Review: Mass Effect
RPG/Adventure/First Person Shooter
Bioware parties like it’s 2183.
What was the last truly great RPG you can remember playing? Chances are it was what many would class as a J-RPG, heavy on stats and levelling up your character to gain more and stronger attacks and more hit points and the like. So what was the last great non-J-RPG role-playing game you enjoyed? (If you get what I am saying) Not Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy or even Wild Arms but a RPG developed outside Japan by *gasp* Americans or even Europeans?
You would most likely have to go back to the last generation of hardware and find either of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games or of even Jade Empire if you are a bit of a masochist. Both of which where made by and conceived by Bioware long time coders who even before they turned their efforts to consoles made the amazingly good Forgotten Realms: Baulder’s Gate and Planescape: Torment RPGs. The point I am trying to make in this rather long and rambling opening is Bioware have made a new game called Mass Effect and here is a review of it and it is defiantly NOT a J-RPG.
As already mentioned this is an RPG and because western developers make it, it has what I believe to be missing in every J-RPG ever made, a moral barometer that will change according to your actions during the game. Sure Final Fantasy has made it to over a dozen incarnations but did any of the protagonists have the option to say “Screw you, I’m keeping the gil for myself” or argue with all those poor souls that need you to retrieve a stolen item or undertake some other badly disguised fetch and carry mission?
Being able to make such choices and then having to live with them is at the core of why I love this game. Along with being able to choose your characters gender and appearance, you get emotionally involved and start to care about what happen to them. Something I always find hard with the identikit ladyboy heroes of most J-RPGs. Sure you are called upon to save the universe but you do it your way. Compassion and justice or greed and aggression the destination is clear but the road you take is your choice.
Set against a backdrop of political turmoil and bickering alien races the early stages of the game puts you on the Citadel a huge space station in natural territory where the different races can meet and trade (didn’t someone make a TV show about that once?) Doing so, numerous sub quests become available to you getting you more experience and better equipment or weapons. In terms of epic Sci-fi its up there with Dune and Star Wars, more so the later with Spectres functioning much as Jedi and Biotics standing in for force powers (more on that later).
I love ME.
In fact, I think everyone loves ME.What’s not to love? Good looking, smart, intelligent, fun to play with. These are things that all come from experiencing the brilliance of ME.
Bad puns aside, Mass Effect (ME*) is a great game, not a perfect game, but still a great game.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not KotOR III. It’s different. More action-y. Even though I do like my RPG’s and am not a fan of “tactical shooters”, I came to love Mass Effect. Initial impressions of the combat were wholly ‘meh’ but after getting a few decent weapons I was vaporising baddies in no time.
In fact I have come to the conclusion that everything was ‘meh’ to begin with because of the piss poor (read: lack of) tutorial at the start of the game. I’m used to better.
Characters are likable, voice acting is excellent even if some of the actors are underused (more Lance Henriksen please, Doctor) and conversations with people require more thought than ‘choose the top answer for the ‘Mr Nice-Guy Angel’ or ‘choose the bottom answer for the ‘Mr Spawn of Hucknall and Hitler’ response.
Planet exploration was a big let down for me. I hated driving in that buggy (not to mention combat with that buggy). Roaming the planets was really tedious and the ‘Simon Says’ button mashing to recover artefacts was just plain uninspired. But on each planet you’ll probably find a structure with bad dudes inside to kill, loot to steal, and even more side quests to go on. That was fun (even if it was the same chuffing building nearly every time.
All in all, the main story is excellent, but to get the most out of the game best you do really need to flesh it out a bit with random exploring the galaxy and side quests, lets hope they manage to make that part a bit more enjoyable for the next game(s) in the series.
Secondary Score: 8/10
Once you have found your feet and become used to interacting with the world around you the plot kicks into top gear and the galaxy opens up to exploration. Dozens of systems each full of planets and moons that can me surveyed or investigated in your buggy come tank the Mako. Looking like a life-sized version of the old Big Trak toy you had as a kid is can traverse the landscape with ease using the onboard cannon for defence and its thrusters to get some air or avoid incoming fire.
Combat outside of the Mako is in third person and uses the now standard cover system that lets you stick to walls and such to use the concealment and protection provided. The usual range of FPS type firearms is used along with melee attacks, grenades, and med packs to patch up your three man/woman/hemoprradite team. The previously mentioned Biotics, despite sounding like some kind of natural yoghurt are various psychic based powers that let you screw enemies over in different ways or pump your own team with stronger shields or specialised attacks.
Visually and aurally Mass Effect excels with loads of shiny HD graphics and real-time cuts cense they are spoiled a little by noticeable texture pop in and jaggy shadows. The soundtrack pleases with a Brian Eno style ambience and Christopher Franke orchestrations but as the graphics suffers from a few hiccups like the 3D soundscape that sometimes makes background sound effects like fire or an explosion far louder than they should be and subsequently drowns out important dialogue.
My only other major gripe with the game is your inability to change team members without returning to your ship this often involves ten minutes of backtracking when a simple menu option would do. Oh yeah and all the long corridors you have to run down to hide the levels loading and yes the auto save is a big pile of shit but even little wrinkles like this can’t spoil your enjoyment.
Your first play through with completing the side quests and finding all the codex entries should run you at lease forty hours with there being incentives in the form of achievements and unlockables for multiple completions aside from the obvious joy had from replaying as an utter bastard or kind-hearted saint using the moral barometer.
When you take the expansive story, striking presentation, intuitive combat, likable characters this IS the best RPG since Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King and the best western RPG since Bioware first reinvented the genre with Knights of the Old Republic. If you want stat heavy level grinding look elsewhere but if you want what will hopefully be the first in a new resurgence of non-linear role-playing games.