Mass Effect Review - Xbox 360
2007 was a legendary year for the gaming industry. It was a year that was loaded with what would have been potential game of the year choices for any other year. It seemed as if that another triple-A title came in with every passing week. 2007’s releases were of such quality that one may even be so bold as to say that the bar for game developers all over the globe has officially been raised to a whole new level because of them. Considering this, it would undoubtedly be a difficult task to select the best game from such an elite bunch, but for me, this choice was rather easy.
Mass Effect was a game that completely fit my gaming interests, in fact, it almost seems as if the title was built from the ground up with my preferences in mind. It’s mesmerizing visuals, intuitive gameplay, and captivating story combine to make Mass Effect a truly wonderful package that is a cannot miss for any true RPG fan.
Now, with all of the above being said, you wouldn’t expect me to make such strong accusations without backing myself up would you?
Graphics - In the past BioWare (the producers of Mass Effect) have always had solid visuals in their console games. The KOTOR series, the Baldur’s Gate series, and Jade Empire are just a few of the visually impressive titles that BioWare has churned out in the past few years. So, to say the least, Mass Effect falls in line with this tradition of excellence. The environments of the game are spot on, the developers definitely nailed the futuristic look of the world. From the weapons you use, to the crazy suits of armor, all the way down to the architecture of the buildings you explore, the game provides you with a realistic and believeable setting throughout the entirety of your playthrough. The character models look great as well. Mass Effect possesses possibly the most believable dialogue sequences that have been seen in any game to date, this is due in large part to the realistic way in which the character’s mouths move as they speak. This allows for deeper dialogue within cut scenes. More importantly, it allows the characters within Mass Effect to express some true personality, which makes it easy for the player to truly connect to his party members as well as truly despise his enemies. Needless to say, the excellent visuals in Mass Effect provide a more than sufficient backdrop on which to tell the epic tale of the game.
Among all of these glaring successes, there is really only one significant problem with the graphics in Mass Effect, and that is the delayed rates at which they sometimes appear. Occasionally, during quick transition cut scenes such as your ship landing on a planet, the graphics will lag behind a bit, causing everything to look sort of like the same drab color of gray for a few moments. For example, when your ship is coming in to a landing port, the graphics on the side of your ship will not appear for a few seconds, which makes your ship look like a generic blob of gray. Your armor will occasionally suffer from the same syndrome, in which case its usual fine tuned appearance will be replaced with one continuous, smooth looking color that mysteriously engulfs your character. This is a bit difficult to explain in type, but if you have played this game already, I’m sure that you have encountered a similar problem and can identify what I am talking about. It’s really not a major problem, however it did cause my Xbox to make that terrible “kick it into gear noise”, which always seems to cause some discomfort.
This screenshot provides a good sampling of what you can expect from Mass Effect graphically.
Gameplay - Gameplay wise, Mass Effect is not your typical RPG, and that is most definitely a good thing. In the past, BioWare’s RPG’s have alienated many potential fans who criticized the combat systems they had implicated in their games. Many gamers did not like the fact that they were not truly performing the attacks of their characters, a perfect example of this is found in the KOTOR series, in which the player merely selects a target and presses an attack “command” button, which pretty much made your character run over to the enemy you indicated and slash away at him until your commands told him to do otherwise. This did not irk hardcore RPG fans such as myself, but for many people, it was a solid reason for them to pass up on the game altogether. However, BioWare has remedied this problem in Mass Effect, and these critics should be pleased with the changes that have been made. This time around, BioWare has basically included a Gears of War style third-person shooter to serve as the game’s combat sequence. This comes as a pleasant, and relatively overdue change for a genre that has been plagued far too long by the dull turn-based styled JRPGs which seem to dominate the industry. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good JRPG just as much as the next guy, but a system like that of Mass Effect’s appeals to me much more than does the now cliché, and seemingly archaic system that is turn-based combat .
There was a lot of to-do about the conversation system in the game, but for anyone who has played BioWare’s previous Xbox games (namely KOTOR or Jade Empire), you will quickly realize that the conversation system is basically the same as it was in those titles, it just got a little fancier. The only real change within the new system is that Shepard (Your main character), doesn’t exactly say the words you select word for word. By picking what to say during the dialogue portions of the game, you’re basically picking what message you want to convey to the person you are conversing with. For example, you may select the option for Shepard to say “I don’t like you”, but instead of saying that exact phrase, he will instead come out with something like “I’m losing my patience with you offworlder.” This provides for some frequent accidental insults in the course of conversation, but it also makes the process a little less brainless than it has been in the past by forcing the player to put a little more thought into what he selects to say.
Other than the combat gameplay and the subtle modifications to the conversations, Mass Effect does not alter the RPG formula too drastically, but once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Everything in the game runs very smoothly, and you shouldn’t encounter any significant problems on your way through.
Controls - This will probably be the shortest of the four sections because Mass Effect doesn’t really do anything crazy with the controls. During combat is the only time where the controls may change up a bit. During these segments the controls are very similar to Gears of War, you hold A to sprint, press left trigger to aim the right trigger to fire, etc. The controls are pretty responsive and they shouldn’t really cause any problems as you play.
Story - The story of Mass Effect is easily its strongest quality. I have no qualms with saying that it is by far the most appealing story that I have ever encountered in a game. The story is the driving force that keeps the player coming back to the game time and time again. You will want to defeat the next planet, not just to get the next party member, but also to get to the next cut scene, to witness the next plot twist, and to advance the story that always seems to be escalating toward something truly special. The story is what manages to keep the game interesting till the very end. Even the side quests have intriguing plotlines. It would be difficult for you not to get the “Completionist” achievement (which is awarded for completing the majority of the game) on your first play through . This is because you will most likely complete many of the side quests not just to be an achievement whore, but because you genuinely are intrigued by the quest, and want to complete it as such.
The ability to create the look of your character seems to personify the entire experience. You can understand your character better if you create him, and that is exactly what Mass Effect allows you to do. Upon beginning the game, you are faced with a screen like the one below, which allows you to mold the unique look of your character.
Then, as you play through the game, you will mold your character’s personality through a system that hardcore BioWare fans should be fairly familiar with by now. Much like the way KOTOR handled Force Orientation, your alignment will shift between Paragon and Renegade status, depending on how you communicate with the characters of the game. This alignment will determine how people respond to you in the game, and it will influence the ending of the game as well. In short, this character customization, coupled with the solid group of characters that will accompany you on your quest across the galaxy, greatly enhance the story, and the quality of the game as a whole.
Final Thoughts - If I were to sum up this entire review in a few words I would say this: Go buy Mass Effect, now. It is a step forward for the RPG genre and video games as a whole. It is a can’t miss for any gamer and in my opinion, the shining gem of possibly the greatest year the game industry has ever seen. I can assure you this , you won’t be disapponted.