It doesn’t look like the worst game ever.
Indeed, aside some dumb animation issues and a story so painfully thin and watered down it is almost embarrassing (neither of which I would accuse the teams themselves for, when the game had two producers who ultimately signed off on the work – not so much a case of ‘Good Work’, more an instance of ‘Good Enough I Guess’), Andromeda doesn’t look like the worst game we’ve seen lately. But it has still caused a ruckus and is perilously on the verge, with one ladies foolish boasting, of ending up with a repeat performance of GamerGate all over again.
What few seem to be asking is why an otherwise good game is being slammed so thoroughly. My position has some surprising clarity behind it – no fence sitting here today, thanks. I believe the issue isn’t in Andromeda being bad, but that it’s a game that missed the boat as it were.
Had this released a year ago – heck, six months ago – Andromeda would likely be sweeping the boards and people would be fawning over it. The problem is that this game has dropped in a period of outrageous quality – NiOh, Nier: Automata, Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to name but four games released already in 2017 that are setting the tone and indeed, the pace for the industry to match. Games which are surprisingly good, clear and polished. Games defining their genres almost, setting the bar high and in the case of a certain Nintendo game, setting new benchmarks for future games to attempt to climb over. And we’re not even 25% of the way through this year yet – we’ve got nine months and a raft of other games on the horizon which all look solid, interesting and potentially brilliant.
Andromeda may be a good game – for all the criticism from the critics, the general consensus is that it’s still rather good. The problem isn’t in the game itself – rather, that the industry has moved on, and this ‘Good Enough’ attitude isn’t going to wash in the face of solid opposition.
And BioWare Montreal’s little game that wants to is in surprisingly good company. After all, Dark Souls 3 felt like a relic of the previous generation rather than a solid entry in its own right. It was good, great even, but it lacked identity and flavour that its predecessors (and even its sort-of-spin-off Bloodborne) had in industrial quantities. The Last Guardian felt like a game caught in a time-warp; still a good game but not nearly good enough to stand out or stand strongly in an already busy market. Final Fantasy XV had the same problem; it arrived into a genre which already had two stand-out titles, namely The Witcher 3 and Xenoblade Chronicles X. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination – but like many entries in the franchise, it just doesn’t compare.
Let’s be clear on this; the last few years have hardly been inundated with classic material. You can posit many theories over this – the lack of meaningful competition making the development scene alarmingly complacent, misleading information of the power and performance of consoles now being replaced with superior offerings, the distraction and hype whirlwind of VR which appears to be less a storm in a teacup and more like a fart in a jacuzzi. What is clear is that 2017 is already drawing a thick line under the last few years with a roller compactor doused in indelible black paint. We’re already sitting in that odd position where the year ahead looks surprisingly full, and our outlooks are bordering for the first time in ages on optimistic.
That may be down to new hardware – the Switch is fantastic as a piece of engineering, the Scorpio may end up being expensive but it promises a high-end market that is oddly appealing to many of us and PS Now! looks like it could either shake up Sony’s odd stagnant pace or bring it to its knees, but it’s still something. The console market is promising to get competitive, and in a healthy competitive market – the first-party software needs to be top-notch in order to drag people into their net (which Nintendo is already promising with quite the line-up this year).
Of course, whilst Nintendo no doubt engineered for this to be the case – for the likes of Sony, I think it is more coincidental than any forward-thinking machination. But having said that, quality is quality is quality, and there’s no getting around it. Microsoft will have a job to keep up, but they must, and I’m sure they’ve got something planned for the big E3 reveal.
For the console market, after a few years of relative stagnation and falling sales, the planets have aligned and suddenly there is a buzz in the market again. Sadly, in this period, “okay” just isn’t cutting it. Which is why games like Mass Effect: Andromeda look old-fashioned already. A Herculean five-year development cycle, but only to end up hitting the market at a time when consumers and critics are spoiled for choice and good games already, with far more to follow and even more still commanding their attention weeks and months after their release date. They are the wrong games at the wrong time, as it were – not terrible by any definition, but already looking like last-gen offerings.
The good news for these games, however, is that some games mature very well.
I slated Alan Wake when it was released – a pretty generic and reference-grabby horror game in a period of some pretty solid horror games. But a few years later as the genre wore down and Resident Evil hit the skids, a chance PC Release and standalone DLC offering suddenly brought the game back to our attention and to my surprise and actual delight, I enjoyed it second time around.
We even have Final Fantasy XII getting remastered for release in June. A game which I admitted back in 2006 was ahead of its time, and I was right (because of course I am). A game which some people are looking at years later and wondering how they forgot it, or let it pass them by. The market was just not quite ready for this and at the tail-end of the PlayStation 2’s life, with the Wii and XBox 360 already starting to roar ahead, it was just bad timing. Now the market may end up realising Square-Enix was setting a trend back then… and then you have to ask how they went from the wild and open Final Fantasy XII to the embarrassment of XIII. I blame cyborg pirate ninjas.
So no, Andromeda isn’t bad. It only looks bad because we’re in a good place, where we don’t have to lick EA’s sweaty armpits clean and pretend it tastes like strawberries. In a period of plenty and a time of quality, the goalposts have been shifted somewhat and this means games which could have easily hit the mark even six months ago are now aiming at the wrong place. And that’s a cruel irony of the games industry – sometimes development takes so damned long by the time the game gets to market, there is a chance the market has left you behind. This is why games are a risky endeavour and why we should never, ever use the term ‘Triple-A’ in reference to video games. Very, very few titles are truly safe bets and the thing no-one likes to admit is that the few actual examples of safe bets in the market… well, they’re owned by Nintendo. Whoops, I think I just triggered some people.
Andromeda only really looks bad because we’ve had so much good recently. People worked hard on the game. I don’t envy the headache and perhaps heartache they’re going through (hope you people weren’t so foolish to tie your bonuses to a Metacritic rating eh hahahaha oh now I made people sad). But this is the risk of the games industry – years of work can be undone by a multitude of things from bugs and glitches to poor management of DLC and Season Passes.
But the cruellest one of all is arriving at a point where the industry is already leaving you behind. And that, unfortunately for the likes of EA, is a blameless situation. You can’t control that, can’t plan for it and you certainly can’t predict it. You can only hope it doesn’t happen.
And when it does… well, the developers have my sympathies.