After listening to Faunts’ EP M4 on Spotify a few times too many, I reinstalled Mass Effect.
The game’s cute little tank, the Mako, has always been a controversial subject. Some people love it, some people hate it… Actually, from my experience, most people hate it.
But is their hate justified? Does it really add anything to the game? Could Mass Effect have been better without it, or did it just need a little more spit and polish?
I think that the Mako’s worst crime is that it nullifies the game’s RPG elements. No matter what level you are, the Mako is just… the Mako. Shouldn’t the Mako have been a “character” in its own right, with the same kind of specialisation (even if to a reduced extent) than all the real NPCs? Some kind of cannon alterations to balance range, damage, refire rate? Maybe a choice of armour over movement speed?
Then again, considering how shallow the Mako segments are, any kind of customisation and development would have been wasted. That, to me, is the hallmark of the Mako — something that could have been a strong addition to the game, but was ultimately an under-developed piece of cruft.
More Mako, More
And yet, the Mako is actually a huge part of the game. If you’re a completist whore, you’ll spend a very considerable amount of game time powering across myriad uncharted worlds in it. Even without all the sidies, there are enough vehicle segments in the main missions that make complete sense in the context of the plot, the situations and the action to show that it was never meant to be just a throw-away gimmick.
But the game could have existed without the Mako. Main mission vehicle segments could have been dropped behind NPC-controlled vehicle curtains; trams, buses, shuttles, whatever. Montage: some ground is traversed. I don’t think the game would have been much less for it — the main mission Mako elements are completely linear drag-races anyway. At least the uncharted planets offer some freedom of choice between routes, even if the challenges are all self-inflicted mountain ascents (though since uncharted planets have no basically no decorations this still doesn’t mean much).
I think Bring Down the Sky‘s Asteroid X57 is the closest to perfect any Mako mission gets. It’s got more than just two downed satellites, some rocks and a chocolate-box bunker — it’s a fully story-driven mission, that therefore doesn’t rely purely on your desire to find everything to sustain itself. There are side quests, there is narrative drive, which also requires… driving. I would gladly have sacrificed half the uncharted worlds for adding some population and depth to the rest, if not to the same level as BDtS, at least to somewhere closer to it.
Then again, if the Mako was meant to be a throw-away gimmick, that would explain its under-development perfectly. But surely nobody would be daft enough to make a few throw-away vehicle segments and then end up rolling them out across an entire galaxy…?
The Mako, despite being a medium-weight tank, handles like a dune buggy on the moon — regardless of what the blurb says about a planet’s gravity. It bounces, it flips, and it has hip hop suspension. Okay, I’ve never driven a dune buggy, let alone on the moon, so this is entirely speculation based on the impressions Hollywood has given me of dune buggies… and the moon.
It would be cool if driving sideways up sheer cliffs only worked on low-gravity planets, and the physics and handling changed to match, but I suppose that might have required development effort. Then again, from my understanding of the Unreal Engine (which may well be two editions out of date) it should be trivial to alter the physics for a single map, which would then naturally influence the vehicle handling.
Alas, every time I see a cliff rising before me, I imagine my team-mates saying “No, Shepard, not agaaaaain” as we commence the ascent. A quick “you’re a terrible driver” quip at the first barrel roll down a cliff would also have been nice. Not that it would stop me.
All In All
The Mako does make sense. You’re an all-purpose stealth-infiltration-assault team that are bound to come across ground attacks that need a bit of heavy support. I have no contextual beef with the Mako whatsoever.
But, despite playing a large (though largely superfluous) role in the game, it still feels like nobody actually gave the Mako any real consideration.
“Hey guys, isn’t it a bit daft to travel the galaxy without a car?”
“Sure, let’s add a tank. Slop it down on some terra-gen maps and that’ll do.”
Obviously, I’d much rather have had the Mako be a large mech. At least then it could actually climb cliffs instead of driving sideways up them.