Mass Effect - 360 - Review
When I finally had my copy of Mass Effect in hand, my nerves made my stomach turn inside out. On the other hand, I also had butterflies to the point where I was ecstatic for the completion of one of my most anticipated projects in recent memory. If you were to talk to me in September, prior to Halo 3’s release, I would have told you that the game that matters most on the Xbox 360 isn’t Bungie’s prized baby, but Bioware’s gargantuan action-RPG. So when I finally unwrapped the game and devoted all my time into doing everything Mass Effect offered, I can happily say that Bioware has outdone themselves.
With my instructions from Bioware and Microsoft on what storyline elements I can reveal, I am going to be as vague as possible to make certain I don’t spoil the fun for diehard Bioware fanatics. The storyline isn’t your typical science fiction plot outline – it is way more than that. Playing as Commander Shepard, players won’t be out to save Earth for the umpteenth time – they’ll be out to save the entire galaxy from a threat that is out to wipe out life as we know it. Avoiding clichés, Bioware put together a quality storyline that can compete with the likes of Star Wars, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek. I won’t say it is better because all of those series were able to stand the test of time and stay current, but it’s only a matter of time when big shot Hollywood producers look to Bioware’s (and now Electronic Art’s) sci-fi baby to create a movie out of it.
So does the storyline deliver the goods in the end? I would have to say yes since twenty-four hours later, whenever I have an opportunity, I am speaking my mind on the game and bragging about how great of a game that Mass Effect is. The conclusion of the game wraps up nicely with no loose ends and provides enough room for players to speculate on the sequel. Without too many complaints, the characters and storyline are insanely great and deliver a robust storyline that I was enthralled with. If players are disappointed with what the storyline delivered through dialogue, the Codex (encyclopedia) is incredibly detailed. Bioware even went to the length of providing a voice-actor that reads it for the players rather than having to sit through and read all the text. Having the ability to read up on every alien race, planet, technology, ship, and a lot more is a great addition to extending the life of the game. I can admit that I probably spent over an hour in the Codex listening (and of course reading) every entry Bioware provided on the Mass Effect universe.
Before moving onto the gameplay, I want to cover the character creation. It’s possible that the creation process could take up to two hours of customizing depending on how players want their player to look. While the options aren’t as plentiful as Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the tools that Bioware provided work much better in delivering a hunky man or marvelous woman. I was much more satisfied with my created character in Mass Effect than I have ever been in any other game outside of Tiger Woods. Beyond the look of the characters, players can choose their class, sex, and change the first name of the character. The classes provided are: Soldier (combat specialist), Engineer (tech specialist), Adept (biotic specialist), Infiltrator (combat/tech), Vanguard (biotic/combat), and a Sentinel (biotic/tech). I played as an Adept since I favor magic in my role-playing games and the biotics in Mass Effect don’t disappoint. Having powers to throw, lift, send enemies into stasis, create barriers, and create a field of mass destruction (singularity) was impressive enough to attract me.
Let’s move onto the gameplay – it’s amazing! Well, to be frank, there are a few shortcomings, but for the most part, Bioware did a great job. The RPG elements are primarily the reason why I was so intrigued with the project when it came to fruition. Players are able to level up their characters in over a dozen areas to unlock abilities and improve their stats in categories such as health, shields, duration of abilities, and many other countless ways. The shooter elements include squad tactics such as: taking cover, commanding your squad to move, target an enemy or falling back to defend. Though not as advanced as Gears of Wars, the squad control is simple for players to catch on quickly and get a handle on controlling how the battles go down.
When in battle, through pressing the right bumper, players can stop action and command their teammates to use their abilities they have gained. In one instance, I targeted a Krogan Warlord who was pestering my team with suppressing fire and assaulted him with everything I could. I started with throwing him into the wall, then followed it up with lifting him off the ground to be meet with a warp that deteriorated his armor and used singularity to pull all surrounding enemies to him to target them all at once with my marksmen ability to quickly dispose of them. Taking full use of the abilities that players unlock is the best way of making the difficulty easy. For players that don’t like using magic/biotics, then they should still be satisfied with the shooting mechanics in the game. All four of the weapons are simple to control and have their advantages with scopes, accuracy, range and power. Holding down the left trigger will give players a better chance at accuracy and hitting the right thumbstick button will give players a chance to zoom even further with their snipers. To quickly change weapons, players must hit the left bumper and can select from the guide that comes up which they want to use for themselves and for their team. Another combat addition is the use of grenades, but their use weren’t as big as I expected. They were more of an afterthought since I finished the game with only using them ten or so times.
The last thing, before moving onto the technical aspects, is the Bioware’s vehicle combat. When embarking on quests on uncharted worlds, players will suit up and ride in their Mako, a vehicle with six wheels and can climb mountains with use. The Mako breaks up the action with adventuring to find minerals, lost artifacts, fighting Thresher Maws (subterranean carnivores that appear from beneath the ground), and many finding hidden items dispersed all over several planets. Equipped with rockets and turrets, the Mako has no opposition on the battlefield besides the Geth Colossus, though I found combat extremely easy in the Mako. Another addition that comes in use is the ability to jump over incoming rockets, but oddly enough, the Mako doesn’t come equipped with any type of speed boost to cut down on driving from destination to destination.
Now onto the graphics, this area is quite possible the area that people will be complaining about. Having the same faults as Halo 2 and Gears of War, Mass Effect often has texture loading problems that makes the players look as they came from a tech demo rather than a completed next-gen game. The texture loading problems occur in the squad menu, the equipment menu, after loading up from cut-scenes, and loading up after elevators. I will add that the texture loading problems don’t hurt the overall experience, it’s just they are noticeable and made me scratch my head wondering if the developers knew of this problem when it shipped. For the positive aspects, the game is all-around gorgeous in art style and design. Every single alien race was done with exact detail to set them apart from one another. When in conversations with NPC, the game is the best looking on the Xbox 360 as of this moment. Outside of the dialogue scenes, Mass Effect still holds up particularly well, especially in the planets they created that feel unique.
The audio in the Mass Effect is a class act on its own merit. From the voice-acting to the soundtrack, there’s not a fault that I can pinpoint. With having the likes of Keith David (Goliath from the animated show Gargoyles) and Seth Green, Bioware made sure they had a group of actors that were able to give emotion to their characters. For those who doubt Bioware, they brought back actors from previous games including: Jennifer Hale (Bastila Shan from KOTOR), Raphael Sbarge (Carth Onasi from KOTOR), and Robin Downes (Sagacious Zu from Jade Empire). If that doesn’t impress you enough, then maybe the soundtrack will. Reminiscent of old school science fiction films, Bioware opted for more of a subtle feel than one that tried too hard to be epic. Sure, at times, it sent my adrenaline to an extreme high, but it’s almost the opposite of Halo 3 in the score. I’d compare the score to a mix of Edward Scissorhands and Blade Runner.
What could Bioware do to improve Mass Effect? Well to
start off, they need to include a run button because jogging just doesn’t cut
it. They did give the option to ‘storm’ in battle to run for cover, but this
option is only available when in combat. With the Mako, they need to add the
ability to speed boost because it took way too long to climb up some steep
mountains to find hidden items. Also, the elevators are a pain to ride in due
to the length often takes up to a minute of sitting there motionless. But my
biggest concern, and one that needs to be addressed first, is the texture
loading problem; if they fix that minor flaw, then I think the rest of my
concerns won’t even matter. So, with all the said, there are areas of
improvement for the sequel, but I can promise that Mass Effect has
granted me with a next-generation experience in the role-playing genre I have
been yearning for. If you’re an RPG fan, then don’t hesitate and buy Mass
Effect with the first chance you have.
Mixing the shooter genre with the RPG genre is a tough act for many developers, but Bioware pulls it off magnificently. Even though there are a few hiccups, such as idiotic teammates that run out in front of fire and then follow up with yelling at me for shooting them, Mass Effect’s gameplay is sure to change the landscape for RPGs. If it wasn’t for the perfection that was Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (another Bioware developed title), Mass Effect would be my all-time favorite game. If Bioware can work on implementing a more sound method of directing the squad and providing more in-depth options to command them, I think eventually, Bioware will one day top Baldur’s Gate II as the best developed game.
While there are a few shortcomings with the engine – I am generally speaking about textures loading up – Mass Effect is a beautiful game all around. Each and every uncharted planet that players visit is dynamically different with design, foliage, color, the lay of the land, and structures (though some will look the same from the outside). Specifically speaking, the Citadel is gorgeous and comes off as a haven for interracial politics. And for the alien races, never have I stumbled upon a set that are as interesting as Bioware created for Mass Effect. The Krogans, Quarians, Volus, Elcor, and Turians make up my favorites with how interesting they were. Too bad the Volus, Elcor and Quarians don’t play an integral part in the storyline because a conversation with these species is vibrant every time.
Within the first thirty minutes of the game, gamers should encounter their first conversation with Joker, Seth Green’s character. With Seth Green included, the all-star voice-acting is superb and made it enjoyable to sit through the conversations with NPC’s and hear their cries for help in the galaxy. The soundtrack is excellent and provokes the player’s emotion to rise and fall with the characters in the game.
Difficulty: Medium / Hard
While I found Mass Effect relatively easy on Normal, I can see where people will have difficulties. My deaths often came at my stupidity of running out in the middle of the battlefield and getting shot with a rocket from a distance. The boss battles aren’t too difficult nor are they annoying, which is a good thing since boss battles nowadays try too hard to copy The Legend of Zelda with finding a weakness and exploiting them. It’s safe to say that the boss battles help move things along with pacing and are a fresh breath of air when they show up.
Working on such a gigantic project that is Mass Effect, I was skeptical on how the end result would turn out. I am relieved to say that Bioware is successful on every level with mixing the shooting genre with the role-playing genre. The exploration of uncharted worlds made it exciting to travel to all the systems on the map to find all the hidden items in the game and embark on side-quests. Clocking in at over 27 hours, I am fully satisfied with the depth that was presented.
The first in a trilogy, Mass Effect delivers the next-generation experience I was expecting. The storyline had me hooked until the very end where it left me wanting more. I can honestly say that the universe Bioware created is the best I have encountered since George Lucas created Star Wars. Never have I been compelled to find out everything there is to a storyline as I did with Mass Effect. I read every Codex (Mass Effect’s encyclopedia) entry two times over, talked to every NPC, looked online for developer interviews, and just about anything you can imagine filling my brain with all the knowledge on the universe. This life is too short, and not to mention mixed up, to miss out on Mass Effect – the best game of this generation of video games.