11/27/2021 – In Defense of Mass Effect Combat

Mass Effect, B Positive, Meta

One of the last games I was playing was the original Mass Effect, this time on PS3. I played the trilogy on the Xbox 360, and Mass Effect 2 multiple times, bought them all again on PS3 and played up to the quarian homeworld in Mass Effect 3, gave the original a shot on PC once, and started the original once more on PS3. I’d gotten to Noveria when I stopped, probably because other, more pressing things than a game I play constantly, had gotten in the way. And yet, as I write this, I’m paused on Noveria, about to speak with the shopkeeper jellyfish on the Mass Effect Legendary Edition for PS4. If I can get through these three in time, I’ll finally give Mass Effect: Andromeda another shot, though technically that should come between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, right? Anyway, this was another characteristically boring introduction to our first segment, on the combat in Mass Effect.

Now, by Mass Effect 3, the combat was up to par with, say, Gears of War, in terms of being responsive and frenetic. While Gears of War predates the original Mass Effect, Mass Effect 3 does introduce powers — especially in the Vanguard class — that elevate the cover-based third-person shooter gameplay. It’s an evolution, as the original installment was knocked for having pretty lame shooting and useless powers. I may have experimented briefly, but I’ve never completed a Mass Effect 1 playthrough as anything but a Soldier. And actually, that’s not a problem for me. The Soldier has no magic abilities, but she can activate a power that makes the reticle precise for a limited time. You have three commands to give to your two squadmates: focus fire on this target, on me, and my favorite, go here. You aim the reticle at any point in your vantage, push the thumbpad in the direction of the corresponding squadmate, and they’ll move to that position with 80% reliability. Sometimes they get caught on geometry or distracted by enemy fire.

Pela Shepard in her umpteenth reincarnation, looking largely the same as always

But it’s useful, because you can actually draw enemy fire away from yourself. As Garrus meanders over to the cover you’ve told him to crouch at, you might pop out and provide some covering fire — which is more for my own “headcanon,” as the Mass Effect enemies don’t exactly take cover. But once you have your two squadmates arranged properly, you can navigate cover yourself and find an enemy faced away from you — it’s pretty satisfying. The maps, all three of them, are pretty wide open spaces with a maze-like protuberance of boxes, as opposed to the linear corridors of the sequels.

The narrative with Mass Effect which has always held true with me is that it doesn’t even need good combat, and that’s never the case with shooting games. When it came to the Legendary Edition, a remaster of the three original games, the first required the most doing over, but beyond the Mako sections being even more frustrating and the elevators having a Skip Intro, I can’t detect anything major — believe me, I was just playing this game on PS3. The formula still works, and all I want from video games is the ability to make a character and pilot her toward the coolest ends. When Shepard pulls an unsuspecting geth from behind cover and slams it to the jam — that’s what it’s all about, man.

So it’s a nice plus that the original Mass Effect allows at least a headcanon of tactical combat. I always thought that would be cool in a game, if the aim of firing a weapon wasn’t so much to shoot each enemy yourself, but to maneuver yourself and the enemy into the optimal positions.

But anyway, the second season of B Positive is upon us, another sterling addition to the CBS canon — this one overseen by one of the great terrors of television — and I’m noticing a pattern. The show now takes place in a retirement home, possibly due to behind-the-scenes conflict with Thomas Middleditch (the show has successfully restructured itself to make him irrelevant, so it’s only a matter of time before he’s gone), and in this retirement home we have a character named Spencer. Unlike the others in this diverse cast, he’s a grumpy white man and very obviously a bigot. Like, he says something bigoted, and everyone goes, “Hey,” and then they move on. What are we going for here?

Specifically, characters like this create the hypothetical situation, realized, where it’s actually him who’s misunderstood. As he’s now trying to navigate this “new world” where women are supposed to be equal, or at least say “Hey” at being called “broads,” the implicit defense is always “He doesn’t know any better.” Now don’t the rest of you feel silly for having pre-judged him? Believe me, I’m not mad about this, just kind of bewildered. Fortifying this archetype of the misunderstood bigot, we also discover he’s a hero firefighter who worked Ground Zero on 9/11, and he’s a former Marine. Now don’t the rest of you feel — wait, I already said that. Is bigotry a choice? After a fashion, at a certain age, I always thought so. Of course, disagreement on that point from the showrunner isn’t the reason to continue avoiding his shows. They’re all so cheap and tired — I’ve never heard an original joke in any of them, and the punchlines are delivered with such little enthusiasm you begin to wonder why the world needs punchlines at all. He’s the comedy killer.

For our final segment of the night, I’ll take some space and air to discuss the agenda. I’ve been wanting to do a profile on the Burmese pop star Ah Moon for a long time, but I haven’t hammered out what a “profile” is gonna be. Might actually require good writing. In the meantime, you can check out her YouTube page, where you’ll find music videos and vlogs.

I was also hoping to do more movie reviews this year, but I think I added just two, on My Wife is a Gangster 3 and Moon Over Tao. So next year, expect reviews for the Lone Wolf and Cub movies and Heisei Godzilla, at least. I’ve also been thinking about Ghost in the Shell again, especially 2nd Gig. I may want to try my hand at an explainer, mostly for my own benefit. Again, in the meantime, here’s an awesome trailer for Ghost in the Shell 2 I found recently. But beware: you may be tempted to watch the movie yet again, as I was.

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