2011/06/27

Trailer Analysis #1: Mass Effect 3, Part 1 (Earth & Fall of Earth)



Introduction to trailer analyses
 
After watching many game trailers (even the four nearly identical launch trailers for Witcher 2) I came to a conclusion that these promotion videos (comprised of bits of gameplay, CGI or live action) can in some cases give you account of how the game plays, how many enviroments or different levels it has even before you get to play the game. Anyone can predict the quality of a gaming product if he reads the trailer carefully. The prediction of quality isn't based solely on the trailer. That wouldn't be possible - the reader can't just simply forget everything he knows about the game from previews, developer diaries etc. All this information is useful when predicting the game quality but the trailer also plays an important role.

Trailer should be promotional, interesting, entertaining and at the same time it should represent the whole game or the better parts of the game. Gameplay trailers do all this but CGI or live action trailers are much harder to link with the game - predictions based on these two types are necessarily much more vague and less accurate.

Mass Effect 3 Announce Trailer: Earth

I have chosen Mass Effect 3 as a first test subject of our prediction. I plan to watch every trailer and then make a pre-launch trailer prediction and also a launch trailer prediction before playing the game. After finishing the game I will compare our predictions with the reality of the final game.

Mass Effect 3 announce trailer from last year is fully CGI and therefore there is only a little information we can get from its analysis beside the narrative. The narrative part of the trailer tells a story about a Reaper invasion on Earth, specifacally London, from a perspective of a soldier who is fighting the invasion and hoping that commander Shepard would come to help. But even in this CGI trailer that has no real game footage, are some gameplay aspects to be found. First of all there is a healing device (which is propably a medi-gel) then we get to see a glimpse of a husk (human transformed by Reaper technology into a mindless minion). The reloading of a sniper rifle lets us see a thermal clip (a cooling device developed by Geth that was implemented in the fictitious world of ME in the second part of the trilogy). We also see flying A-61 Mantis gunships and of course cephalopod looking sentient machines called the Reapers which we see walking for the first time in the series. 

This announce trailer isn't that much interesting. Although you shouldn't overlook the absence of EA logo that was in ME2. Instead there is just a grey EA circle with no Mass Effect theme. The most probable reason is that they had been working on a new logo which had its premiere in E3 trailer.

Mass Effect 3 E3 Gameplay Trailer: Fall of Earth




E3 trailer for ME3 is much more useful for our analysis. It is made mainly of a game footage with little bits of CGI which show the Reaper invasion from Earth's orbit (probably from some kin of a broadcasting satellite) and new EA and BioWare logo along with the new omni-blade melee weapon.

The narrative of this video is quite simple - it tells of the invasion on Earth and evacuation. We see Reapers landing and walking, Systems Alliance using UT-47 Kodiak shuttles for evacuation and for the most time we see various fighting scenes. These rather short combat sequences introduce us to new and also old (from series' perspective) gameplay mechanics. I don't want to bother you with detailed description of everything that is to see in the trailer. I will state it briefly in following section and then go right to conclusions.

a) new aspects
Most interesting are certainly the new things, gadgets and powers shown in the trailer. There are man-operated mechs (Cerberus Atlas), side rolls, turret shooting sequences, metal shields held by Cerberus operatives, batarian husks, omni-blade, one-hit melee kill from cover. There is also a short glimpse of what could be some kind of jetpack boots (0:40). 

b) re-used aspects
It is also important to analyze which existing parts of the game fiction are shown along the new ones. Beside familiar weapons from ME2 (including heavy weapon - the grenade launcher) we can see shuttles, grenades (from ME1 but with a different physics model - a ballistic one) and lots of various biotic powers.

c) narrative
As I stated above the main narrative consists of two chronologically presented parts: invasion and evacuation. The action escalates towards the end of the trailer.

d) semiotics
We can apply basic semiotic notions of a mytology (Barthes) to signs from the trailer. This way we can see following mytologies: a savior (Shepard), a fight to the last man, a suicide mission (which returns from ME2).

Prediction
Fall of Earth is mostly a gameplay trailer. The main focus is combat which has undergone a lot of innovation since ME2. Therefore predictions based on this trailer should tell us something about the quailty of combat in ME3. What we see is in my opinion a more action-based combat with many "gimmicky" aspects (metal shields, side rolls, new melee combat, turrets and mechs). It is (or at least it looks like it is) a departure from more static and special powers orientated combat of ME2. We can predict that there would be less hiding in cover and more running around and fighting enemies in melee. The whole trailer makes an impression of an Uncharted type (heavily scripted and linear) of a game. It seems that there would be more emphasis on player's quick and accurate shooting than on tactical and full squad approach to combat situations. I am very skeptical about on-rails turret parts. These sequences could harm the atmosphere and make ME3 rather laughlable than epic and thrilling.

A serious problem arises in ME3 and that is how to tell a story of a battle with giant spaceships in a medium of third-person role-playing shooter. Handling of this issue will determine game's quality and success. So far I am not convinced that BioWare could do this right.

Next time I will do a short analysis of the live action trailer Invasion for ME3.

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