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1PStart Review: Mass Effect

by JW

Let me make one thing perfectly clear right now: I am a huge BioWare fanboy. Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate II, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire and Knights of the Old Republic still populate my games collection and I go back to them regularly. So, when I heard that BioWare was working on an entirely original IP called “Mass Effect”, I was understandably excited. Now, some two and a half years of waiting later I finally got my hand on this highly-anticipated Action-RPG.

And oh my freaking God I am in love with it…

From the moment I first pressed the start button I was blown away by a surprisingly detailed character selection set-up. Unlike previous RPGs like KotOR where you were forced to pick a pre-determined look for your character, BioWare has gone the extra mile to include a meticulously detailed character creation system for your character’s appearance. After you get the look of your character down you have to decide your character’s back story. Do you want him to be a war hero who survived the bombing of his world that killed his family? Go right ahead. This seemingly insignificant addition to the character creation formula actually plays a significant role in how people interact with you throughout the game. Finally you pick your class from a group of six. You have your three main classes, which are all tried-and-true updates of the classic “Warrior”, “Mage” and “Rogue”. Of course, since this is the future they’ve been updated so you have “Soldier”, “Adept”, and “Mechanic”. You can also pick from one of three cross-classes which help to balance out your character and make the game more accessible to people who want their characters to do everything. Once your character is customized to your liking, you are thrown right into the game’s main plot.

The story in Mass Effect can be summed up in one sentence: Stop the evil doers from releasing an ancient power and save the universe in the process. You play “[Insert First Name] Shepard”, a Human Alliance officer who has been put up for entry into the elite Spectre organization. While on a routine mission to recover an artifact from a long-extinct race of ultra-intelligent aliens you come under attack and learn that a rogue Spectre agent intends to use the secrets of this alien race to unleash a power that could destroy every living thing in the galaxy. While this summarizes the primary storyline, it still fails to encompass the true depth of the story put forth by BioWare. Every mission, from the primary missions that move the story along to the smaller “assignments” feel like they should be there. Not once during my 20+ hours of playing through the primary story did I ever feel as though the missions were tedious. Every mission and plot point has been expertly crafted to draw the player in and hold them there with an iron grip you won’t be able to break yourself of until you defeat the final boss.

Much of the story is told through a series of real-time cutscenes that will require you to pick from a series of dialogue responses. Based on how you answer questions and talk to other characters, they will react to you differently. If you’re a nice person who looks for the diplomatic solution to a given problem, you’ll be treated with respect or even praise. If you are more of the “shoot now, ask questions never” type, then other characters will be afraid of you. As you progress in the game the decisions you make will actually affect how your own party members act towards you, and certain party members could even turn on you. It all plays into the now-perfected morality system that BioWare has been implementing in games for years. However, unlike previous games like KotOR and Jade Empire, Mass Effect has two distinct scales. You do a good action, and you get points towards your “Paragon” scale. You be a prick, you get points towards your “Renegade” scale. This dynamic takes away the black & white moral choices, replacing them with several shades of grey that, while subtle at first, have varying effects as the game goes on.

I could go on forever about all the different little things that add to the story and overall feel of the universe. From the absurdly huge universe to explore to the little write-ups in your Codex that further add to the Mass Effect Universe, there are hundreds of little details that add to the overall feel of the Mass Effect universe, making it feel that much more real. But alas, there IS a game to review here, so let’s get to the gameplay.

When you’re not engaging in the excellent dialogue, you’re probably going to want to hunt down Saren and prevent him from destroying the known universe, and that means combat. Lots and lots of combat. While you and your party will gain special abilities (based on class, of course) that you can use in combat, such as lifting an enemy in the air to make it easier to kill. Sometimes you’ll have abilities that will bump your own stats for a brief period, making your shots more powerful or making your shields more resilient to attack. While you will have abilities at your disposal to use to render an enemy incapacitated, I found myself primarily turning to my firepower for most fights. This may be different with other players depending on your style, but this is what I found myself turning to more often than not. This is hardly a bad thing however, as the combat mechanics are very sound. In combat the game plays much like a third-person shooter, with the camera setting up over your shoulder ala Resident Evil 4 when you aim your weapons. It works very nicely and feels good to use. However, while your teammates can hold their own for the most part, they do have a tendency to get in your way when you’re shooting. They can’t take damage from you, nor can you from them (which is good because they’ll shoot you, too) but this somewhat mundane problem can prove to be frustrating in the heat of a firefight. Thankfully the enemy AI is a bit smarter, properly utilizing cover and flanking tactics.

When you’re not on foot, you’ll be traveling across the many worlds in the Mako, which is your personal transport. If you ever saw Star Trek Nemesis, think of the Argo only more badass. Combat with the Mako is the game’s weak point. While you can make easy work of enemies from a distance, when you have to get in close (say if you’re storming an enemy stronghold) the combat in the vehicle just goes downhill in a hurry. An ironic choice of words, considering you cannot actually shoot downwards. If you are on high ground looking down at the enemy camp, the Mako cannons won’t hit a thing. Considering that you can aim upwards and hit the enemy, it just puzzled me as to why you couldn’t shoot downwards. It’s the same if an enemy storms the vehicle. Your shots go right over them. Another problem I have with the Mako is in the driving controls. Note to video game developers: A = Accelerate, X = Brake. It’s really not that hard to grasp. It’s a tried and true method of driving that has proven to be good for the past twenty five years. Just because Halo made it cool to push up on the left stick and turn with the right doesn’t make it right. In the Mako’s defense I do have to say that the vehicle will drive just about anywhere on the map, and the addition of the jump jets help you get out of some tight spots (say you fall into a ditch or something).

One complaint I’ve read in a few reviews for Mass Effect bring up the fights with the Thresher Maws, specifically pointing out that they will come out of the ground directly under your vehicle at times, resulting in either a graphical glitch or instant death. I’ve personally invested 30+ hours of this game since its release last Tuesday, and I have yet to experience this. I’m not going to mark a game down for something that I haven’t experienced.

As I said earlier, the game’s presentation is second to none and graphically, the game is a knock out. From the different worlds and spaceports you explore (including the massive and detailed Citadel), to each individual character model, no detail was spared in making these characters look as lifelike as possible. The attention to detail in the alien species is especially noteworthy. I could watch a Krogan talk all day, just to stare at each individual wrinkle in its skin move. When you’re engaged in combat every character moves smoothly, looking natural in their movements regardless of race. When you’re talking to a character, the subtle movements and body language add a lot of character to each individual person. If someone sounds nervous, they’ll look nervous without looking scared out of their wits. It’s an amazing technical achievement, but it isn’t without a few minor drawbacks. Because the game is so large, there are often times where textures won’t load right away, and you could go several seconds before they pop in. Also, some of the worlds you visit in your Mako will look strikingly similar to other worlds you visit, and after a while it starts to take away the feeling of awe and wonderment at discovering a new world. However, these are minor complaints and don’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the game.

The voice acting is top of the line. The best I’ve ever heard. There must be hundreds upon hundreds of hours of recorded dialogue, ranging from conversations you have with your squad mates to random conversations you can overhear when walking through a spaceport. Even after talking to the hundreds of characters in the game, you’ll be hard pressed to find a single over-acted or hammy line of dialogue. This is a testament to both the performances of the actors, and the quality of the script they were given. The other background noises, from running water to the hum of the engines to the blips of computer screens, help to add character to the environments and make them feel more authentic. The musical score is another point worthy of great praise. When you listen to it you can tell that the composers were inspired by Sci-Fi classics such as Blade Runner. I actually caught myself turning on the game just to listen to the music while I write this very review.

Overall Mass Effect is the pinnacle of Role-Playing Games. Not only is this the best product BioWare has released, but this ranks up there among the best role playing games ever. If you own an Xbox 360, then you have no excuse to not own Mass Effect. It’s the best RPG on the market. It’s one of the best shooters on the market. It’s one of the best GAMES on the market. It’s my pick for Game of the Year. It’s just a hair short of absolute perfection, and I’m going to play some more right now.

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11 Responses to “1PStart Review: Mass Effect”

  1. Don Savage Says:

    Holy sh!t what utter unabashed drivel! How can you not be ashamed of yo…LOADING MASS EFFECT COMMENT…

  2. 1P Start » Blog Archive » New Releases: Week of November 25th, 2007 Says:

    […] is meant for everyone to pick up games already out, games like Link’s Crossbow Training, Mass Effect, Uncharted, Rock Band, Assassins Creed, and the possible game of the year, Super Mario Galaxy […]

  3. Paul Says:

    Was that an attempt at humor? I missed it…

  4. 1P Start » Blog Archive » BioShock Wins Game of the Year - Full VGA Winners List Says:

    […] RPG Mass Effect (Microsoft Game Studios/ […]

  5. BioShock Wins Game of the Year - Full VGA Winners List - The Video Game Forum Says:

    […] YEAR Harmonix BEST SHOOTER Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Activision/ Infinity Ward) BEST RPG Mass Effect (Microsoft Game Studios/ BioWare) BEST MILITARY GAME Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Activision/ […]

  6. Full VGA Winners List - Rap GodFathers Community Says:

    […] YEAR Harmonix BEST SHOOTER Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Activision/ Infinity Ward) BEST RPG Mass Effect (Microsoft Game Studios/ BioWare) BEST MILITARY GAME Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Activision/ […]

  7. Video Game Awards at Info-LESIum Says:

    […] RPG Mass Effect (Microsoft Game Studios/ […]

  8. The Recruiting Grounds News Blog-Video Game News, Gaming News, Video Gaming News, Halo3 News, pc news, xbox 360 news, wii news, ps news, ps3 news Says:

    […] RPG Mass Effect (Microsoft Game Studios/ […]

  9. DM Says:

    yeah very detailed graphics, but the system for choosing weapons and what-not, is a bit confusing.

  10. 1P Start » Blog Archive » 1PStart’s Mandatory Year Ender ‘Best Of’ Type Post Says:

    […] Judgement: Mass Effect. Game of the Year. Enough […]

  11. 2007 Games Of The Year by GAMESPY « Welcome to the Underground Says:

    […] RPG Mass Effect (Microsoft Game Studios/ […]

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