The announcement of the Mass Effect Legendary Edition last November may not have made as big a splash as the reveal of a new game in BioWare’s sci-fi series, but it did raise all sorts of questions. Will they add any clarifying easter eggs? Will I be able to create the same Shepard I did 14 years ago? Are they going to make Kaiden romanceable from the beginning? All of these are worthy queries, but in the immediate aftermath of the unveiling one debate reigned supreme on the Mass Effect subreddit: Should they make the Mako better, or leave it exactly as it was, in all its janky glory?
You remember the Mako, right? The first Mass Effect game introduced a hardy six-wheeled tank that Commander Shepard used whenever they made landfall on any of the galaxy map’s boring, arid planets. It was a novel enough idea in theory – nobody wants to traverse a barren spacescape on foot, so why not offer the player a taste of the lunar rover fantasy? The Mako seemed like a tidy solution to that problem – if only it had controlled a little bit better.
Most people today regard the Mako as one of the hilariously botched eccentricities in the Mass Effect series. At the time, BioWare was still working out the vehicle’s design kinks, and the Mako seemed to handle like it was simultaneously 1,000 tons of futuristic steel but also as light as a feather. Even the mildest of intergalactic speed bumps were enough to send it flying. BioWare (especially the BioWare of the ME1 era) wasn’t exactly known for its deft mechanical ingenuity – grenades were once mapped to the Back button (you may remember it as ‘Select,’ it’s now Share/View) – but the Mako was still a profound outlier. Here was this pulpy sci-fi odyssey full of iconic characters and a world-class story, with this clunky excuse for a humvee jammed into it. It’s difficult to take Tali, Liara, and Ashley seriously as they’re barrel-rolling across the moon. “Is the Mako the worst designed in-game vehicle ever?” asks a prescient GameFAQs forum thread. It probably isn’t, but it could be high on the list.[widget path=”global/article/imagegallery” parameters=”albumSlug=mass-effect-legendary-edition-comparison-screenshots&captions=true”]
And yet, even now, some people are willing to defend the Mako to the ends of the Earth — or Therum or Ilos – and back. No amount of slander can break them, and they’ll turn away every antagonistic forum thread undeterred. To them, the Mako is a net-positive gain for the series, and (as far as they’re concerned) BioWare better not mess with the formula.
“The Mako was clunky and god knows the physics were janky as all hell. But it also let players explore worlds in a way that we couldn’t otherwise, and I’ll still hold up the Mako as a better alternative to planet scanning from Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3,” one Mako apologist, who posts as Kanguran on Reddit, told IGN. “Driving across a plain at mach five to a blip on the map to blast more raiders was fun. Plus, high powered cannons always make for good times on soft targets.”
Kanguran told me that when they first played Mass Effect, they were too young to be an active participant on the internet. It was only as the sequel rolled around in 2009, after they’d become a little more net-savvy, that they discovered a dense faction of gamers petitioning BioWare to purge the Mako from the Milky Way entirely. The studio followed through, and the Mako was nowhere to be seen in either Mass Effect 2 or 3.
“It was an odd feeling, I agreed with their complaints, but I saw them as fun rather than broken,” says Kanguran. “I think time has shifted the balance slightly where the pro-Mako faction has a sizable following, though it is still a minority by a wide margin.”
In general, The Mako is still the victim of much derision across the Mass Effect community, but if you search hard enough you’ll find many people who, at the very least, are entertaining the idea that the Mako’s rubbery controls should be preserved in the upcoming remaster. One fan, Jon (who goes by the handle TheQuarrelsomeEmu), advocates for the Mako to be markedly less functional in the Legendary Edition. “Left bumper should trigger a random Joker quip,” his post reads. “B button ejects a random squadmate.”
“The Mako sucked, but it’s one of those things that sucked in such a way that it was fun to behold,” he says, in an interview with IGN. “Like a bad movie, you couldn’t tear your eyes away. I think there’s a lot of nostalgia for stuff like that in the first game, the improvements they made in certain systems in later games didn’t let you have that sort of weird experience.”[ignvideo url=”https://www.ign.com/videos/2021/02/02/mass-effect-legendary-edition-our-first-impressions”]
There’s some truth to that. The Mako may have been a dud, but compared to the many other neverending debates on the subreddit — it’s been 3,000 days and it still can’t agree on what the Synthesis ending implies for the rest of the universe — the rancor for that clunky truck has faded. These days, the Mako is essentially an in-house meme capable of evoking the purity of youth, when the loosey-goosey tire suspension of Commander Shepard’s ride was one of our most pressing concerns about the series. It is easy to get heated about some of the other choices BioWare has made with Mass Effect over the years, but Mako disputes are always pretty lighthearted.
“I think a lot of things have become a touchstone like this. The Mako is one, but you see the same thing with your interaction with Wrex, where eventually all he says back to you in conversation is your name, or the clunky combat that really got patched up in later games,” says Jon. “The Mako is just another example of how crappy some of the games subsystems actually functioned, and how good the story and characters had to be to make up for that.”
He tells me that he’d like to see EA airbrush over some of the Mako’s shortcomings in the re-release. In particular, he’d like some updated weapon capabilities, instead of that faulty cannon strapped atop the roof. But naturally, other diehards still believe that the Mako was perfectly fine just the way it is, evoking an attitude of, “You’ll take my broken space truck from my cold, dead hands.”
“The Mako is a mess, but damn it it’s a beautiful mess. Bouncing around the map, climbing up slopes that put Skyrim’s horses to shame, blasting apart enemies in one shot, it all went together to make a fundamental part of the experience,” finishes Kanguran. “In a perfect world, there would be a toggle for the old physics and the new. But, I’d settle for some even jankier handling, and some extra kick behind the jump jets.”
Bioware, for their part, have already confirmed that it will be tweaking the Mako’s physics and lending more camera control to the player. The studio hasn’t formally ruled out a “Mako Classic” option, but it’s likely that this is just another case of gaming purists being disappointed by change — look at any remaster and you’ll find similar tensions. What about last year’s Final Fantasy VII throwing its story in a blender? Or the people who are developing mods to give the Resident Evil 2 remake a prehistoric, and objectively awkward, fixed camera angle? There’s no telling how a game’s legacy — or its quirks — might be remembered a decade later. While you may hastily declare that a mechanic makes a game “trash,” it could just as easily become someone else’s treasure.[poilib element=”accentDivider”]
Luke Winkie is a writer and former pizza maker in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter.