Mass Effect Reader Review
Role Playing Games are probably the geekiest genre of this geekiest of pastimes; the genre sinominous with Final Fantasy, its turn-based combat and its scantily clad ladies being drooled over by nerds. That was the past. Bioware�s sole purpose as a developer seems to be bringing RPGs to the masses and they did extraordinarily well with Knights of the Old Republic. It was a great success and critically acclaimed no doubt helped extensively by being part of the Star Wars franchise. Jade Empire didn�t do too well as a follow-up game so it was back to the drawing board for Bioware and back to what made them house-hold names. Space travel, big guns, alien babes and an epic tale.
Mass Effect�s similarities to the Star Wars universe have been huge; the trick was to separate their franchise from that one. It was a big requirement and it�s obvious throughout play that an immense galaxy has been created through its numerous planets and the detailed information collected in the game�s Codex. The most intriguing part of the games story is that of humanities eagerness to become a major part of the galaxy and the way that the human characters feel about the other species of aliens around them. Some feel that humanity needs to make friends in this new galaxy should they ever get into trouble and others feel that humanity needs to separate themselves from the other species. It�s a fantastic sub-plot of racism and paranoia that will become a major part of the sequels. The main story sees a Spectre named Commander Sheppard (male or female, it�s your choice) tailing a rogue Spectre named Saren. He however isn�t in the game that much and isn�t built up particularly well. There should have been more character development for him, making him a real threat instead of just making him the poster boy for wrong-doing. As the story un-folds it draws in the player and the pacing is superb as you reach the games climax.
Your Commander Sheppard can be whoever you want them to be, male or female, black or white, a by-the-book tool of the council or a badass renegade who does it their own way. The characters development system may not be extensive with most male and female characters looking alike but they do all look realistic. Realistic at least compared to other character building RPGs that make increasingly ugly, unrealistic avatars. Choosing what you�re character is, is just as easy as choosing what they look like. Throughout the game Sheppard develops as you see fit through the conversation trees. The layout of which is fantastic with by-the-books option in the top right, the renegade one bottom-right, mutual in the middle and options to extend the conversation on the left. The layout makes conversation fun rather than a chore although the system of interrupting a character has been lost in the development. This is likely because of fears players will interrupt constantly throughout conversations to get through the game faster. The voice acting is superb almost throughout the game and the sheer amount of dialogue is staggering. The only bad acting comes from Ashley who comes out with some dire one-liners and just comes across as a bitch. This is outweighed by the awesome Wrex with his deep tones emitting a fantastic and believable character. One conversation in particular on the planet of Virmire is unbelievable, you couldn�t cut the tension between Sheppard and the other character (no spoilers here folks) with a knife and one result will leave you speechless.
It is clear that Bioware have gone for the sci-fi feel of the 70s and 80s with a brilliant soundtrack reminiscent of Blade Runner and other sci-fi classics. The line between films and games is blurred occasionally most notably with the Metal Gear Solid franchise but Mass Effect does a fantastic job itself. The inclusion of a film-grain over videos is a little over the top and unnecessary as it steps over the line into moviedom rather than blurring it. The motion blur is rather headache-inducing as well but thankfully these two aspects are optional and can be switched off at any time. The visuals are outstanding considering the size of the worlds that are explorable which can lead to frustrating texture pop-ups. These stick out like a suspiciously smooth, sore thumb during boss fights boss fights.
Mass Effect is a Role Playing Game that looks like a third person shooter. It is not a balls-to-the-wall shooter like Gears of War although the cover system may give the indication that it is. The combat is realistic to a degree, on harder difficulties cover and firing in short bursts is essential, so at points it�s more like Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. Whilst not perfect or anywhere near the quality of some combat mechanics, for an RPG it does its job well. The AI however is erratic to say the least. Sometimes the enemies stay behind cover but refuse to come out, simply waiting for you to walk about to them and give them a dose of lead. Other times they run at our protagonists kamikaze style although this can lead to some great moments. For example when a Krogan comes running towards you, its hulking mass ready to beat you to death you unleash ever bullet you can fire to bring them down, often sending him crashing right at your feet. One thing that never happens though is a retreat. They may cower behind cover but they don�t ever run away which would make sense seeing as they�re alone against three heavily armed military types.
The RPG elements are as extensive as the player requires, you can change the weapons of and tell your squad where to go and what to do or you can set an option so they do it themselves. Upgrades are handled through the menu system and becomes an in depth part of the game. The large array of weapons (only limited to four or five types of weapon) all have profiles and stats and the balancing act begins. Does the gamer take fire power over accuracy or vice versa for example. Weaponry add-ons are vast and can be changed at any time. This isn�t wholly necessary to the game but some add-ons can make parts of the game less of a strain.
The marketing machine for the game focused on the decisions that the game puts upon the gamer. There aren�t many of them but they all have an impact, the best ones however are the ones that affect your team. Relationships between Sheppard and the other characters aboard the Normandy becomes a great narrative tool, the back stories to some revealing a lot about their motives and previous lives. When decisions that affect these crew members have to be made you can be genuinely affected by your choice. Bioshock�s moral dilemmas have nothing on this.
It�s not a perfect game, it certainly has its flaws but all together the experience is so rich. The game pays homage to the sci-fi films and TV series of the past whilst still managing to stick out of the crowd. Mass Effect is a Science Fiction extravaganza and a must have for fans of RPGs and Sci-Fi alike. Role playing games of the future take note, Mass Effect is the daddy.
9 / 10