Every so often, a game will come along that can only be described as �ambitious� in its scope. Mass Effect is one of these games. But where The Elder Scrolls and Fable�s ambition lies in their attempts to create a living, breathing world usually confined to a single country, Mass Effect takes that idea and multiplies it infinitely in its own attempt to create a living, breathing galaxy. The question is, does it get it right? Most of the time.
The game begins where most other games fitting the RPG genre begin: creating your character. You are free to mould your character into anything you like, as long as it�s human. You begin by choosing your gender and first name, while the second name is set to Shepard. The face creation tool is one of the best in recent times, giving you a truly human looking character rather than Oblivion�s deformed creatures. It�s only a matter of time before Chuck Norris appears on YouTube kicking Geth �ass� unfortunately. You also get to choose which class your character will be from a gun wielding soldier, a mind bending biotic, a techie, or a combined effort of two. Your choice of character background will also give a boost to your Paragon or Renegade stat, the games own take on the good/dark stat from the genre.
When you�ve finished making your Jeremy Clarkson or Angelina Jolie look-a-like, you finally get to start playing the thing. The first hour or so of the game is admittedly one you may find yourself forcing yourself through as it is mainly just a tutorial, but the storyline quickly picks up the pace and drags you teeth-first into Bioware�s sci-fi universe. The story revolves around you, Commander Shepard, and your hunt for the evil Spectre Saren, who you have reason to believe is getting up to things that may have the unfortunate side effect of the apocalypse. Yes, it�s another quest to save the world.
Overall, the storyline is a great one, bordering on brilliant. The world that Bioware have created in Mass Effect is so incredibly detailed in every aspect from the history to the characters, my personal favourite being Joker, that it�s genuinely hard not to get wrapped up in the whole thing. With that in mind though, the way your squad mates are developed in this game can often make them seem underdeveloped compared with their previous sci-fi epic and spiritual predecessor, Knights of the Old Republic. Gone are the moments of Carth Onassi stopping you for a chat in the streets, replaced by the new method of Shepard running over to his/her squad in between missions for a chat. This can sometimes feel like more of an effort than it should, and having such a small amount of interaction with your squad outside of the ship can often make them seem a bit lifeless. Saren also gets to be a bit of a cliché toward the end of the game, and the plot, while well written and acted out through dialogue, starts to become quite reminiscent of the later chapters a certain Keanu Reeves movie.
The gameplay itself is also quite mixed, though with a little compromise and tinkering it is for the most part an entertaining game. It seems a little strange that the default option for biotic and tech abilities is to use passive abilities only, meaning that you�ll have to bring up the ability screen to order your quad to use them, which often breaks up the otherwise brilliant gameplay. Why this setting is in the options rather than being set through the squad screen is also a bizarre one, as it removes the ability to set, for example, your tech character to passive and your biotic to offensive or vice versa. It doesn�t take long to change this option though, so it is only a minor flaw. Bioware have also done a great job creating the RPG-FPS combo that they have evidently worked hard to perfect, bar the odd sniper rifle.
The driving segments of the game are, however, massively flawed, particularly if you�ve played Halo 3 in the last couple of months. The biggest fault in the driving is the handling of the car itself, since pushing the analogue stick back turns the whole car around rather than simply reversing, which often gets annoying if all you want to do is reverse slightly to squeeze yourself into a canyon. Bioware also make the mistake of forcing you to drive and shoot at the same time, something that was removed from Halo long ago for just not being any fun, and it�s because of this that you�ll likely find yourself ignoring the large Geth that you�re obviously supposed to be shooting. The exploration parts of the driving are admittedly fun and hugely satisfying, which just makes the rest of it such a large shame.
The other large part of the game is actually conversing with other characters, from your squad mates to seemingly random humans and aliens in the citadel and the other planets. Bioware have developed a new method of doing this by presenting you with a segmented circle with various dialogue options allocated to each segment. This is mainly used to further the main plot and gain Assignments, missions that contribute nothing to the main storyline. It�s also there to develop the characters, and usually does a great job of doing so. Toward the end of the game you�ll also have to make some decisions in conversation that really affect the characters you�ve come to know and love, as well as the entire universe. There are at least two of these choices that you genuinely hate to make, and will need five minutes or so to think through them. Most of all though, these choices actually feel important, as though are forging the storyline rather than have it spat out to you in series of cut scenes.
Visually, the game is a stunner. It�s quite possibly the most impressive and artistic looking game to date, though it is not without fault. The biggest complaint is that you don�t seem to be able to move the camera at all without being assault by a huge amount of screen tearing, which really starts to detract from the overall enjoyment of the game. When that�s combined with the dreadful way that the textures seem to just pop in to the screen, it begins to get annoying. It�s impossible to admire how detailed everything is though, making the game universe really feel like a genuinely real place. It�s also the first time I have personally felt that use of the grain effect was well done rather than over done.
The four or so main planets also feel like they are truly unique, developed separately from the others, especially Feros. The less important worlds however all begin to feel the same, since most of them use the exact same building structures, removing any unique identity that these worlds have.
The audio is one of the very few things that can be described as perfect, bar the dreadful mix that often makes it hard to her the dialogue through the music. Other than that minor issue though, it is spot on in every regard. The soundtrack itself is incredibly reminiscent of old sci-fi movies, especially the song that plays during the end credits. The background music also adds just the right kind of ambience to the game without being too overbearing. It�s unfortunate that the Xbox 360�s fan is so loud that it is sometimes hard to enjoy it.
Despite the issues that Mass Effect has, the game really is a joy to play. It really does have the feeling that you are playing through a great sci-fi novel rather than just another Adventure Of The Bald Space Marine. Hopefully the rest of the trilogy will offer more of the same while also cleaning up some of the more flawed parts of the game.
8 / 10