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.
<<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.
The 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.
Gunnery 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.
Regardless 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.
<<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.