I do love Mass Effect 3, so long as we pretend that the ending doesn’t exist. The game’s frankly pretty awesome, and filled to the brim with extremely epic and emotional moments. From start to...well, from start to 10-minutes-from-finish, it’s almost everything I could have wanted.
That said, the game has a number of flaws. The ramifications of certain major player choices from previous games aren’t represented as well as they should be (the Rachni Queen and how much use Cerberus got from the Collectors’ base, for example). There should have been more dedicated dialogues with squadmates on the Normandy. The photoshopped Tali picture thing. The marginal roles for half the major characters of ME2. The fact that, despite its amazing execution, the plot is, at its foundations, very weak (more on that in a later rant). A couple of the characters kind of suck (Ashley, James).
Probably the most disappointing for me is how poorly the love interests and romance subplots are handled--none of them get enough time and focus, several of them are bizarre (Liara doesn’t seem to remember whether or not she’s involved with Shepard early in the game, and Ashley fails to believably mix the “I totally love you Shepard” element with the “I’m incapable of believing you’re not Cerberus’s pawn, Shepard” angle that comprises the entirety of her lousy character development), and many of them are almost entirely ignored/forgotten (basically, if you romanced any ME2 character). But while the bad usage of romantic subplots is the thing most disappointing to me, it’s not the thing most ANNOYING to me. No, that would be Diana Allers.
Ye lords, Diana Allers. Where to begin with this repugnant character, who would be on my Most Annoying Characters list but for the fact that she’s sort of optional and plays a very minor part. I guess ultimately what is intolerably repugnant about this character is her voice acting. This is, in all seriousness, the very worst vocal performance I have ever heard in an RPG.
Think about that for a minute. Think about all the RPGs I’ve played (over 200 at this point). RPGs from the Playstation 1 era, when voice acting in video games was just starting and was notoriously terrible. RPGs from SquareEnix, who are very often a generation behind the curve in terms of voice acting. RPGs that used family and friends of the game’s staff for vocals rather than actual actors. RPGs where more or less the entirety of the voice work was grunts, gasps, and “Hey, listen!” The voice acting for Diana Allers is at the bottom of all of that.
It’s almost impossible to describe what’s wrong with it. The expression and inflection of every sentence is entirely off. The overall tone is amazingly terrible--it’s some kind of ungodly vocal chimera, a beast comprised of bored monotone, smug self-satisfaction, awkwardly forced mimicry of human emotion, and an inability to sound like part of a conversation instead of someone ponderously reading lines from a cue card. Words cannot do this voice work justice, so here, listen to this*:
Scary part? That’s one of her better scenes.
Of course, the fact that the rest of ME3’s vocal work generally ranges from Good to Totally Awesome doesn’t really help this problem, as the terrible vocal performance for Diana Allers is just made that much more apparent when you compare it to the ones put in for Anderson, or The Illusive Man, or Zaeed, or Thane, or Mordin, or Aria, or Kasumi, or Jack, or Wrex, or just about anyone, including NPCs. Even the actresses for Liara and Female Shepard, with the former having sounded for 3 games like she’s said every line while talking in her sleep and the latter having sounded for 3 games like she’s just got home after a 16 hour shift waiting tables at a family restaurant, are leaps and bounds above this. Every time Diana Allers says a line, my desire that I could shove her out an airlock, which is already pretty high just from looking at her, grows.
And yeah, that does bring us to the next part: looking at her. While not nearly so caustic to one’s senses as her unambitious script-reciting, the visual design of Diana Allers is...Jesus, it’s just awful. I’m usually one to take visual character designs with a grain of salt. I agree that female characters in RPGs are often horribly dressed for immoral and sexist reasons (and I’ve done a rant on the subject previously), but typically when I look at them as I play I ignore that aspect so I can concentrate on my perspective of them as a character. I think Tifa from Final Fantasy 7 is the best character in the game, not because of her idiotic outfit or ridiculous breast size, but for her dialogue, actions, background, and development through the game’s story.** But even I have trouble looking at Allers and not immediately wanting to send a mail bomb to Bioware headquarters. I mean, there’s ridiculous RPG female character exploitation, there’s ridiculous comic book female character exploitation, and then there’s THIS. What the hell is she wearing? She’s supposed to be a news show journalist. In what realm of imagination, even crazy sci-fi future fashion land, would she look appropriately dressed to host a news program? Especially when her program is supposed to be doing this huge, incredibly important field reporting of the famous Commander Shepard’s work during the biggest war the galaxy’s ever seen? If you can manage not to gag at her voice acting for long enough to learn anything about her character, you’ll pick up on the idea that Diana Allers is supposed to be a character who takes her journalism very seriously and wants to give the impression of professionalism and respect. You know what might help her just a little with that, Bioware? A FUCKING BRA.
My sole consolation with Bioware’s sexist attempt to pander here is that they failed by overdoing it. I mean, I can’t speak for anyone else (although, if what I’ve seen of the players who post on the Bioware forums is any indication, I do), but when I look at this character, my first thought isn’t “sexy.” It’s “mobile STD factory.”
A tiny additional annoyance with Diana Allers: the fact that her character isn’t even necessary to play the role she fills. While I do think that an on-ship reporter is a good idea for ME3 (one which should have had more use, for that matter; Allers only ever makes a couple of reports) and provides potential for further character development for Shepard and general plot exploration, Allers didn’t need to be the one doing it. The Mass Effect games already had an NPC reporter who had personally worked with Commander Shepard before, Emily Wong, whose personality and investigative focus would have fit the role of onboard reporter absolutely perfectly. We don’t even SEE her in ME3 (apparently Bioware wanted to kill her off-screen, for reasons unknown but probably having to do with writing incompetence), but we do get this irritation? What a lot of crap.
Actually, there’s ANOTHER Mass Effect series reporter that could have come onboard instead of Diana Allers, Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani. Granted, she’s an exceptionally annoying jerk herself, but at least with HER you actually are given the option to punch her in the face when she gets irritating. The chance to clock Diana is tragically never presented to the player.*** And even if that option were not present, she’d still be far preferable to Allers.
I should also note that the character of Diana Allers is pretty bland and empty, too. What little characterization we get for her (not that I’m complaining about less dialogue for her) boils down to, in its entirety, the fact that she’s a reporter and wants to report on things. Near the game’s end she has a momentary, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit of trite, unconvincing character development when her colony is, apparently, destroyed offscreen, but 30 seconds of terrible voice acting and a bland email message later, it’s like it never happened. So it’s not like I’m allowing the presentation of the character to cause me to overlook her worth as a character, or anything. She has none.
So yeah, we’ve got a visual fanservice machine with no depth and the vocal talent of a soggy donut hole who didn’t need to exist at all. That already qualifies Diana Allers as the second most painfully annoying and clearly half-assed aspect of Mass Effect 3.**** What could possibly make her worse?
The answer to that question is learning the background to the character, as I have. You see, Diana Allers is voiced by none other than Jessica Chobot. For those of you who don’t know who that is (I certainly didn’t until ME3), Ms. Chobot is a journalist for IGN, their star player. Jessica Chobot’s fame, it seems, doesn’t really come from her journalistic work, which isn’t that surprising, I suppose, considering that we’re talking about IGN, the Fox News of game journalism. She’s recognized by gamers more because apparently there was this one time she licked a Playstation Portable in a sexy way. Naturally, the ability to get to first base with a portable video game console made her an ideal choice for a role in Bioware’s eyes, as opposed to any other candidate who might, at some point, have actually learned to voice act.
So yeah. This incredibly dislikable character we’re saddled with isn’t even a poor artistic decision gone terribly wrong, like a regularly annoying character would be, or like Bioware would like to convince us the ending was (instead of just the franchise-disrespecting hack job it actually was). This is a fanservice gimmick, designed to boost Chobot’s career (apparently she hasn’t thought of necking with a 3DS yet, or being a reporter for a real journalism outfit) and surprise and titillate the subhuman gaming masses who actually pay attention to IGN.
I suspect the gimmick was also intended to give IGN a little extra incentive to give Mass Effect 3 a good review score, just in case EA’s bribe money wasn’t enough to buy them off, but that is, of course, nothing but speculation. Logical, sensible speculation describing an abundantly obvious reality.
I should clarify that I don’t really mean to attack Chobot personally on this...sort of. I mean, I do own up to attacking her above for A, making her name by sexist fanservice, and B, being on the IGN staff. But I don’t blame her for taking the job of voicing Diana Allers, nor for how bad her performance as such was. If someone from Bioware asked me to voice a character for a Mass Effect game, there’d be only one word passing my lips in response, and it wouldn’t be “no.” They wouldn’t have to pay me for it, even; just the idea of being a ME character would give me shivers of fanboy delight. And I’m sure that I, having no background whatsoever in voice acting or even just regular acting, would probably not do all that great a job, either. I’ve too much pride to imagine I’d have done as badly as Chobot, but doubtless my character would still be a low point in the game’s vocals. Point is, it isn’t HER fault she got tapped for this, and it mostly isn’t her fault she was so lousy at it.
The fault lies with the game’s creators. Their decision to force this meaningless fanservice into a game where it’s not appropriate. Their decision to make Diana Allers look like a Jersey Shore escapee for no good reason. Their decision to create this character instead of using a fan favorite NPC already available. Their decision not to devote any time or effort into making her into a good character. And their decision, after hearing Chobot’s recordings, to go forward with the idea, instead of doing a retake and coaching Ms. Chobot enough to get her to turn in a decent performance, or going with an actual voice actor. Bioware’s decision, Bioware’s fault, Bioware’s shame.
And, as I played the game, MY headache.
* I’d say “spoilers” here, but let’s face it, no one will ever see this normally--and if you DO ever make the choices during Mass Effect 3 that lead to a romance scene with Diana Allers, you are far too contemptible to warn, anyway.
** This works with the opposite gender, too. I don’t hold it against, for example, Kongol of Legend of Dragoon just because he’s wearing nothing but boots, belts, and a loincloth affixed with a giant skull over his junk. I still like his character, and think he had a lot of wasted potential. It’s just not as often a problem for male characters.
*** Bioware, if you’re looking for a quick DLC that people will pay for in droves, THIS IS IT. I predict that the “Shove Allers Out the Airlock” DLC package will break record sales.
**** First place being the ending. You know. Just in case you haven’t picked up on that from my constant harping on it for the last 5 months. I can’t help it. It’s atrocious.