Mass Effect on the
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.
Like any true RPG, throughout the game you will amass experience points through specific actions and achievements. The XP that you gain quickly translates into important character benefits known as Talents. Talents vary depending upon the class you have selected or have been given for the principal character and squad members. Classes include Soldier, Engineer, Adept, Infiltrator, Vanguard, and Sentinel. The former three classes specialize accordingly in combat, technology or biotic talents.
The latter three classes allow you to take a more balanced approach by combining either combat and tech skills, biotic and combat skills, or a character comfortable with both biotic and tech abilities. You also can use and upgrade your infantry fighting vehicle. The Mako, as it is known, not only gets your squad from point A to B, it kicks some serious butt meanwhile. Cruising through uncharted worlds in the futuristic Hum-V is a real treat. Making the vehicle your lifeline in hostile atmospheres adds amazing realism and a stern challenge.
Combat Talents include various weapon and armor proficiencies, Assault training, Fitness, and Spectre training. Assault training increases melee and weapon damage, Fitness boosts your health and constitution, while Spectre training increases the accuracy and effectiveness of all attacks and powers. Tech Talents govern Damping, Decryption, Hacking, and Electronics. Damping makes your use of demolitions more potent and gives you the ability to suppress enemy tech and biotic abilities. Decryption allows you to use and override security systems. Hacking increases tech recharge speeds and will eventually allow you to control the A.I. of robotic enemies. Electronics further increase your ability to breach security systems and strengthen your shields while weakening those of your enemies. Finally, Biotic Talents equate to magical abilities. They tend to be related to telekinesis and allow you to throw, lift, and smash objects as well as warp space, create force field barriers, and entangle approaching enemies. The powers under the Biotic Talents are divided into Throw, Lift, Warp, Singularity, Barrier, and Stasis. There are additional Talents that anyone can use including Charm and Intimidate, as well as class specific benefits.
This may all sound like a lot, but this is a very straightforward and user-friendly approach that allows all players to role-play relatively hassle-free. As a player, you can go ahead and take the time to analyze what character Talents to upgrade or you can take the easy way out and let BioWare choose for you. Furthermore, the inventory menus are easily navigated and the benefits and detriments of each piece of equipment you want to equip or upgrade are clearly demarcated. Players can take as much or as little time as they want and feel confident that they aren’t missing out on anything.
The graphics, sounds, and controls are all remarkably well done. The visuals are awe-inspiring and epic in scope. The environments and ambiance are truly unique. Unfortunately, the lips don’t seem to be synced well, there is the occasional glitch to be seen, and often the graphics look a bit grainy and fuzzy rather than completely crisp. The graininess doesn’t quite achieve the desired cinematic effect it was meant to portray. However, you can turn off the grainy effect in the options menu. The sound quality is incredible. The sound effects are very realistic, and the voice acting is something special. The use of sound in this game to enhance the overall experience is tremendous. The controls are clear-cut. Any veteran FPS fan will have no problem picking up the controller and laying waste to the evil Geth. Sadly, all of this wonderful content is limited to a single player adventure. There is no online play to be had, which may discourage some. As for me, I’ve got all I can handle with Call of Duty 4. I don’t think the lack of online multiplayer will hinder your enjoyment one iota. All in all, the technical aspects of the game do more than support the intriguing story and awesome gameplay.
If I could only choose one game this holiday season, it would have to be Mass Effect. Fortunately, I review games for a living so I can take advantage of a number of the wonderful titles coming out before the first of the year. If you’re looking for a title that tells a great story, is loaded with content, has a surprising amount of re-playability due to customization, and will keep you glued to your couch, Mass Effect is a great choice. It’s unfortunate that the game has a mature rating and only comes out for the Xbox 360. If you’re under 17 or are a Sony snob, you are going to miss out big time. For the rest of us it’s smooth sailing across a galaxy full of adventure!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
The environments are gorgeous, but the poor lip syncing and grainy textures foil the visuals a bit. 4.8 Control
Inch perfect controls will feel familiar to all, but nothing innovative was introduced. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound quality, music, and voice acting is about as good as can be. 5.0 Play Value
Lots of fun to be had for a wide variety of gamers. 4.8 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.