Mass Effect Review
Review By Dan @ 04:22pm 03/12/07
You assume the role of one Commander Shepard, your character's first name, gender, facial appearance are all configurable, you'll even have the option of several back-stories, determining Shepard's birthplace and military experience. The facial manipulation is as intricate as they come, controlled by an almost exhausting series of sliders allowing you virtually limitless facial configuration and you'd do well to settle on something you like because you'll be seeing an awful lot of it. Finally, there's class selection which offers various combinations of weapon proficiency, technical abilities and biotics (the game's sci-fi equivalent of a fantasy game's magic). If all this seems a bit overwhelming or time consuming, a recommended setup is of course provided, but for the role playing purists, the options are all there.
And that's what the whole game is really about; choice. Mass Effect plays like an interactive Choose Your Own Adventure book, one epic story where the outcome of every interactive encounter can be manipulated by the choices you make. This is made possible by one incredibly in-depth dialogue system - without a doubt the one key feature that tramples all else in the genre. We're talking dozens of hours of recorded speech that for the most part fit together as fluid conversation. In-game this is all handled by the dialogue wheel, a rotating list of options used to steer the conversation. Unlike previous RPGs this isn't just a verboten list of the speech options but short descriptions that depict the tone of the response. For instance, in reply to "Looks like they have a dozen men, maybe more" you might have the options "Can I help?", "What's going on?" or "Only a Dozen?" each of which would each prompt your character to ask a more eloquent and detailed question with the same general attitude as the abbreviated option.
For those that crave the magical Xbox 360 Gamer Points, Mass Effect offers some worthy yet reasonable awards.
You'll score the bulk of GP just playing through the game but if you really want that full 1000 you'll need to dig deep into the side-mission and get the most out of every playable character. If nothing else, it's a great excuse to play through the game with both paragon and renegade attitudes.
If all this sounds more like an interactive movie than a video-game, well bear with us because Mass Effect has its fair share of action too. Combat is handled in a similar manner to previous BioWare titles in that the game runs in real-time but all interactions are handled in true RPG fashion with algorithms running behind the scenes determining what hits and misses. The more points you put into a weapon or discipline, the better your aim and higher your damage will be with related attacks. Similarly, the better items you equip the more your chances improve.
The power is yours!As you progress through the game, you'll pick up new party members, although you can only ever pick 2 to fight alongside you on any given mission. The good news is all your team mates will level at the same time so there's no need to play favourites or worry about balancing everyone out. Inventory and character management are a big part of the game and Mass Effect provides an adequate system to handle that. I say adequate, because there's definitely room for improvement. Statistics aside, all the weapons are pretty sameish. As your character level increases, you will find more powerful items through combat and merchants, but for the most part it's just the same set of gear suffixed with a higher numeral. While this does make it easier to compare items, more variety and unique aesthetics would have been nicer.
You won't find any magic or mana in this game and there's no mystical Star Wars style force. Instead we have the game's namesake. "Mass Effect" is a fictional physics phenomenon based around the real life theories of dark energy. The game's combat mechanics tap into this potential power by allowing players to equip cybernetic implants capable of manipulating the mass effect for both offensive and defensive purposes.
In addition there's also a discipline of more conventional tech skills that can disable electronics or turn robotic enemies against their own kind. The end result is an array of special abilities that can be used for strategic advantage in battles, with the different characters in your party having different degrees of proficiency in each.
Controlling your character in combat is intuitive enough, however the game does lack any kind of tutorial so you might want to pay a bit more attention to the game manual that you usually would. Team-mates are a different matter. You can issue a couple of squad commands; spot, follow take-cover but despite best efforts they'll still get themselves killed quite often. Fortunately if you hit a tough spot, the game's difficulty can be adjusted dynamically via the options menu at any time. Other options such as auto-levelling and squad ability usage can also be changed at will, giving you the choice between a challenging videogame or a leisurely stroll to the next piece of dialogue.
If you stick to the main quest line, everything is top notch with no shortage of tasty sci-fi scenery. The galaxy map used to navigate galaxies, solar systems and planets is particularly lush. Unfortunately, stray out too far into side missions and things get a little less polished - Barren planets that you'll want to just land, retrieve and depart. But again, the meat of the game is in role-playing the storyline and the attention to detail in the lore, characters and scripting really does make any design nuances seem completely irrelevant.
While there's undoubtedly room for improvement in many facets of Mass Effect's gameplay, the storytelling element completely overwhelms them. In this reviewer's opinion, this is a game that rivals film and novel in its ability to tell a tale. Hands down the best Role Playing Game available on console today. The best part is, there's still at least two more games to come.