31
Jan
13

Inflection Pixel’s Ten Titles I Loved In 2012, Part Two

Winner!

That’s right: more posts about video games.  Today, we have games: IN SPACE.

#8: Mass Effect 3 | BioWare

Played on Xbox 360

Mass Effect 3

As the continuation to my favorite game of 2010Mass Effect 3 had massive shoes to fill.  Unfortunately, yet somewhat expectedly given the scope of these particular shoes, ME3 did not quite hit that goal for a handful of reasons.  However, ME3 is not a bad game, or I probably wouldn’t have put it on this list.  In fact, I think it’s very good, and I think lots of people should play it, especially if you’re into the Mass Effect universe in any way.

The Mass Effect universe still stands as one of my favorite fictional universes to be in.  That’s still true, even after that ending happened.  The games are placed in interesting settings with characters that are engaging enough for one to attach some sort of love/hate relationship with.  Thanks to the Codex, the most interesting aspects of the universe (species, factions, planets, technologies, events, and so on) are brought to a very specific, yet optional, detail.  I loved reading about every single thing all the games would tell me about and my appetite for detail never waned.  So, ME3 simply provides more of it.  As the cap on a trilogy, it also bring a lot of these things, especially characters, into finality, and a large share of it was immensely powerful.  It helps that I followed most of these characters through tens of hours of gameplay stretched over years, but a lot of those moments are honestly amazing.  Specific scenarios and scenes nearly brought tears to my eyes.  This also extended to the kind of decision making players can make in ME3.  As the cap on a trilogy, the context and ramifications of these decisions often reach a level not approached before in the series.  It is still hamstrung by the scoring of these decisions tracking how “good” or “bad” Shepard is, but the decisions themselves are powerful in that they are very good at deterring you from blindly choosing the choice that fulfills whatever path you happened to want.  I would sit in front of a few of these for whole minutes thinking it out.

With all that out of the way, the encapsulated story within ME3 is weaker in relation to the other titles.  Laying it all out, it can get unnecessarily confusing.  Some bits feel passed over quickly while hurtling towards a weird conclusion.  I guess a lot of this gets resolved when played with now-released DLC, but it shouldn’t have come down to that.  I wished I had that content when I played, but it’s too late now.  Completing ME3 closer to when it came out, I have a sense of finality that I really don’t care to augment with DLC.

And compared to my urge to replay the first two games, I don’t care to play ME3 again.  One part is having my completed story, but the other is gameplay.  It is still improved over ME2 at any rate.  I like their changes to character building, striking a comfortable middle between ME1 and ME2 in the number of skills available and their complexity.  Combat feels a bit tighter and balanced.  Players have a different kind of control over their arsenal where the number and weight of weapons negatively affects the recharge rate of their powers.  Bring the heaviest firepower to bear or go light and use the abilities in powerful ways.  The differences between the new enemies brings out different techniques to fight them depending on your class and loadout.  All of this doesn’t feel like the biggest leap from the second game, though, and I played a lot of that second game.  I’m not interested in playing more ME3 because of that.

It all comes together in a surprising way in the multiplayer.  BioWare’s decision to link it to the single player campaign remains questionable, but it did get me to try its take on cooperative objective-based combat, and I am glad I did.  Building up versions of all the Mass Effect classes (plus more beyond even those thanks to some excellent post-launch support) and fighting alongside others in increasingly tense situations became a good and lengthy addiction.

I’m throwing a lot of criticism on this thing, so to re-iterate, Mass Effect 3 IS NOT BAD.  It is very, very, very good and I would recommend it to anyone who asked.  When I put the disc in the first time, the Mass Effect bug came through hard and I was glued until I saw the whole game through.  Jeff at Giant Bomb Dot Com put it in a perfect way: “It’s not the best game in the trilogy, but I’d still take a decent Mass Effect game over most story-driven releases.”

#7: FTL: Faster Than Light | Subset Games

Played on PC

FTL: Faster Than Light

And like how the Mass Effect games represent some of the best examples of tightly authored storytelling in video games, FTL: Faster Than Light (available on Steam) stands as one of the best creators of player-driven story.  The systems and situations in place in FTL foster unique experiences each and every time a player leads their hapless crew to their probable doom.

At the start of every game of FTL, you pick a ship and a crew and go on a hasty adventure to warn the Federation about the impeding invasion of the massive Rebel fleet.  You jump from system to system and at each system encounter various other ships and situations.  It’s up to you to decide how to go about things.  There are choices to be made when encountering an alien stranded on a planet or an allied installation under siege from space spiders.  All the while, you have to concentrate on keeping your ship fueled and increasingly armed with more weapons, automated drones, and additional crew to assist.

A lot of those scenarios lead to open combat with another ship and these situations play out in plenty of ways depending on the state of absolutely everything, including the make-up and type of the enemy, the system the battle is taking place in (watch those solar flares!), and what weapons and equipment you have as well as the state of your crew and the ship itself.  You start learning how to handle these combat situations but no amount of skill can seemingly overcome the game’s unforgiving nature.  You might think you have the upper hand on an enemy until  your internal sensors go down and you fail to notice that your oxygen system was hit with a stray laser and went Far Cry 2 on you by bursting into flames, causing everyone on the ship to  suffocate to death.  Such is the life of an FTL crew.  You start to take better care to avoid such endings like upgrading your ship in a different direction or arming yourself in a different way, but FTL always tends to come at you in a different direction and throw you back down.

Campaigns in FTL can last up to an hour (although it’ll probably be a lot shorter during your inevitable downfall), so it’s a low impact proposition every time you start playing.  Every time you bite it you’ll be starting all over with your ship and crew, but it’s not like you’re losing hours of progress.  With my irresistible tendency towards games in space, the $10 in my wallet, and the amount of hours I put into this things, FTL was a no brainer for being one of my favorites.  For the normal price of $10, you, too, can start FTL over and over for hours on end, learning every nuance of operating your ship and navigating your way through its treacherous universe, getting satisfaction for every light year farther you went than last time, until you finally squeak your way into victory.

Or you might just remain crushed under FTL‘s oppressive ways forever.  Don’t worry, no one will think you’re a bad person if you never make it ever.

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intro

My name is Anthony Munar, a computer programmer in Utah. I also play a bunch of video games every now and then. I talk and think a lot about them, but I never really solidify those thoughts anywhere, and writing is something I like doing, so I thought I'd do it right here. I don't intend to be high-and-mighty authoritative about what I say and I don't really have any sort of standing in the games industry. This is just for me to muse about games when I want to.

Naming a blog these days was harder than I thought. In calculus, the inflection point on a curve is where its concavity changes between upwards and down. So, maybe, the inflection pixel is the pixel which represents something that turns my opinion around on a game, like the pixels representing a beam cannon firing in FreeSpace 2, the pixels representing a flying car wreck in Burnout, or the pixels representing my own sentry gun holding off an army in Team Fortress 2.

Using the word 'pixel' in naming something game-related seems clichéd, so sorry about that.

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