More Musings & Speculation on Andromeda

I paid absolutely zero mind to The Game Awards last night, save for being excited about the inevitable slew of trailers & gameplay teaser videos that would follow shortly thereafter.  They did not disappoint, with tantalizing new information on titles like Prey & Death Stranding.  But most importantly, at least to me, was a bit more to the trickle of information on BioWare’s upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda.  We got a double-dose, with BioWare releasing both their gameplay premiere trailer as well as the next orientation video for their Andromeda Initiative.

The new Ark orientation video offers further insight into the proposed structure of society for the Initiative once the Ark & Nexus reach their destination in the Helios Cluster.  The main hub of society from the Milky Way is actually a smaller version of the Citadel, where the other Nexus will converge together.  According to the AI Avina, once citizens are awakened from their century-long cryosleep, they will eventually be assigned a new world to help colonize.  However, it will be up to the Pathfinders to make first contact with these various potentially habitable planets.

It’s the gameplay premiere that most interests me, however, as it highlights both the similarities & differences between this game with its predecessors.

I don’t want to go frame-by-frame with the trailer, but I did want to discuss some of my observations & potentially concerns about the game.

  • The galaxy map screen in identical to those from the previous Mass Effect games, but what caught my attention is the “Activate Scanner” command in the bottom.  This suggests resource gathering similar to that of ME2 & ME3.  Also, I’m curious how the game will handle or justify travel between systems.  Thus far there’s been no mention of mass relays in this galaxy, which was the means by which inter-systems instantaneous travel was possible.  As these were created by the Reapers, it would make no sense canonically for them to be present, especially given that it’s taking the Initiative such a long time to reach their destination.  Does this mean travel will be perhaps more manual this time around?
  • We get to see a bit more of our crewmates.  There’s a lot of speculation about what species will round out your party members.  So far BioWare has revealed PeeBee, an asari, a female human biotic, Cora, a male ex-cop, Liam, & a Krogan, Drack.  The new trailer reveals a female Turian joining Ryder’s shore party, who based on her visor I’m guessing is some sort of tech.  Many people are speculating that the final spot will be filled by one of the new races, & assuming we’ll have six squadmates to match the first & third game.  However, it’s entirely possible there will be more squadmates, given that ME2 had ten, not counting downloadable ones.  We also hear from a male named Sam, whose voice sounds a bit like an AI to me.  Perhaps this is the new EDI?
  • One questionable thing I noticed in the trailer, & something that has me a little concerned, is that in the section of gameplay showing Ryder interacting with a small outpost, it’s mostly the races we’re already familiar with.  I did notice some aliens I didn’t recognize, but I found it odd that humans & the other familiar races had already made themselves at home.  If the Initiative just reached this galaxy, how could they have already taken over?
    • In the scene, Drack mentions that these people at the port were exiled from the Ark.  I can see three hypotheses for this.  One is that more time has passed than we initially suspect.  In the previous trailer, I speculated that an accident occurs upon reaching Andromeda, resulting in the Ryder we control being separated from the rest of the Initiative.  With the lack of mass relays & other resources, it’s entirely possible a fair bit of time has passed between the start of the game & the scene in question.  Another hypothesis is that the people exiled joined up with a civilization already present.  And a third is that who’s to say there weren’t other groups of people traveling to Andromeda.  Sort of like Cerberus, a secret program.  Of course, it’s also entirely possible, humanity being what it is, they simply barged in & took over.
  • A related point not directly brought up in the trailer but something I’ve been pondering is the question of how the familiar races will deal with the local races.  We are the aliens this time.  The invaders.  Perhaps that will be a big crux of the game; Does the player try to form alliances with the new races or take a dominant stance?
  • The dialogue system appears to be similar to that in Dragon Age: Inquisition, with a dialogue wheel showing the tone of the responses.  Although it didn’t explicitly show it in the trailer, it’s likely some type of Paragon/Renegade system exists.  The trailer shows a timed action very reminiscent of a Renegade Interrupt.
  • Andromeda seems to be going back to its exploration roots, which the series lost over the course of the trilogy.  Expect a lot of scanning, collecting & crafting.  This might irk some gamers, but given the game’s emphasis on you being out on the frontier by yourself, with the safety net of civilized society, it at least makes sense.
  • It seems likely the classes will be the same as before, though slightly tweaked.  The trailer demonstrates Ryder in a Vanguard loadout, based on the Biotic Charge power.  We also see other classes toward the end, including one with the ability to shoot fire out of Ryder’s hand.  There will still be cover-based combat, but the jetpack can allow for more aggressive, run-&-gun style action for those that prefer it.  I’m a little disappointed that ammo is still a thing.  In ME1, the guns had unlimited ammo, they would just overheat if you fired them too much.  It’s a downgrade to go back to limited ammo, even with the excuse that all guns use the same ammo.  I’ve always felt that was a concession to trick people into thinking Mass Effect was a shooter to give it a broader appeal.

Still no official release date other than “Spring 2017”, but the pre-orders are already out.  Expect more information as it comes out.

– GamerDame

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Sara is Missing & I’m in a Creepypasta

With the craziness of my schedule over the holidays on top of interviewing for a potential new job, I’ve had neither the time nor attention span to focus on new games this month.  However, I recently saw a short indie horror game popping up in my video feed from various Youtubers, & after seeing the premise I knew I had to check it out for myself.

Sara is Missing (or S.I.M.) was created by Monsoon Lab for the 2016 Halloween Game Jam, which are essentially challenges to create games on a fixed time limit.  In it, you play as yourself, having found a random cellphone.  The only immediate clue as to the identity of the broken phone’s owner is the image of a woman and her cat on the wallpaper.  Upon trying to recover the phone’s memory, the phone’s supposedly helpful AI/personal assistant program IRIS (which a clever gamer would recognize as SIRI backwards) enlists your help in tracking down the missing Sara.  To this end, you find yourself on a voyeuristic journey through a stranger’s text messages, emails & gallery to uncover potentially the last moments of her life.

What drew me to this title was the almost augmented reality aspect of it.  Although it’s still just a program on your phone, it acts as if you’re using your own phone.  I love the rise in incorporating the modes of entertainment into the experience rather than just being vehicles.  My initial impression upon seeing S.I.M. was that it reminded me a lot of the recent horror movie Unfriended, which I adored.  It works similar to that movie, actually, with the player as the protagonist flipping through various software & files, trying to connect the disparate pieces of Sara’s life together to find her.

The game also has more than a passing vibe of the Creepypasta variety.  Finding a random phone presumably in the middle of the woods… cursed videos… Red Rooms & the deep web… In fact, I recognized some of the video clips spliced together specifically from Creepypastas, including Marble Hornets & Tomino’s Hell.

The game’s fairly short, depending on how in-depth you search through Sara’s phone, so it’s hard to give a full review.  Rather, I wanted to touch briefly on the positives & negatives.  On the positive side, the technology is well-integrated into the app.  Although I believe it’s also available for play on a PC, I played it on my Android, which I recommend for the most immersive experience.  It felt like I was really using someone else’s phone, to the point it startled me when my own phone got email notifications.  The IRIS seemed a bit weird, but I’m assuming it’s based on how SIRI works, & as I just mentioned I use Android so I can’t speak to how it imitates that.  Maybe SIRI is creepily self-aware.

Monsoon Lab did a good job of really establishing Sara’s character through just what we see on her phone.  Although most of what’s available isn’t related directly to solving the mystery, it helps flesh out the character, adding to the eerie blurring between the app & reality.  It made me think about what’s on my own phone & what that would say to someone who found it.  The overarching narrative is interesting, if a bit cliché to anyone familiar with Creepypastas, & they did a good job ramping up the tension toward the end when you have to decide whether or not to pass on the cursed video to save these strangers all the while someone keeps sending you pictures of them bound.  It does an excellent job of eliciting your own natural reactions.

But for all those good points, I was left feeling a little disappointed.  Not because the game is bad, but because it could’ve been better.  Granted, this was made on limited time, & I don’t even know if it’s considered finished at this point.  There are a lot of ways I can see S.I.M. improving.  I’d like to see more of a build-up for the mystery.  It only really takes reading one text message to figure out what happened & kicking off the climax.  I’d love to see a slower reveal, where you have to really piece different messages, pictures & emails together.  I’d also like the different “endings” to actually feel different.

But as I said before, I don’t know if the devs plan to flesh this out more.  I hope they do.  The very end definitely hints that there’s more to come.  Hopefully with all this positive press, they’ll be able to expand & make something truly remarkable.

I’m holding off on giving an actual score, so consider this a very strong recommendation to try this game.  It’s fun, short & free (or pay as you want on PC).  I will definitely be keeping my eye out for future updates.

– GamerDame

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