Driving Forward Through Space - Mass Effect
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Technically speaking, Mass Effect is a fantastic game. The depth of the dialog options, the scope of the narrative, and the amount of content goes practically unchecked by any of its closest competitors.

Bioware's sci-fi role-playing shooter is a game currently available for the X-Box 360 and PC. This review will be addressing the 360 version of the game, not including any patches or downloadable content.

Bioware has a particularly distinctive style, which continues to show itself in their RPG titles of late. The three-member squad, third-person perspective, branched dialog, voice actor/actress choice, and method of weapon/spell selection all feel on the same vein as Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, and even goes so far as to feel like returning home after a long journey or meeting up with an old friend.

Mass Effect does stand apart from the sheer scope of the game. The narrative follows a human naval officer, Commander Shepard, into the early years of human's interaction with alien life. Having discovered the secret to faster than light space travel and an ability to traverse the Milky Way in thousandths of the time it would take, even with light-speed travel, humanity has discovered life "out there" and is trying to acclimate themselves into the society in space.

The main mission involves the hunt for what amounts to a rogue spy, eventually leading to the discovery of a virtually unknown extinct alien race, and a plot that has a drastic change on the course of all life in the universe. The main story alone provides about ten hours, with hours of side content available for the curious and exploration-happy players.

The amount of side content, customization choice, and polish of the game is remarkable without being too cumbersome, or even forcing itself on the player. Most of the missions come as a result of overhearing a conversation at a bar, or a news report played over the radio, and don't even have to be started, much less followed through. However, following through with side missions often knocks over the first in a long line of dominoes, opening up new side missions, learning more about Shepard's crew, and allowing room for Shepard's personality to grow.

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The interactions with the crew members is well done, letting Shepard's personality shine through beautifully and letting the crew shape themselves and grow under Shepard's command. In some cases, they can even grow further and more distant from Shepard. Even to the point of attacking.

Although the writing is well done for Shepard's dialog, sometimes options still feel a little too black-and-white, and the obvious choice for one side or the other feels too unrealistic. The writing helps, but a bad situation can only be written so well. Beyond that point, it exceeds the willing suspension of disbelief, and Mass Effect flirts with that line frequently. Too frequently at times, and can ruin some of the immersion that the game normally achieves so seamlessly.

Beyond the story, the combat for Mass Effect is also fluid, switching from combat to at-ease situations quite readily where necessary. The fluidity and suddenness of ambushes and encounters adds a layer of likability to the title that, by comparison, is completely missing from other games of its type. A fluidity that is not missing from the combination of third person shooter and RPG elements. Combat itself is a joy to partake in, somehow managing to be strategic and adrenaline-fueled at the same time.

However, combat itself is unreliable, meaning the same fight with the same enemies could go horribly one skirmish, and swimmingly the next. The inconsistency makes for a frequent game of "repeat the battle," made all the worse infrequent autosaves and long cutscenes preceeding and postfacing major battles. And as bad as the problem is for human battles, the battles in the all-terrain vehicles are worse. Shield durability is incredibly variable, and the relative firepower of enemies against the vehicle are laughably vast in favor of the enemies. Large groups require countless breaks to recharge shields and hull integrity, while battle with small groups or individual foes become more a joke than a concern.

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As well as inconsistent combat, spending time with the all-terrain Mako is oftentimes more an exercise in frustration than it is a joy to drive. The physics for the vehicle are almost cartoonish, allowing to drive vertically for a brief period given the right amount of momentum. The strange thing is that the mountain passes and constant need for all-terrain capabilities makes the bizarre physics a welcome sight, especially when navigating multiple planets in rapid succession.

Which is another problem with the game, the side missions. While they are frequent, their variety is limited. Usually condensed into "go to point A, shoot enemy B" spread across one or more planets. This means scaling several hundred alien planets' mountains almost ad nauseum, generally limiting the length of the mission to fifteen minutes of gunfights. Even the longer missions just repeat the process multiple times on the same planet or star cluster.

Even in the points where the game shines, it's littered with little problems like textures that load as while the player is navigating the map, or an accidental glitch that will wedge the player into rails or off of walkable platforms completely. Some even going to such extremes as killing the player for no reason other than being the unfortunate victim of a graphical glitch.

Simply put, Mass Effect's biggest flaw is simply being too good. The little flaws on any other game would seem trivial, but stick out so sorely when contrasted with the cleanness and almost childish wonder the rest of the game maintains. It provides a contrast point that makes the flaws seem so remarkable despite being ultimately, so trivial.

Bottom Line: Mass Effect is a fantastic game whose minor flaws build up enough to make a near perfect experience become seemingly unbearable at times. Although it is still without a doubt one of the best examples of what an RPG can and should be.

Recommendation: Buy it. It's worth every penny, frustration, and second of time spent.

It's funny. The combat of Mass Effect was, to me, the weakest point of the game. Nothing really felt real to me as I played; I felt disjointed from what was happening. I enjoyed the vehicular combat sections more, once I discovered the ease with which people die when you crash into them. That made it more enjoyable, as if I was a giant ram.
The items of the game also felt a little too sameish.

I do agree with you though, it is a brilliant game. And this was a brilliant review.

For me it wasn't worth it. It was boring, it had too much boring exposition, only 4 weapons and really lame combat. Plus it was too Star-Wars-ish.

Really avarege game IMO.

But your review did a very good job at outlining the goods and bads.

I liked the uniforms. They looked very profesional.

That's as far as my enthusiasm goes for this game.

Very nice review, I always assumed that the silly way the Mako drove up slopes was something to do with futuristic magic tyres. It came in handy anyway, and I totally agree with what you said about ambushes, I remember one mission where there were about eight people waiting to ambush me, but I'd used some sort of back exit from the cave I was in, so I ended up picking them off with the sniper rifle as they tried to return fire. Much fun, although other than that though, and the meaty kick the assault rifle I was using by the end of the game seemed to give, I found the combat fairly weak, for me it always boiled down to, take cover, wait for enemy to do same, sprint over to enemy behind cover, pistol whip.

Future Hero:
For me it wasn't worth it. It was boring, it had too much boring exposition, only 4 weapons and really lame combat. Plus it was too Star-Wars-ish.

Really avarege game IMO.

But your review did a very good job at outlining the goods and bads.

A science-fiction space travelling game SIMILAR TO STAR WARS?! BLA... yeah, okay.

They are addessing most of the issues from the first game in the sequel, so we will have a lot more weapons, better combat and less annoying vehicle episodes.

Also, they've JUST NOW fixed the Overheat bug that has forced me few times to quicksave/quickload few boss battles.

This is probably your best review in a while, and it does a great job of detailing all of the aspects of the game. I'm glad to see you back to regular writing in the forums, because your reviews and articles are regularly insightful and well-written.

Keep it up!

Most excellent review!.

I found myself agreeing with all your points especially with the combat. The overall execution of the game left me feeling a bit empty though, perhaps despite the engrossing storyline I was still left feeling numb.

I suppose ME2 will have all those issues looked at, hopefully, it will a better product that Pinnacle station.

Caimekaze:
It's funny. The combat of Mass Effect was, to me, the weakest point of the game. Nothing really felt real to me as I played; I felt disjointed from what was happening.

The thing for me is that even if you got out-gunned as the squad, you could take cover pretty fluidly, and use your party to move and co-ordinate a pincer attack, or head-on charge, or use techs and biotics from a range. It left a lot of availability. Where I focused on using the Marksman ability and firing from the hip with my pistol, my brother focused on staying at extreme lengths and thinning numbers with a Sniper Rifle and switching only when enemies got too close. Between the pair of us, we were even the same job class. It made the game very interesting.

Conversely, the vehicle didn't have a lot of variety. The non-agile aiming of the main cannon and machine guns produced lots of specific fiddling in order to take out targets. It also had no natural cover system or techs/biotics. It only had one of two guns, and no way to specifically take cover. While some battles were natural and fun (like in the longer corridors), the bumpy terrain and sniper-defended forts were spectacularly frustrating. To each their own, though.

Future Hero:
It was boring, it had too much boring exposition, only 4 weapons and really lame combat.

I didn't think it was so much "Star Wars-ish" as it was Bioware-ish. The long expositional time in the Citadel, the way party members were collected. It all felt pretty samey.

As far as combat goes, I think that Mass Effect did really well here. I'd even go so far as to register surprise that you're complaining about four unique weapon types in an RPG. Were this a run-and-gun TPS, I would agree that four weapons is slim, but given that every weapon had upgradable elements, were rounded off with techniques, and the relative training or lack of training upgraded the dynamic completely for given weapons. Which isn't to say you're wrong, just that I was pleasantly surprised about four unique weapons, not disappointed.

AmrasCalmacil:
I found the combat fairly weak, for me it always boiled down to, take cover, wait for enemy to do same, sprint over to enemy behind cover, pistol whip.

Actually, my character had the relative pistol-whipping ability of a small girl. Instead, I kept the enemy at range constantly, focusing on cutting off rushes with grenades or Biotic Throws/Lifts, and using the cover system to keep most battles at firing range distances. Later in the game, due to my pistol's high attack power and rapidity of techniques, I managed to go commando on the enemies, moving as a squad while pouring rounds down range, only pausing long enough to overheat the guy with the rocket launcher.

I'm not sure, game felt like it had enough diversity there.

RAKtheUndead:
This is probably your best review in a while, and it does a great job of detailing all of the aspects of the game.

I was kinda afraid I'd gone too overboard on this one, even sinking so far as to leaving out little comments I would've otherwise put in because I felt it was getting too long. Guess that just means I shouldn't trust my gut.

Thanks much for the kind words, RAK. Glad to be back writing.

Nick Bounty:
The overall execution of the game left me feeling a bit empty though, perhaps despite the engrossing storyline I was still left feeling numb.

The way I handled the game, I didn't really have this problem. (Spacing out the major story missions between huge chains of side missions and various planet hoppings.) Looking at the speed of the narrative, I can easily see how this feeling could happen. I think it was the pacing of information, with the last ten hours of buildup put off until the last two hours of the game. When spread about between side missions, it feels longer. When accomplished single-mindedly, it's terribly, terribly fast and unrealistic. Shame to hear it didn't pass well for you.


I haven't played Mass Effect yet, but I'm being ever more convinced to do so. Another great review, Nuke.

NewClassic... Not to inflate your ego or anything, because if this does, I take it all back, but...

That was a wonderful review. I enjoyed it.

So...There.

Just don't get a swelled head from it.

Nice review! I couldn't agree more with your opinion of the Mako; perhaps BioWare will give us a space helicopter for the next game?

On the level where you save Liara, I got the Mako inside the opening in the rock wall.

The enemies bug out and don't even shoot at you. EVEN after you get out.

But yeah it is a bitch to drive/shoot.

Good review is what I'm going for.

 

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