In the playoffs, every story line is ex post facto, with the process graded after the fact by whatever the outcome was. You know the stories. A team with a first-round bye is refreshed and full of energy if they blow out their opponents (often as big favorites at home), but rusty and lost their timing if they lose to their opponents, who don’t have anybody believing in them but themselves. It’s one of the laziest bits of analysis you’ll see about sports.
I think so many things about the Mass Effect series, far too many to corral into a focused thought. I know because I’ve tried to write this review several times already and I have nothing to show for it except thirty paragraphs of ramblings.
My brain lies to me sometimes. Because I’d loved Mass Effect, and because Mass Effect 2 changed several of the things I’d loved about the first game, I convinced myself that the sequel wasn’t quite as good. It had been a year and a half since I’d touched either game, so after I finished Mass Effect 3 I decided to go back to the very beginning and do a marathon playthrough with a fresh character. Not only would it be a plot refresher, but it’d let me undo all of the dumb mistakes I made in games one and two that I ended up having to pay for in game three.
So ME3 deserves credit for that, at the very least. When you play ME1 and ME2 back-to-back, it’s clear which is the better game. Yes, I like ME1’s skills tree better; yes, I like being able to customize weapons and earn tiny amounts of XP for every little thing I do. But there’s no way I can go back to ME1’s unwieldy combat or awkward pacing. I’d like to apologize to ME2 for being so mean to it.
I was expecting not to like Mass Effect 3. As it turns out, ME3 contains several of the most emotionally poignant moments I’ve had playing video games. It has the hard task of incorporating decisions you’ve made in previous games — and making the player feel that those decisions were significant — while maintaining an economy of story and a clarity of plot. It’s done that amazingly well. Until ME3 I don’t think I’d ever played a game that added replay value to its prequel. Have you?
My favorite parts of ME3 happen hours before the game’s notorious and infuriating ending. Yes, the ending is bad. Even when you’re expecting it to be bad it manages to underwhelm. It’s bad in almost all the ways a sci-fi ending can be bad. It’s thematically disjoint, arbitrary, and derivative. It offers a false choice. It violates continuity. It violates canon. And it’s so maddeningly ambiguous that it doesn’t feel much like an ending to anything.
The upcoming free DLC promises to provide more context to each ending. But at best it’ll address only some of this. I seriously doubt this whole thing can be un-fucked.
Here’s the thing: I never cared much about this whole galaxy-wide threat. For me, the Reapers were a glorified MacGuffin, an excuse for me to ride around on a ship and meet cool alien races and shoot robots with sniper rifles. A Mass Effect game is at its best during side missions, when you can pretend you’re dealing with a Star Trek–style episodic threat and forget about that thing that’s trying to destroy the universe.
That’s why the ending, awful as it is, doesn’t ruin this game for me. I’ve played it for at least forty hours now and only three of those hours have been unenjoyable. Does the underwhelming finale of Seinfeld ruin the entire series, or even just the final season? What about The Sopranos? On Metacritic, Mass Effect 3 has a score of 93/100 according to critics, but only 50/100 according to Metacritic users. I understand their frustrations, but I’m on the critics’ side here.
But the ME3 ending disappoints me in a deeper way. I would play at least six more games just like ME3. I had been looking forward to playing those games someday. I had thought that Bioware was looking for their own rich universe for sci-fi storytelling. The ending of ME3 — no matter which one you pick — seems to salt the earth, as if they wanted to rule out any future stories that would take place after the events of the game. They could do prequels, but there’s only a thirty-year window between humans’ first contact with other races and the events of ME3.
Aside from a spin-off game or two, I doubt Bioware is interested in telling more Mass Effect stories. And that’s profoundly disappointing. I’m most of the way through my second ME3 playthrough, but I’m playing it more and more slowly. I’m in no hurry to get to an ending that reminds me, clearly and bluntly, that it’s all over.
I’m a tough man to write video games for. Any triple-A title released for a major console is the result of so much craftsmanship from so many talented people, such that you can find genuinely good things to say about even the mediocre ones.
Why do I want a game to have long-lasting impact? Why does it have to be profound to me after I’m done with it? I played the original Infamous for at least fifteen hours — doesn’t that say more about its quality than whatever I feel about it eighteen months later?
Because I feel the same way about Infamous 2. It’s just as good as Infamous in all the ways that Infamous was good, and bad in all the ways its predecessor was bad.
At the beginning of Infamous 2, plot contrivances lead Cole and his annoying sidekick Zeke to make their way from Fake New York (Empire City, the setting of Infamous) to Fake New Orleans (New Marais). A giant evil thing called The Beast is heading in their direction, slowly and surely, but in the meantime there’s a new city to play in. The open world is full of open-worldy stuff; there are scattered things to collect, and territory missions, and even user-generated side missions.
And there’s the main storyline, a set of missions where you meet other people with crazy superpowers and fight generic monsters and find blast cores (which function as rather blatant plot coupons; The Beast gets closer each time you collect one). All of this is fine, I suppose, and I’ve loved games with plots just as ridiculous as this.
Maybe I’m just getting tired of games that don’t seem to care about their own plots. There’s no sense of pacing or cresecendo; Cole seems to react to everything that happens with the same sort of grizzled nonchalance. There’s no attempt to make exposition seamless or elegant; if there’s something you need to know, a supporting character will give you a clumsy info-dump the moment you need to know, and no sooner. (Midway through the game, Lucy tells Cole about a plague that’s killing half the city. If it’s that large, shouldn’t Cole know about it already?)
Or maybe it’s that I can’t think of a single thing Infamous 2 does that hasn’t been done better by another game. Maybe it’s good in a way that’s too balanced, and if it had tried hard to excel in a certain aspect I’d at least be left with something to grab onto.
The Act does not compel physicians to apprise women of the risks inherent in abortion, inform the women of available alternatives, and facilitate access to additional information if the women wish to review it before making their decisions; existing Texas law already compels such speech by physicians… Instead, the Act compels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of any medical necessity, and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen.
Many readers were enraged that I could support taxation in any form. It was as if I had proposed this mad scheme of confiscation for the first time in history. Several cited my framing of the question — “how much wealth can one person be allowed to keep?” — as especially sinister, as though I had asked, “how many of his internal organs can one person be allowed to keep?”
In analyzing these polls in the United States, I see clearly that voters feel ever more estranged from government — and that they associate Democrats with government. If Democrats are going to be encumbered by that link, they need to change voters’ feelings about government. They can recite their good plans as a mantra and raise their voices as if they had not been heard, but voters will not listen to them if government is disreputable.
[H]ad The National not spent money the way that it did [...] Peter Richmond wouldn’t have had the chance to go to a Cubs game with Bill Murray and then hang out with Fleetwood Mac afterward. Which would have meant that we wouldn’t have had the great scene several months later when Murray showed up in the New York offices to see Peter. Not long before that, a guy not many people liked had been fired, and Murray wandered into the daily editorial meeting, propped his flip-flops up on the table, and asked, “Show of hands. How many people thought [blank] was an asshole?” The world would be a poorer place without that moment.
People have no idea about how this affects the government at lower levels. The culture of delay is almost as crippling as the corruption we fight across the world. Our corruption is delay. No one’s willing to make decisions. That hurts us.
Time and time again people would send me perfectly idiotic code, and when I asked why they had done it that way the answer was not that they were idiots, but that there was some issue I had not appreciated, some problem they were trying to solve that was not apparent. Not to say that the solutions were not inept, or badly engineered, or just plain wrong. But there is a difference between a solution that is inept and one that is utterly insane. These appeared at first to be insane, but on investigation turned out to be sane but clumsy.
If you’re wondering how to reconcile the high mark to the left with the paragraphs of red ink below, let me explain. L.A. Noire is a very good game that wears all its faults on the outside.
It boasts several major achievements. The first is MotionScan, the facial animation technology that represents the boldest effort yet to bridge video games’ Uncanny Valley of facial expressions. The game’s interrogations are meant to put the technology front and center, asking the player to read these facial cues to sift truth from lies.
The second is its detailed portrayal of post-war Los Angeles. I’m no expert, but they don’t seem to have taken many shortcuts here. They’ve modeled nearly one hundred real-life vehicles, all of which are driveable within the game. They claim to have recreated 90% of downtown L.A. with painstaking fidelity to architecture. The wardrobes, the music, the signage… hardly anything feels anachronistic.
These things are well worth bragging about. But they have nothing to do with the gameplay. L.A. Noire mixes slow, static scenes, like interrogations and crime scene examinations, with open-world, sandbox-style tasks on a city map. These are tough to blend. It’s disorienting for a game to feel like Heavy Rain one minute and Grand Theft Auto IV the next.
Something else bothers me more, though. At moments few and far between, L.A. Noire is simply no fun to play, and the fact that it was fun to look at was the only thing that pushed me out of the ditch. Yes, it’s nice to be able to “read” characters, but not within the context of a dialogue tree that combines the worst aspects of Encyclopedia Brown logic and Phoenix Wright logic.
No, seriously. This is why solve-the-mystery gameplay is so hard to do well. At its best, it lets the player feel smart as he pieces together clues and has sporadic eureka moments. But far more often it feels mean, as though the player is being punished because she didn’t follow the game’s own Moon Logic. There are several places in interrogations where you’re supposed to accuse someone of lying after they’ve said something true — and, when asked for proof, present a piece of evidence that doesn’t contradict what they said.
At least Phoenix Wright allows for a bit of trial and error as a way of navigating its odd flavor of Moon Logic. In L.A. Noire, a missed question might be the difference between five stars and three on your case rating. Now, on one hand, the case ratings are ancillary and I shouldn’t take them so seriously. On the other hand, the game moves forward at the same pace whether you’re good at it or not, so the case ratings are nearly the only reward that the game offers for skillful play. I want this game to be more than a twelve-hour-long movie, but it fights me all the way.
The facial animation, while revolutionary, isn’t yet perfect. About 70% of the time, characters’ faces look like those of human beings; about 15% of the time, they look like flat images projected onto egg-shaped surfaces; and the remaining 15% of the time, they look like Vincent D’Onofrio in Men in Black. And the way they’re captured — under bright lights, in front of 32 cameras, sitting in a barber’s chair — might be to blame for some ham-filled performances by minor characters. At times I was reminded of interactive movie games, the scourge of the mid-90s adventure genre, and their tendency to feature the worst line-readings this side of a pornographic movie.
The story is solid. Often, I didn’t like the way plot developments unfolded, but I dare not complain about such things, lest we be thrust back into the age where you had to learn a game’s story by reading its instruction manual.
You should play this game. I don’t know if you should buy it, but you should certainly GameFly it or borrow it from a friend or sell it back to GameStop four days after you purchased it. You should play it not just because it’s a good game, but because I suspect it’ll be an important and influential game — in the same way that it’s important to see Star Wars just so you can know what people mean when they reference it.
Some reviews seem to give near-perfect ratings to L.A. Noire because of its technological achievements — even as they admit its flaws. I can’t do that. I can’t even spot it a few points for causing me to rewatch L.A. Confidential. Instead, it gets the most heart-wrenching B-plus I’ve ever given.