The last bit of game you play in Mass Effect 3 fires two missiles down the throat of an Empire-State-Building-sized mechanical (‘synthetic’) Reaper bad-guy-thingy. These two missiles, unlike the zillions that have been fired before, have Commander Shepard’s magic touch and destroy the thingy. And then, later — much, much later — the vaunted Mass Effect three-game series rolls to a stop in the cloying waste of its own narrative muck, void of game play, game sense, and game magic.
Not even new voice recruit Buzz Aldrin, woodenly playing an overly tall Yoda in the game’s final (finally!) cut-scene, can put all the Mass Effect pieces back together again.
Disappointment? You bet.
But realize this, dear BioWare, game players don’t dislike your ending because everyone dies. Game players dislike your ending because it’s a bad ending.
So what’s memorable about Mass Effect 3?
Maybe, if it were The Real Housewives of Mass Effect 3, you might remember that time Shepard got in the sack with Miranda, or Ashley, or the equal-gender-opportunity provided by the new shuttle pilot.
Or, maybe, during an Oprah interview, you could talk about the time Tali decided to end it all with a backward, Acapulco-style swan dive. Or that time you had to shoot Ashley because she was preventing you from… doing something. Or that moment with Liara when she transported both of you into… uh, mind-space, I think.
But Mass Effect 3 is a game. And, because it’s a game, here’s what I remember:
I remember what it took to fire those two missiles that brought down that Reaper. Killing hordes of Banshees and Marauders and Brutes. Sending five Brutes at me at once — are you kidding me?
Or maybe the earlier sequence at the Cerberus base, where Shepard, gripped by a sudden elemental and unreasonable hubris, decides to stare down one of those huge Reaper bad-guy-thingies all by his lonesome. (That was the sequence where I died who knows how many times before learning the intricacies of the spacebar-aided side roll.)
Or maybe that time at the nuclear factory, when both squad members went down and I was out of med-gel and had to play tag with a Brute and his buddies for fifteen minutes.
Or maybe jumping and just barely escaping to the shuttle with my screen entirely splattered in red.
Or maybe the image of a headless body falling backwards after a sniper shot I took on the run from, like, two miles away.
Those are the game parts.
And those become the most memorable parts when you play the game — I firmly believe — because they have something to do with you, not with Commander Shepard.
Unlike what happens at the end of Mass Effect 3.
Supposedly, I read, there are slight differences in the ending of Mass Effect 3 depending on whether or not you logged onto the EA servers and played an otherwise superfluous and perfunctory multiplayer game — in order to max out your “Effective Military Strength.”
Do I care about this?
Multiplayer in Mass Effect? No, I do not.
Also, supposedly, you can slightly alter the Mass Effect 3 ending by being an attentive cut-scene watcher and clicking appropriately during a couple of “quick time event” moments.
But that’s pointless. The cut-scene rolls inevitably on regardless.
Again: The ending of Mass Effect 3 is not about you. It’s not even about Commander Shepard.
At the end of the Mass Effect series, you are forced to move the Commander Shepard character forward (to end the damn game), but you can only move that character in one direction. The enemies in front of Commander Shepard at the end of Mass Effect 3, unlike the enemies in the game part, can’t kill him. Likewise, the player behind Commander Shepard, unlike the player in the game part, can’t kill him.
And, as this game — all games really — makes clear, if you can’t kill something, then you don’t control it.
In the final section of Mass Effect 3, the enigmatic Illusive Man enigmatically appears and rambles on about control. Something about the Illusive Man controlling the Reapers, or the Reapers controlling the Illusive Man. Or something. It doesn’t last long. And then the Illusive Man dies.
The game player dies right there with the Illusive Man.
There is no way for the game player to escape BioWare and those Mass Effect 3 literati designers who are going to — you know they are — shove that innocent-little-boy-dies-in-fire metaphor down your throat one more time.
You’ve lost control, people. You’ve been blown up.
The bad-guy-thingies have won.
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