Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mass Effect- Game Informer Re-review

Highlighting good game reviews can show us a lot about how reviews should be written. Likewise, examining the shortcomings of bad reviews can also be instructional. Some reviews are very poorly written. Aside from the final score, the written portion of these reviews often reflect the reviewers bemused conception of the game. This confusion is most likely due to the reviewer's lack of understanding of how the game's elements work together to create the overall product. Regardless of how good the game is, a review should clearly communicate either some aspect of the game or a personal account of the reviewer's gameplay experience.

In preparation for my review of Mass Effect, I read the review in issue 175 of Game Informer by Reiner. I also read the second opinion by Ben. I have several issues with these reviews.

"Not since Star Wars made its theatrical debut in 1977 has there been a universe so full of wonder and awe."

It's hard to determine exactly what Reiner means here. Is he claiming that Star Wars and Mass Effect contain fictional universes that are in a league of their own above other films? But Mass Effect is a game. Comparing Star Wars to it implies that this comparison covers all mediums. Is he really trying to say that there isn't some other book, movie, or game that has a fully awe inspiring universe? The following quote suggests Reiner is including these other mediums. If this is the case, this is a bold claim.

"It's an amazing work of fiction, a visual work of art, and a property that is so fully realized and so rich in its backstory that its contents could fill countless games, books, and movies."

This statements suggests that the content of Mass Effect endlessly generates. If not, how else can such a game fill "countless games, books, and movies?" I'm sure we all understand what Reiner meant by this statement, but the words themselves work against his meaning. Also, Reiner fails to even hint at what specific elements of the game makes it "amazing" let alone how they were assembled to create this effect. Even if there were strict limits to the length of this review, the writing reflects Reiner's lack understanding and critical thinking.

"The developers at Bioware have grown mightily as storytellers and have honed this craft to make every second of the content seem important. Even the side missions, which have the players traveling across the stars to different solar systems, planets, and moons, is either relevant to the conflict at hand or used to help the player better understand the universe and how it came to be. "

I wonder what other kind of content Mass Effect could have. Isn't the nature of a side mission one that is related to the main mission or created to deepen the player's understanding of the overall game world? Surely, the developers at Bioware wouldn't put something in the game that has nothing to do with the universe of the game. This statement fails to support how "Bioware [has] grown mightily as storytellers." As a reader, I still want to know what makes Reiner think that Mass Effect has better story/universe than most books and movies.

"Mass Effect's run-and-gun warfare is certainly ambitious, and it has the potential to be incredibly powerful. However, most of the skirmishes, which begin and end in the blink of an eye, run into balancing issues, problematic AI, and a difficulty in comprehending what is transpiring."

I do not know what Reiner mens by "powerful." Perhaps he means flashy, or functional. Furthermore, the four problems Reiner encountered with the combat are serious issues that occur "most" of the time. I can't see how such glaring problems with the action part of this Action/RPG, wouldn't seriously detract from the game. If most of half of the game (the action half) has problems, then the score of 9.75 suggests Reiner consciously ignored the games shortcomings.

"The gameplay is certainly fun, and it controls admirably, but it doesn't live up to the lare stage the story sets or the standards you've come to expect from action games and RPGs."

According to Reiner, Mass Effect falls short of the standards for both of its representative genres. This statement is significant. According to Reiner, even the deep character and weapon customization get old "after a few hours." Judging from Reiner's review, it's clear that Mass Effect privileges story and concepts above gameplay, function, and execution. In the review, Reiner even opens with positive comments about Mass Effect's scifi universe and story before transitioning into the shorcomings of the gameplay as if trying to hide the flaws of the game behind the promise of its story: "Now you've probably noticed I haven't talked much about the gameplay."

"You'll want more from it, but by no means does it hold the experience back."

I don't understand how Reiner can express so many of Mass Effect's gameplay shortcomings and then make this statement. Is he really trying to say that disappointing gameplay doesn't negatively affect the gaming experience? Reiner goes on to say how "captivating" the story is. If Mass Effect represents a "new age of interactive storytelling" they why would any reviewer discount the "interactive" part of the gaming experinece. Even when the story/experience isn't privileged over the gameplay, it's still an integral part of the game's narrative.

The Second Opinion written by Ben shares many of Reiner's sentiments. Ben also comments on the game's balance.

"Problem is, certain powers/weapon combos allow you to steamroll waves of enemies, making the game feel easy until the dice rolls turn against you and you find yourself dead within seconds."

Ben goes on to say "I want to call this a balancing issue." Shouldn't the game reviewer be able to discern if this problem is a balance issue or not? "Wanting" to call it a balance issue exposes Ben's lack of understanding of the issue.

"Still, Mass Effect could very well represent the future of entertainment, and its few flaws shouldn't' stop anyone from enjoying that experience."

What about people who enjoy solid gameplay?

In closing, according to these reviews, Mass Effect is all about story. However, neither Reiner nor Ben could explain what makes the story so good or "captivating." What is clear are the issues with the combat/action portion of the game. As an antecedent to my hands-on time with the game, my impressions of Mass Effect are disjointed and spotty.

It's hard to justify such high review scores based on the two articles. In the end, readers should realize that these reviews communicated very little about what makes Mass Effect (potentially) so good. And with a double score of 9.75, we have to start judging whether these reviews are bias or even worth considering.

3 comments:

DJPaulCR said...

I do feel that game informer reviews have become weaker over the years and I think Ben is the worst reviewer of them, but your comments ignore alot of their support for their arguments in the review. For example, you say that they never backup the reason why the interactive story is so well told. They do back it up though, I specifically remember Ben mentioning how the dialogue brought a sense of "guilt" to him in which I agree. This game is, to my long experience in gaming, the first one to do so successfully. The dialogue, tone, graphical expression, and great voice acting all contribute to this. In regards to the rest of your comments, I agree with the reviewers, Reiner and Ben, and I felt they backed up their reviews well enough so that they didn't SPOIL the story. You ,on the other hand, don't back up any of your arguments other than with the repeated statement that either Reiner or Ben "lack the understanding" of whatever point they just made. You either need to get off your pedastal, or if you're going to stay such insulting statements like "lack the understating", you should back it up.

john said...

djpaulcr apparently divined some kind of opinion about Mass Effect from KirbyKid's post. Either that, or he/she does not understand that when someone critiques an argument for its shortcomings, the burden of proof remains on the initial arguer. KirbyKid said nothing that needed support, because he has put forth no conclusion about Mass Effect; rather, he only explicated the logical weaknesses of the reviewers' attempts to move us toward their conclusions. KirbyKid is not trying to make us change our minds, so he doesn't need the same kind of evidence that the reviewers need. Furthermore, it would be rather awkward to try to "back up" a statement suggesting that something is absent from a review; KirbyKid would have to post the entire review and explain why each sentence fails to portray any real understanding of how gamers experience stories.

David said...

...

....

Wow....

Just WOW....

This isn't a re-review, it's a failure to understand the English language.

Do you seriously not understand what he means when he says that the combat is powerful? Really? Seriously?

And the amazing work of fiction is pretty self explanatory. But if you needed more, he backs it up saying its rich in back story and has strong characters and plot points.

The countless books and movies comment once again points to his comment about it having a deep back story. It makes sense.

I agree about the comments about the review score being high for the comments made about the combat, but it seems like he scored it on the experience it delivers, not solely by the mechanics.

Anyway, this is an interesting idea, but I think you would have better luck tearing apart Roger Ebert than this. It seems like you were stretching. Looking for things to say.