|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: BioWare Corp.||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 20, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
BioWare Corp and Microsoft Game Studios have finally released their futuristic space adventure: Mass Effect for the Xbox 360. BioWare Corp has made some of the greatest alternative RPG titles in the history of gaming, and Mass Effect is another amazing notch on their illustrious belt of epic game design.
Mass Effect easily ranks up there with the famed Never Winter Nights and KOTOR franchises, and I expect it to be received by the public with the same gusto. After all, the gameplay is phenomenal. The development team at BioWare has ingeniously married the fast pace of a shooter with the depth of story, character creation, and party management of the very best RPGs. The detailed graphics, realistic sound effects, interesting level design, unique environments, engaging storyline, and sophisticated plot devices make Mass Effect feel like a spellbinding, cinematic experience.
The story will take you through the farthest of both the known and uncharted galaxy. Most of the glorious plot really needs to be left for your discovery. However, know that your goal as Commander John Shepard is to both save and promote humanity. Humans are relative late comers to galactic politics, and not until the discovery of Prothean ruins on Mars in 2148 and the mass relay device on a moon of Pluto in 2156 did humans gain the ability to colonize extra-stellar systems. As humans began to leave their home planet of Earth, they ran into a number of alien civilizations of varying advancement. The Alliance is the overarching political system of which humanity is a lesser member. The Alliance is controlled by three species of alien that maintain the galactic state of affairs. As such, many civilizations, including the humans, find themselves subordinate to the whims and political will of the three governing species. Despite this predicament, the humans have recently made a bid to join the ranks of the Asari, Salarians, and Turians in order to enjoy political equality and self-determination. This bold claim for power thrusts humanity into a precarious position in a galaxy replete of diverse species and socio-political and economic disparity.
For those of you that shun RPGs because of all of the micro management issues necessary to creating the best characters, don't worry. The team at BioWare has made leveling, equipment swapping, and inventory management very easy. On the other hand, for those of you who stay away from shooters due to their lack of depth, Mass Effect has got you covered. The perfect balance has been struck between the very best features of the shooter and the RPG genres. As a result, the pacing is quick and delightful, not slow and turn-based. Moreover, character creation and storyline is deep and malleable, not shallow and restrictive. Mass Effect is full of both frantic combat phases and meticulous information gathering sequences. I never felt as if battle segments or story exploration took too long, however. It always seemed as if I clipped along through the game while being rewarded with well thought out combat sequences and crucial bits of background information at the perfect time.
Combat sections are challenging and varied. You'll traipse through levels by pounding enemies with automatic rifles and shotguns. You'll also have to use offensive and defensive feats, known as biotics. Finally, you'll have to give simple commands to your squad in order to progress through the levels successfully. The combination of straightforward gunplay, "magical" biotic abilities, and squad-based tactics make Mass Effect a title you won't want to put down.
Information gathering sequences really add to the player's sense of accomplishment. The role-playing opportunities are myriad, and the complex storyline becomes apparent through careful investigation. Typically, shooters feel very structured. In Mass Effect, that's not the case. As you progress through the story, you will actually have a hand in the way your character is perceived in the world. The convention of structured dialogue is flexible through your ability to respond to NPCs in any number of ways. In other words, true "role" playing elements are possible because you can select from a multitude of answers to any question posed to your character. You get to decide whether your character is a righteous hero, a gruff ball-buster or a shady anti-hero. Along this line, your actions and reactions will lead you down the path of the Renegade or the Paragon. This really goes a long way to making Mass Effect stand out against the backdrop of standard shooters. Additionally, the inclusion of character classes, principal and squad leveling, weapon proficiencies, and equipment upgrades make Mass Effect feel like a real RPG without all of the tedium and pacing issues.