Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mass Effect 3 Review (Minor Spoilers)

Upon completing Mass Effect 2, I instantly heralded Bioware's masterpiece as one of the best games I had ever played. The game combines RPG elements, 3rd person shooting, and adventure in a unique way, but I wouldn't call it "great" in any of those categories.'s the story that makes the Mass Effect series into such a beloved trilogy.The final installment of Commander Shepard's journey sends the series out in style by once again delivering one of the best games I've ever played.

As a whole, the series is one of the most ambitious projects I've ever seen in gaming. For those who have yet to play any of the games (seriously...what are you waiting for?), the most unique aspect of Mass Effect is the choices you make throughout each game. Bioware implemented a system that allows players to transport saves and characters over from Mass Effect 1, into Mass Effect 2, and again into Mass Effect 3*.  If you allow a character to die in Mass Effect 2, they won't appear in Mass Effect 3. Elect to destroy a certain place in one game and it will have repercussions in the following games. This creates an open system where a plethora of different scenarios can play out for a given player. Only Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain comes anywhere close to such a system...and it was done on a much smaller scale. Throughout each game, you'll be forced to make tough choices. Sure, many are black and white with a clear good and evil path in mind, yet there are a few decisions you'll agonize over. 

*Playstation 3 (PS3) gamers do not have the option of playing the original Mass Effect as it not available for the system; however, Bioware included an interactive comic with PS3 copies of Mass Effect 2 allowing players to learn the gist of the story and to even make a few important choices that impacts future games. 

Gamers around the world have been with these characters for quite some time so it's only natural to have such a strong attachment to many of the characters and locales. Mass Effect 3 strikes a particularly strong chord when the series prime antagonists begin to attack Earth. Commander Shepard must then navigate through political boundaries and take on age-old prejudices in an attempt to unite the galaxy. 

The overall mechanics and feel of the game receive minor improvements and fine-tuning. The shooting mechanics are drastically improved over Mass Effect 2 and it's one of the very first things I noticed. I played as an Adept in Mass Effect 2 and relied primarily on biotics (think "the force") to take out my foes. This time I went with a Sentinel and had the best of both worlds using a mixture of gunplay and biotics. Because of the improvement in gunplay, I strongly preferred playing as the Sentinel rather than the Adept. 

The story is once again top-notch and delivers in almost every way. The ending is where Mass Effect 3 has seemed to hit a snag with fans (as endings to beloved trilogies so often do). Quite a few fans have expressed their extreme displeasure with the series ending. Some have even went as far as starting a petition pleading with Bioware to alter the ending (which I find ridiculous). Others have come up with theories of their own attempting to cast the ending in a different light. I won't say much more for fear of spoiling things, but I must say I didn't have this reaction to the ending. In fact, I would argue most gamers won't take issue with the ending...until they view the other endings. I'll just leave it at that.

My one gripe with the ending centered around more of a design and gameplay issue rather than a story-driven issue. It should be no surprise that you are faced with yet another choice in the games final moments. Depending on how you played the game, there is potential for 3 different choices at the end. My issue isn't with the choices themselves; rather, it's how you choose the choices. Maybe I was so caught up in the moment, but the way to perform each action was honestly unclear to me. Upon making the choice, there is no "are you certain this the choice you want to make?" or "turn back now!" No...the choice is made and then you get to watch how things play out from that moment. 

Despite the issues with the ending, Mass Effect 3 is an incredibly ambitious piece of art that will be played for generations to come. Emotional moments stick and characters remain etched in your mind. Choices are debated and your decisions can prove costly. Everything (not hyperbole) hangs in the balance and falls on the shoulder of one man (or woman, depending on your character). As an avid gamer, I can offer Mass Effect 3 no higher compliment than to say it has earned a permanent spot on my video game shelf. 

9.5 out of 10.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Losing an Organ (Part 3)

At this point, you're probably sick and tired of hearing about my appendectomy. I'm nearly a month removed from the surgery and recovering well. I thought about ending this series with part 2; however, one question plagued my mind throughout this entire process and I just knew I had to blog about it. This will be the final installment of Losing an Organ.

The question: why would God give us an organ we don't need?

Not only did I ask myself this question, others around me asked the same. At first, I didn't have an answer. Frankly, I still don't have a concrete answer to the question yet I feel more at peace with the understanding I've arrived at.

There's certainly a scientific aspect to all this so it should come as no surprise that I quickly conducted a google search once I returned home from the hospital: "What is the purpose of the appendix?"

Turns out, this question isn't easily answered even among scientists and doctors. There are a variety of theories on what the appendix actually does. I won't bore you with them all here, but many agree it's somehow involved with the digestion process. So while no one can come to a clear agreement, most agree the appendix does (or did) serve some purpose. Even so, why would we have an organ we can live completely fine without? Losing a kidney makes sense. The other picks up the slack. Same with losing an eye or an arm. Yet organs like the appendix and gall bladder can be removed with seemingly no side effects.

I don't believe there's a clear cut answer on this. For believers, we know God created humanity and his creation was perfect, flawless. Sin entered the world and changed everything. Once immortal, humans gave into temptation and became mortal. Not only were our emotions and spirits flawed, our bodies became flawed as well. Women must now endure great pain during childbearing. Our bones break. Viruses make us sick. Diseases plague thousands. At the very moment sin entered the world (or even over thousands of years), perhaps some of our organs started to deteriorate, ceasing to work as they should.

This is but another theory as this is likely one of those questions that can never be answered fully. The thought I keep back to is this: maybe God left these flawed organs there as a reminder of our mortality.

I've no idea where my appendix is now. Incinerated? In some lab being examined? What I know for sure is it's no longer present in body. As of now, my heart still beats. My lungs give me breath. Yet one day...they too will join my appendix. Deteriorated. Flawed. No longer needed.

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