Mass Effects

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I'm playing through Mass Effect right now, in preparation for the release of Mass Effect 3. (Yeah, I'm late to the party, go figure.) Can I just say that I love being able to play a female character? I adored Knights of the Old Republic because I could play the kind of Jedi I think I'd be, if I were able to command the Force - a paragon of justice and light, who just happens to have the ability to turn any potential threat into a pile of finely diced bits. Naturally, in Mass Effect, I'm playing Jane Shepard; a scrappy survivor in heavy armor who follows a strict moral code, and who tends to kick the snot out of anyone and anything who doesn't agree.

It is so immensely satisfying to be able to play a woman who wades into combat with a huge gun. It's a power trip and a half. I always take Kaiden and Garrus with me - Kaiden for the tech and biotic stuff, and Garrus for the sniping. I like to keep the guys behind me, doing their support thing, while I open up with an assault rifle and blast anything that gets too close. I keep forgetting to actually use any of my abilities too - I just shoot everything, and I leave the AI to handle what they do. And it's easily the most fun I've had in at least a month.

But the Uncanny Valley is driving me nuts!

NUTS, I tell you! There are exactly two human body models - one male and one female. All women have the same model, with slightly different features and hair; same with the men. In fact, it's the same for all races. It's gotten to the point where I suspect the designers cut corners all over the shop, even on alien races. Asari only have one form, because they're all female. We don't see female turians, salarians or krogans. The hanar, elcor and volus either don't have genders or there's no difference between them.

Considering that other games have long made it possible to adjust height and builds within a specific set of parameters, this seems absolutely bizarre. It's a weird oversight that's quite jarring, especially when you interact with human NPCs. I did a mission on Feros, and had to rescue a woman's daughter, and on completion I got to see them reunited - and they had the same body and same clothes with different colors. It threw me out of the immersion in about half a second flat.

The other problem I have is this: due to the rendering engine, presumably, the characters react in frankly weird ways. Their expressions are all the same, regardless of whether they're upset or angry or sad or whatever. I realize it's not possible to program perfectly accurate human emotions into a game, but come on - they managed something pretty cool with Saren. Take a look at the video below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UGZSRRS77U

Saren's not even a human, and he displays anger believably. The human characters can't do the same in cutscenes. During conversations, they have a set number of animations that loop regardless of the actual emotion being communicated through their voice. There's no crying. No grimacing. No laughing. No yawning. No big gestures, in fact; everything is muted. Considering how much work they put into the game, why'd they miss this?

Of course, having said all this, I still hold Mass Effect up as being one of the best RPG series around right now. I'll play it, and I'll play the second and third one, and probably Dragon Age once I'm done there. Bioware know their stuff.

I just wish that knowing extended to how to animate people.