This week we got our first good look at BioWare’s Mass Effect trilogy remaster, and I have to say it hasn’t immediately won me over, especially when it comes to the first game.
Mass Effect 1 was a finicky mess at times, but it also nailed its big moments and had an irresistibly eerie sci-fi mood that permeated throughout. The first images coming out of the remaster are not exactly filling me with confidence that those things will be preserved. The new graphics look sharp and more detailed, but also more bland and generic.
Here’s a before and after of Eden Prime:
The first is dark, sinister, and foreboding, the second...has a lens flare. Eden Prime is the game’s first planetary mission, kicking off its noir-ish mystery around strange aliens doing weird stuff across the galaxy. It’s also where the game first introduces Sovereign, a representative of the series’ Reaper mega-villains, and one of the coolest characters in the game. Even Eden Prime’s music is full of existential dread. The bucolic SimCity vibes of the remastered Eden Prime just aren’t landing for me.
The move from grimy 2000s graphics to vibrant Kinkadian space-scapes seems to be a running theme. Here’s Virmire, turned from a brooding, high contrast space jungle into tropical_setting.png.
Feros appears to have gone from rundown dystopia to lens flare emporium as well.
And then there are the updates to facial models. The original Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard admittedly had a weird, slick, red-tinted sheen to her. Bringing out the weathered cracks and creases in her forehead, however, is giving me the same vibes as when you see a newscaster in HD who’s missing some camera makeup.
I’m not on board yet with the tweaks to gameplay either. Maybe I’m just an overly nostalgic fan, but the original Mass Effect’s class system, weapon cooldowns, and stiff gunplay made it feel more like a real-time RPG than a Call of Duty-influenced shooter with skill trees. And yes, I’ll even defend the existing controls of the broke-ass Mako.
It’s all helping me sympathize a little more with Demon’s Souls fans who were put off by the remake’s changes, especially in the art department. The nature of remakes and remasters is obviously very fraught territory, and people are bound to disagree on what counts as an improvement versus undermining of the spirit of the original work. But so far BioWare’s approach with the first Mass Effect, at least based on what it’s shown so far, isn’t winning me over.
Maybe I’ll feel different by the time Mass Effect Legendary Edition is actually out on May 14. Fortunately, 2007's Mass Effect is still easy enough to get ahold of on PC and Xbox.