Mass Effect (PC, XBOX 360)

So, I’m still waiting on my computer to arrive. Meaning I’ve not got my copy of Mass Effect 3, meaning I haven’t played it, meaning I still cannot tell everyone how good it is. Although it does give me the opportunity to go back and give another look at the series humble beginnings. Commander Shepard’s rise to fame and stardom among the intergalactic elite. Let me take you back to the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the furthest stars. The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time. They called it the greatest discovery in human history. The civilizations of the galaxy call it… MASS EFFECT.

In Mass Effect, to those unknown to modern computer games, you play as Commander [insert first name] Shepard, who’s gender is cause for debate, who must fight a sentient race of Artificial Intelligences so stop the rogue Spectre Saren from summoning The Reapers, a deadly race of machines designed to wipe all intelligent life from the galaxy. If you lost the plot at any point in that last sentence then this game is not for you. If that’s the case close this review, go back to playing Halo and never darken my doorstep again… Now that they are gone, the game feels like the kind of game Knights of the Old Republic would feel like if Lucas Arts weren’t there looking over Bioware’s shoulder asking “What ya doing?” every 5mins.

Speaking of the Old Republic, Mass Effect keeps up the traditions of KotoR by being very wordy. It’s great to see that the writers are doing their job properly but in places some cutting back here or there would have been preferable, to help the game flow a bit easier. Characters drivel out their life stories far too easily. In real like not even the worlds most trusting man would yap on about their life and other personal affairs as easily as most of the characters in the game. Not only that, you find a data pad or a computer screen and BOOM!!, another 6 pages of history has been added to the journal. True you don’t have to read it but it does mean some of the references made about key events outside the game can go over your head, such as the Rachni War or the Krogan Genophage. Also it means that the journal button in the Start menu keeps flashing which to any OCD suffers out their will be very annoying and will agitate you a treat. It’s not all bad mind, it just means that the history and the mythos of the Mass Effect universe is very well documented (much like the Star Wars mythos if we are still making references). It’s as if the writers created this whole universe of events and places but were too busy with the story to add it in as any kind of back story so dumped it into the game as a rule book that players can go back to when needed. This is not good story telling, making me stop every 30mins because I didn’t know of the outcome of the First Contact War. The story delivery itself may be long winded and drawn out but the story itself is very interesting and well written (and before people think I’m contradicting myself, imagine Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a very interesting piece which is well written, now imagine it being read by someone with a really bad stammer from memory, not so good story telling).

The game play of Mass Effect is where the comparisons end. Mass Effect lets you control things like shooting and aiming directly as opposed to KotoR which took the approach of click on something and wait until it dies. It submerges you into the game making you feel more like a Spectre and less like your playing a table-top game about a Spectre. That is until you go planet side and jump into the Mako, then you’re in for a treat. It’s like driving a shopping trolly where all 4 wheels are stuck in different directions… and it’s made of flubber. The smallest bump can cause you to veer in completely the wrong direction and barrel roll into the nearest crater. This really doesn’t help when the terrain of more or less represents the surface of a teenagers face, which can lead to some annoying (yet sometimes rather amusing) moments. For example, I was on the planet of Therum driving driving along, went over a slight bump which suddenly made the Mako steer violently to the left straight into a pool of Lava, Shepard dead, Critical Mission Failure, back to the ship. This wouldn’t annoy me as much if Auto Save did it’s job properly. It doesn’t save all the time. The likes of Skyrim and KotoR it saves after going through pretty much every door, Mass Effect really only auto saves when it feels like it, forcing me on many occasion to rage quit.

At first glance from the galaxy map, the game looks quite small, but when you travel to a star cluster and find that each cluster system has between 2-5 star systems and each star system has between 3-9 planets to check out, then to top it off you have moons, asteroids and the odd ship to explore, you realise that your earlier presumption to be slightly inaccurate. The game is very deep and full of content. Not only will the main story keep you entertained for a good 10+hrs but the sheer number of side-quests is mind-boggling. Even if most of them are set in the same layout buildings, just on different planets. Then on top of that there is the DLC content with additional side missions. So their is alot to keep the average gamer busy for quite a while.

Throughout the course of the games you will meet various different species and races, all of which seem to have their own personal traits and idiosyncrasies. For example the Elcor to most species seem very mono-tone and flat, this is because their emotions are displayed in slight body movements that “make a human smile seem as subtle as a fireworks display”. Because of this when talking to another species they usually define their emotive status as a prefix to what they’re saying. Another example is the Salarians, they are said to have short lifespans of about 40 or so years, this is shown by their rapid rate of speech and a kind of “rush-rush” attitude towards things. It’s these small details that make each species not just difference from human, but different from each other. Unlike many other space fairing computer games in which aliens just feel like humans in disguise.

Now for my final though, Mass Effect has become one of my favourite RPG’s to date. It sets itself aside from its western predecessors by trying to be more action based and remove the bore that usually comes with most Western RPG’s. The story and character development still feels in-depth and progresses well during the course of the game. I thoroughly recommend this game to anyone, although I do hear that the 360 version can be rather buggy at times, also the controls are more limited (you can only hot key one power in the 360 version, and you can not control your party members separately). Action gamers may get annoyed by the more RPG elements of the game and the RPG gamers may get annoyed by the more action elements of the game, but in the end it’s a game that I have jumped back to and enjoyed many times over since I first bought it. Also, once you’ve finished playing the game, keep a hold of your save. You’ll need it to continue Shepard’s story in Mass Effect 2. 

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