Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Game Review: Mass Effect Andromeda

Don't let the negative user reviews fool you. This is a good game. I bought this game day one for the PS4. As a huge Mass Effect fan, I've been waiting for this game, and bought a PS4 just so I could play it. Since then, I've played every night for a couple hours at a time, sometimes more than that, and have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Yes, it has its problems. The facial animation is not what I would expect from a triple-A game on a next-gen console, but it's hardly as bad as people are making it out to be. Addison, one of the Nexus (Andromeda Citadel equivalent) fixture characters is probably the worst, but you don't spend much time talking to her, and honestly, it's just not that awful.
I've seen quite a few reviews commenting on the ugliness of the women in the game, particularly the female Ryder twin. Personally, I find the female Ryder to be attractive to look at. More to the point, she looks believable. She's a space explorer, not a supermodel. Looks all come down to personal tastes, though, and if you don't like her look, you can customize her. This really is a non issue.
Overall, this is a beautiful game, with an outstanding score and superb audio. The combat is much improved, something that seems to be fairly universally acknowledged. The Nomad replaces the Mako and the Hammerhead, and is likewise much improved, though it has no armament.
Another complaint people have made in reviews is the lack of new races. Statements like, "A new galaxy and only two races to populate it." This really is not fair. You're limited to one cluster of the Andromeda, and like the Milky Way of Mass Effect, a single cluster is not representative of the galaxy as a whole. Remember, there is no Mass Relay network in Andromeda, so races will be more isolated to their galactic points of origin.
Probably my biggest criticism is that unless you're already a Mass Effect fan, there's not enough context. Biotics having a hard time fitting in, for example, need more explanation for a new player, as do things like the Krogan animosity toward the Salarians and Turians. Also, if you run a biotic character, Cora Harper, your one biotic human crew member does not offer any unique dialogue options like Kaiden Alenko did in Mass Effect in your early conversations with him. Since this the first game in a new series (?), I would have like to have seen more context to connect new players with the existing Mass Effect universe. This game is written with the understanding that you already know the universe, and have already played through the first trilogy ...
... which brings me to my final criticism: it does not feel like a Mass Effect game initially. The class and skill interfaces are set up very differently, and the bumpers don't bring up the power and weapon wheels like the previous games did. Certainly not a deal breaker by any means, but as a longtime player of the series, it meant that I had to relearn the game, rather than just jump right in as I was able to with ME2 and ME3. Once you get into it, it does feel more like a Mass Effect game, but it takes time.
The story takes a bit longer to get moving, but it makes sense, as it's an exploration game, rather than a military campaign with an exploration element, like the first game was. Once it gets going, though, it's a decent story. And that seems to be the major factor: this game is about taking the time, exploring the various nooks and crannies, and letting the story unfold. Even the side quests and loyalty missions are more appropriate to the story, and in most cases, are better than in prior games, but you’re not beaten over the head with them; Cora won’t repeatedly call you to her cabin to discuss her loyalty mission. She sends you an e-mail, and that’s it. There’s no Kelly Chambers to keep reminding you every time you walk past, and she won’t refuse to talk about anything else the way characters in ME2 did until after you do her mission. Side quests and loyalty missions are things you must seek out to a certain extent.
All in all, this is a solid game, and if you liked the original Mass Effect, then you'll probably like Andromeda.

Who Am I?

Born in 1967, I still remember the Vietnam war, Richard Nixon, Watergate, and the Cold War. I grew up in a time when the pledge of allegiance was still a mandatory part of school, and attending parochial school from fifth grade until I graduated high school, I also experienced prayer in school. It was a different time.

We had telephones that were attached to the wall and phone booths scattered about the cities, towns, and countrysides for making calls when out of doors or in public places, such as malls. For mobile communication, it was CB radio or walkie talkies. We had no video games until various pong games and eventually Atari. Arcades were mostly pinball machines. Mostly, we played outside, read books, and played board games. There were no VCRs, DVDs, or streaming video. The internet did not exist. If I wanted to see a movie, I had to go to the cinema. Television was limited to three or four channels and cable television did not exist. If I wanted to see a program, I needed to catch it when it was on or wait for it in a rerun. Movies that I missed I might be lucky enough to see on television a couple of years later.

It was a time of Americans with no hyphens; African-American, Asian-American, Irish-American, such terms did not exist. We were all just Americans, though the lack of such terms did not make us any more united. Evangelicals were still calling themselves Fundamentalists, and "spiritual, but not religious" was a term yet to be popularized. Culture and religion were, at least on the surface, simpler things back then. It was also a time of uncertainty about the Soviets, nuclear proliferation, and the far off threat of Arab terrorists (we did not call them Muslim extremists back then). Our nation was somewhat schizophrenic, and I grew up with mixed messages of unbridled patriotism and deep seated cynicism. Religion was still more a part of public consciousness than it is today, though again, this was a cultural matter and does not imply an innate holiness or spirituality.

Growing up in a Roman Catholic household and attending parochial school, God, Jesus, and Mary and the Saints were always a part of my life and the concept of guilt was constantly reinforced. It also made for a schizophrenic morass of mixed messages and conflicting ideas. Both far left/borderline "communists" ideas were espoused in equal portions alongside hardline conservative ideas. Forgivness and faith alongside the tallying of every misdead (remember that guilt thing?) and constant worry. Endless criticism alongside unrealistic encouragement. The worship of money alongside messages on how unimportant money is. And the most maddening of all enforced conformity alongside messages of 'be yourself.'

All of these things influenced what I read, and how I read, how I wrote, and how I interpreted the things that I read and saw. It took many years, decades in fact, to finally start to strip away the parts of my person that were not really part of me at all, but which had been superimposed upon me by family, teachers, and society. To strip them away and to reveal who I was before I was told who I was supposed to be.

And so, here I am now. I am not a single defining thing, a nice neat category. I am a single father of two, I write, train and teach the martial arts, draw, paint, game, ride, and drive. I also work a day job as the inventory manager of the PC Technical department of a large data collections company. I am no one single thing. I subscribe to no political party. Yes, I have a religious affiliation, but it is my personal choice of how I connect with God, not the category that I fit into.

And my site is as multifaceted as I am. No, I'm not conceited. You are just as multifaceted as I am. None of us are neat categories. None of us are 'types.' None of us are defined by our ethnic or cultural origins.