Skimming The End: Why Mass Effect 3′S Reviews Are More Disheartening Than Its Conclusion
After his Dead Island review was already posted on IGN’s frontpage, Greg Miller, an editor for the publication, admitted that he did not finish the game. Miller tried to rationalize this, stating that twenty hours into the game he had already built such a strong opinion that anything from the rest of the game couldn’t possibly change it.
A game like Dead Island (a story-driven single player experience) is a game that requires finishing before being reviewed. It feels strange that I even have to write such a sentence. If we ever want to see games seriously viewed as art (or even just artistic), then critics have to respect the medium. There is no need to single out Greg Miller or any other terrible video game journalist, because they all pull this kind of garbage. And nothing is really more telling of that fact than most of the Mass Effect 3 reviews I’ve read this week.
Mass Effect 3, like Dead Island, is a story-driven game. Unlike Dead Island though, it’s built around branching plots which reveal themselves as you make key decisions throughout the adventure. The ending spits on all of that, forcing you down a narrow path of options. It’s also terribly written, thematically clashing, and lacks the closure that many feels the series needed. The game’s finale is so insultingly bad that one should expect it to be mentioned in every single review of this mainstream, widely-marketed, big-budget release.
That didn’t happen. Many reviews offered zero critique of Mass Effect 3′s ending. Ignoring the fact that the review page looks more like the official website for Mass Effect 3 than it does a critical analysis of a video game, Colin Moriarty’s IGN review barely touches on the ending, and when it does, it offers half-truths:
“Better yet, characters can be imported from Mass Effect 2, giving you an even larger range of consequence, impressively widening the paradigm in which choices you made in the original two games come to bear upon the trilogy’s finale.”
While it is true that a particular decision in Mass Effect 2 has a large bearing on which of the endings you receive (all of them are very similar and wind up with the same result), the notion that the game’s paradigm “impressively” widens implies a further branching out of potentialities in Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 3 doesn’t do that at all. It has a small set of very few endings with very few differences, and you can see the game’s plot branch inward after multiple playthroughs. The review goes on to praise every aspect of the game, claiming it to be one of the best games of all-time. These days, such a hyperbolic comment is seen in almost every IGN review.
IGN isn’t alone in brushing over the game’s ending: Eurogamer, GameSpot, Official Playstation Magazine, and EGM are all guilty of the same thing. Is that irrefutable proof that these reviewers didn’t finish the game? No, it isn’t. But all of these reviews are incredibly generic, and lack significant critique of anything in the game. Skimming what turned out to be the game’s most controversial moment is just bad journalism.
But the reviews that do reference the ending are even more disconcerting, for they are too apologetic. Before positively comparing Mass Effect 3′s conclusion to that of Matrix Revolutions (the really, really bad Matrix sequel, not just the bad one), UGO’s Sal Basile claimed“there was no way to end Shepard’s story without angering fans.” Why is this even written in a review? Why is this writer so sure that the ending of a major franchise has to disappoint the majority of its fanbase? I can name more than just a couple of sagas that have ended on a positive note.
Then there’s a lot of oddly-written, forced praise for the ending. Gameinformer’s Andrew Reiner was left with “no unanswered questions,” and couldn’t even explain the feeling that “washed” over him during the final sequence. This is despite the fact that the game ends every subplot on what is essentially a cliffhanger, leaving characters in the middle of nowhere. Granted, an ending doesn’t necessarily need closure to be good. But saying that Mass Efffect 3′s ending offers closure in any regard just isn’t true.
And then there’s the ending to G4TV’s review:
“What is so unique in this game is how the presence of its conclusion feels like the existential dread that infuses the characters that make up its universe. The paradox of the game becomes painfully prescient as it draws inexorably towards its conclusion. Here, Shepard is trying to determining the fate of everything but the inevitability of the final is inescapable. All the decisions you continue to make inMass Effect may be less consequential but they feel all the more grave as if the game is becoming a testament to who you are, or who you want to be.”
What the fuck does any of that paragraph mean?
When praises for the game’s ending are more befuddling than the ending itself, that should be a sign that something is gravely wrong. But that’s another problem with many reviews for Mass Effect 3: none of the writers have the wherewithal to state that the ending to the game is incredibly damaging to the entire Mass Effect experience. For example, here is GameTrailers’ criticism of the ending:
“The ultimate fate of the galaxy has largely been decided before you make your final decision, and minor variations in the ending sequence don’t meaningfully reflect previous choices. Even so, while the fatalistic conclusion is a disappointment, the actual experience of Shepard’s journey remains memorable and worthwhile.”
So, not properly concluding an experience that requires hundreds of hours of playtime, which contains numerous plot-affecting decisions, is just a small blemish that can be overlooked? Without an ending that respects such an investment, why does the experience matter? How can this review possibly continue to be positive after stating that the game’s core mechanic loses value once it reaches its climax?
That review gave the game a 9.5. That score look familiar? It’s probably because that’s just about today’s average score for major video game releases.
Video game journalists seem scared in their reviews. They’re scared to insult childish, ranting fanbases of the games they critique, and they’re also scared of the backlash from major gaming developers. Sadly, both are valid fears. All you have to do is look at a writer’s e-mail box to see how threatening online groups can be, and developers will often cut off access to publications that do not review their games positively (a friend at Gamernode once told me that Rockstar’s PR Agency refused to let them interview anyone about Grand Theft Auto IV because their review was below a 9.0. Big “evil” companies like Electronic Arts aren’t alone when it comes to unethical handling of the press).
Companies refuse to respect gaming press because gaming press is nothing to be respected. There are very few that possess the courage to write what they truly feel, and because of that, developers and publishers have very little to fear. And as long as that persists, why does it even matter if reviewers finish their games?