–by Todd Keffer II–
2017 has been a very good year for video games, some may argue it’s the new best year for video games. Whether it’s surprise hits like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds & Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator to western releases of Persona 5 & Yakuza 0 to the instant Nintendo classics of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild & Super Mario Odyssey, it has been a hell of a year for gamers of all types. The bar of quality was pushed to such heights this year, which left two games in this writer’s mind just a bad, glitchy taste in his mouth to the point it’s hard to believe they came out this year.
Mass Effect: Andromeda was supposed to be the start of a brand new trilogy for Bioware’s highly acclaim Mass Effect series for the new generation of consoles. Playing as the son or daughter of Pathfinder Ryder for the Andromeda Initiative, you’re on a mission to establish life in a new galaxy system. Agents of Mayhem is a new series from the studio Volition, known for the Saints Row and Red Fraction series. Taking place after one of Saints Row 4’s endings, Agents of Mayhem takes place in a futuristic Seoul, South Korea. With the backdrop of a Saturday morning cartoon, you go and take on missions as a team of three, though you only play as one at a time.
Both games have received middling reviews upon release (especially considering how high the scores were to their previous games) with each game having their own separate problems. Mass Effect ended up having patch after patch fixing everything from glitches, bad facial animations to even rewriting dialog because they poorly misrepresented people who identified as transgender. Youtubing “Mass Effect: Andromeda bugs” will show you how bad the game was when it first came out. The gunplay feels fine but the driving across stretches of nothingness to missions and side stories that already doesn’t have much pay off and the fucking platforming (why the fuck is there platforming in my mature rated space exploration drama!?!?!?) made this feel like a launch title game for the Xbox 360.
Then there’s the microtransactions in the form of loot boxes. Though it wasn’t a loud splash in early 2017, it was a warning sign for consumers on what they would face with publisher EA’s upcoming titles, Star Wars: Battlefront 2, Need For Speed: “We are just gonna copy ‘The Fast & The Furious’ now”, and UFC: whatever fucking year it is, with EA’s push towards tying random loot to the players progression and stats. The consumer outcry on these practices would reach a point where multiple governments bodies are now weighing in on whether or not loot boxes are considered gambling.
Agents of Mayhem gameplay is as sterile and uninspired as the in game city it took place in. You simply go from place to place, shoot wave after wave of enemies, pick up something sometimes, and run it to where the game says so. Sometimes you go underground and run around “different” areas that all look the same. The intro mission underground lair looks no different than the final mission’s lair 15-20 hours later. All of this while you ask the questions “Why doesn’t this have online multiplayer?” “Why don’t I have A.I partners to help me with this?” and “Has the game bugged out?” whenever you try to take over more than one Legion outpost without heading back to the hub world. It definitely feels like Volition had less resources to work with under publisher Deep Silver. Everyone feels and looks like a cheap stereo type, the music is the most generic sounding techno ever, and there’s no licensed music from the studio who I thought was doing it better than Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series.
Everything that made the Saint Rows series stand out, whether it was the humor, the tone, or the customization, are completely gone. Instead we get a game that looks like a Saints Row game, kinda feels like a Saints Row game, loves to reference the past Saints Row games, and tries to do parody on a trope like the Saints Row games. It not only fails on all those fronts but commits the video game sin of being “average,” not good enough to be recommend above other games (especially in 2017, let alone history) but not bad enough in weird, interesting ways to bring entertainment like Ride To Hell: Retribution or Sonic ‘06 can. It is such a far fall from “retired porn star Sasha Gray and actor Burt Reynolds are my teammates and my character is literally a dildo bat wielding toilet” grace.
The consequences of these games were felt by the studios and their publishers. Volition had to lay off 25% of their staff a month after Agents of Mayhem release while publisher EA announced that the Mass Effect series would be on rest for the foreseeable future and reshuffled Bioware Montreal’s studio. Mass Effect: Andromeda would be mentioned a lot during Giant Bomb’s 2017 Game of the Year discussions and winning both “Most Disappointing Game of 2017” and “Worst Game (That We Played) of 2017” while EA would have both the winner and runner ups in “Most Disappointing” and “Hottest Mess” (ME:A was beaten out by Star Wars Battlefront II’s pay to win loot box debacle.)
These two games don’t take away what a great year 2017 was for gaming, but reminds us that being average or even above average as a big budget title is a death sentence for these publishers and studios. As developer and now self publisher Ninja Theory has shown us with their last game, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, you don’t need a triple A studio budget or price tag to achieve critical and commercial success. I can only hope Volition can find their way to this path (like iO Interactive started with the Hitman series) and find the success they deserves (crossing my fingers for Saints Row with the environmental destruction of Red Faction: Guerrilla I’ve been dreaming of.) As for Bioware, there is only one thing that happens to studios that sign on to EA and it’s gonna be a sad, sad day for gamers across the world when it happens. Keep a cool forty ready for the homies for when the time comes.
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