There are plenty of bad or middling games released every year, digital marketplaces are full of them. These tend to be smaller releases, asset flips or games that have been rushed out to hit a publishers deadline. Sometimes they are none of these and just a game which is bad. A game which falls short of what it was trying to achieve and, in that expected innovation, fails to deliver its full potential. Mass Effect Andromeda is that game for me. It tries to achieve a lot as, possibly, the opening game to another trilogy but struggles to fully realise anything. Why then can’t I put it down? I’ll explain that and why I think it’s OK to play a bad game every now and then.
My gaming time is very precious. I’m at a point in my life where time to game is as little as it’s ever been. I get perhaps one to two hours a day when everyone else has gone to bed to do what I want. That isn’t always gaming either, plenty of TV shows and movies have drawn me away in those hours. So, why would I spend the time I have chosen to game playing Mass Effect Andromeda, a game which is fundamentally flawed? Humour, catharsis, there are plenty of reasons why.
Playing bad games is not a bad thing. Jim Sterling (the popular YouTuber if you’ve somehow been under a rock for years and don’t know who he is) plays plenty of bad games. Part of his success on YouTube is built upon that. His approach falls much more in the humour category, with the underlying goal of calling out utter shit. He admonishes the dross, the asset flips and the poorly made with his own style of dry, often sarcastic humour. This is a much-needed side of addressing bad games but it is not why I’m still playing Mass Effect. Yes I audibly laughed at some parts of it but that on itself isn’t enough to strive on.
First I need to address what’s wrong with the game. It’s a hard place to start, there’s a lot of things wrong with it. It seems prudent to begin with the fundamentals so we’ll discuss the controls first. Clunky is the best word I can use to describe the controls in both how the character handles and how you interact with the world. The character moves slowly, turns slowly and takes a moment to stop a second or so after releasing the analogue stick. This is very frustrating especially when approaching an item to interact with. I found myself often over-shooting and having to turn and backtrack to interact. It doesn’t extend to combat which is great but there are plenty of exploration moments and running between quests for the frustrating controls to grate severely. Even when interacting with characters you need to be facing them to trigger a chat. Over-shoot and your messing around with getting in the right position and turning the camera to find the button prompt. Secondly there’s no atmosphere, literally on some planets. Tonally the game is bland. Lighting doesn’t work well and makes environments feel the same across a planet. Take Eos or Voeld which contrast to one another well but give you little difference whilst traversing them. Moments in Remnant vaults which should feel ominous and dangerous don’t. It’s so dark and textures work poorly so that most surfaces look the same. I need more than just a different skin and paint job on each planet. Thirdly load times are frustrating. OK, a lot may be going on to need those longer loads between environments and that’s fine but whilst out roaming the game will freeze, load some distant textures and start back up after a second or so. This is poor especially when each planet is it’s own contained space. Fourthly its mission structures and their positions on the planet have you bouncing around the map with no focused movement through it. Some missions take minutes to complete but have you spending longer getting to and from its remote location. This has you spending a lot longer on a world than you need to and doesn’t respect your time. Finally it can look bad, real bad. As mentioned surfaces are flat and some textures have no depth to them. The environments can be overly busy with textures and objects tearing and popping in and out all over the place. The character models look no better than last gen with some, especially Fem-Ryder, having dire facial expressions. Often times Ryder looks like she has no idea where she is and that’s the best expression she has.
There are other issues which I don’t need to expand upon like the games slow start, Eos feeling like the longest tutorial ever, the cut scenes having questionable camera angles, party members dialogue being unbearably quiet due to their physical position, some unbelievable character dialogue and the menus being awful to navigate.
There are many reason why Mass Effect Andromeda is a bad game. Reasons why I should cut my loses and move on. But I haven’t, I’m still plugging away at it. There are a few things in this game that keep me coming back. It certainly helps that there isn’t much new to play currently and that ME:A was on sale. I’ve only played two other games during my time with ME:A. Quarantine Circular, the new Bithell Games short, a dialogue based sci-fi adventure which was brilliant and under two hours long, also I spent a weekend with the Onrush beta. Both of these are better than ME:A yet these two games alone haven’t filled the gaming time I have available.
So, drum roll please…..big reveal…..The main reason I’ve stuck with it is; I’m a sucker for a space opera. Yeah, that’s pretty much it, the genre grabs me. Star Wars, Star Trek, Flash Gordon, modern sci-fi and Cyberpunk are some of my favourite fictions. Often the setting and the characters pull me in and I want to explore more about the fictitious universes the presented stories take place in. Mass Effect has that appeal. A huge universe full of interesting stories. Andromeda just expands upon this providing an unexplored chunk of space and a ton of stories to get into. It’s not so much the main mission for me but the side mission and the stories and characters encountered. Some have grabbed me, some haven’t but it’s the narrative that takes me into an undiscovered area on a planet or in a system that really pushes me forward. Perhaps I’m a romantic explorer who sailed the ocean in the age of discovery. Or so the Angara might think of my previous life.
The Angara themselves are another reason I’m playing. They interest me. It’s great to have a new race to discover rather than purely stories about Asari, Turians or Krogan who’ve exhausted themselves with me. We know their stories and how they’ve come to work together or hate each other. We’ve had three games to deal with them. All that Andromeda houses is interesting in comparison. The Angara’s society, the characters you meet and their relationship with the Kett, who mostly provide fodder for combat, pull me in to learn more about them. Part of this is also having Jaal in your party and the conversations he has with the others whilst navigating a planet. Wait, that made me think of another bad thing. That verbal exposition cutting in and out and in and out constantly. Let him finish his story before the SAM AI speaks over him because a forward base has become available. Ahhh!
There are other reasons I’m playing which equally apply to bad games, not just ME:A. Playing a bad game can help you appreciate the good. Both the good in the game you’re playing and in good games. The good in Mass Effect is definitely heightened because of the bad. The Tempest, firstly is a very cool design, secondly it’s animated well and thirdly works well as a space to house the crew. It looks like whoever was in charge of the Tempest design team got a lot out of them or the bulk of the resources for it. The good also extends to the crew and the idea that not all crew members go out on mission with you. They function like a ship crew, with specific rolls and the roster of characters to accompany you is, thankfully, limited. These are the major standouts which shine in a sea of shit. ME:A also has me thinking about better games. My mind wanders to The Witcher 3 and if I should just start a third play through. I pick out things that The Witcher 3 did better and just reaffirms why that is one of my favourite games.
More broadly speaking playing a bad game also gives a better peak into understanding game development. You can see what was prioritised and where the time was spent. The development of ME:A has its own mythos. Issues with the engine, time constraints and facial animation nightmares give insight. Insight into what it’s like to make a big game and also work for EA, which sounds like it sucks.
So, I’ll continue to play Mass Effect: Andromeda until the space opera wears thin, the Angara annoy me or something new and shiny comes along. It might be bad but that’s OK.