someone to text you so that you can make fun of their spelling by using a “witty” comeback like, “I think you mean ‘That isn’t YOUR phone.'” When I say you spend time waiting, I want to be clear, this game took me several days to finish. The delay wasn’t due to a lack of having time to play though, it came from literally waiting around for someone to text me. What a sad state of affairs that we have a game that revolves around texting people. This game would definitely be improved by including some video cut scenes, audio, or some kind of a fast forward button to cut down on the waiting between interactions.