Mass Effect is an action RPG developed by Bioware and published by Microsoft for the Xbox 360. The PC port of the game was handled by Demiurge Studios, and published by EA. Unlike Knights of the Old Republic, Bioware's previous sci-fi RPG, Mass Effect takes place in its own original world. Humans have advanced into space after Earth was ravaged by World War 3 and discovered a civilization of many alien races built around ancient alien technology called Mass Relays. The alien races are diverse and interesting, and Bioware has written extensive histories for all of them. All of these races, as well as the humans, form a society known as "Citadel space," which is ruled by a governing "Council" of 3 races (turians, salarians, and asari). Human, as newcomers to this society, are often looked down upon by the other races, and there is a lot of tension between them and the existing aliens. Overall, Bioware has created a brilliant universe, and the setting is easily the best part of the game.
You play as Commander Shepard, who becomes the first human to be inducted into the Spectres--an elite group of multi-species special forces under command of the Council. Your first responsibility as a Spectre is to chase down a rogue Spectre named Saren and his alien army of sentient machines. This may sound pretty generic, but it actually has some good plot-twists and is well above average for a video game narrative. Throughout the game you'll meet numerous characters of varying races who will join your crew--some of whom you can develop romantic relationships with through the course of the plot. Each member of your crew has their own conflicts which you can learn about by talking to them and keeping them on your team. There are a total of four endings. Two good and two bad endings. The actual progression of the plot is basically identical though whether you pick the good or evil responses.
The plot and character development are good... unfortunately the execution is not. Conversations and decisions are handled through dialog trees. Depending on your decisions you can either be "paragon" (good) or "renegade" (evil). However, for some reason Bioware put the good response in the top right, the nuetral response in the middle, and the bad response in the bottom right on every dialog tree in the game. This takes away any actual judgment on the part of the player about what is good and bad. The "romance" is laugh-out-loud cheesy most of the time, and actually detrimental to the pacing and plot. Despite the developer's claims of developing a deep relationship, one of the women on the ship will practically throw herself at you, and you actually have to try to avoid the awful B-movie sex scene at the end of the game. All of the love-interest relationships feel tacked on, and are genuinely harmful to the experience. This is one of those instances of the developers trying too hard to be controversial, and hurting their game in the process.
The game is played like a third person shooter. Demiurge has made numerous improvements over Bioware's Xbox 360 version with a revamped inventory system, improved load times, fixed texture and graphical issues, improved squad controls, and a new decryption minigame, but the core game is the same. It mostly boils down to find some cover, and shoot from it. As you improve stats in a weapon you improve accuracy in it. The higher your accuracy the easier it is to aim. You have abilities that you can activate (equipped to hotkeys on the PC version) which will do anything from reviving your squad to shooting a biotic blast.
The combat system, while fun, is more a combination of those found in Knights of the Old Republic and Deus Ex than it is an all new system. Even force powers are still in the game in the form of "biotics." There is melee combat in the game, but it's nearly useless. You can command your squad to use their moves and attack certain units, but their AI is good enough that there is rarely a need. The combat is fun, but not challenging. In fact, the entire game can easily be completed without dying, even on the higher difficulties. This may be a result of the game being ported from the 360 without an AI increase to compensate for the more accurate mouse controls.
A major focus of the game is exploration... or at least was supposed to be. Unfortunately, despite the quantity of planets, only those for the main missions are developed and interesting. The side planets are barren, empty, and featureless. The side-missions likewise are repetitive and largely uninteresting. The most you get out of any of them is a little extra information on the universe, and it's not usually worth driving around on barren, lifeless planets. There are also some lazy design decisions in these missions. Enemies show up on planets they shouldn't, terrain and textures are just painted on the side-planets without any features, and buildings are re-used. Even at its best, the cities are only as developed as they were in Knights of the Old Republic.
Visually the game looks pretty good. There is a film grain filter, but it doesn't really add any art style to the game and is generally better turned off. The frame-rate and texture load-in issues are mostly fixed from the 360 version. Much of the textures, objects, and rooms are repeated throughout the game, but overall the game looks good. It's certainly not going to impress anyone who's been playing Crysis though. The audio is a mixed bag. While the voice acting is some of the best that's ever been in a video game, the music is mostly generic and forgettable.
The PC version of Mass Effect is an improvement from the previous 360 version, but the core game isn't as amazing as it was hyped to be. Mass Effect is a good game, but it's not really a revolution to the WRPG genre or even an evolution to the WRPG genre. It's more an expansion on what Bioware already accomplished with Knights of the Old Republic. The combat is good, and the setting is great, but some lazy design decisions and poor attempts at shoving sex in the game hold Mass Effect back from true greatness.
Mass Effect - Review
By Nick Pantazis, June 20, 2008
Mass Effect - PC
Presentation - 8.0
Gameplay - 9.0
Value - 8.0
Gameplay - 9.0
Value - 8.0
To find out more about gamrReview reviews, visit our rating system page.