Score: 9.0 / 10
Mass Effect might be one of the most interesting games this year. Not because of the vast, galaxy spanning story, although that is pretty good. And not because of the compelling dialogue system, although that's pretty entrancing, too. Rather, Mass Effect is an role-playing game for the Xbox 360 generation it looks, sounds and feels like a typical bald space marine action shooter, but beneath it lies deep customization mechanics, fantastic world depth, and a multitude of tiny little decisions that alter the way you play.
In Mass Effect, you control a military officer named Shepard (you pick the first name, gender, character class, and even their origin.) Various civilizations from across the universe have come together thanks to discarded technology from a long lost race, but humanity is regarded as a bunch of losers in the grand scheme of things. After a trusted warrior goes rogue, you're promoted to the rank of a Spectre a serious distinction and the one of the first humans to obtain this title to head after him, and stop the chaos he's attempting to unleash on all living things. Like the previous BioWare games, there are two paths you can go down:
Paragon and Renegade. They're not exactly "good guy" and "bad guy", because no matter how you play the game, you're still a hero saving the universe. Rather, it's the difference between "nice guy" and total jerk". Being the first human Spectre means that you're setting an example for your race, so your choices will
on all of humanity, so you should pick you actions wisely. Still, as with most
of these kind of games, playing as a renegade leads for a ton of humorous
moments, especially when you get to punch obnoxious reporters in the face for
storyline is technically on the level of just about any mass market sci-fi book
at your local Barnes & Noble (there's even a tie-in prequel novel currently
on shelves) but like with most video games, it's the way it's told that makes it
so intriguing. Especially compelling is the dialogue system Mass Effect has
some of the most realistic lip synching and facial expressions ever seen in a
video game. Unlike Knights of the
there's any problem with the storytelling, it's that there's just not enough of
it. In addition to Shephard, there are six supporting characters that join
along, all of different races and persuasions. They all have a lot of backstory
and cool personalities, but it's rare that they shine through very often.
Perhaps this scaling back was due to complaints from Knights of the
main storyline is also extremely short for an RPG. If you go through without
messing with any of the many subquests, you could probably beat the game in less
than fifteen hours. That short length almost works in its favor there's so
much to see and do by exploring or trying out the different plot trees that it's
much more replayable than your average RPG. At any time, you can drop the main
plot and begin exploring for uncharted worlds, dropping down to their surface to
look for loot, which is incredibly cool. A lot of this is reminiscent of the PC
classic Star Control 2. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as expansive; there are
dozens of planets to visit, but most just give you a bit of scientific
background and nothing to actually explore. When BioWare initially announced
Mass Effect, they planned to expand its universe by releasing downloadable
content consistently, which could potentially flesh out this aspect even
further. Who knows if they're going to follow through with this though.
all of the RPG elements found in Mass Effect, the game glazes over most of it at
the beginning and very quickly drops you into the fray of things. All of the
battles are played out in real time and it's obvious that they were going for a
Gears of War feeling there's even a similar roadie-run style maneuver. At
any time, you can pause combat, issue orders to your squadmates a
lΰ Rainbow Six, change weapons, or use any of your team special abilities.
At first, it might feel cool but, let's face it, BioWare is fantastic at
role-playing games, but maybe not so fantastic at shooters. The mechanics aren't
bad or anything, it just feels a bit sloppy next to tighter games like, of
course, Gears of War. That really isnt so bad though, it's the technical
issues that are really irksome. Pretty much anytime you enter a fight with more
than one bad guy, the frame rate tends to chug a lot. Granted, since the game is
technically more focused on RPG elements, it doesn't really break the game, but
it does tend to frustrate.
are other technical issues that crop up here and there (another unfortunate
trademark of BioWare games). There are numerous texture pop-in as you switch to
new screens. I've actually heard varying amounts from different people, some
people have found it consistently. But my refurbished post-RROD 360 rarely ran
into only problems, usually only popping up when loading a save game, or
appearing for a split second in the equipment screen or dialogue screens. Some
of the load times can be long too, although most of the areas where they occur
are infrequent it's still a huge step up from previous BioWare games.
areas could've used some polish too. The inventory system is confusing and
generally grows to be a pain, especially when you hit the 150 item limit. More
annoying, however, are the vehicles controls. The Mako Mass Effect's take on
the Halos Warthog makes several appearances as you explore the surfaces
of various planets, but the controls are way too touchy. It's nearly impossible
to drive in a straight line, and it doesn't feel like it has any weight as it
bounces all over the place. Its weapons are hard to use too to the point
where it's sometimes more effective to just jump out of it and attack enemies on
foot, which is pretty silly.
In spite of its issues, Mass Effect is still a completely entrancing blend of two completely different genres, the likes of which we really haven't seen on the consoles since Deus Ex. Mass Effect doesn't quite pull it off cohesively, but it's still a fantastic experience. It's almost definitely going to be turned into a franchise at this point. Here's hoping for a quality sequel.
- Kurt Kalata
(December 14, 2007)
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