Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mass Effect via Africa Benson

My Shepard was based on Africa Benson, a character I had created back in 2004 that was supposed to exist in an atypical sense, her story being told across a series of T-shirts, stickers, posters (especially posters), and desktop wallpapers. I ended up writing a few short stories here and there talking about her adventures through multiple dimensions and fleshing out a bit more of the universe she existed in. I have decided that she will be my avatar in any game that allows me to create one. The two of us have a lot in common. We both enjoy the thrill of the new, always take the good and narrow path when we can, love long-range battles but are not afraid to twitch up close when we have to, and I think I could probably learn more about her character by having her in all these different situations, not bound by the pages in a comic book or the fabric of a T-shirt. She would be a denizen of multiple game worlds, in multiple situations, and with a plethora of skill sets. It could make for a hell of a fan-fiction mash-up whenever I get around to writing it...anyway, on with the review experiment.

So. Mass Effect. In summary, I will say I enjoyed the game well enough. I liked most of the game mechanics, and some of the environments were amazing. Having said that, I feel like I am probably going to enjoy it more a second time round as the 'pressure' to get the story over with is now gone and I can take my time and play the game through on what will hopefully be a challenging difficulty. I also feel like it would be a lot more fun as you get to keep all your stats on the next playthrough if you decide to use the same character.

Africa Benson rating - Cool.

Africa Benson exists in a universe with parallel dimensions that contain duplicates of most people across them. In this one, she was called Africa Shepard, a war heroine and only daughter of military parents.

A talented sniper and computer expert with a strong sense of honour and duty, she was also quite open to the idea of relating to other alien races. I figured that since Africa Benson saw so much on her travels through different dimensions that she would have met and rubbed off on her doppelganger in Mass Effect-ruled space.

No, Africa could never be a racist.

I moved her through the Citadel, taking in the sights and admiring the craft of the designers of the structure.

My only problem was that it was just As silly as that sounds. Once I got my hands on the Normandy, I was out of there faster than a speeding bullet and I almost never went back.

The galaxy map was a much better fit for Commander Africa Shepard. Here I could realise the dream of exploring the possibilities of the game's Milky Way and travel to uncharted worlds. It soon got dull though. Most of the worlds I visited were just places with rocky terrain and tiny buildings where the only meaningful thing on the planet would occur. I lost interest in exploring these barren landscapes with my trusty rover (the bounciest car in recent memory! Hey, does anyone remember Breakthru? Ah the memories...) and decided to focus on pursuing the main story.

Now this was different! Moving through the worlds designed to be part of the story was always an exciting and interesting experience. From the architecture to the inhabitants of the various systems, to the fact that in these places, my actions had consequences.

The story quickly increased in tension the more I stuck to the main storyline, with only minor diversions brought on by radio messages from the Admiral of the 5th Fleet. This was when I really got into the game. Utilising all the skills I had learned over the course of my playthrough gave me a real sense of accomplishment and I finally got the hang of using the combat menu efficiently and effectively. The real time combat in the game is a bit clunky to be honest. It was also pretty nice to feel that every action I took made its impact felt in the game world and was not just a random aside with no real purpose beyond advancing stats and items.

One fight that I am not sure Africa could win was the one against her inventory. The moment it became full, it was a huge chore going through it all and trying to sell or at least get rid of unwanted items. Minutes went by as I tried to reduce outdated pistols, assault rifles, armour, weapon enhancements, biotic amps and omni tools to omni gel (a sort of mass effect equivalent of hollywood's nanotech). And, there was also the fear that I would destroy or sell off an item that a member of the field team could use just because they were not there for me to compare it against their current equipment.

But, after a while I learnt, and made sure that after every mission, Africa converted or sold off all unnecessary items.

I saw the romantic interlude, and although it was a bit novel for Africa to 'be' with a blue-skinned omnisexual(?) alien, it felt a bit forced and its novelty was the only reward. It was also almost a given that Africa would go with Liara as the only other potential on board the ship was so uninteresting. Then again, to be fair, even the characters that were not potential romantic interests were a bit dull. Case in point, the Turian cop whose name neither I, nor Africa can ever remember. Also, how come Liara had to look female? Africa definitely took offense to this and found it kind of weird that an omnisexual race would look female and not just androgynous or even something weirder. Heck! Now that I think about it, apart from humans and the Quarians of which you only meet one member, I think they are the only females that one encounters in the game. Wrex only ever mentioned the Krogan in passing to Africa. I never once saw them. I need to check that.

The end of the game, unfortunately, was a big let down, in terms of the final fight and to a much lesser extent, with regards to the story. I think Africa thought so too. She has faced off against strange, warlike races, transhuman beings that could shift their perceptions at the drop of a hat. She had seen beautiful angelic beings on her journeys through dimensions and marveled at their 10-dimensional wings folded through time, space and other dimensions we don't have names or concepts for and escaped the clutches of blind, mad gods at the edges of the multiverse. How could she be happy with a game that was this easy? How could she be happy that she didn't see all its sights and hear all its sounds? Surely there were people to save and problems to resolve all around the galaxy as well as within the Citadel? I heard there was even a suicide she could prevent.

The world of mass effect hinted at so much more than she and I had experienced, and until the inevitable sequel, we still had a lot to see and do. It was at this point that we realised that we were a bit harsh and impatient with the world and the inconsequential plots being revealed in all its nooks and crannies.

So, we went back in, but this time, now that I knew the way it all ended, I decided that it would be worthwhile to take my time and ensure that we see everything there was to see in the world and decided we wanted a challenge worthy of Africa's skills and knowledge. The experiences gained from this world, would undoubtedly help Africa in her journeys through other games.

And I decided, no romantic subplots the second time around. I don't know what it was I was thinking, Africa never had one before, and she certainly wasn't going to start now with such uninteresting people. I blame Fox News for being so curious.

I also switched the difficulty to hardcore. I needed to keep things interesting for Commander Africa Shepard.


Bee said...

I totally agree with Africa on the female appearance of Liara's race. Bit of a let down, that. I too think she should stay celibate until she encounters a character worthy of her (either by Garness or bizarreness)!

Derek Rumpler said...

Wow. I've never played this game, although I want to. I just don't have an XBOX 360. I like the open-world nature of it, but don't know if I agree with being forced to be with someone my character doesn't like. :/

BTW, I noticed you posted twice on my blog. *grins* Thanks for your input, but now that you have had your posts approved, you should be able to post freely now. :) I should add more to that when I get the time. I think its in my best interests, as a future game designer, to learn many things.

Yegwa said...

Yeah, the options for a female character are pretty slim, not that it's much better for a male character though, 'cos really beyond sort of the fact that Liara is sort of cute, she really doesn't bring much to the table character-wise. Also the way they launch into the romance subplot is a bit rushed. Would have preferred it if it was a slow burn type of thing over many shared experiences (rescues, drinks, team ups etc.)

And yea Derek, you should definitely play it. It is by no means perfect, but the world is generally quite great to behold and the sound/music is really nice. I personally think it picked up for me after a first playthrough, but a friend of mine is having a blast on his first playthrough as a renegade. It's also available on the PC if you got a suitable rig.

Yea, sorry about the double post. Thought I didn't post the first time as when I came back to the comments laer in the day I didn't see anything, forgetting it was delayed for moderation!

I agree that a game designer should have as much knowledge and influences as possible since it is one of the jobs that put one in a position to communicate ideas to others. I remember Alan Moore (comic book wroiter amongst loads of other things) saying that a writer has a responsibility to express truth, or something like that, can't remember the exact quote now, but that was what I took from it.

Looking forward to the future posts on that topic on your blog. :-)

Yegwa said...


Will see if I can succeed at keeping her celibate in the future. Don't know if there will be any opportunities for relations in Fallout 3, but then again, you never know eh? :-D

Interestingly enough, when I developed the background story for Africa Benson, she was on a mission to find her father, so Fallout 3 offers a good base to start from methinks. May post on my adventures through post-apocalyptic D.C at some point.

Niyi said...

i'm not sure whether you meant that quarians and human females were the only kinds of females in the game, but if so...there were quarians, asaris and humans. And i think at some point in a bar in the citadel you actually meet a salarian female...anyways, the game was pretty descent and i liked i advice anyone who likes rpg's of any nature at all to give a try. Like Yegwa said, it may not be perfect but it's really good.