Is free will an illusion?
Do the actions of our past truly define our present and future, or is our ultimate destiny written in stone (or possibly some more complex but theoretically decypherably language scrawled across the universe)?
It’s one of the classic questions reflected in story ever since man first picked up the quill and began to write ponderous self-important fiction, and has persisted to the present day in which narrative has been honed to its ultimate form – pretentious, ponderous blog posts. And I believe I finally may be nearing an answer; it depends entirely on whether God is being forced to animate our destinies to a rigid launch date, and does he have to fit all the spoken dialogue onto two DVDs?
There’s a lot of smack being talked about Mass Effect 3. Fans worldwide are raging out about how the tantalizingly vast array of choices and sacrifices demanded throughout the game ultimately boiled down to one frustratingly closed-minded cutscene. I personally would agree that the game could be compared to being sexually edged for twenty to thirty hours by a master whore, only for it to finally be revealed that the whore is an expertly animated shop dummy, the considerable amount of money you spent on her now seems largely wasted, and that the pimp has crippled her in such a way that her resale value is diminished by her inability to perform multi-player for anyone but you.
That said, I’ve had a marvellously entertaining twenty to thirty hours, although if anone asked me to describe the game, I would probably say “harrowing”. Like some cross between Cilla Black’s Surprise Surprise and Battle Royale, the game repeatedly re-introduces characters that you’ve come to love over the last three games; characters you’ve helped, and who have in turn helped you, and presumably ones you’ve gone to some degree of effort in the past to preserve. Then it pairs up your prized and beloved companions in front of you, loads a revolver, and asks you who you love more.
Somehow the actual choice here makes it more disturbing. When the acts of the plot murder your companions, it’s not so hard to take. The universe has taken them from you, and these not being real characters, you’re blameless. There’s no way they could have survived. The knowledge that more missions, more dialogue, and more touching moments exist for each character, and that you’re making a decision that robs them of that, can be gutwrenching at times. This is how Mass Effect has captured an element of Interesting Times that I’ve never really felt in a video game before; the loss, the waste, and the sacrifice. As much as I’ve enjoyed it, I couldn’t say it’s a wholly positive experience. Commander Shepard certainly isn’t a hero that women want to be and men want to be with. Although that said, Shepard does seem to inspire a certain bisexuality, and even Xenophelia, in almost everyone he/she meets.
The great tragedy is that after all this emotional battery, the game takes the bizarre and borderline psychopathic measure of reassuring you that you’re innocent of all these crimes and heroics, because what you’re ultimately given is a straightforward choice as to how you want to fuck the universe. The whore asks you where you’d like to blow your load; in her ass or the face? Maybe the classic creampie?
She then proceeds to donkey-punch you until your blood and semen trickly sadly down your leg into your crumpled underpants. I think we can probably leave that metaphor there.
Mass Effect 3 is, I would not deny, a great game, and narratively taps into a vein of emotion and inspiration that’s possibly never been mined before in the gaming meduium. It’s just a shame that after crafting a fascinating universe, pioneering the preservation of choice between installments and after probably more than a hundred hours of individual gameplay this labour of love sadly falls short of what we’ve come to expect, in the last ten minutes of the show.
Now if you’re still playing ME3 for the first time, I urge you to make the most of the excellent missions on offer, and not to be impatient for closure. Because it’s a bit shit.