Thursday, 28 June 2012

Does the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut Get It Right?

**************WARNING SPOILERS FOR ME3**************

I would like to preface this by saying that I am not a clever man; I thought I had installed the Extended Cut and played through the ending again, only to discover that nothing was different. It gave me the opportunity to reassess my thoughts on the original ending, with a couple of months contemplation between playthroughs, and compare it to the new conclusion. On my second play-through of the ending I didn't find it as unsatisfying as the first time, though still far from great, maybe because I already knew what was coming and tempered my expectations, or maybe because, though I tried not to be, my originals thoughts were marred by other people's opinions. The original ending lacked the promised scope, didn't fully realise all your choices and was quite frankly nonsensical. The Extended Cut plugs the most obvious plot holes, though don't look too deep as there are still many to be found; rearranges the end of game video sequence for each choice, though some are still repeated; and adds in some more video clips of the repercussions of your choice. Your actions throughout the game still don't feel as though they have a direct enough result; you spend the game collecting a massive army, but you don't really witness your personalised army in the final battle, and it prevents the game from feeling individual to you.
The final chapter in London is the same up to the point where you make one last push to the Citadel.

Completely changing the ending, or incorporating indoctrination theory, would have set a dangerous precedent. Whilst it is important to send a clear message to developers that we will not accept paid DLC for a complete ending, as BioWare seemed to have planned, we cannot get every ending with disagree with changed and should allow developers their artistic integrity. Despite the outcry of fans to change the ending it seems to me that if anyone compromised BioWare's artistic integrity it was EA. Publishers, like EA, are increasingly pushing to squeeze as much money as possible from each customer, rather than creating a quality experience to attract as many customers as possible to their games. As long as they are asking what can be removed from a complete game instead of asking what they can add they are failing to serve their customers. Since KOTOR BioWare games have been a day one purchase for me, but between this fiasco and DA2 I have decided to rethink this policy. If you had asked me just a couple of months ago who my favourite developers are I would have said without a moments hesitation Blizzard, BioWare and Naughty Dog, now I am not so sure.
It seems the characters were as emotionally vested in me as I was in them.

So does the Extended Cut go far enough in changing what was wrong with the ending? I think under the circumstances, yes, but it still makes me weary of BioWare and EA. The Extended Cut offers a superficial bandage to the situation that should give closure to people who have been with the series from the beginning and a satisfying ending to people new to the series. The story is further fleshed out and better justifications and explanations are given, but it still won’t be winning any awards any time soon, and could have been so much better. Some of the theories that people came up with go to show how creative and invested a lot of the audience is, and whilst BioWare could not have incorporated them as it would have no longer been their story, how ready for a more complex, mature and engaging story people are. To me the emotion in the game was just as important as the story, and I think that is something the Extended Cut does get right. For me the best two parts of the final fight are not action set pieces but, firstly, when you talk to your past and present crew members, putting on a brave face as you know this is probably goodbye, and your final farewell to Anderson, the melancholy of his death combined with the perceived view of your imminent victory with one small task left to do. 

So in conclusion I think that the Extended Cut offers a relatively good solution to a bad situation, the ending now supplied might not be great but should at least offer closure. Changing the ending too much could have set a dangerous precedent whereby gamers have too much say in the development of a game, but not complaining and allowing corporate greed to take from the integrity of a game would have been just as dangerous. This about the best outcome we could have asked for.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Review: Max Payne 3

After an absence of nine years Max Payne is back and still down on his luck, what is supposed to be a nice private security job in sunny Brazil quickly escalates into a morality war for the morally bankrupt. A simple kidnapping reveals the darker side of Sao Paulo, where crime and corruption run rampant, and a deeply damaged Max Payne can somehow be considered a white knight. The game takes you from the penthouses of the rich to run down favelas, but it is never clear which is more deplorable.  Max Payne 3 takes a departure from not only the location of the first two games but from their film noir tone as well. The story itself may not be that great, but the journey you go on is well worth the ride.

The cinematic effects used throughout the game, such as chromatic aberrations and scanning lines, may seem a bit overpowering at first, but help illustrate the state of Max’s psyche and how dependant on alcohol and drugs he has become. For much of the game Max is a sorry sight as the weight of his past has crushed him. It’s not really apparent what his motivations to keep going are; does he actually care about the people he is trying to save? Or is he just looking for a way out with meaning? The writing is terrific with Max’s sardonic inner monologue keeping you company throughout the game; flawlessly performed by James McCaffrey. Max may be a drugged-up alcoholic shell of a man, but he sees the world more clearly than most.

Game-play hasn't changed greatly since previous instalments; the series’ signature bullet time returns to create stylish, if somewhat simple, combat. Cover is a new feature that incorporates well with Max’s other moves and gives you time to recharge and reload during combat. Stylishly despatching enemies is extremely satisfying, especially during some of the most over the top, slowed down sections that occur every chapter or so. My main grievance with Max Payne 3 is with its enemies, who seem close to omnipotent, and in possession of x-ray vision; when one of them sees you, they all do and no amount of moving behind cover will stop them from knowing exactly where you are. 

The game is unapologetically violent and nor should it be, the whole tone of the game is geared towards making a dark and mature experience, which it definitely achieves. Your last kill in a room always results in a kill-cam that slows down the violence and shows every bullet wound and blood spurt in gory detail. I don’t want to ruin it but the last chapter contains a Max Payne pushed beyond all limits delivering some of the best lines and harshest punishments. At first Max Payne 3 may seem less forgiving than many modern games with its lack of a regenerating health system, but this is not the case. If you die in a fight you restart with full health, after a couple of deaths you start to generate more and more pills every couple of deaths until you succeed. However, there are five difficulties and an arcade mode if you are looking for a real challenge.
The multiplayer component acts as an interesting addition to the game, but is not the main draw. The single player is standout whereas the multiplayer is decidedly average.  The multiplayer is much the same as other modern shooters, in that it contains a rank system based on XP and new weapons and bursts are unlocked with each level. Bursts are special abilities, like bullet time, that give you and your team brief advantages over the opposing team. There are only four modes available; a free for all Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Payne Killer and Gang Wars. In Payne Killer one member of the group takes on the role of Max and everyone else has to try and kill them, the person that kills Max becomes the new Max. Gang Wars is a team based shifting objectives game with five rounds. The multiplayer is solid enough that it will keep you interested for a while, but you won’t be playing it a year down the line.

There is also an arcade mode where playing stylishly and efficiently will net you a lot of points, whereas body shots will leave you at the bottom of the board. This mode is for leader board junkies who want to compare how good they are with everyone else. The problem with this arcade mode is that the long cut-scenes from the campaign continually interrupt and brake up the pacing of the mode. Very little separates the campaign from arcade mode except for your score, so as someone who plays for the story I found that it offered very little to me. 
From what I have seen 10-12 hours seems to be how long people generally take to complete the single player aspect of the game, but I completed it in just 8; I didn’t rush through the game, I collected a good proportion of the secrets and I died a fair amount of times, so I don't know where this disparity in time comes from. For this type of game 8 hours is a bit short, but I really enjoyed my time with it and the multiplayer and arcade modes server to extend the game time further for those that want it.