Quit Trying To Shove Your Gears Up My Mass Relay
Evolution is a natural part of life; it happens to almost everything. That which is ill-equipped to survive in its environment, dies – typically, as fodder for another organism who got the claws and sharp teeth behind door number three vs. the big beak, webbed feet and tiny wings which came with the bakeware set behind door number two. Evolution also tends to award organisms that specialize in a particular thing, and with good reason. Trying to do too many things at once is invariably a great way to make sure nothing is done well. Flying birds don’t get multiple legs, the ability to generate an electric current, or the ever-so-popular opposable thumbs (great at parties!), but evolution provided a great way to stay above the things partial to eating them. After all, the dodo had wings, too…
Likewise, games evolve. Halo: Combat Evolved is a great example. At its core, it is a carefully crafted FPS experience of such quality as to remain a benchmark for game design. Each subsequent iteration took the digital genetic code of a great game and mutated it just a bit so its DNA ended up with a few more tasty ingredients, which the gaming world wolfed down. Even ODST, arguably the red-headed stepchild of the series, gave the first-person gaming world Firefight mode. And that golden nugget of a game mode has impacted every major FPS released since. Strip away all the bells and whistles though, and you still have Halo, made by Bungie. An FPS made by a company who is damn good at making an FPS.
So, with these things in mind, who was the bright spark at Bioware who thought shoving a Gears-esque third-person multiplayer actioner into Mass Effect 3 was a good idea?
Nobody played Mass Effect, or Mass Effect 2 for that matter, for the stellar combat engine. Did it work? Yep, it was a serviceable vehicle for carrying the action-oriented portions of the game. “Serviceable” being the key term here. The Pontiac Aztek was also a “serviceable” vehicle, in that it got people from point A to point B. This does not mean the masses fell in love with it. Many reviewers spoke about how much of an improvement combat was in Mass Effect 2, which is akin to commenting on how an underperforming employee was about to get canned, but pulled it out of the fire right before the pink slip hit their desk. Weaseling your way off the chopping block does not put you in line for a promotion, so the decision to bolt a multiplayer mode onto a game which has barely established itself as competent in the action arena strikes me as a grave error.
What worries me is that Dead Space 2 made the same mistake. A stellar, stellar single-player experience with multiplayer added on for no reason except someone’s research said it was the popular (read: profitable) thing to do. My money is on these large developers trying their hand at forcefully converting multiplayer games into single player with the hopes of creating new revenue streams, and the gamers are the the ones that are going to suffer. What, haven’t you always wanted to play some bastardized variant of Horde mode, utilizing darkspawn in the next Dragon Age sequel?
Oh, wait. We are.
So a developer whose hallmark is creating environments, stories, and characters so immersive as to make a player completely – well, perhaps not completely – overlook the shortcomings of the interface and action in favor of the greater whole is now shoehorning a game type they’ve no experience with into their bread and butter. Don’t ask a scholar to rebuild your engine.
While on the topic of people doing jobs they’re not meant to do, would it have made sense for Bungie to suddenly shift gears and become a RTS developer to create Halo Wars? No. Why? Because Bungie is really freaking good at making FPS games, you jackass, that’s why! Ensemble (R.I.P.) was not Bungie. Ensemble made RTS games for, oh, over a decade. Oddly enough, they were tapped to take the helm for a Halo-based RTS. Imagine that, a developer with a suitable background chosen to take an established franchise into a new realm. Even more surprising, it worked! Having over one million copies of Halo Wars sold doesn’t lie, especially when you consider the RTS genre history on consoles isn’t exactly a storied one.
This is not new information. This happened in 2009, and EA didn’t survive this long by being dumb. So why there is a sudden rush to add game modes where they don’t belong is a true mystery. Bioware, between Dragon Age and Mass Effect, has created a very rich, nutrient-loaded soil bed in which other genres may flourish. You know you want to see a Mass Effect FPS. You want it as badly as I do. You want to pick it up in a limo, compliment it on its dress and shoes, and take it out for a nice dinner. Then you want to bring it back to your place and mix it a cocktail, before sitting it down on the couch in front of a cozy fire, just waiting for the perfect moment to… mmm… yeah…
…wait, what? Ah, *ahem* yes, well, anyways.
Bioware has no business developing a FPS any more than it does bringing its pseudo squad-based shooter, which works (loosely) in a single-player environment, into the multiplayer arena. You want this to work? Let Epic take a crack at it, or Platinum, or anyone not Bioware. Bioware is good at what they do, and what they do is not multiplayer actioners. This trend of pegs going where they don’t belong, I fear, will begin to take away from the core of a game, as all games try to be all things to all gamers. Wonder how that ends? Just ask Darwin…
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