What would you do? Would you save a crewmate if it meant the woman you love had to die? Would you destroy a whole species if it meant a small amount of peace in the galaxy? These are the decisions that are at the core of Mass Effect. Mass Effect is the latest and greatest release from the good people at Bioware. You might remember them from the excellent Knights of the Old Republic game. This Xbox game was praised as one of the best console RPGs (and Star Wars games) of all-time. Naturally, everyone now has insanely high hopes for the company’s first next-gen release, but was BioWare able to deliver? I’m happy to inform you that aside a few teammate AI issues; it’s the best RPG the Xbox 360 has to offer and is yet another must-have game in this already stellar holiday season.
In Mass Effect the human race has become the red headed stepchild of the universe. When the game starts you will be cast as Commander Shepard, your first task is to choose his (or her, you can be female) first name. The name will never be said in the game, everyone just calls you Shepard. After picking a name you will create Shepard’s face. Once finished with your virtual space commander you will have to pick their back story. The really cool and immersive thing about this is that in the first cut scene the information you pick for the back story of your Shepard will be explained.
Not only that but it will also set in motion how people will talk to you in the universe, For instance my Shepard is a Spacer, which means both his parents worked in outer space as marines and I was just destined to become one. Then I picked war hero, I was the last man standing in the battle of Baresh 9. Over the course of the game I have met fans of mine, and people that ask and admire me as the war hero. My biggest problem with the character creation system is the fact that you can’t change your character’s voice or body in any way. While I can understand why this is the case, it would have been nice to truly have control over these things.
After selecting all of this information, you will be introduced to your ship and captain. You will immediately be sent on a mission to find out what is happening on the planet Eden Prime. The choices you make here will also help to shape and mold your legacy and persona in the game. After a few series of events (I am not going to spoil anything) you go back to report to the Alliance Council. After some arguing and banter you are become the first human Spectre – an elite intergalactic soldier essentially above the law. Your one remit is to maintain galactic peace whatever the cost. But as with all celebrities, what you say is often as important as what you do. You’ll come across a nosey reporter who thinks you’re just a shill for the council; if you are rude to her in the interview Earth will disapprove of you. If you reveal too much in the interview your commanding officers will be upset with you.
As I said above I am not going to spoil any of the story, because it is one of the best I have ever played, or seen. It rivals any science fiction movie out there, and I really hope that it is still a planned trilogy. I mean in this game the writers at Bioware touch on so many subjects that are relevant in this day and age. Topics like racism, sexuality, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Mass Effect utilizes a unique dialogue system to progress the story. Essentially, you’ll begin speaking to another character, and a circular dialogue tree will appear at the bottom of the screen before they are finished talking. While this game does offer the option to turn on the captions, I chose to play without them just because all of the voice work in this game is so well done. If you have ever played any RPG then you know what to expect here, which is a lot of dialog, but as I stated above the voice work is so well done you won’t even be bothered by it.
As was the case in the previous BioWare RPGs, you basically are able to choose a good, evil, or neutral response which in this game Good is known as Paragon and Evil is known as Renegade. The good is always at the top right part of the circle, while the bad ones are at the bottom right. You can get a skill that will allow you to Charm or Intimidate which will add dialog options for you. There is even an achievement for solving an impossible situation with Charm or Intimidate.
My daddy always said that talking was for the diplomats, real men pick up their guns and start shooting. Shooting is a lot of what you will be doing in this game. The great thing is that this game is not turn based like KotOR; it plays like a 3rd person shooter. This in my opinion will be a major factor for those people that don’t like RPG’s. The controls are simple enough; your right trigger is for firing your gun, while the left is your zoom. You also have a cover system which is very reminiscent to Gears of War. You even have the quick run to cover that you can do, which will get you in the cover position more quickly.
I am sure you have heard that this game offers squad abilities, but the squad stuff sucks. Thanks to the weak friendly AI (the enemy AI is so much better) you will find your teammates shooting into a wall, where an enemy is hiding. It really feels like you are more or less saving them rather than you all working as a team. With their biotic powers and tech options they will stand a fighting chance, and can take down foes. Just don’t even bother with the d-pad because half the time your team doesn’t even listen to you.
The experience and leveling system is really good and surprisingly easy. It is all handled from one menu screen. The nice thing is that any experience that you receive is shared throughout your party. Not just the other 2 people with you, but even those characters that you have on standby. You can use points to add to your weapons, or armor, or different skills like Biotic and Techs. The game does give you the option to auto level up, but the process is really easy and you can customize your characters how ever you want.
While you can make it through the game relying solely on weapons (this is precisely what the Soldier class does), it’s the ability to use biotics that really makes the combat a lot of fun. Sadly I chose the Soldier class so I didn’t have access any of the cool biotics. So I used my team members’ powers. At any point during combat, you can hold down the right bumper to bring up the combat menu (pausing the action), target the enemy that you want to take down, and then select the power you want to use. The same can be said of the Tech powers, which have different abilities that really only affect, the mechanical enemies.
In your quest to save the galaxy, you will spend a lot of time exploring different planets. The bad thing is that there really is not a lot of different variety to all the planets. Most of them are barren, and lifeless. You will see environmental and weather differences but that is pretty much all. On these planets you will spend most of the time in your Mako. The Mako is a six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle that is equipped with a machine gun, and cannon. I think Bioware tried to make the controls similar to the warthog from Halo, sadly they failed. It is not impossible to control the Mako, but it is difficult if you want to avoid enemies. But honestly, you have a machine gun and a cannon-wouldn’t you rather just blow them up than drive around them?
Mass Effect is the best looking game on the market right now. I know some people who brag on Drakes’ Fortune-.it hasn’t got anything on Mass Effect. The environments are so detailed; the character models are the best I have seen in quite some time. There are some nice effects with your biotec powers that are really nice. However there is some texture pop in that is reminiscent of Gears of War and Halo 2.
All of these elements blend together perfectly to deliver the most cinematic gaming experience since Metal Gear Solid on the PSOne. MGS was the only other game that I have played that I felt like I was actually playing a movie. I really can’t say enough good things about Mass Effect. If you liked KotOR then you owe it to yourself to check out Bioware’s new benchmark. If you like science fiction movies, or political dramas, then you need to play this game. You won’t be disappointed!