In The Distant Future, In A Galaxy Not So Far Away....
Mass Effect, for the Xbox 360, is the latest game from Bioware. Planned as a trilogy many fans are already clambering that this is the studio’s best game. But with KOTOR, Jade Empire, and Baldur’s Gate under their belts, can this be possible?
The year is 2183, and humanity has made great strides in the universe. Yet to the older and more advanced species, humans are still considered children. They are brash and impatient. And are not treated like they belong. Yet trouble is brewing, an ancient threat is coming, when it does it will wipe out all life in the galaxy. It is time for humanity to prove their worth to the galactic community.
In Mass Effect you play as Commander Shepherd, whom is fully customizable, from the basics male\female, to very small details like visible scars. You also get to choose his\her back story.(This feature is kind of similar to that in Arcanum.-MM-) And as in the Bioware tradition you can play the character any way you want. Which will have a noticeable change in the game as a whole NOT just the ending as in so many other games.
The game begins with a simple but crucial mission. Shepherd, is tasked with recovering an artifact from an alien world, recently colonized by humans, he will be joined by a Spectre. They are an elite force of agents that a responsible for any number tasks. They answer only to the council. They are given free range to finish a mission by whatever means necessary.
Something goes terribly wrong and, the mission is compromised. It seems that a Spectre, called Saren, has gone rouge. Shepherd must now finish the mission, or what is left of it anyway. It is here when Shepherd comes into contact with a beacon. It sends strange images into his mind, he sees death, destruction, the end to all life in the galaxy.
Shepherd is named a Spectre, the first human to get the honor. Shepherd’s ultimate goal is to track down Saren, and stop his deadly machinations, before it is too late.
Your main point of extraction or “hub” if you will, is, The Citadel. Which is a huge spaceport/city. It was built long ago, by whom or what no one knows for certain. It is a home away from home for all the different species of the galaxy. And is maintained by the mysterious, “keepers”. The Citadel is large and beautiful, with tons on details and graphical tricks possible only on the Xbox 360.
And there are two main part of it. The topside area is reserved for dignitaries, wealthy socialites and the lot. The lower area or “wards” are for the working class. With breathtaking port views of space. (The top area has an artificial view of blue skies.-MM-) As well as shops and bars.
From here you can travel to distant worlds. Aside from the main quests, there are tons of secondary tasks to undertake. From a galactic survey, taking readings from worlds to find what if any resources they have. To fighting space-pirates, and battling Thresher Maws. Which are gigantic sand worm type creatures.
Not all the worlds in Mass Effect can be explored. There would simply be to many for that, furthermore, just as in our solar system, many of the planets are just gas giants, or made of a thin lair of ice. Speaking or our system, you can travel to our own system!
For the planets that you can land on, there are two ways to explore them. Via, “The Mako”, an all terrain vehicle. You can also fight in The Mako, it fires a machine gun, and has missiles. And you can explore on foot. However some planets are to dangerous to stay out on for extended periods. They may be too hot or too cold, or any other number of things. The emphasis on exploration and discovery are somewhat reminiscent if the Dreamcast game, “Skies Of Arcadia”.
Well, Mass Effect, certainly has a great story. But many an RPG has been killed, in my mind anyhow, by bland and uninteresting characters. Mass Effect excels here as well. Each and every character that can join your party is unique, and has their own personality. From fellow solider and potential love interest, Ashley Williams, to the badass mercenary, Urdnot Wrex.
And as in previous Bioware titles, you can converse with your crew and learn more about them, and can often help them if not in a quest, then you can help them in other ways. And yes there is a romance subplot. And yes there is a sex scene, but it is done very tastefully and not at all the filthy thing some, jackass “news” channels try to make it out to be.
There is also a part that the fate of two main characters is in the balance. You cannot save them both, so the loss of one feels more real.( I have not been this moved by the death of a game character since Phantasy Star IV-MM-)
The supporting characters are also handled well. This is often overlooked in RPGS. Captain Anderson, and “Joker” in particular come to mind.
The conversations are laid out a bit differently than in most RPGS. Firstly all the dialog choices are displayed on a ring, And the conversations all flow more naturally. And as we have come to expect from Bioware, the dialog is incredibly well written.
Parties are formed of three members. For exploration, and eventually combat.
The combat system is Mass Effect, is refined and great fun. It plays basically like a squad based tactical game, Rainbow Six, for example. When I first read about it I was dumbstruck. But once you get into the game and start using the system, you will wonder how you ever played any other.
You directly control Shepherd, and indirectly control your other squad members. The A.I. does the rest. You can fire your weapons, pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles. Each weapon has it’s own strengths and weakness. Furthermore some classes can only master certain types of guns. There are also various grenade types. As well as Biotics. This is basically the games magic system, mixed with bio-mods from Deus Ex. Only the Adept class can utilize these. They can be quite fun to play with particularly the levitate ability. This allows you to lift and project enemies.
You can heal, give orders to your squad via the D-pad. And use Powers. Not unlike those seen in KOTOR, powers are learned by leveling up. They range from rapid fire, to projectile shields, and the like. Each class has a unique set of these, and using them can often get you out of a tight spot.
I briefly mentioned the alignment system earlier. Now I will explain it in more detail. In Mass Effect, there is Paragon, or Renegade. Someone whom is Paragon follows procedure, and does things by the book. A Renegade on the other hand believes that any means are justified to get to job done. Unlike most games with a morality system, that, of Mass Effect does not just change the ending. It also changes how others react to you, including party members. Some quests may not be offered to you if you are a renegade for example. Yet most quests have both a Paragon and a Renegade resolution.
Mass Effect is easily above par in the graphics and audio departments. The visuals are absolutely stunning. From the realistic character designs, their real-time facial expressions every human and alien looks real. The lighting effects have to be seen to be believed.
And the areas will blow you away! From the beautiful alien architecture of, The Citadel, to quiet glory of Earth’s moon, with a stunning view of planet Earth to boot. All the alien planets have unique look. Some have an Earth like beauty, while others will have you in awe of their alien majesty. Now this is eye-candy!
The music is Mass Effect, has a very spacey feel to it. I enjoyed it very much. From the wonderful title theme. To the adrenaline pumping battle music. Especially the end boss music.
The voice-acting is superb as we have come to expect from Bioware. I would say that is Hollywood quality, but I fell that it even surpasses that. This is simply some of the best voice acting I have ever heard.
Great sci-fi sound effects as well. From bop-guns, to space ships, it’s all good.
I almost want to put: NOTHING, in the “bad” section. Of course that would not be entirely true so here goes.
The targeting system is battle can feel off at times. One part in particular, where you have to be careful not to hurt any civilians, if you want the Paragon bonus. The auto-target always tried to target the innocents, that was quite frustrating.
This game has lots of untapped potential. I realise that when making a game, the designers cannot fit in EVERYTHING, but a lot of the game had me wanting more. Of course there will be sequels. For example some space-ship combat would have been nice.
The Bottom Line
Mass Effect is a killer app for the Xbox 360. I would list is as a reason to own one. And in answer to my earlier question: Is Mass Effect, Bioware’s best game?(You didn’t just skip to this part did you?-MM-) This reviewer can answer an ecstatic, yes!