Gaming Today Reviews Mass Effect

Editor’s Note: This review, along with Shawn’s Hellgate London review, are a new style of review written from the perspective of a character in the game. We hope you enjoy, and please let us know if you like the idea.

captain_anderson.jpg<<Incoming Transmission>>
<<Personal Message – Cmdr. Shepard, SSV Normandy>>
<<Sender – Capt. David Anderson, Citadel Station>>
<<Subject: Wetting Down>>

<<Begin Message-AlmarCode-233546 IDC:0458>>
Commander, I hope this message finds you before you leave Citadel Station on your latest mission. I realize that your promotion to Spectre and replacement of me as acting Captain of the Normandy may have come as a bit of a shock. Know that the Systems Alliance has only the highest hopes for your success and greatest respect for your role as our first council appointed agent.

masseffect_04_400×240.jpgThe universe before you is vast and with the Normandy at your disposal it is likely you could go anywhere you wanted in pursuit of Saren. Before you left I mentioned that Saren and I had a history. When I was a Lt. aboard the SSV Hastings a number of years back, I was detached and tasked with a simple search and recovery investigation surrounding the massacre at the Sidon research facility. During the course of my investigations I encountered Saren and the first signs that the Geth had returned to the galaxy. We didn’t know then to what degree Saren threatened us, but it was clear from the beginning that the taurian Spectre didn’t care for humanity as a whole. In fact you might not have been our first Spectre had he not chosen to speak poorly of me before the council at that time. I’m just glad that the man who finally earned the council’s nomination did so by exposing Saren as the traitor he is.

The hardest part is ahead of you however as you will have to prove Saren’s duplicity and head off whatever insane plan he has orchestrated to destroy us all. I believe he has gone beyond the range of hating humanity and may in fact pose a greater threat to all of the Council races. Thankfully you’ll have the Normandy at your disposal along with whatever means you find along the way. The crew of the Normandy will serve you well. They are the best in the Systems Alliance. I know that you will discover other allies along the path and hope that they serve you half as well.

masseffect_0.jpgGunnery Chief Williams seems a good addition to your crew as does the taurian cop Garrus Vakarian. Though I’m not sure why you have chosen to associate with a mercenary like Urdnot Wrex, I’m sure his skills will come in handy on the road ahead. It’s interesting to me that you’ve managed to attract such a cosmopolitan crew so quickly. I imagine that before this journey is over you’ll probably have a representative of just about every major Council race on your team. A good way to show that humanity is willing to work with the other races and to universal ends.

Due to export restrictions you may find that the ships armory, as well as many of the locations you visit, will only have very limited stock. The corporations control interstellar commerce tightly and often aren’t willing to share more mundane items with military crews if they don’t serve a broader corporate agenda. You’re equipped with the latest armored exosuits and will find them capable of holstering at least three common weapons depending on your personal preference – autopistols, rifles and shotguns. Of course there are other more exotic weapons should you decide to arm your team with sniper rifles or grenade launchers. Overall you’ll find the variety of arms in the sector vary only by a few key factors like accuracy, round capacity and recoil. One gun works much like any other.

We’ve both seen our share of combat. I don’t need to warn you that it can be rough but let me remind you not to neglect the biotic abilities at your disposal. The more you develop them the more you’ll be surprised by the results. Telekinesis can be a very handy tool when your enemy is crouched behind a box. It’s up to you to decide if your skills lie along that path.

masseffect_03_400×240.jpgRegardless of your overall mission you should remember that you’re a representative of humanity. Intimidate or Persuade those you meet however you feel appropriate but understand that your discussions can color the information you gain on your search for Saren and may help or hurt in discovering his ultimate plan. Finesse when needed, a fist to the face when warranted. Remember that Commander, but also remember that the Systems Alliance, in fact all of humanity, is being judged by some extent based on your performance as a Council Spectre.

While you have command of the Normandy and are searching for Saren and his accomplices, keep in mind that any minerals or artifacts discovered while traipsing across the various worlds can serve us all. Perform surveys, discover valuable resources and you help us all. The Geth are largely unknown to us; I suggest you seek out a nomadic Quarian. Since they created the race, one of them may be able to help you understand why they might team up with Saren on his crusade.

Again Commander, I want to wish you the best of luck on your mission. I think the adventure will be something of an event that will resonate through Council space with good repercussions should you succeed. Saren is an enemy of everyone and your actions will help us prove that to the council races and hopefully demonstrate that humanity isn’t just an upstart grasping at power, but a race that has worked hard to earn the respect of the Council.

<<End Message>>
<<Timestamp Encoding Complete>>

<<Save Message? Y/N>> Y

Presentation (8)Mass Effect is the first Bioware game to release for the Xbox 360. Following up Jade Empire it carries much of the same simplifications on the RPG formula. A simple (and oddly designed) inventory system as well as real-time combat make it less a numbers game than many previous Bioware Games.

Graphics (8) – You can tell that Mass Effect is a first effort by Bioware on the 360 platform as it suffers from some obvious issues with texture pop-in. Like Epic’s Gears of War, this may be caused by the lack of local hard drive cache to speed rendering since a hard drive is not guaranteed to be on every Xbox 360 system. Aside from this technical issue the graphic design and characters of the world are impressive. The ability to enable motion blur and a grainy filter make the game feel more like a film than a video game though those who dislike this feature can turn the grain off – leaving the characters looking a little odd. Shadows also render strangely on objects from time to time.

Sound (9) – The voice cast, dialog and sound effects of the game are outstanding. Having the entire plot and every character voice acted goes a long way toward enhancing the cinematic quality of the game. Since the game’s focus is on dialog it is important to have good actors voicing these lines and the named actors as well as the unknowns all give outstanding performances – but who could knock any work done by Keith David. Seth Green and Marina Sertis both turn in good performances as well.

GamePlay (8)Mass Effect is a strange hybrid. Much of the time players will be running around in the third person wandering through the environments and engaging in conversations or combat. The combat in Mass Effect is not bad but it was a bit less fun because of some serious problems with the game’s design. Party members often have problems following directions when there is a change in geometry like a platform or stairs and pathfinding around objects like crates and boxes can cause problems.

One major drawback to combat for those of us who aren’t gods gifts to accuracy is the inability to skip the major talking scenes and the fact that if the main character is taken out in combat it’s game over – regardless of the state of your allies. This is unusual seeing as how with KotOR the player could be resurrected so long as the other allies survived. Die before a cut-scene and you’ll end up memorizing the lines every time you restore.

The dialog system is nice and innovative in that it captures the “This is what I feel like” saying rather than giving explicit dialog – making you more like a director than an actor choosing lines. Unfortunately, the dialog does not seem to have a lot of impact and while the digital actors respond well, we still haven’t gotten a game that has intelligence designed into the dialog system.

Replayability (8) – The game features a shorter storyline than expected but luckily after finishing the game plot you can begin another game and explore the galaxy. There are a few basic classes and skill choices go a long way toward changing the play experience so replay is likely for those who enjoy the storytelling of Mass Effect.

Overall (8) – There is no better RPG for the 360 right now. Mass Effect is truly an interesting game with a realized game world that is brought down thanks to some odd design choices and uneven combat gameplay. As the first game in the series it does an excellent job of setting up the universe for future expansion. There are plenty of interesting characters and strong plot threads introduced in the game that are not paid off immediately. 360 owners could do far worse, but be realistic about the game and don’t buy into the hype.

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9 Comments on Gaming Today Reviews Mass Effect

Hawkeye

On November 29, 2007 at 5:17 pm

Personally, I think the idea’s a little silly. I can see doing a review in this perspective every once in a while, but not all the time.

snake22

On November 29, 2007 at 6:25 pm

Well as well as gaming today did their review, there’s a couple flaws in their review…

First off, there is the ability to skip dialouge, during the conversations, all you have to do is press X to get to your part of the conversation, choose your action, then press X to keep skipping.

Also, the dialouge does have certain reactions to the game itself. If you make the wrong decision, a certain path may no longer be open to you as is it may have been if you said something else.

I would only say that some may need to do a little better study of their game before the review it. On the contrary, they did cover most of the elements that are lain throughout the game, so its not a way off review. It just lacks a little more research into the game is all.

Adobe Jones

On November 29, 2007 at 7:17 pm

I don’t dig on the review from the perspective of the character. Reads more like a story intro from the instructions than a review. How would you do a negative review from an in-game perspective?

Ldysabella

On November 29, 2007 at 10:00 pm

@snake22: I agree with the review. I have not been able to skip conversation using any of the buttons.. so I guess maybe its a problem with my thumbs. Believe me I’ve tried – best example is in the first storyline mission after you become a Spectre – when fighting the asari commando squad (who by the way pop up out of nowhere despite having a video animation of two walking through the door when called by Benezia) I died a number of times and yes I could get my reaction option to come up but I had to listen to her pontificate for two or three minutes every time I died.. it got annoying, despite the fact I was enjoying the story. I was hitting every button and trigger on the 360 controller and none of them had any effect.

I’ve played a few times through and chosen different options only to have the end results always be the same inside a certain scenario. For instance when the scientist in the hot labs or the computer VI talk I got tired of listening to dialog and chose contrary options a number of times after being killed by the rachnar or whatever they are called – none of the dialog choices changed my character nor did they result in a different outcome. I can see what he’s saying about the dialog not having the impact you might expect in a “natural” dialog system.

@Adobe: I think you have a point there. Though I took some of what the author put in the above character piece as a negative.. he mentioned the obvious lack of objects – other than weapons – and how little real difference there was from a character perspective. Maybe it was too subtle.

I enjoyed the different approach because I’m getting tired of the same formulaic reviews on every site rehashing the same information over and over. I want to know what the game is like, to some extent I want to know how a game will make me feel and what the world is like. I agree this format won’t work for every game.. I can’t imagine this technique being used to describe Tetris DS for instance… at least they are trying something different, I just think it has to be done sparingly.

Ron Whitaker

On November 30, 2007 at 10:09 am

I’d agree that you can’t do this with every game. However, with a game like Mass Effect, where the story is such a huge part of the game, it works pretty well. It seemed to work well in the Hellgate London piece. I especially enjoyed the bewilderment of the character talking in the Hellgate piece about the bugs in the game that simply presented themselves to him as oddities in their tech or the world.

Basically, we thought we’d try something different just to mix thing up for the basic “I played it, it looks like this” review formula. Sure it works, but people have to be getting sick of reading that by now.

Shawn Sines

On November 30, 2007 at 10:17 am

I want to thank everyone for their input on this. We tried something different here and with Hellgate and wanted to see how everyone received it.

LdySabella & Hawkeye: I agree it is not going to be used for every review. But I think some titles lend themselves to entertaining perspectives. One drawback is that is might not be a good format to introduce a game to someone looking to make a buying choice. Its hard to explain to a character who already knows something a fact a neophyte reader might want – like in this review who the Geth are. Shepard already knows, the readers might not.

Adobe: I think you could do a negative review if you framed it right but maybe it is too subtle a tactic. I don’t think if I hated a game that I’d put the effort into writing this sort of piece.

Snake: I played through the game without ever knowing you could hit the X button. Please explain to me where that was demonstrated or explained.. I’m glad its there but one of the shortfalls I didn’t mention was the lack of guidance for players who may not have an intuitive grasp on the interface or controls. I found my way around easily because I’m used to RPGs and Bioware games – the interface was cool but by no means was there a real tutorial to teach me or anyone how to play.. That said I had a few times where I hit X and did not get to skip the cut-scenes.. not normal dialog.. but the cut-scenes like LdySabella mentioned above.

So this brings up a bigger questions then – with gamers complaining often about the staid nature of game reviews.. what do you guys want to read that would be informative and entertaining? Do you want formula with “X’s Graphics are good, Y’s controls are bad..” style? Or do you want something more narrative or experiential? Of do you just not care one way or the other and want a buy/no buy recommendation?

badm0j0

On November 30, 2007 at 1:33 pm

Long cutscenes and dialog options between save points and major battles is unforgivable. How many times have we complained about this? What could possible justify developers continually doing it?

Other than that and the geometric environment’s affect on squad orders, I love the game style, combat, story and delivery.

William

On December 5, 2007 at 6:02 am

I am a huge complainer when it comes to long cut scenes, but I completely forgive Mass Effect because I am so drawn to the story. The negative aspects of the game can really be forgiven considering how many great things it has to offer. I’ll rarely say something like that, but ME is my favorite game of 2007 honestly.

Heru-Ur

On December 13, 2007 at 12:32 pm

I want this game on the PC! :mrgreen: