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PLATFORM: Xbox 360, PC
ESRB RATING: M
PUBLISHER: Microsoft Game Studios
DEVELOPER: Bioware

THE PITCH

The guys behind the best Star Wars game ever made make their own Star Wars!

It’s impossible not to note the similarities between these products. Yes, Bioware was behind one of the best RPGs ever made, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR from now on), and this really is a Star Wars game in disguise. Force powers, alien beings, a galactic republic, it’s all here. But it’s not a direct ripoff, and thankfully it has its own feel.

Mass Effect is set in the future, naturally. Humankind has discovered ruins on Mars that belonged to an ancient alien civilization and their technology advances many years into the future because of their discovery. Soon after they come into contact with countless alien races, all of whom are governed by a Council run by the major species. Humans being what they are, they want a place on the Council as well, but they get no respect.



You control Commander Shepard, whose gender and appearance is up to you through a pretty great character creation system. You are humanity’s greatest hope, the guy who can show to these goddamn aliens what humans are good for. Through your actions you unveil a huge danger to the universe, but does anyone take this inferior species seriously? Of course not… and you’re left trying to solve it all yourself.

There’s so many different layers and nuances to the story, but it all boils down to a pretty simple good vs. evil plot. There’s a bad guy on the loose who wants to destroy the universe, and you have to take him down. But it’s the journey that counts…. right?

THE PLAY

The parts that work in this game are fucking brilliant. The dialogue, the story, the world (no, the universe) that’s been created here is as real as anything you’ve seen yet. You”ll completely geek out and be absorbed into this place, becoming invested in every little thing that’s happening to you and your crew members. It’s the kind of game you can’t put down. It’s the kind of game where you’ll read up on every tiny bit of info from every aspect of the world, from what makes your ship fly to the history of its many aliens beings. The backstory here is incredible. You’ll meet a helluva lot of creatures and as you learn more about the history of each more and more becomes clear.

KOTOR was known for its incredible dialogue choices, and Mass Effect doesn’t disappoint. It’s even been upped… the new dialogue system is pretty ingenius. Rather than pick a set dialogue option you’ll push the analog stick towards the thought or emotion you want to convey.



You’re never sure what your guy’s going to say and it makes things that much more interesting, instead of having you just wait for the character to speak the line you picked like in most adventure games.


The combat gets great, but when you start out you’re going to be praying for the more turn-based battles of KOTOR. Once you start unlocking new powers and weapons though, it’s fantastic. You’ll love freezing the action and doling out commands to your teammates. The first moment I used Push to knock someone over while knocking their shields out with one teammate and having the other unload their machinegun on them… well, it’s a great thing, and you feel like you’re working as a squad. (Course, when you’re not directing them they don’t work as well, but…)

It’s because of all this brilliance that it’s so infuriating that parts of the game seem so slipshod. The side quests will bore you to tears. The thought of traveling around the universe at your own whim, visiting new planets and making discoveries (while dealing with various mercenaries, creatures, and crazy religious cults) sounds great. But then you’ll realize that every uninhabited world is basically the same, and you’ll explore every one in roughly the same way.



Every time you touch down on a planet you do so in your little Warthog mobile, called the Mako. You travel around very slowly with floaty controls (a lot of the planets don’t have much gravity) around a barren environment till you hit a couple of points of interest. Either you’ll find a crashed space probe, a mineral, or a facility of some sort. Every so often one will be a trap. There are about 3 types of facilities in the WHOLE GAME, which means that every fucking time you enter a place you’ll already know the basic layout. It seems like they do some various redecorating here and there with crates and certain doors that don’t open, but basically every place is the same.

Ever play the Godfather video game? This is the reason I didn’t finish that one. Every time you go to a business or warehouse to shake it down it’s exactly the same. You know exactly what to expect so you try to just plow through it to get it over with. Course, that game sucked, and the only reason you’ll keep playing Mass Effect is because the story is so goddamn good. (It really is.)

You’ve probably already heard about minor gripes like the elevators, but they really are irritating here. It still doesn’t make sense how the game can load up areas using a small loading icon or screen in a matter of seconds, but an elevator trip can take almost a minute at times. This is the future? These are slower than those old freight elevators with the accordion doors. During one elevator trip I got up, walked to my kitchen, checked a voicemail on my cell phone, came back, and I was STILL traveling downwards. It just doesn’t make any kind of sense. It’d be one thing if you could use the moment to talk to your crewmembers or something, but nope. Even more aggravating is the fact you put away your weapons when you enter it and automatically transport into a triangle formation. Why do I have to whip out my guns again if I’m in enemy territory? Are they trying to kill me?

Speaking of being killed, you will die a bunch. On your travels you’ll run into lots of creatures that can kill you in one hit, like the giant Dune worms on certain planets. That’s a lot of fun. Doesn’t help that the auto-save system is busted… there’s no other way to explain it. Rather than always save after important parts or before you get into big battles, it seemingly saves wherever it wants, usually with quite a hike and a few things to do in order to get back to the area you were killed.



What this does is force you to save every time you THINK something might happen to you, and stops the flow of the game. The difficulty does get easier as you level up (and if you just stick to the main quest) but it should have taken a clue from Oblivion and had the enemies level up along with you. It’d make for a nicer curve.

Also annoying is how you can obtain all sorts of new weapons and upgrades for everything BUT the Mako. Since you’ll be using that thing extensively in some of the bigger land battles, it sure would be nice to have one that had wheels that gripped the floor a little better, or had a better machinegun. It’s kind of silly that you’d have to drive in circles around some of the big baddies, firing, when you can just get out and shoot it a couple of times with the shotgun. But no, instead you’ll drive around trying to run over your enemies and dodge their rockets.

But as easy as it is too be negative about this game (and you really will get pissed at the sloppy parts) it’s just as easy to be completely sucked into the parts that work, which is much of it. I had more than a few late late nights playing this one, just because I couldn’t put the controller down. Course, I inevitably did whenever I got killed after not saving for a minute. Better to go to bed than to have to replace your tv because you kicked it over.

This is well worth playing, and one of the better experiences you’ll have on your little box. It’s a damn shame that it shipped in the condition it did, but its strengths well outweigh its flaws.



Plus, you can bang an alien babe.

THE PRESENTATION

Beautiful, expressive graphics are something you need when you’re relying on character’s emotions to sell the scene. It works. You can tell exactly what a person is feeling by the look on their faces.

I just wish it weren’t so damn glitchy at parts. Lots of times people will fall through floors or have strange graphical pop-ins on them.

The sound is just as sweeping and epic as it should be. Along with that you’ve got some of the best voice work yet, with a few familiar actors lending their vocal chords. Always good to hear Keith David and Lance Henrikson lending their distinctive pipes.

Top notch stuff.

THE REPLAY

Those of you who chose to play exclusively good or evil might want to try it again on the other path, but apparently there’s not too much of a change in things. One of the best moments in KOTOR was playing though as a complete evil scumbag, so soulless that I managed to convince one of my crew members to kill their best friend to stay by my side. There doesn’t seem to be anything that drastic here. It makes sense when you realize this is the beginning of a trilogy- it wouldn’t do to have your character be evil incarnate and kill everyone off by the end of the first one.



It’s still something I’d like to go back to, but not for a while. I played this one as I saw it, doing good there, evil here. And I’m not looking forward to exploring those barren planets again…. might just skip them next time, leveling up be damned. The only reason to go after them is to get more money, equipment and to get a few achievements. It’s not worth trying to do all of them.

I spent a little over 30 hours playing the game and got the majority of the game complete, but the vast majority of it is in side missions. You could probably breeze through the main story in under 10.

THE VERDICT

A fantastic experience, well worth playing through, but with just some more polish and variation among the missions this could have been one of the greats. Never fear though, this is the first in a planned trilogy, with episodic content on the way, so they’ll have plenty of time to get it right. Let’s just hope they aren’t rushed next time.

8.7 out of 10