There was justifiable excitement surrounding the arrival of BioWare's first salvo of additional content for the flawed-but-worthy Mass Effect. While it could still benefit from some serious tightening in the technical department, clearly there was enough scope and character to the galaxy that fans were itching for an excuse to dive back in.
The return of the exiled Batarian race, and a plot to crash a giant asteroid into Terra Nova, delivers just that excuse. Only available during the mid-section of the game, when you have the helm of the Normandy and can fly to the Asgard system, Commander Shepard and his crew have just four hours to prevent disaster and find out who is behind this Michael Bay-inspired terrorist attack. It's mildly annoying for those who have finished game to have to play through Eden Prime and the Citadel again to access what you've paid for, but it's hard to complain - you can see how this is the only way such add-ons can work.
We tend to measure the worth of our RPGs in terms of hours spent scouring them for every last experience point, so eyebrows were certainly raised at the fact that Bring Down The Sky lasts - at best - an hour and a half. Such brevity would be fine if it were crammed with unmissable storytelling and innovative action, but what's most disappointing is that not only does this new mini-story fail to deliver much in the way of narrative excitement during that time, but that most of the gameplay revolves around sluggish Mako tank combat, hopping and blasting the stupid amount of gun turrets surrounding the three thrusters being used to propel the asteroid. That disappointment deepens when you realise that the three outposts controlling the thrusters all use the same old base map you'll have grown sick of during the rest of the game. Of all the things I hoped would be changed for the downloadable content, the off-putting map repetition was top of the list. So, boo.
Also inducing sighs and shrugs is the lack of any real narrative meat. There's minimal NPC interaction, and the motives behind the asteroid attack are vague at best. This is really just a medium-sized combat-heavy side-quest that, had it been squeezed into the main game, wouldn't have had many players rushing to check it out. Despite the compelling race-against-time concept, there's no game-clock running - probably because disaster looms in four hours in-game, but you can finish the mission in a quarter of that in real time. So instead of plot twists and role-playing, it's just blast, blast, blast, drive, drive, drive, blast, blast, blast. There are 50 Gamerpoints to be earned, but they just come at the end in one chunk, regardless of the options you choose. There's therefore no incentive to seek out the handful of smaller objectives in the mission, or investigate every corner of the map.
In fact, it's only at the end, as you confront the Batarian extremists in their HQ, that this mission really comes to life. The building is - gasp! - a new layout, and while there's a ton of combat in this section, you at least feel like you're taking part in something other than a shooting gallery. The story and action finally work in harmony, rather than as separate entities. The Batarians themselves are hardly the most riveting addition to the Mass Effect universe though - they look funny with their multiple facial features, but require no new tactics or weapons to defeat. It seems likely that their grievances against the Council will form the backbone of future DLC missions, so I'll trust that BioWare has something in mind for them beyond what we see here.
The price - 400 Microsoft Points, or GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80 - is certainly right for an experience this slender, but personally I'd rather have paid twice as much and got something with more substance. Maybe three missions that overlap, with a more balanced mix of action and intrigue? Something that at least requires visits to more than one location? Playing armchair developer is always a frustrating experience, but I had hoped that these optional missions might be used to serve up something new or at least delve into the background of the characters who got the short end of the story stick in the original game. What about Kaidan's tragic past? Or Tali's pilgrimage? Ashley's adorably sexy brand of militaristic racism? There's so much fertile narrative soil established by the main game that I'm honestly surprised, and a little saddened, that a company usually defined by great stories has opted not to explore it in Bring Down The Sky.
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