6.17
5.6

Some games just get a bad rep. Perhaps I'm too soft, but once they fixed the optimisation issues, I quite enjoyed Arkham Knight. And coming at it when I did, I think I probably missed most of the more hilarious moments in Mass Effect: Andromeda's early life. 

As it is, all I have to go on is a game that, while it still has a couple of bugs, is mostly stable and by-and-large free of comedy 70's kung fu-movie style lip sync issues and people holding their guns the wrong way around. There are still a few creepy cracks in people's necklines, through which you can see their ominously glowing interiors, and the voice acting is bargain-basement stuff, but if it wasn't for the media shitstorm that forced some retailers to slash the price, I'd probably not really consider these things really worth making a fuss about in a review.

So you're a pathfinder, one of the colonists in the Andromeda galaxy who fled the Milky Way in cryostasis six hundred years ago. Waking up in a new and unfamiliar system filled with weird space matter, your job is to go down onto potentially viable planets and work out if they're suitable for settlement. It turns out that all of the planets in the new galaxy are completely habitable, and there are no aliens, and colonisation goes easily and without a hitch. 

Just kidding! There are bad guys! And mysterious ruins! And alien civilisations who are initially unfriendly but probably turn out to be your best mates. There are planets with dodgy radioactive atmospheres, frozen ice-balls and all manner of places that would be just great for humans if it wasn't for the horrible weather / terrain / inhabitants. All of these challenges can, of course, be punched in the face for the good of the Milky Way-ites. 

Because it's not just humans. There are Asari, and Krogans, and all the other weirdos you know and love from the Mass Effect games, all waiting for you to rebuild civilisation from the ground up. Considering the grave importance of such an undertaking, everyone is pretty cool with you basically doing all the work and making all the decisions yourself while they quietly move themselves into bigger and better offices and presumably claim all the glory. There is a nice feeling of importance as you decide on the direction civilisation will take. Of course, everyone will be annoyed with your decisions no matter what you do, but that's the life of an interstellar settler, am I right?

Mass Effect's Bioware roots run deep, and the Combat-RPG where you fly a ship full of oddballs from planet to planet, killing stuff and leveling up your shoes and guns, will be familiar to players of KOTOR just as much as to stalwarts of the Mass Effect series. There's plenty of stuff to shoot but you spend a fairly considerable chunk of the game exploring planets, and chatting to people. For a game so exploration and dialogue-focused, the RPG side of things offers you little in the way of customisation for these elements. You can power up all kinds of combat-focused abilities, tinker with weapon modifications and scour the galaxy for the resources needed to develop better shotguns, but skill trees that assist in conversation or finding loot in the wilderness are conspicuous by their absence. This won't be a surprise to Mass Effect players... which brings me neatly on to Squee's Main Gripe (tm):

None of it will really be a great surprise to Mass Effect players. 

See, there you are in a big long space ship, flying round with a crew of characters with their own personalities, occasionally returning to the main space station-hub-thingy, working on new armour and exploring weird ruins and fending off near-unstoppable alien malefactors. It's all very Mass Effecty. The whole thing of being in a new and alien galaxy sort of falls over a little because the Milky Way of the first three games was still new to us, the players, and we were exploring then as well. The difference between an unexplored corner of the Milky Way and an unexplored corner of Andromeda are narratively difficult to truly differentiate. Couple that with so many familiar alien species that we've seen a million times in the previous game, and a couple of new species who fall into readily familiar tropes that we've seen before in Mass Effect, let alone in other sci-fi stories, and you've got something that feels far more familiar and comfortable than it should. Turn up on a new alien planet, and make first contact with a species that's never met humans before, and there'll be a trader at the docks who sends you on a side quest before he'll start trading with you. It's all very familiar. Perhaps, after fighting sentient tongues inside a giant intestinal city in Torment: Tides of Numenera recently, the bar for weirdness has gone up for me, and Andromeda squandered its chance to really capitalise on this.

These gripes aside, as a kind of Star Trek-esque adventure, Andromeda is fine. Combat feels better than it has in previous games in the series, with the transition between exploration and fighting being seamless and tight. There is a rudimentary stealth mechanic (isn't there always?) which once again resembles KOTOR as much as it does anything else, and bouncing around with the jump pack blasting aliens is a pretty good laugh. Levels are quite pretty, and somehow manage to be imaginative without being desperately original.

The tale is the right mixture of occasionally-interactive cutscenes and third-person adventuring to enhance the feeling that you're starring in a big budget space movie that, despite the reams of dialogue, doesn't require you to think too hard in order to keep up.