With all the hype leading up to The Arrival you’d be forgiven for expecting something to actually happen. Would the cogs of the Reaper war machine rasp to life culminating in a bum-clenching cliffhanger? Would Shepherd finally cash in his chips in gallant forfeit? If not, what else could the ultimate sacrifice be? Would we witness a teary-eyed wave goodbye to a team member? Maybe we’d have to choose whom to bump off (sorry Zaeed). And who’s this Dr Kenson lady and why is she being held captive on the fringes of the galaxy? All good questions, the latter of which is first in line to be answered.
You meet Dr Kenson early on, early enough that if you favour the stealthy game chances are you will have unloaded less than a clip of ammunition into space dogs before your less-than-daring bailout. Kenson – Dr Chakwas’ doppelganger – is crackers but not too much is made of that after she puts a gun to your head and signs her death warrant.
In fact little is made of anything. There’s a slither of talk about the Reaper invasion but nothing that hasn’t already been disclosed in Mass Effect 3 hyperbole. During the lean hour or two of game here there are less than a dozen conversation options so the story is one of surviving until the next undistinguishable white corridor. On with the shooting!
Shooting is, once again, the lifeblood of The Arrival. Lots and lots of pointing and clicking on identical, braindead, seen-it-all-before, would-it-hurt-to-make-a-new-type-of enemies. There’s the wonted rifle-wielding mercenary, the exasperating pyromaniac merc, the mercenary with the foresight to bring a shield and then, because variety is the spice of life, the big mechs with the glaring red weak spot. Rifle in hand you’re funneled through a series of dreary hallways dispensing with these raggedy space chumps until a muted finale has you questioning the rationale behind the past hour’s irksome endeavor.
Shepherd Rambo’s his way through The Arrival for no other reason than to moderate the voice-acting bill. There are three speaking characters and between them they share no more than two-dozen lines plunging the already dreary corridor blasting to even lower depths, void of the retort between squad members. And without the little vignettes that propelled Shadow Broker out of the mire, everything within The Arrival becomes cursory hoo-hah building up to a finale we were well aware of years ago: The Reapers are coming – Mass Effect 3 is coming.
And yet the most insulting aspect wasn’t that I’d paid £5 for a prolonged trailer. Without verging on spoiler territory the actual ultimate sacrifice – the crucial seduction of the DLC – is neither of the ultimate ilk nor a sacrifice you actually get to choose whether or not to make. Right when Bioware has the ability to inject at least a smidgen of drama into The Arrival they revoke your right to party, relegating you to spectator as the character you’ve forged through 50-odd hours of galactic soap opera goes ahead and makes the call. It’s the one decision that would have bridged the two games and maintained and air of ‘what happens next?’
Without that The Arrival needn’t be any more than a disposable text log discarded in a gloomy nook on Tuchanka. It really is utterly peripheral.
So here we are again with Lair of the Shadow Broker the exception to prove the rule. Mass Effect 2 exits with a snivel right when you want to be giddy with schoolgirl anticipation for part three. Although I suppose at this point whatever shit Bioware shovels out is going to be lapped up so why bother even trying?
Save yourself the admission fee and commit this to memory instead: Mass Effect 3 is coming. The Arrival has nothing else to offer.