Collective Denial: Mass Effect Jumped the Shark

Collective Denial: How Mass Effect Jumped the Shark

In a few weeks, the third installment of the Mass Effect franchise will be upon us. All of gamerkind seems to be in furious celebration of the imminent return of gaming’s big messiah. And with good reason. The Mass Effect series is populated with fan-favorite characters; features one of the RPG / Adventure / Dialog-Heavy-Game-Genre’s best conversation system; a richly detailed universe; is one of the few franchises that dares to have characters engage in sexytime—regardless of sexual orientation; and is a game franchise taking story and players seriously.

Or so people seem to think. I however wonder—once more—what the hell it is that is wrong with people. Is the collective long term memory really that short? Does it not matter to anyone that Mass Effect 2—despite all the nice little moments it had throughout the game—jumped the proverbial shark as massively and unforgivably as possible?

So, since everyone seems up to speed with the upside of the franchise, let me be the voice of discord within the choir. I will not re-iterate the higher points of the game. Instead let me cut right to the chase. The jumping of the shark. Or rather, the jumping of the giant metal skeleton made of human mush. I’m wondering, does anyone remember the main storyline of Mass Effect 2? The one where the mysterious Collector race abducts human colonists by the thousands? For some sinister purpose? Does anyone remember what that purpose was? Let me remind you.

The big plot reveal of Mass Effect 2 was (spoilers haha) that those pesky Collector guys were abducting humans to turn them into DNA pulp to—you guessed it—build a human shaped Reaper—one of those giant robo squids—out of that pulp. Let me tell you my reaction to that big reveal of what Mass Effect 2’s suicide mission and all that buildup of tension was all about. First, I yelled “what is this bullshit?” at the TV. Then I paused the game as the giant Terminator / boss from Contra fight came up. Then, again, I yelled “what IS this bullshit!?” at the TV.

It couldn’t have been worse, had that “Human Reaper” sported a big, red clown nose. That shot one-hit-kill attacks.

I felt betrayed. Mass Effect 2 had its moments, I won’t deny that. A lot of the side stories which made up almost the entire game were pretty well done in and on themselves. And then that. That was the best the BioWare writers could come up with? Really? This reduced to entire main mission of Mass Effect 2 into one giant pile of utter rubbish. It couldn’t have been worse, had that “Human Reaper” sported a big, red clown nose. That shot one-hit-kill attacks.

First of all, having a human shaped Reaper didn’t make any sense. Somewhere around that point the Normandy people find out that Reapers apparently take the forms of the lifeforms they kill or something along those lines. Which begs the question then, why all reapers in the franchise are massive metal squids that all look the same. But also, this flew into the face of the Reapers as a cold machine intelligence indifferent to all organic life standing in their way. Why would they have to resort to such cheap scare tactics when it was pretty clear that there never could be anything those puny organics could possibly come up with to challenge them?

Then there’s the aesthetic thing. A giant metal skeleton is the final boss? Apparently they had to come up with something. The entire reveal seems like an afterthought. It appears the writers first came up the plot device of “human colonists are disappearing” and then in the final hours tried to come up with something nobody within a right mind could have anticipated. Which put Mass Effect 2’s giant metal skeleton made of human smoothies in the same area of afterthought bullshit plot reveals as Lost’s “suddenly… wizards!” thing of the final seasons. (Ed: In the case of Mass Effect 2, one of the designers must have been playing Super Contra.)

Given this total thematic collapse of the franchise, I lost all interest in any further games. I may have enjoyed some of the individual episodes, but the endgame and overarching plot Mass Effect 2 presented was just so outrageously bad and so horribly clashing with the rest of the series, that I’m not even sure if it wasn’t just the writers trolling. And that just denies me the possibility of ever taking Mass Effect serious again.

Besides that this final jumping of the shark—or of the giant metal skeleton made of people smoothies—there were of course other moments where Mass Effect 2 wasn’t too great. The obligatory mining minigame that stood in for grinding. The other gaping plot holes and interior inconsistencies. Mass Effect could have been a great science fiction series told in this medium. Instead the designers and writers decided to turn into yet just another video game—a trend that, judging by trailers, interviews and leaked scripts of the upcoming third game is only going to get worse. Which is a crying shame.

For a more detailed, scathing, in-depth analysis of why Mass Effect 2 was pretty bad I recommend all of you watch this outstanding analysis of the game's plot.