Mass Effect Andromeda: Before the Patch

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At the time of writing, version 1.05 of BioWare’s Mass Effect: Andromeda is sitting on an Xbox One, daring me to quit my productive university work and install it. Issues such as lifeless eyes, a transgender faux-pas, and the now infamous “noot noot” mouth animations are slated to be fixed, alongside some minor balancing tweaks and bug fixes. As a result, now feels like a good time to discuss some of the issues, and the surrounding criticism that has circled the otherwise perfectly enjoyable game since its release.

Before I start, I should probably preface this with a disclaimer- I am a Mass Effect fanboy; Andromeda could be an unplayable mess where nothing works and you have to manually brush your teeth on the Tempest every morning and I would still find myself at least somewhat compelled to defend the game. However, despite the claims of trolls and wildly overreacting members of the gaming community, Andromeda is no such travesty. It has issues, certainly, mostly regarding animation and the occasionally frustrating bug, but overall it is a very solid game, with BioWare delivering on its strongest suits once again, with good, three-dimensional characters, an engaging storyline and a universe that feels like it could be real.

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Unfortunately, while I could talk all day about the nuances of Jaal’s character, or just how ridiculously awesome the Memory Triggers quest was, the fanfare currently surrounding the game is regarding those aforementioned faults, and as such needs to be addressed. I think the upcoming patch is necessary for the game to achieve its true potential, which is sad. On the other hand, in an age of No Man’s Sky and that god-awful Batman game, these issues are, in my opinion, trivial. While it’s unfortunate that more and more developers are relying on post-Day One content to “fix” the problems with their games, context is required- Andromeda is still an excellent game even without the patch, and the willingness of BioWare to release this patch so quickly while dealing with all of the issues fans had with the game, shows that they genuinely care about the quality of their games.

To address the issues directly, I would now like to talk about the animations in the game. Problems with the Pathfinder’s “zig-zag” walk and whatever Foster “Pingu” Addison’s deal was are undoubtedly annoying and immersion breaking, and should not have been in the game at this point in development. Addison, especially, with her expressionless face and make-up that looked like it was applied by a child in the dark, was at times so poorly done that it made me laugh. At some other times as well, with mouth movements in particular, I felt like I was being taken out of the moment by some ropey animations. On the other hand, there are some truly excellent sequences within the game- I have yet to see any grossly unnatural body movements within the gameplay sections, for example, and Cora’s romance scene is flawlessly executed, if surprisingly explicit. And finally, while the default Sara Ryder has come in for criticism by some, I personally have no complaints regarding her animation or appearance.

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Another criticism levelled is regarding the eyes of some human and asari characters, as well as the identical model used for almost every asari within the game (Peebee being the only one with a different face). The default Scott at times looks like he is falling asleep, and the texturing makes some characters aimlessly stare into the middle-distance with lifeless eyes (cue Jaws quote). On the other hand, the more alien species have incredible detail placed on these areas, in particular the Angara and Krogan, who at times look genuinely lifelike. While this inconsistency is annoying, this is another problem fixed in the patch (and from the few screenshots I’ve seen, it makes a huge difference).

Finally, there has been minor controversy with Dr. Hainly Abrams, a relatively insignificant NPC at the Prodromos outpost on Eos. Through dialogue, she reveals that she used to be called “Stephan” and left the Milky Way for a new start. As such, this pretty strongly suggests that Hainly is transgendered (although it would not be unforgivable to not know Stephan isn’t also a girl’s name in the future, as some players assumed), making her the only such character in the game. The problem, to my understanding, is not with her inclusion (assuming you live in the real world), but with her off-handedly “deadnaming” herself- which is not something that people in that situation do, especially to complete strangers. Therefore, some members of the LGBT community were offended by this, and pointed out the mistake. Speaking as someone with little knowledge on the subject, this was not something I was aware of, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have not known this before. In the same vein, I don’t think it is outlandish to assume that Andromeda’s writers, who probably included the detail in the name of inclusivity, also did not know this, and meant no offense. Therefore, considering that Dr. Abrams’ dialogue is listed in the patch notes as a change, they have admitted to their mistake, and corrected it at the first opportunity- again proving that they care about their audience’s enjoyment of the game.

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Overall, while I can accept that I perhaps view the game with Element Zero-tinted glasses, and what I look for in the game is not necessarily universal, I refuse to accept that Andromeda is an objectively bad game. For every wooden animation there is a stunning backdrop; for every doll-eyed stare there is a heartwarming character moment, and for every irritating bug there’s a boatload of great gaming experiences. So, for anyone who thinks the game is “literally unplayable” or any other unnecessary hyperbole, I suggest you put down your pitchfork and take the game at face value. Maybe you’ll actually enjoy yourself.

 

The views expressed in this article are purely my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Minimum Effort, who are probably sick and tired of Pete playing Mass Effect for the 5th time in 18 months.

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Big Hero 6 vs The Lego Movie

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Benportrait1Being a big kid on the inside, I do love a well-done animated film. Last year wasn’t really a big year in terms of memorable animated films, which resulted in strong criticism of the academy’s nominees for the ‘Best Animated film’ after the snubbing of The Lego Movie,LegoMovieHeader a film I have been desperate to get my eyes on just to satisfy my inner seven-year-old. What better film to compare it to than Big Hero 6, BigHero6Headerthe film that eventually won the award. I have broken both films (from two of Hollywood’s production powerhouses, Warner Brothers and Disney) down into a few categories to make for easy bit sized comparison (see I am a nice guy really). There may be a few spoilers, and I do apologise for those, but you have been warned.

Story 

I will start with The Lego Movie. I loved the idea of this film, delving into the imagination of every child that has ever played with Lego. Using the Toy Story angle of the toys being alive, the film follows Emit, an everyday Lego man voiced by Chris Pratt, on his mission to become a Master Builder and save the Lego world from the Evil Lord Business and the ‘Kragle’.

Big Hero 6 is set in the fictional San Fransokyo, and we follow the 14-year-old genius Hiro, the Personal Health Care Companion Baymax, and their group of friends as they try to find the masked villain who started a fire in which (SPOILER) Hiro’s brother dies.

In terms of the story I have to say I preferred The Lego Movie. Although not particularly original (with the ‘chosen one’-having-to-save-the-world-idea baring an incredible likeness to first Matrix film) I think that’s an intentional parody though- Lewis. The sight of seeing Lego come to life in front of me spoke to my inner child much more than the more overused hero-loses-a-loved-one-and-they-seek-revenge premise used by Big Hero 6. Both films are very funny, but with The Lego Movie again just slightly edging it. It may not have had me belly laughing all the way through, but it induced a consistent chuckle.

The film was able to encompass everything within the Lego universe with ingenious storytelling, enabling the inclusion of those bloody picture instructions that I could never make head nor tail of. Great story telling allows our heroes to move between each of the worlds from Bricksburg to The Wild West, and the film makes use of its subject matter to aid the transition between the dimensions. It is brilliantly able to merge the Lego world with the real world, dropping hints throughout the film which eventually lead to the big reveal (the use of the Kragle is particularly ingenious), but I will say no more in order not to ruin it. Also, the interlinking between the Lego world and the real one gives the film a wonderful 3D effect.

Unfortunately, Big Hero Six misses out narrowly. It is definitely the more serious film of the two, which is odd to say considering that, in my opinion, this is the film that is more targeted at kids. As I said, it follows Hiro and his group of nerdy robotic student friends, who aren’t even that nerdy (Which is a minor irritation). One scene that particularly stood out was the hysterical low power/drunk segment. As Baymax loses power following his first adventure outside of Aunt Cass’s Café, Hiro struggles to get the inflatable robot home. This sequence provides the slapstick laughs for kids whilst giving a subtle nod to the parents watching, as to everyone over the age of 13 it is clear that Baymax is absolutely battered. However, other than that, I wouldn’t say I laughed much. Big Hero 6 definitely had a cooler villain though; many Marvel movies would kill for a villain like that. Although his motive is incredibly overused, he is more visually impressive (hard not to be more impressive than a Lego piece) and more threatening.

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So much for bite sized….

Cast and script

I’ll try to keep this one a bit shorter. I will tell you my winner straight off the bat. It is the Lego movie again.

The Lego Movie has an incredible cast of voice actors, including the likes of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson as the brilliant Good-Cop Bad-Cop, and Will Ferrell

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There are also a host of cameo voice roles from Anthony Daniels (who seems to purely live off work related to C-3P0), Billy Dee Williams, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. All of the cast members put in good performances supported by a quick, funny and intelligent script provided by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. However, for me, the stand out performance is provided by Will Arnett. Arnett was able to give a brilliantly spoofy yet serious enough Batman performance to not make the character irritating.

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Big Hero 6 on the other hand has a lesser known cast, no issue with that, but there is a script issue. You can tell it is the film aimed more at kids. I may well be being just a bit picky as, on the whole, the script and its delivery is solid, but nothing better than what I expect. However, there were a few instances where it let itself down. Within the first 15 minutes in particular the dialogue seems forced, wooden, and for want of a better word; stodgy. It does take something away from the film. After recovering, the film always seemed to regress, leading to further wooden dialogue. One line in particular went something like “Gravity is getting weird down here. Wait, lets use this!” It was just such a poorly constructed and executed piece of dialogue.

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Animation

Big Hero 6 pulls a point back here. Disney have been able to spend decades honing their animation techniques, resulting in beautifully created characters, but it is the sets that shine for me. The city of San Fransokyo is explored on foot early on in the feature, but the real money shot comes in the second half of the film. The Disney animators are able to flex their creative muscles in a sequence which sees Baymax exercising his new flight modification. We are able to follow Baymax and Hiro as the pair fly around San Fransokyo, weaving between blimps and traffic, culminating in a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge (or San Fransokyo version of).

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The guys at Warner Brothers had a much tougher job making pieces of Lego look as visually impressive, and they did a good job, enabling me to immerse myself in each of the different locations. However, there is no denying how visually impressive Big Hero 6 is in comparison.

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You may think that this is it, this is the end. Nope, it wouldn’t be a post from me without a rant at the end.

Uh-oh…- Lewis

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My issue with The Lego Movie is the message behind it. The film tries to sell (you will get that in a minute) this message of individuality, working against the corporate machine set in place by Lord Business. A nice enough idea, but this is a film brought to you by Lego. The company that has thrown aside the ability to let kids use their imagination, instead opting to sell Star Wars model after Star wars model (amongst others) for rapidly increasing prices. My problem is that the film is so incredibly hypocritical, trying to sell you this happy clappy message while the parent organisation sells you a 7 inch transformers model for £75. What has happened to the big buckets of Lego? Those were the days. This does tarnish the film for me, making it irritating to watch in the later stages causing the positive message to become bogus (yeah it really does matter this much to me). Everything is not awesome Lego, not by any stretch of the imagination.  For that reason, I am glad The Lego Movie didn’t get a nomination. There, I said it. Not a popular opinion by any stretch of the imagination, but I am glad Big Hero 6 won. Of all the nominees I do think it was the best choice.

There we have it. That is my take on the two. Thanks for making it this far (if you have done). Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to the YouTube channel. If you think I’m wrong, or if you actually agree, leave a comment down below!

Cheers

-Ben