Mass Effect Reader Review
The most arrogant way to start a review, yet most probably the main question most people ask: Is Mass Effect better than Knights of the Old Republic?
Obviously it�s not that simple, but if you�re only looking to buy a game knowing it�s better than KotOR (needless to say, which would be incredibly shallow) then you should avoid Mass Effect.
But even then, is it fair to compare Mass Effect to KotOR? I think so. It is set in a somewhat similar environment as KotOR, with galaxies and spaceships filled with weird and wonderful alien species, both friendly and hostile. It also enforces the same sort of military combat, consisting of lasers, huge space-frigates, and squad-based ground action (though don�t be expecting to see any lightsabers).
It�s not all the same though, there are differences with a few key elements in both story and gameplay. But needless to say, you�ll be comparing Mass Effect more with KotOR, than you will with Jade Empire, Bio-Ware�s last effort.
Probably the main difference is the combat. For Mass Effect Bio-Ware opted to avoid using the real-time-turn-based-combat (if you can even call it that) of KotOR, and instead used a real-time over-the-shoulder shooter mechanic. In a way this makes Mass Effect more approachable than KotOR being that most people can pickup and play a shooter, but at the same time Bio-Ware have managed to include plenty of RPG-like functions to keep the combat from getting too run-and-gun orientated.
I personally found the combat in Mass Effect to be more involving and � sometimes � more enjoyable than encounters in KotOR. You have more control over your character, and can specifically take down targets without spending time using menus to initiate an action, although you will still need to delve into a minor menu to switch weapons or use a special ability. This can break-up the action a bit, but you can tap the corresponding bumper to switch between two favourite weapons/abilities without going into the menu.
Against other games that are solely based on over-the-shoulder combat, Mass Effect might not seem the best, but fortunately it isn�t the only element of the game you delve into, so it becomes likeable early on. It�s especially an improvement on how combat is handled in other RPGs (especially Jade Empire which had hideous combat).
The main bulk of the game is separated into three categories: Combat, interaction and vehicle-use. There are sections of the game which have puzzles, but most of them � while welcome � are minor.
Clearly, the weakest of the three categories is using the vehicle known as Mako. Mako is a tank-like machine which can cover most types of terrain while also offering protection in the form of a machine-gun and explosive cannon. While using Mako early on seems like fun and offers a break from the on-foot combat, it does become tiresome after a while as the controls aren�t exactly superb. If anything using Mako just feels like something you will rarely use and is only there to offer a minor gameplay function to break-up other elements of the game (much like firing the gun turrets on the Ebon Hawk in KotOR).
However, as you start to pick up side-quests and explore the galaxy in Mass Effect you become to realise that the game likes to use Mako at any opportunity. For example, you may pick up a quest to find some missing scientists on a distant planet somewhere. Using your ship (the Normandy) you fly to that planet using a Galaxy Map and are then dropped off already inside Mako. You then must use the vehicle to cover the terrain and locate the place you�re trying to find.
While that may sound okay � and in theory it is � it becomes the norm for pretty much 80% of the side-quests you may wish to do in Mass Effect. Unlike KotOR where you would pick up several side-quests to take part in on any one planet, a lot of which would involve taking part in different things, Mass Effect recycles the same gameplay elements over and over again.
It�s by no means completely rubbish to take part in the side-quests, but if you want to experience everything Mass Effect has to offer you�re going to have to get used to the fact that you�ll be enduring lots of driving around in Mako on bland and usually barren landscapes (with only the spectacular images in the sky to look at for comfort).
Fortunately if you only bought Mass Effect with the intention of experiencing the main game then you can completely ignore the side-quests. And if you only insist on doing what the main-quest implies, then you�ll find the use of Mako a lot more tolerable.
Following the main quest Mass Effect offers plenty to enjoy, not least of all interacting with other characters. This is one feature that is slightly improved over from KotOR, with conversations feeling a lot more fluid and realistic. You can, for example, opt for a conversation choice before the other person has finished speaking therefore equalling a natural response.
The conversations you will have and the characters you�ll meet in Mass Effect all offer plenty of depth and so you can spend a large amount of your time talking to NPCs and getting to know your crew on the Normandy. And while on the subject of talking it�s worth pointing out that the voice acting is incredible, there�s no flaws to be seen anywhere with any of the people you�ll meet. Even the voice of your character doesn�t appear to become annoying or unintentional to what you envision he/she would sound like.
To avoid circumstances where conversations would dodge saying your name, the game automatically gives your character a second name at the character-creation screen. While some players may dislike having to be called a certain name, thus loosing a large part of the customisation process, it�s fair to say that letting the character have a default second name let�s the game feel more realistic. It might have been nice to have been given more choice than simply being called Shepard, but having a selection of names would have probably meant lots of time getting the voice actors saying the same things over and over again for the sake of one word. Fair enough, really.
Everything else about your character, you will be glad to read, is customisable. Everything from eye colour to facial scars is available to choose, even more impressive is that no matter how much you edit your character the game manages to make him/her still look plausible through animation.
The general list of combat-classes is up for selection also, consisting of the typical soldier (good at combat, not so good at anything else), the engineer (good at hacking computers, opening locked doors etc� ) and the adept (uses all magic-like abilities (known as biotic powers in-game)). As usual there are also classes which mix around a bit with two classes but makes sure you don�t get the best of both worlds.
As expected the game also utilizes the innovative good/evil mechanics first used in KotOR. This time you have Paragon (good) and Renegade (evil). As usual you will gain points for either section by taking part in the corresponding action (e.g. being rude to another person to gain Renegade points).
Personally I found the good/evil system wasn�t having any impact on my game at all, and gaining points in either didn�t have any affect on my character (unlike KotOR where he/she would look bright and happy, or dark and scary). However, you are posed with many tough decisions in the game which will ultimately question your morality.
Like previous games you can check your good/evil rating in pause-menu. This is where you can also check your journal for quests, codex for information about elements within the games (alien races, technology, etc�), and also check your equipment or spend points when you level your character.
The levelling up system works very well and similar to other RPGs. You gain so much experience, level up and spend your points. There are plenty of sections to spend the points and enough depth to make your decisions affect your characters performance.
Like before all your squad-mates will level when you do, which is a good thing as it means you don�t have to individually level each character (meaning that if you need someone good with hacking/decryption you won�t need to spend ages grinding to make them adequate).
Another nice touch is being able to carry all your character�s statistics and equipment over for a new game after finishing it. This gives you an incentive to go through Mass Effect again but maybe notching up the difficulty to balance out your better abilities.
As mentioned above you also deal with all your equipment in the pause-menu too, but unfortunately this isn�t handled very well in Mass Effect. There isn�t any clear structure to sort all your equipment and you can end up getting bogged down in useless junk after a while playing.
Something else that�s not very well handled in Mass Effect are the visuals and the loading. Graphically the game can look incredible, especially when you arrive on the Citadel and see the scenery with the spaceships whizzing about above your head and the whole interior of the massive space-structure visible. The character-models show a massive amount of detail even holding all four available weapons on their combat suits with the artistic design to make equipping new gear a visual delight as well as a statistic boost. It�s taken a long time for games to realise that someone carrying more than 2 weapons would be something visible in reality, rather than just making the holstered weapons disappear until selected.
Unfortunately, while all the above comments give off the vibe that Mass Effect is a visual delight, the sad truth is that the game is bogged down in the typical texture-build, pop-up and screen-tear that a lot of games display. You�ll often see the game switch from low-res textures to the proper texture as it loads out, which is particularly ugly. It�s very unfortunate considering how wonderful the game would look without these errors and one wonders what the results would have been if the developers delayed the game and spent more time polishing the flawed graphics engine.
Even then though, an improved graphical presence would still be somewhat hampered by the extremely lame placement of elevators in the game. You�re expected to believe, that in a future that has ships that can travel faster than light, elevators can still be as slow to reach their destination as they are in real-life today. It�s a real poor way to cover the loading times, and by the end of the game you�ll be wondering why Bio-Ware didn�t just use loading screens to cut down on the tedium.
You�ll also come across freeze-screen loading early in the game, framerate issues and big delays in game speed when there�s a lot going on (to be fair, slowdown wasn�t really noticeable to me until near the game�s end). It�s all very disappointing when we�re constantly reminded that we�re playing next-generation technology, and yet games seem to suffer more from than the above issues than they did on the last-generation of consoles.
Content-wise, Mass Effect also falls somewhat short of past glories. On one playthrough it�s possible to rack up around 40 hours but that includes taking part in all those side-quests I mentioned earlier (where it�s fair to say a lot of players will find them to be too much of a chore and skip completely). Focusing on main-content alone you�re looking at around 20 hours. It does become noticeable the game is shorter when you don�t really know much about or care for the people in your squad even having speaking to them about all topics.
To a general gamer 20 hours may sound like a long time, but considering how long KotOR could last on any playthrough makes such a number seem insufficient. And it�s not a case of less is more either, as Mass Effect doesn�t do anything unique or hugely better than what KotOR offered in it�s much larger and satisfying universe.
On the plus-side Mass Effect does employ the desire to play through again. Making different decisions and/or altering combat-classes (remembering you can carry over your character for a new game) is something which is appealing. The achievements seem plausible enough to obtain too, and could also offer more incentive to play it again if you�re into that sort of thing. On that front Mass Effect does feel like it�s worth the money unlike a lot of games.
Overall Mass Effect is the type of game that can be really great at times, but also bad in others. For almost every positive thing the game has going, there�s also a flaw. The key things which make the game worth playing are definitely the expansive and excellent story, along with interesting characters. It�s just a shame the game doesn�t last long enough to fully explore either of those elements.
What prevents Mass Effect from being a genuinely excellent game is that it�s made by Bio-Ware, a developer known for a game which is often rated among the highest of best games lists. Like all developers who create something superb, they�re expected to excel upon that with any future releases, and under that magnifying glass Mass Effect doesn�t quite live upto the hopes one would expect.
On the other hand, if you were to ignore all the other games developed by Bio-Ware and judge Mass Effect on its own merits, it would be an excellent game� but still an excellent game with too many flaws to recommend it over other similar games.
An adequate effort, then, for a new entry into the RPG-genre on the 360.
7 / 10