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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Catalyst

HELO July 6, 2012 User blog:HELO

Mass Effect 3 was not a good game.

No, I don’t mean that it was an awesome game that got ruined by a crappy ending. I mean it was not a good game, full stop.

See, long before I got to the ending, I thought ME3 was a lazy, weak, choppy, frustrating heap with a few bright spots that only served to highlight just how bad the rest of the game actually was. From story to gameplay to (lack of) character interaction, the net failures greatly outweighed the net accomplishments and made the game feel--at best--like an extended demo rather than a finished product. (Oh--I know there’s a Modest Mouse joke in there somewhere….)

And then I reached the ending, and…well.

The point is: it was always going to take a lot more than a revamped ending to change my opinion of ME3, because the ending didn’t ruin the game for me. It pissed me off to no end, sure, but it wasn’t like I was really enjoying myself up to that point.

That being said, I really, really like the Extended Cut.

No, it doesn’t make the whole rest of the game any more tolerable, and heaven knows it’s still an egregious departure from everything the rest of the series indicated it should be, but…dang it, if it don’t set m’ foot t’ tappin’. Metaphorically, that is.

Because where I had previously been saying, “This is frikkin’ stupid. It comes out of nowhere, it makes no sense, and it’s frikkin’ stupid,” I’m now saying, “This is frikkin’ stupid. It comes out of nowhere, and it’s frikkin’ stupid.” Which, I think, is a decidedly more positive reaction.

So, yeah, I dig the clarification. And I’m really starting to dig the Catalyst.

No, seriously. That little dude’s awesome. And I’ll tell you why: because he’s out of his goddamn mind.

Yeah, that might need a little bit more. Okay, stick with me. This is going to take a minute.

See, in the initial incarnation of the ending, the Catalyst’s complete lack of context makes his sudden appearance utterly bizarre and his apparently deus-ex-machina function in the story unfathomably insulting. Thus, where we were supposed to sit back and marvel at the cleverness of a plot twist, we were, instead, shouting “What the hell is this, and why am I not punching Harbinger in the face right now?!” And when the dust settled and we picked up the broken pieces of our Xbox controllers, “remove starbrat” was at the top of everyone’s Retake To-Do list.

But let’s stop for a moment. This whole time, has our (very justified) distaste for the Catalyst been about the Catalyst himself, or has it been about BioWare’s poor execution of the Catalyst concept? Because, after the Extended Cut, I’m pretty sure it’s the execution and not the concept.

After all, the final moments of the confirmed final part of an announced trilogy that has always been about a specific fight against a specific enemy is not the most appropriate time to reveal that the fight has actually always been about something you never had a reason to suspect and against an enemy you’ve never heard of who is only sort of related to the previously established focus of the trilogy.

That’s an end-of-Part-2 reveal, guys. Or maybe a beginning-of-Part-3 reveal, if you really work it right. Y’know, if you’re making a trilogy. Which, of course, BioWare seems to think they were. Which is stupid. Because, like I said before, the Catalyst is (now) awesome--and he deserves a full game’s-worth of our (legitimate) wrath.

I mean, holy crap--did you hear what that little glowy bastard was saying in the extra dialogue? He’s not a plot twist, he’s a goddamn supervillain!

Here’s what I mean:

The Catalyst was created specifically to devise an answer to a problem (Organics vs. Synthetics) that some ancient organic race couldn’t come up with on their own. So they loaded him up with information about this specific topic, hit COMPUTE, and waited for him to come up with a solution. What they seem to have failed to do was let the program know that there might not be a solution. So when this AI ran all the scenarios his “limited” programming could run, he had to assume that he wasn’t actually out of scenarios, but that he obviously just needed more processing power.

So he Reaperizes everyone who is part of the immediate Organics vs. Synthetics problem so that A) he has access to their collective intelligences (more viewpoints, more possible new ideas), and B) he conveniently has more time to solve the problem, because, thanks to his actions, the event he’s trying to prevent hasn’t technically happened yet.

And he just…keeps…going.

Yeah. Suck it, HAL 9000.

The Catalyst is a Technological Singularity philosopher’s nightmare wet dream (wet nightmare?). He’s the rogue paperclip factory robot who turns the entire world into a paperclip factory--because that’s as far as his nefarious plotting can go: his entire reason for being is to make paperclips, so why on Earth would he ever deviate from that purpose?

I mean, he’s like the Joker, repeatedly wreaking the same kind of havoc for the same, single-minded purpose that defines his entire existence. And that, my friends, is a Boss.

If they’d only commit to it.

But, no, they promised us a trilogy, and dammit--they were going to deliver.

Because there’d obviously be no way they could, I dunno, have the Crucible be a trap, have Shepard find out a little too late that the Catalyst was the villainous mastermind and the Reapers were his slaves, have most of the allies get destroyed before Shepard can order everyone to retreat and abandon Earth so that the next game has a highly defeated ragtag fleet on the run from the Reapers while a demoralized Shepard and Normandy crew have to find a way to outwit (if possible) a nigh-invulnerable, deranged, and completely inhuman (that is, in-“human”) psychopath that is systematically searching for them as he casually wipes out all life in the galaxy. And there’s no way that would come down to the heavy moral choices BioWare seemed to want to end with (instead of a giant, too-actiony firefight).

No. Because that would mean going back on a promise. And a promise is worth more than a kickass villain.

Except, of course, it isn’t. And we’re all the worse for it.

Now…does anyone else hear that hum?

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