How could it be anything other than perfect?

How dare Bioware tempt many a reasonable gamer into a move as unreasonable as pre-ordering and come up with something short of impeccability? How can they sleep with themselves knowing as they do that, in spite of the teaser trailers and the hype, they haven’t actually created video game Nirvana? Thousands upon thousands were drawn to Andromeda’s land of milk and honey. Now they’ve all realised that the milk’s off and they’re covered in bees.

Because that’s what we’ve come to expect from video games now, isn’t it? Each triple A release is a monumental event akin to the Superbowl. We have to build it up, otherwise what’s the point?

The progression is simple: a game is developed, then it’s marketed, and what begins as intrigue amongst the fan-base morphs into excitement, then hype, and then whatever the hell it was people were doing right before they got their hands on Andromeda—blood rituals, probably.

And then, in the dismally predictable manner of video game releases to which we should now all be accustomed, people were disappointed.So it came to be that, like a lemming reading a travel brochure about the wonderful time he and his family could be spending at the bottom of a cliff, I dutifully played the Andromeda trial. It felt good to be part of something larger, even if that something larger was a collective lecture about the depressing futility of expectation.

Which seems like a good time to say the following: I enjoyed my time with Mass Effect: Andromeda. But I understand why others didn’t.

There is something off with this game, that much is undeniable. Just when we thought that video games had escaped the uncanny valley, here it once more appears within the frenetic animations of pretty much every character. In order to be sufficiently ‘next-gen’, it has been decreed that every person should display every twitch and every movement of a real human being. So, in order to skip ahead to next-next-gen, Bioware have decided that they’d throw in a few facial movements of their own—an errant cheekbone here, a quivering earlobe there. Even when wearing a helmet out in the radiation-ravaged wastelands, where you’d think animation wouldn’t be too much of a drag, Ryder’s eyes swivel to-and-fro like she’s watching a never-ending game of tennis.

Factor in the weird pauses, strangely lingering camera shots and completely inappropriate facial expressions, and Andromeda begins to take on the stilted and awkward air of a 60s B-movie.And I don’t just have misgivings with the presentation, either. (And those looking to go into Andromeda completely fresh, be warned: very mild spoilers follow.) The very first mission has you landing on a planet to find out if it’s habitable. The answer turns out to be a pretty firm ‘no’, on accounts of the radiation and the floating mountains and the heavy artillery. And also, the aliens.

The Pathfinder credos is do not shoot unless shot at; they believe they are there to find a new life for themselves, not to destroy that of others—it resonates well with a game series that has explored themes of colonisation and oppression as well as any other. But it’s not long before the relationship with the alien race on the planet is tested, and all too quickly gunfire erupts. There is some hand-wringing on the part of Ryder, but it’s not enough to dispel the notion that what the Pathfinders is doing is wrong. Never is this more apparent than when, in the middle of a climactic battle with the dwindling alien forces, Ryder pipes up with the spectacular line ‘Whatever did we do to them?’, spoken without a hint of irony as she hurtles a bullet toward an alien skull, knee-deep in the corpses of his fallen comrades.

It later transpires that these aliens aren’t defending their homeland but are instead on some enigmatic and ominous crusade of their own—still, that does nothing to dampen the fact that I’ve never felt quite so uncomfortable playing a Mass Effect game.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. After all, we’re criticising a Mass Effect game because of its beginning. That’s like deciding you don’t like lasagna after eating a bowl of those dried pasta sheets. Besides, even in the short section of the main storyline that the trial allows, the game more than finds its feet.

Combat and exploration have never been more satisfying. The addition of Ryder’s jet pack adds a new level of freedom to battles, creating an experience which is more free-flowing and visceral than any of the first three Mass Effects, even for the boring dweebs who choose to play as a soldier. (Hello.) The gunplay is satisfying and enemies are generally responsive, ducking between cover and retreating in the face of suppressive fire. Your squad will hold their own, too. Often I’d be pushed back by enemy forces, only to see Cora off in the distance absolutely tearing shit up in a haze of biotics.The jet pack makes moving across each planet a joy, each planet now being an open expanse as opposed to the slightly more enclosed fare of before. Plus there’s the new and improved Mako —I can’t remember its actual name—which actually moves like a vehicle and not a bouncy castle.

This is only about the trial, so I won’t go too in depth here. If it’s your sort of thing, the multi-player is nicely diverting, bringing with it bonuses and XP rewards in the single-player campaign. And on the Xbox One, it looks absolutely gorgeous, with no performance dips that I could notice.

Oh, also your robotic guide SAM sounds like Simon Cowell. So that’s weird.

A football commentator would call Mass Effect: Andromeda a game of two halves, and, in spite of being a football commentator and having very little knowledge of the medium, they’d be right. There’s obviously a problem with the animations and dialogue, and we can speculate until our fingers are typed to the bone about the hows and whys, but after a few hours, it all fades into near-irrelevance as it becomes apparent that Andromeda has held on to the magic of Mass Effect.

Comments