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August 01, 2014
Anthology of Interest: Decisions, decisions

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

By Mike Girard

Liara, Tali, and Shepard

Mass Effect 3
Decisions, decisions

When I first picked up the original Mass Effect way back in 2007, I had no intention of devoting more than 90 hours (thus far) of my life to stopping a galactic genocide. In truth, I don’t think anyone expected the Mass Effect universe to succeed on the many levels it has. And yet, as I mow down electronically mutilated horrors in the shadow of Big Ben’s crumbling ruins, I feel only remorse – the kind of sadness that replaces curiosity and excitement upon learning of the inevitable end.

As the third and final game in the Mass Effect trilogy, Mass Effect 3 came out on March 6 for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. It completes the story of Commander Shepard, the human soldier tasked with stopping the Reapers who, as a god-like race of synthetic life forms, eradicate all life in the galaxy every 50,000 years for reasons obscure. In Mass Effects 1 and 2, the player guides Shepard in discovering the Reapers’ plans. Naturally, no one believes him/her. Thus, in ME3‘s opening scene, the Reapers finally appear out of the dark space between galaxies and begin to systematically tear earth a new equator. As the heartbroken Commander watches from the safety of the Normandy’s flight deck, alien races and their home planets all over the galaxy face the same fate. The story campaign of Mass Effect 3, then, is represented as an all-out war. Shepard must rally the galaxy’s races to combat the Reaper threat, solve thousand-year-old disputes, and find a way to stop the annihilation of everyone he/she loves.

And that’s about as far as I’m willing to summarize. Truly, Mass Effect cannot be explained – the experience is more in-depth than a graduate class on literary criticism. Indeed, as a series, Mass Effect contains over 60,000 lines of dialogue and has its very own theory on faster-than-light speed, telekinesis, interstellar travel, force fields, and countless other science-fiction standbys. The “science” behind it all is astoundingly consistent and worth reading by itself.

Veteran voice actors like Seth Green (Jeff “Joker” Moreau, the Normandy’s pilot) and Jennifer Hale (the female Commander Shepard) help Mass Effect 3 stand out as a shining example of video games as an acting medium. Indeed, I’ve been using the atrocious “him/her” phrase only out of awe for BioWare’s casting and Hale’s voice work.

As good as the writing and acting are, the true virtue of the Mass Effect series has always been choice. Two play-throughs of the game will almost never be identical – players are able to take their save files from the first two games and import them into the third. These decisions result in a final game with over 1,000 variables, and choices can mean shooting a friend in the back, or dooming an entire race to extinction. Heavy concepts like racism, free will, artificial intelligence, and the inevitability of death are all thrown into the ring.

In truth, I could write 10,000 words on Mass Effect and still not be satisfied. The game’s ending was seen as inadequate by many of BioWare’s long-term fans, and a lot of great debates about the medium have been popping up. Forbes published an article about ME3‘s impact on the community (SPOILER ALERT) here.

This game costs a hefty $60 for PC. While I fully encourage anyone and everyone to shell out for it, I also recommend that the first two games in the series be played first. It’s a long ride, but Mass Effect‘s galactic showdown will be remembered as one of gaming’s greatest stories.

 

Tars Tarkas (left) and John Carter (right)

John Carter
Get it? Virginia is a girl’s name.

There’s something about the combination of cowboys and space that I love to death. The American frontiersman, rugged and wild from years of gunfights and brothels, always seems to cope well with the idea of space. It’s no different in John Carter, a film about a 19th-century Confederate cavalryman who is transported to Mars (referred to as “Barsoom” by the natives) and becomes involved in a planetary war over a mystical energy source controlled by the benevolent Therns.

I never thought I’d write a sentence as colorful as that.

Taylor Kitsch stars as the title character. He looks great in the action scenes, and I like him well enough when the dialogue turns comedic. Captain Carter’s clumsy-yet-lovably-aggressive American South attitude plays well off  the wise and powerful demeanor of Tars Tarkas (Willem Defoe). Tarkas, being the leader of a more savage race of Martians, acts as Carter’s mentor to the ways of the Red Planet, and soon the Captain rescues the princess of Helium, one of the cities involved in the planetary war. The film then follows the two as the princess tries to convince Carter to use his considerable power to end the war. Due to Barsoom’s lower gravity, Carter can leap like Superman and punch like Thor.

The CGI characters looked great – I almost think animators are becoming better at acting than actors are. Expressions like disgust and silent awe ring clear in the Tharks’ alien faces. Unfortunately, I’m not sure John Carter realizes its place on the fine line between science fiction and fantasy. That it’s difficult to classify as either is beside the point. The film moves away from both aspects too much; it is terribly “Hollywood.” The characters are only motivated by the newly budding relationships they have built with each other. We only get a glimpse of the inner machinations of the Tharks’ barbaric political system, or the Red Martians’ intricate wedding ceremony. Granted, these kinds of things lend themselves better to novels. But except for the necessary peek at the Therns’ intriguing benevolence and philosophy, we never really get to know Barsoom.

I spent $8.50 on this movie, and I’ll admit, there are better things to do. If you haven’t played Mass Effect, you can start saving up for it now!






     








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