About Me

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Greetings. I am the Illusive One. For many years now I have been a huge video game player, movie viewer, and book reader. For almost as long, I have been a critic of these things and many people respect my opinions of these things and have often said I belong on G4 doing reviews on X-Play or a similar show. Sadly that is not likely to happen. So instead I shall do reviews for you, uninfluenced by other reviewers, of video games books, movies, and, occasionally, music and political actions. I hope you find this informative and helpful. Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mass Effect 3

            Well as you all know by now the bulk of my last few posts have been Mass Effect related, from my retrospect of the series as a whole to my initial reaction to the ending of 3.  And seeing as how I’ve cooled down from my initial reaction from said ending I decided that it was about time that I gave my reaction to the game as a whole and if it’s worth ones time despite the…controversial ending.  Now to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to do this review.  I do have a lot to say about this game, but I honestly felt it would have been redundant as most of what I have to say has already been said before.  But yea.  What the hell?  Why not give my opinion and complete my thoughts on the video games of the series for now?  Do I think the game holds up as a whole despite it, or does it completely drag it into the mud?  Let’s find out.  This is The Illusive One’s Review of Mass Effect 3.

The Plot

            Our story takes place roughly six months after the end of Mass Effect 2 and The Reapers have invaded our galaxy and Earth has born the blunt of the invasion.  Playing once again as Commander Shepard, it’s up to you to unite the races of the galaxy against the Reapers and construct an ancient weapon known as The Crucible that may be able to destroy the Reapers once.  And I have to say, this story was damn near flawless that managed to fully invest you in what was going on.
            It has an all-around great setup, with the feeling of impending doom always over your head.   Earth bearing the blunt of the invasion gives the player a whole perspective on the galaxy and really makes the events of this game hit home for the first time. The cut scenes are brilliantly directed and help add to this atmosphere and the developers knew just how to let the atmosphere sink in.  The situations that you are put in to gather the races together are nothing short of fantastic as they really make you question where your loyalty lies and you’ll often be put into situations where you may have to choose between your friends, the races you’re helping and gaining the support of other races and creates many moral dilemmas that don’t always have a happy ending option.
            There is only one real problem with the plot and that of course it the ending.  Everyone knows about it and everyone hates it so talking about it would be redundant.  But for those of you who don’t know, the ending is one that feels like a complete betrayal of what the franchise is.  If you want more details or don’t entirely get why so many people hate it just check out this link to an Angry Joe video because he can explain it a lot better than I can but let’s just say it completely poisons an otherwise flawless story.
            All around, this story was damn near flawless up until the final ten minutes of the game and is a prime example of where the journey is better than the destination.  Hopefully BioWare will listen to the fans and change this ending but for now it remains an issue.  However, the rest of the story is nothing short of fantastic and renewed my belief that video games are the next great storytelling medium.  I just wish the ending could have complemented this.

The Gameplay

            Now, gameplay has never been BioWare’s strongest point and this game is a bit of a mixed bag in this department.  Some areas are great while others are…a little too limited.  Let’s start off with the good.  The game uses a combat design and engine is more or less the same as Mass Effect 2.  Only this time, they have perfected it.  Combat is now seamless and lacks the stiffness the previous two games had.  Paragon and Renegade actions have also made a seamless transition.  Where as in the previous game there was a noticeable delay if you used these actions, here it flows seamlessly into the game.  The only real downside to this is that there are fewer of these actions.  
            The graphics have also been vastly improved upon with everything looking more realistic and gritty than ever before.  As I mentioned before, the cut scenes in this game are incredibly well directed, and gives the game a lot of atmospheric moments that you don’t get very often in video games or even films nowadays for that matter.  The missions have been made more militaristic in manner and are really well written and well-paced.  However, while these missions are good they do leave you wanting a few more of the missions you had in ME2 that required a bit more the combat skills.
The gathering of war assets is something that I actually really like, as it gives you a general idea of what you going into battle with and it’s really satisfying to see that bar slowly fill.  Unfortunately, the payoff a little lackluster as it doesn’t really affect the cut scenes or outcome of the final battle at all and is one of the many reasons people hated the ending.  The N7 missions are also a bit of a mixed bag.  Again they are great combat missions and pissing off The Illusive Man is always satisfying but it again leaves you wanting a bit more then what you got in terms of side missions. 
The limited multiplayer they add is a bit of a mixed bag as well.  It doesn’t really amount to much more then horde mode and the way whole galaxy readiness thing doesn’t seem to have any real effect on the game’s outcome and felt like a cheap tack on.  On the other hand it does offer you the chance to play as other races and see how they play.  It’s a mode that I personally like but quite frankly, you’re an idiot if you were looking for great multiplayer in an RPG.
But then we go into the things that are straight up bad.  The most apparent problem with this game is, unlike the first two, is that it lacks any kind of innovation and cuts out a lot of what I loved about the first two games.  Again, the story missions are made up of combat missions for the most part and it makes me miss the more subtle and less trigger happy ones of the first two games.  Again you don’t Mako to drive around on alien planets nor is there much of an exploration factor and the side missions just don’t seem as important or as interesting this time around.  While you can scan various solar systems to look for war assets they don’t really make you work for these assets which just seems like wasted potential.  You just scan the planet and object is yours and I would have preferred to have something that would have made it more interesting, be it a combat mission or something else.  The quest system is completely useless and doesn’t track you progress in said quests at all and is beyond annoying.
Finally, the way you can customize your weapons and armor is a bit of a joke and just wasn’t what was promised at all.  The options are way too limited and leave you wanting more.  And this is a bit of a nitpick but I liked the Normandy of Mass Effect 2 better.  When I saw this new Normandy my first thought was “What the fuck did the Alliance do to my ship?!”  Again, a nitpick but I had to say something.
In the end, gameplay wise the combat and actions may be the most seamless and the combat missions are the best but in this category it’s the all-around weakest of the three.  That’s not to say that it isn’t good but I just couldn’t help but feel that there could have been more.  It gets the job done and delivers where it needs to, but it is an area where they should have taken ideas from the first two and done a bit more innovation.

The Characters

            Good God!  Talk about getting character interaction right and making the player care them in ways that no other game has before.  For me this was the BioWare game that perfected character interaction and I could literally write a book on everything they got right here.  Granted there are a few annoying and pointless characters and questionable design choices but on the whole it is fantastic in this department.
For starters you have Shepard.  Now for me personally, up until this point Shepard had been one of the most overrated protagonist of any video game and the all-around presentation of the character just seemed really bland to me.  This game however, really changed that.  While the voice actors are still a little bland, there is a lot more passion in their voices and this time around they actually have facial expressions which seemed to be lacking in previous games.  You also see that the war is affecting Shepard mentally, as he/she has these disturbing nightmares about the people lost in the war and really added a whole new level of depth to the character, (and no I don’t believe in the Indoctrination Theory.  I think that’s just fanboys seeing what they want to see).
This time around Garrus is not only badass but a fleshed out character and I couldn’t be happier about this.  The same can be said for Liara.  While I didn’t think that she was a terrible character in earlier games, I didn’t really think she was necessarily good either.  This time around, she really is her own character and is very fleshed out and has a lot of great interactions with Shepard and all the other crew members and I think one could argue that she may be the most developed character in the entire game.  Other characters are, for the most part as good as they were or better than they were in previous games.  Tali is still a very likeable character and the new rendition of EDI is interesting as well and some of the conversations you have with her are all at once hilarious, disturbing and deep and is something that you have to see for yourself.  Ashley and Kaidan are about the same as they were in previous games, not much has changed with them but they still deliver.
But what really made this game for me were their interactions on the Normandy.  Hearing Garrus and James tell each other stories about past missions is extremely entertaining, hearing how he almost admires their strategy, Tali getting drunk, or the interactions between Liara and Joker just give these characters so much more depth and reminds me why I loved BioWare’s games in the first place.
While many of the companions from Mass Effect 2 don’t return to your crew they are at least given a cameo and awesome ones at that be it Grunt fighting off a heard of Rachni, or, my personal favorite, seeing Thane fight off a Cerberus assassin and does prove to be satisfying.  Joker is still as entertaining as he was in the last two games and the most new crew members like Samantha and Cortez are interesting as well, (especially the former).  Keith David again does a great job as Anderson and they seemed to have developed the character further in better ways.  It’s the first time that we’ve really seen Admiral Hackett and he’s a good character as well.  Martin Sheen is fantastic as The Illusive Man and makes for one of the best antagonists I’ve seen in any video game.
It’s also one of the few games I’ve played where characters die and I openly cried.  I mean their deaths are some of the saddest moments I’ve ever seen in any fictional medium and further grinds in the grittiness the game is trying to portray.
There are a few weak ends however.  The character of James is just boring and makes me question why they just didn’t bring in another character from the first two games instead of adding this guy to the roster.  The character of James Vega was really, really boring and makes me question why they just didn’t bring in another character from the first two games instead of adding this guy to the roster.  There is also this reporter character named Diana Allers voiced by IGN host Jessica Chobot and is completely useless in this game and made me scratch my head and wonder just why she was here.  There was also a little too much fan service in this game.  In Mass Effect 2, they had bit of it but they also made fun of it.  Here, it’s so apparent that it’s extremely distracting in a negative way.  And because you get so invested in these characters it makes the ending all the more frustrating.
            Despite a few gripes I had with them, this was, without a doubt, the best and most entertaining cast of character I have ever seen in any video game.  They were entertaining, likeable, fleshed out and the conversations you had with them felt like real conversations.  And again, it makes the ending all the more infuriating.

The Verdict

            Ok, before I go any further with this, let me just say it now; the ending poisons the game.  There is no beating around that bush.  It completely and utterly taints what was, up until the last ten minutes the best game I had played in nearly four years.  That is the scale of destruction the ending has wrought.  It is that infuriating and the fanboys have not exaggerated it at all.  But despite all of that, this is still an all-around great game.  Granted I wish the gameplay elements could have been a bit more innovative and less combat heavy what they did with the gameplay was still great.  The combat gameplay was fantastic and the missions you played through were incredibly well done.  The cut scenes were excellent, the graphics were fantastic and they did a great job at making the game a seamless experience.  The plot was nothing short of incredible and the characters were probably the best I’ve seen in any video game.  If only it hadn’t been for that ending as it taints the entire game. 
            There is a potential light at the end of the tunnel for that however.  Many of BioWare’s developers, producers and spoke persons have been hinting at a new ending and are genuinely shocked at fans reaction to it and promise some kind of fix to this.  And hopefully they will, because then I can official change my rating for the game.
            Again, it’s a great game all around, but the lack of innovations and the ending is what drags it down.  If you haven’t already bought a copy of this game, I would recommend to wait a little longer and see if BioWare will address this ending issue.  If they do, then I say wait for this new ending.  But if you already own the game and haven’t finished it, then I say finish it and see what all the fuss is about.  But despite the ending, there is a reason most of the reviewers gave it a 9 or better because it is an all-around fantastic game and up until those last few minutes I loved every minute of it.

All Around

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Random Rant

Time for a random rant.
Title: Why I hate non-DVD ripped bootlegs.

Reason One: The Audio sucks. Nothing sounds the way it should.
Reason Two: The picture is beyond grainy, as if it was shot with a twenty year old camera.
Reason Three: It's not the way the makers intended it to be seen! Either see it in theaters, or wait for it to come out on DVD. If you want to rip off the producers, at least wait and and see the version they intended people to see!
This has been a public service announcement brought to you by The Illusive One's Reviews. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Thoughts on Mass Effect 3’s Ending (Major Spoilers!!!)

            Ok, so I just beat Mass Effect 3 about an hour before writing this, and decided to give my initial reaction to it.  As I’m sure you all know by now, the ending to the game is almost universally despised.  People seem too really, really hate it and found it very unsatisfying and don’t like the way your actions reflect the trilogy as a whole, and large groups are even petitioning BioWare to add another ending to the game.  And I decided to give my opinion on this because I kind of needed to get it off my chest.  I needed some kind of outlet to help me process it because it’s a bit of a mind fuck.  Now I will warn you now, this is a post that will contain a ton of spoilers so stop reading now if you care.  A full review will probably be coming next week but for now here is my initial reaction to the ending.

            The best way that I can describe the ending is as sort of a mash of the most depressing and mind fuck aspects of the endings of Wolf’s Rain, Lost, and the Space Odyssey books.  The ending starts off with what was one of the most intense climaxes I have played in any video game.  Then you get to the place where can activate the weapon that will win the war for you, you have a final confrontation with The Illusive Man, and Anderson dies right beside you as you activate the weapon and bleed out. 
Now, up until this point the climax had been fantastic and I really liked where it was going.  But then he goes into another area where the master of the Reapers appears to him in the form of a child and tells him the true purpose of The Reapers and here is where I start to have mixed feelings.  He basically says that this cycle was put in place in order to preserved organic life in the form of Reapers in order to keep synthetic life from eventually dominating the galaxy. 
And that’s what I have mixed thoughts on.  It’s a very simple yet complex answer to what the Reapers are for.  Quite frankly I would have preferred if they left the motivation of the Reapers ambiguous or completely blew me away.  It kind of seemed like they were trying to meet halfway and that bothered me a bit.
But then we come to the part that has generated so much hatred; the three choices.  The first has you destroy all synthetic live in the galaxy as well as much of the technology in it, including the Reapers with the child saying that the peace won’t last.  The second is where Shepard can control the Reapers but will die in the process, (not really sure how that works).  And the third is where Shepard has to sacrifice himself in order to bring about the next stage in evolution that combines synthetic and organic life. 
Interesting right?  But here is what annoys me and I think annoys everyone.  For starters, no matter what you do, the Mass Relays are destroyed by your actions.  So the intergalactic community that was built, that you broke your back to help, establish is gone.  That pissed me off beyond belief.  They spent so much time and effort investing us in these worlds, in this technology, in this intergalactic community and suddenly it’s all gone.  They’re all cut off from one another.  It’s done.  Were back to where everyone was before discovering the Mass Relays and that really pissed me off and depressed the hell out of me as it, in a lot of ways, made your past actions almost completely pointless.   
The other thing that annoyed me about it is that you have no idea what happens to everyone afterwards.  The last shot of the game has the crew of the Normandy standing on a deserted but habitable planet and implies that they’re going to and will build a society there.  But other than that, it gives you nothing.  You don’t know what becomes of them.  You literally know nothing of their fates.  Did they prosper?  Did they die?  Did certain characters get together?  Explanation please!  The same goes for all the societies of the galaxy.  You don’t know what becomes of humanity, or the Asari, or the Krogan.  And again, the fact that they took so much time to invest you into these characters and societies and gives you nothing when it’s all said and done just pisses me off beyond belief. 
The last thing that annoys me is Shepard’s ending.  In short, there is no happy ending for him at all.  Now, I like bittersweet endings like those of The Dark Knight or the remake of True Grit but this one just really made me sad.  This was actually the game where they really made Shepard into a character rather than the blank slate he had been in the other games and to see him not get a happy ending of any kind is just soul crushingly depressing.  I know I’m not alone in this and I may sound like a bit of a sissy but I kind of wanted to see a bit or piece of Shepard’s life with his/her love interest.  I wanted to see what became of them.  I wanted to know if things worked out or if they had kids after the end of the war and I felt a little cheated in this regard as I did with all the other characters.
But despite the fact that I don’t agree with a lot of the choices that they made for the finale I do understand it from a narrative point of view.  I get that they were trying to establish that this is it.  This is the end of the story.  Shepard’s story is over.  This is the end of Mass Effect and from that stand point I do understand.  I may not agree with it but I get it. 
My final thoughts on the ending, thus far is that I don’t hate it.  I may not like certain things about it but right now, I can’t really find anything that killed it for me.  For me, it was very much like Wolf’s Rain’s ending where I didn’t know how to feel and it’s honestly something that I have never fully come to terms with.  And to be honest I think that Mass Effect 3 is going to be this way for me for good.  I don’t ever see myself loving this ending or hating it and I probably won’t be joining the people that are petitioning for another ending.  More time will have to pass before I can say anything for sure but for now, that’s all I have to say on the subject.  For those of you who stuck with me through this rant, thank you and if you read this and beat it as well, I’m curious to know what you thought about the ending.  So until next time this is The Illusive One signing off.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

John Carter

            Well, it’s been a while since I’ve done a film review and since I just saw a movie on the big screen last night I figured it was about time that I do one that is fresh on my mind.  This is The Illusive One’s Review of John Carter.  Based on the pulp fiction novel, A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the film follows Ex-Confederate cavalryman John Carter as he is somehow transported to Mars, finds that he has super strength on the planet due to its low gravity and gets involved in the planet’s conflicts while trying to get back home.
            When I first saw the ads for this film I have to admit, it looked really stupid to me.  From the trailers I saw, it looked like the poor man’s Avatar.  The CIG that I had seen looked kind of bland, there wasn’t much in terms of action, and of course, it is about a guy who was teleported to Mars.  That’s kind of an idiotic concept and I fully expected this film to be stupid. 
But, much to my surprise, I was 100% right.  I mean, good God!  How do you get so many things wrong in a film?  How does something so bland and uninspired get the green light?  Who saw this script and thought it was good?  Why didn’t the producers say that something needs to be better, or reshot or rewritten?  Who saw this in post-production and decided it was worth promoting?   It makes no sense!  But I guess, seeing as how I like to go out of my way to note positives in everything that I see or read, I guess I should say what I liked about this film.  The only real good thing to note is that there was some good humor in it.  There was a little slapstick that was mildly amusing, a good reoccurring gag where a tribe of aliens think John’s name was Virginia and there was a dog/alien creature that was hilarious and easily the best part of the film. 
The rest of the film, however, is complete crap.  One of the most obvious flaws with this film is that it takes place on Mars, yet it looks like it was shot in an Arizona desert.  There is no attempt to hide it whatsoever and some of the shots look like they were ripped directly from some other film.  For God sakes, the sand isn’t even red and if you screwed that up you have some serious issues when it comes to filmmaking. 
The general direction, special effects, and action aren’t very good either.  While there are a few epic moments there is little to no payoff with action scenes that aren’t very well choreographed and lack any kind of suspense or tension mainly due to the plot, (well get to that in a minute).  And then we have the CGI and, good God, it was awful.  To sum it up in a single sentence, it looked like it belonged in a Pixar movie, (ironically I found out afterwards that the guy who directed this had only done Pixar films previously).  While some of the designs could be interesting, they ultimately failed to bring these creatures to life the way they did in other films like District 9 and Avatar.
The 3D was completely pointless in this film.  Watching it with 3D glasses is exactly the same as watching it on a regular TV and if you make the mistake of going to see this film, avoid this format because it is not worth the extra money at all. 
The next major problem is the characters and dialog.  For starters you have Carter himself who is completely unlikeable.  I mean, this guy is just an asshole and comes off as a complete selfish prick.  When he finally decides to do the right thing, it still doesn’t make him likeable and to be honest, his shift makes no sense whatsoever.  It seemed like they were trying to make a badass antihero out of him but they only succeeded in making him an unlikable dick.
The rest of the characters are about as stock as you can get.   The Princess is the kind that tries to be badass but is ultimately an idiot.  While I’m on the subject, the romance between the two protagonists doesn’t really work or make sense as there is no real chemistry between the two.  They just meet, they argue, they fight the bad guy and they’re in love.  It makes no sense whatsoever.  The king and one of the generals are even worse, which is a shame considering that they’re both played by great actors.  The apparent villain is your typical stock villain who loves to kill and destroy just for the sake of killing and destroying.  While the concepts for the actual villains were interesting it was ultimately squandered due to poor execution.
For me, however, the worst part was the plot.  To put it simply, from the moment the film starts, you know exactly how it will go.  John encounter a barbaric alien tribe, you know how he’ll end up with them.  He encounters a princess; you know how things will work out between the two.  When it seems like the villain is about to win you know exactly how it will turn out.  It’s the kind of predictability that I despise in films and makes wonder just why the hell I bother seeing any.
As you can probably tell from my long rant, I HATE this movie!  Everything that I hate in films or fiction in general was in this movie.  Bland, stock characters, a predictable plot, bad action scenes, poor CGI and it left a bad taste in my mouth.  I regretted seeing it the moment it ended and when the credits rolled I couldn’t get out of the theater fast enough.  I never read the book so I don’t know how it compares, but from a moviegoer’s standard, this is a film that I suggest everyone avoids like the plague.  It’s not worth anyone’s time and certainly not worth anyone’s money.

All Around

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mass Effect Retrospect

Welcome back to The Illusive One’s Reviews and…


            Fuck yes!  I love Mass Effect.  The stories, the characters, the concepts, the environments, I love them all.  If I had to choose one video game franchise on this Earth that I could save from complete annihilation it would be Mass Effect.  And guess what’s coming out next Tuesday?  MASS EFFECT 3!!!!!!!  And I am super fucking hyped!  As some of my long time readers will know, last year I did a series of posts on Dragon Age: Origins to get ready for the coming of Dragon Age 2 and I figured it was about time that I give Mass Effect the same treatment.  But unfortunately time got the better of me and I’ll have to condense it down to one post.  So rather than making this a Mass Effect-athon, it will just be my personal retrospective of the series as a whole thus far.  It will contain my thoughts on the first game, its DLC, the second game, its DLC, and my thoughts on the demo.  And for those of you who are wondering what happened to my look at The New 52, don’t worry.  I’ll finish that up as soon as I’m done with this.  MASS EFFECT GETS PRECEDENCE!!!  So, without further ado, I give you The Illusive One’s Mass Effect Retrospect. 

Mass Effect

            The first and arguably best of the Mass Effect games takes place in the distant future where humanity has become part of an intergalactic community, known as the Citadel.  You play as Shepard, the first human in an elite group of fighters known as the S.P.E.C.T.E.R.S. and are on a mission to stop a rouge S.P.E.C.T.E.R., known as Saren from bringing an ancient race of machines known as The Reapers back to the galaxy and exterminating out all life within it.
So what made this game work or didn’t work?  Well get ready for a long pros section because there is a lot to like about this game.  The storyline that is nothing short of phenomenal with a fantastic universe to take place in.  The universe itself is ethnically rich, with a huge history featuring various cultures and alien races within a society that is probably the best that I have ever seen in all of fiction.  I know that’s a big claim, but for me, this is true.  Each race in of them is fascinating.  The Krogan are awesome, the Turians are cool, the Salarians and Asari are interesting and there are a ton of other races that I can’t even think of right now.
And this may surprise some people but I love the government systems and social structures in this game.  Unlike other franchises like Star Wars or Star Trek, it felt real.  Alien races view humanity, new comer to the Citadel as usurpers and feel that they are the bullies of the galaxy and fear their rise like any other race or politician would.  It’s easily the most realistic government system that I’ve seen in any space opera and is something of itself that deserves praise.
The main storyline itself is also really impressive as it takes inspiration from high fantasy, much like Star Wars but still keeps the realistic tones to it.  The Reapers are among the most fascinating villains I have ever seen in any fictional story line and remind me of The Great Old Ones from Lovcraftian fiction.  The plot points, the mysteries, and the moral dilemmas are all really good and the boss fights you battle kept me interested the entire time.
One of the more interesting things about this universe is that unlike Knights of the Old Republic, you’re not limited to just a handful of planets.  You have an entire universe at your fingertips full of interesting side missions full of characters and plots that are just as interesting as the main plot and add depth to a vast universe.
And because this is a BioWare game there are some memorable characters in it as well, (although not nearly as many as BioWare’s other games).  Captain Anderson is easily one of the best mentor type characters I’ve seen in a video game.  He’s one that offers Shepard advice, is supportive when should be and critical when he needs to be.  And unlike some of the other mentor characters that have come and gone, he is one of the few that will get his hands dirty and is more than capable of handling himself.  It also helps that he’s voiced by Keith David and anyone who has heard of this guy will know what I mean.
Seth Green as Joker is an amusing character and the Quarian, Tali and the Asari, Liara are also pretty likeable to but the best characters in this game, in my personal opinion, are Urdnot Wrex and Ashley Williams.  Wrex is one of those characters who manages to combine giving exposition on his race as well as having a lot of depth that I feel some of the characters lack.  He’s one that want’s to help his race but sees the futility of it and feels that his race is doomed and is one that you can sympathize with.  He also has a really likeable attitude and it makes him one of the most interesting, memorable characters I’ve ever seen in a video game.  Ashley Williams is a character who seems to represent the conservative point of view of humans, (A conservative marine.  Imagine that.), and this in turn makes her interesting.  She also has a good backstory and is one that adds depth to her character.
But despite all the good I’ve had to say about this game, there are flaws to it.  For me, personally, the biggest one is our protagonist Shepard.  Oh my god, I hate this guy.  He is easily one of the blandest heroes I have ever seen in any videogame.  For starters his voice actor is very monotone, with little emotion in his voice when critical things are happening and his facial expressions never change.  It’s like Liam Neeson if they took out all the badass or Paul Rudd if they took out all the funny and just annoys the crap out of me.  Not to mention, his interaction with other characters doesn’t really come off as well…interaction so much as monitoring everything.  You don’t get any sense that he actually cares about what is going on or if he cares about the people under his command.  It seemed like they were trying to make him the blank slate that everyone could jump into but they just succeeded in making a very blank protagonist.
Some of the characters also have flaws that I have a hard time getting past.  For as likeable as Tali and Liara are, it’s pretty obvious that they’re only there to provide exposition on their races and Liara with the relics you uncover.  For as much as I like Garrus, he’s also a pretty boring character as well.
Other flaws start to emerge when you look at the general gameplay, as it seemed like BioWare wasn’t sure if it wanted to make a 3rd Person Shooter or an RPG.  The controls are stiff and clunky and make it difficult to fight at times.  The control layout is also a little odd with some irritating design choices, (like having the Select button be the grenade thrower) and it’s a little hard to get used to. 
The last major flaw that I saw in this game had to do with the space travel.  While there were many different worlds to be seen and a lot of quests to be had, a lot of the bases/mines/facilities for the side quests had the exact same design and that was a bit distracting.  But hey, it could have been worse.  It could have been like Skyrim where the main quests looked exactly like the side quests.  HA! SUCK IT SKYRIM FANBOYS!

But those flaws aside, this was a great game.  While some of the characters were flawed, they still left an all-around good impression.   Shepard and some of the repeating environments were tolerable and you’ll get used to the controls pretty fast.  The bottom line is that this as a story driven game and all the other aspects are kind of just along for the ride.  But that’s also what makes the game so good.  It’s one where you’ll completely forget about any flaws it may have and you just want to see the next chapter in the story.  And in my book, that merits as a masterpiece any day and I proudly admit that this is easily one of my favorite videogames of all time.

All Around

Bringing Down the Sky

There really isn’t a whole lot to say about the DLC for Mass Effect so I’ll just go straight to it.  Bringing Down the Sky is a piece of DLC where you go to a meteor that is being hurled towards a planet by Batarian raiders and will cause widespread devastation to the planet, (full of people), if Shepard doesn’t stop it.
So what’s good about it?  Well, the concepts for the mission itself are really good and the execution is flawless.  The fights to stop the jets from moving towards the planet are good and the final battle within the final facility is intense.  It also gives the player their first real look at the Batarians, who aren’t featured in the main game and shows, like all the other aliens, that they aren’t inhuman monsters; that they do have emotions and can think logically and the villain was pretty ruthless and made for a decent bad guy.  There was also a really good moral dilemma at the end where there was no right answer and I think that these kind of decisions need to be more prominent in these kinds of video games.
The only real “flaw” with Bringing Down the Sky is that it really isn’t much more then another side mission but at 80 Microsoft Points, it’s more than worth the money you’ll put into it.  If you played the game and loved it as much as I did its money well spent.


Pinnacle Station

            This one is really just an arena piece of DLC.  You basically just survive various modes in simulators for money, weapons, etc.  And that’s about it.  Nothing really more to say about it.  If you’re into that kind of stuff and could tolerate the gameplay I say give it a buy.  If not, then skip it.


Mass Effect 2

And now for the big one.  The one that everyone sung praises of.  The sequel that everyone loved even if they didn’t like the first, Mass Effect 2.  This game takes place two years after Shepard is apparently killed by minions of The Reapers and is brought back to life by the pro-human organization Cerberus.  Immediately after getting back into the action, Shepard is told by the organization’s leader, The Illusive Man that entire human colonies are being abducted by a race known as The Collectors and it’s up to Shepard to assemble a team soldiers to attack the Collectors at their home world and end their threat once and for all.
            So as you all probably know this game received universal critical praise and was a runner up for many Game of the Year Awards in 2010.  So, is it bad that I think this game is a little overrated?  Despite my love for this franchise this is a game that didn’t quite do it for me on all fronts.  Not that it’s bad, but I just don’t think it’s as good as everyone else does.  But don’t get me wrong.  I still love this game and played through it at least three times.  I just think that there are flaws to it that people have ignored. 
            But before I go there, let me go over what I liked about this game.  To put it simply, it improved on the first game in nearly every way.  So where should I start?  Well, the most apparent change is in the general gameplay as they had decided to go full blown third person shooter with it, but still kept the RPG elements with leveling up and upgrading your abilities and such.  This time around, the combat gameplay was smoother and made the combat a lot more fun and easier to manage. 
The individual missions are also really fun and are made more so by the new fluent controls.  While they usually consist of either recruiting a team member or dealing with his/her baggage they are fun, challenging and offer great situations and scenarios for the player to overcome.  They also have a new weapon system where you can get new weapons but are limited to a certain number of types such as a semi-automatic assault rifle or a fully automatic assault rifle.  Upgrades for them are limited to whatever you can find or buy but I feel like it’s an improvement over the original, mainly because I felt that the inventory system in the first game was a little too big and complex for its own good. 
The graphics have also been radically improved upon with everything looking a bit more lively and colorful.  The computers actually look like computers, the walls actually look like wall and facial expressions are a lot easier to read. 
The final major improvement they made in this game has to do with the characters as the voice acting, dialog and general characterization is a lot better.  The characters have more personality, their personal dilemmas are well done, and by the time the game is over you will care about all of them.  I guess the best way to sum it up is to say that the acting and dialog in this game compared to that of the first is like comparing the acting and dialog in The Dark Knight to that of Batman Begins.  And I think that’s a fair evaluation.  Even the crew members of The Normandy are somehow still interesting and you will want to keep them alive.  And of course it also has The Illusive Man, one of the greatest video game characters I have ever seen.  He’s just one of those characters that kept you on your toes the entire time, just wondering what he will do next and it looks like this will be expanded upon in the next game and is something that I am looking forward to.
But then we come to my issues with the game.  The main one is that the story and characters seem really underwhelming when compared to those of Dragon Age: Origins and Knights of The Old Republic.  And yes, I am aware that’s like saying that the characters and story in Breaking Bad are better than those of Mad Men or some other great AMC show, but it’s still something that I’ve a hard time looking past.  And it’s also really obvious to me that this game was just made as set up for Mass Effect 3 and, as anyone who know you will tell you, I hate it when games do that.  The only other thing that bugs me is the resource gathering mini game.  Oh my God, I hate this mini game.  It’s tedious, boring and they make you do it in order to upgrade your weapons and ship and pisses me off beyond belief.  And while they improve Shepard a great deal in this game, I’m still not a fan of the character or voice acting and these things really bring down the game for me as a whole. 
All around, this is one of those games that was great, but I felt was very overrated and didn’t leave nearly as much of an impact as the first game.  And for me personally, this represented a turning point for BioWare, where they started making their games appeal to appeal to a wider audience and almost has abandoned what originally made their games so good.  But that’s just a personal issue.  The key words here are as good.  It’s one that I would definitely recommend to the average gamer, and does progress the story, has great gameplay, missions and characters and is more than worth anyone’s time.

All Around

The Cerberus Network

            And now for the DLC of this game.  First off we have The Cerberus Package; a bundle of DLC that came with anyone who bought the game new and included the character Zaeed and his mission The Price of Revenge, The Normandy Crash Site, and a series of very odd missions where you fight Geth over artifacts or something.
So what works with this DLC?  Well, for starters Zaeed is a great character and is a welcome addition to the cast.  He’s got great merc attitude with a ton of interesting stories to tell.  His backstory regarding the Blue Suns is also pretty interesting as well and provides you with a new take on the organization and his loyalty mission is intense and well done.
In The Normandy Crash Site, it allows you to go to the wreckage of the original Normandy and put you though “emotional” flashbacks.  I put the emotional in quotes because there really isn’t anything emotional about it.  You’re just going through wreckage collecting dog tags.  That is with the sole acceptation of where you find Navigator Pressley’s data pad which offered new insight to the character.
Those odd missions with the Geth I mentioned were totally useless and will just frustrate you.
All around I’d say get this one if you have the money/points to spare.  While Zaeed is a great character and addition to the game, The Normandy Crash Site is a bit of a mixed bag and the last part is just annoying and I suggest you weigh the pros and cons for yourself.


Stolen Memory

            This piece of DLC introduced yet another new character, Kasumi, a thief hired by The Illusive Man to help you in your mission.  And there really isn’t a whole lot to say about this one, other than that it’s really good.  The character of Kasumi is really interesting and entertaining, her abilities are helpful, and her personal mission is innovative, interesting and intense and offers a bit more of the history of Earth before gaining mass effect technology.  It nailed what it was going for and I see no reason to criticize it.

All Around


            This piece of DLC follows Shepard as he goes to a Cerberus facility that is running experiments on the Geth and finds that the facility has been overrun by the machines under the control of a super computer that is trying to upload its programs off the facility.
            While it had a great premise, this DLC didn’t really feel like much more then another mission.  Their wasn’t really anything that interesting about it, I didn’t find anything particularly challenging about it, and the moral decision at the end doesn’t amount to much more than being nice or nasty.  Still, it is decent and if you’re looking to up your gameplay time I say give this one a play.  If not, I’d say skip it as it’s not a key part of the game


Layer of the Shadow Broker

            And now we come to what is easily one of my favorite pieces of DLC of all time, Layer of the Shadow Broker.  And good God, this one is good.  It follows Shepard as he gives information to Liara on the apparent location of The Shadow Broker, an information broker whom Liara has been hunting for two years.  After Shepard gives her the information, it leads them on a hunt for the Broker himself as well as anything that stands in their way.
            So what is so good about this one?  Well for starters, it gives you the chance to have Liara as a companion again which is really cool and here they give her more personality and was a welcome break from your other companions.  It also features a few innovative additions such as being able to dive a car in a high speed pursuit and a few detective sequences that I really missed from the first game.  It also helped that you had two really great and really intense boss battles that will keep you on your toes the entire time.  And I can’t go into exactly why, but I loved the solution to this addition.  I won’t spoil it, but it should suffice to say that it is one of the most satisfying conclusions I have seen to any video game mission ever.  It’s just an all-around perfect piece of DLC and I cannot recommend that you buy it enough.



          Layer of the Shadow Broker kind of represented a peak in BioWare DLC that the company still hasn’t been able to match.  And when you look at Arrival, you kind of wonder if they’re even trying to.  If follows Shepard as he’s asked by Admiral Hacket to rescues a friend and scientist from the Batarians, who was looking into possible Reaper activity.  And the rest of it kind of falls on a mediocre note.  The fights can be hard, but most of them aren’t really worth noting.  While there is one fight that is pretty intense, it’s ultimately diluted by the fact that you can’t die.  And the fact that you have to do this mission solo just annoys the crap out of me.
            The only thing that I think really holds up about this one is the ending, as it will blow you away.  I mean, it’s just insane.  Add in a verbal confrontation with a Reaper and finally meeting Admiral Hacket face to face and it does give it a bit of weight.  But like the rest of Mass Effect 2, it comes off as being made just to build up for the third game and that just annoys me.  Unfortunately it is one that seems to be essential to the plot so that means you kind of have to get it.  But that sure as hell doesn’t mean that I can’t bitch about it.


           And that’s it for my Mass Effect Retrospect and as you can imagine, I am hyped for Mass Effect 3, and hope it proves to be the best of the three.  From what I’ve seen of the demo they have perfected the gameplay, added in multiplayer which is pretty fun, and seems like they may go back to the storytelling that made me love their games in the first place.  Do I have reservations about it?  Yes.  I do with any overhyped sequel but I am hopeful that it will prove to be a fantastic finale, and reaffirm my faith in BioWare’s capabilities.  So until next time, this is The Illusive One Signing off and wishing you all luck in your own battles against the Reapers.