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"Another Bland Serving Of Content"
"Marvel's Spider-Man" had some problems with its open-world design, but overall it managed to be a great game with its solid gameplay cycle, fairly solid story, and large amounts of spectacle. It's DLC offerings, however, have not really been able to achieve any of these things, and "Turf Wars" marks a new low for Insomniac's newer "Spidey" games.
The plot here is as predictable as it can get: Mafia is out of balance, some new guy shows up and tries to take power, angry cop wants justice (and will go to any length to do it), and the hero saves the day. There is nothing in this plot that is remotely engaging because it takes all of its components from other stories while boiling it down to a formless palette. The characters are boring and one-note, and it just somehow feels underbaked while managing to have a few hours feel like twice the length.
The gameplay is the most solid part, since its mostly untouched from the main game. The only real additions are some new shielded enemies, and I didn't like them. They felt cheap to fight against while simultaneously being more broken than the normal shielded foes.
Missions are not very memorable in any good way, but holy crap did they fumble the side content. The legendarily annoying "Screwball" is back once again, and she's got another serving of awful side missions. These things were super cheap and repetitive, but the killer part of them is just how irritating her character is. Like I get it, she's supposed to be annoying, but there isn't anything else to her or her story other than being evil, childish, and constantly online. The writers clearly stretched their imaginations with what they "think" online culture is like, and it shows just how out of touch and talentless they are at times. This pretty much ruined most of the previous DLC for me, and this time it derailed all of my enjoyment.
There's a development with Yuri Watanabe where she essentially goes "Bad Cop" and kills a bunch of Hammerhead thugs as well as the boss himself, but I didn't really buy any of her character progression. I never found her particularly interesting in the main game, so here it just feels like forcing the issue with her whole angsty persona. Real cringey stuff honestly, since it just comes off as some pretentious look at a one-dimensional character.
This DLC just kind of sucked. Yes, you still have an open-world and decent combat, but the story is thrown out of the window, the characters are portrayed as cliches, and the mission design is just boring. Insomniac clearly just rushed this out to capitalize on the main game's success, but I wouldn't really push anyone to play these DLCs. When they're just decent at best, you know there's a problem.
Final Verdict: 4/10 (Below Average)
"The Spin Off No One Wanted"
What a crock of sh!t this was! Why did this game get approved in the design room, and why was this handed over to High Impact Games, the creators of the very bland and clunky "Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters"? Simply put - money and development downtime. I (sadly) put myself through playing a good chunk of this game, so I'm here to tell you why you should stay away.
The visuals are very bland and lack pop, even despite being squished into a PSP resolution screen. Audio tracks are amateurish and there's a severe lack of decent tracks, and you're likely to hear the same few songs blare throughout the experience.
Levels are super linear and predictable with its art, but the actual gameplay is random and unfocused. You'll encounter really crappy stealth sections, stupid racing segments, unfun Ratchet combat, and some of the worst rhythm minigames ever introduced into a game. Oh yeah, and there's the jumbled together Quark sections as well. None of the mechanics feel very good, and the controls don't suit the console at all either. Everyone in this game controls weirdly, and it's a dumb thing when it feels better to move with the D-pad compared with the console's movement stick.
The writing is atrocious. It's so cliche, so unfunny, and so uninteresting with its premise, purpose, and punchline. Clank is already not the strongest character in the series, which is why his pairing with Ratchet is so important. Here, he's just a very bland robot James Bond. Ratchet is yet again purposeless and whiny. Quark is a sniveling man child that is actually not important to the overall plot at all.
The kicker is that High Impact Games didn't even understand the lore of the series and decided to make Clank an actual secret agent. In "Up Your Arsenal", Clank is just a TV star who plays the SAC character while Ratchet serves as HIS sidekick, a clever poke at the series and their dynamic. High Impact decided that this was apparently an ACTUAL part of his character, and thus this load of garbage was written. On top of this, they decided Clank was the perfect main character for "Ratchet & Clank", a series that had never (and still has not) created a solid gameplay loop around him. The mechanics are not similar to "Up Your Arsenal's" sections, but instead involve a score metric and slow, repetitive stealth takedowns.
This game is a waste of time and a useless addition to the franchise. I was more impressed with the flip phone game since that somehow managed to stay true to the series, and this game somehow managed to fumble expectations and mess with the formula. Not worth playing, not even for free.
Final Verdict: 3/10 (Poor)
"Bloated But Competent"
BioWare's "Mass Effect" trilogy has grown to represent a pretty legendary high point of RPGs since the series' end over a decade ago, and it's a strange consideration after playing through the first game. There's a massive universe introduced with some in-depth lore, a few memorable characters, and a large space-faring journey of revenge...and more. Unfortunately, it's held back by some average components like its combat system, the lack of many interesting side quests, the sloppy and limiting dialogue trees, and the worst vehicle in modern gaming. It's a hugely mixed bag, but at the end of the day it still manages to stick out as a worthwhile entry to consider.
BioWare has always seemed to be best at crafting a game world, and with "Mass Effect" it's no exception to that rule. The diverse alien races you encounter all have in-depth background, politics, and personalities, yet they feel like potentially real races that could exist just out of our current scientific lens. This series takes these new species and crafts an interesting space opera out of it, essentially throwing humans (and thus you, the player) into the mix without much else to do but tag along for the ride. Without delving into spoilers, "Mass Effect" manages to capture the feel of an epic movie while providing the player with some depth towards shaping their personal experience in the game.
Unfortunately, it is not without its flaws, and man can they be rough to experience. The combat is pretty clunky here, mostly boiling down to a shooter where you have squad-based commands and special powers. While the shooting is fine, it lacks a lot of punch. The extra components also feel a bit tacked on, though there is something interesting when it comes to the dynamic between tech hackers and "force-like" biotics running around causing mayhem. Future titles would do this much better, and it's appreciated that they tried this right off the bat, but it's pretty sloppy.
The world, or well "universe", is also huge. You have dozens of planets to explores in dozens of systems, which adds a sense of scope and scale...at least on a surface level. See, "Mass Effect" allows you to explore these areas, but the missions don't really extend to anything more than simple fetch quests, small combat encounters, or some slight lore-based quests. It gets super repetitive and stretches the game out by a few dozen hours as well. This should have been cut back a bit, as the repetitive nature of landing on a planet, slowly exploring it, and walking away with minimal interaction and reward starts to wear thin after the first few times. Despite this, the planets that do make an impression do so strongly, though these are generally the main mission planets due to their potential for stronger questlines and more diverse interactions.
The game is very dialogue driven most of the time, and this is both super cool and frustratingly limiting due to the karma system and unclear responses from the "dialogue wheel". Conversations are generally well-paced, but the players is pretty much forced into becoming either a "paragon" or "renegade" type. Most of the time, the "paragon" route involves a more sane, courteous, and logical Shepard, whereas the "renegade" route involves a childish, immature, and illogical Shepard. This gets frustrating for two reasons: first, the more you focus on one route, the more you're locked out of the other; second, the developers abbreviate the responses, but are sort of inaccurate more times than not, leading to situations where you say something you didn't intend to say.
This is still a fine system for dialogue, and the saving grace is that the writing keeps situations interesting and tense. Yet it could have been much stronger had BioWare been clearer with their dialogue design alongside easing the restrictions that were put in place.
Finally, I have to mention the stupid Mako. This vehicle is probably the worst I've ever seen in a game, and it's the primary reason why side quests are so frustrating. The handling is atrocious, it's boring to drive, and the armor/weaponry make it simultaneously weak as all hell yet brokenly overpowered. The planets you explore are also horribly designed, with what feel like randomly generated landscapes that provide little to no traction for movement. A complete failure from BioWare, and something that actively ruined large chunks of the game for me.
"Mass Effect" is a fine example of a flawed but fine game. It manages to set up some solid plot points for the trilogy, and it establishes the core of the franchise. However, it has so many flaws that it is a bit hard to recommend. It's worth it for the main quests, but the side content is just not good. This goes for the remastered version as well, since I felt like little was improved outside of some technical issues and graphical fidelity. This title manages to capture the spirit of BioWare's overall vision, but I don't think they managed to nail it until the release of its sequel two years later...
Final Verdict: 6/10 (Above Average)