review
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Mass Effect 3

Verdict: 89/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

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.

review

Infamous 2

Verdict: 67/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

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.

quotation

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.

Judge Sam Sparks
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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?”

Sam Harris
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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.

Stanley B. Greenberg
quotation

[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.

Charles P. Pierce
quotation

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.

Manny Miranda
quotation

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.

Mark Dominus
review

L. A. Noire

Verdict: 79/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

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.

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quotation

The best way to think about the old NFL collective bargaining agreement is as a beautiful magic cloak. It allowed the owners a kind of charmed invisibility when it came to collusion, to artificially controlling competition, to inhibiting player movement, to making their costs certain, and generally suppressing every free market principle. The fact that they had the consent of players via collective bargaining created a non‐statutory labor exemption — it gave the owners legal cover for the socialistic anti‐competitive way they operate. […] The owners, almost incomprehensibly, voluntarily stripped off their magic cloak and ripped it to shreds, when they opted out of the CBA and demanded $1 billion in concessions from players. They tore up their cloak because, they said, their share of $9.4 billion in revenue wasn’t enough to support them in the style to which they’ve become accustomed.

Sally Jenkins