Mass Effect Review
Despite its short length and often uninspired side quests, Mass Effect is a highly enjoyable, highly cinematic action RPG that should be played by shooter and RPG fans alike
Posted by Tim R (with_teeth26) on Dec 6, 2009 - 1:43am EST (Dec 6, 2009 01:43)
With Mass Effect, it is immediately apparent from the start of the game that Bioware, while very skilled developers, aren’t very original. Before Mass Effect, Bioware had worked on the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Kotor) games, and had done an excellent job of bringing George Lucas’s incredibly famous Star Wars universe into the video game world. It seems that with Mass Effect, Bioware still has a head full of science fiction, and decided to make their own Star Wars universe. While the world(s) that ME takes place on are very rich with back story and history, almost everything about the Mass Effect universe reflects or mimics the Star Wars universe. Luckily, the folks at Bioware did such a fantastic job with it that you honestly won’t care that your ‘biotic’ powers in ME are uncannily similar to the ‘force’ powers in Star Wars. It’s just a shame that they didn’t put more time into polishing and side quests, because were it not for a lack of polish and bland side quests Mass Effect would be near perfection.
As it stands, the main story component in the single player campaign can be completed in around 12 hours, which pretty short for an RPG. The flip side of this is that the entire campaign is very well paced and never boring or repetitive. You will move from one incredibly dramatic and epic set piece to the next with hardly a minute to catch your breath. The environments are highly varied and often stunningly beautiful, and the cinematic style of presentation is probably the best I have ever seen in a video game. The musical score is near perfection for the setting; a soft, throbbing techno that plays in the background quietly during dialogue sequences which rises to higher volumes and intensity during important moments in missions. The overall extraordinary quality of the story missions makes you want to continue playing through, and hardly gives you any good opportunities to go off and complete side quests.
Once you do finally tear yourself away from the story arc and go in search of side quests to beef up your character level and play through time, you will be underwhelmed by the options. You usually either have to go talk to someone and convince them to do/not do something, or drive around on some god-forsaken and completely desolate planet looking for a lost squad of scientists or investigating a strange signal. These sections are made even weaker by what is possibly the worst vehicle handling I have seen in a high profile game. You drive a kind of all-terrain space buggy called the MAKO, which stubbornly refuses to drive in a straight line. You will be driven to near hysteria as you weave back and forth, trying in vain to aim at an enemy soldier who is happily plinking away with his assault rifle. These sections are by far the weakest parts of the game, and feel like they were added on as an afterthought so they could add a higher number of play through hours on the back of the box.
Other than these disastrous driving sections, the core game play is excellent. The combat is a hybrid of Gears of War style third person shooting, complete with a cover system, and pause-and-play tactics. At the beginning of the game you will choose between a handful of classes, each of which plays a bit differently during combat. Some classes are based around shooting enemies, others are based around using biotic (as I said earlier, basically force) powers to lift, throw, and push and freeze your enemies so that your teammates can shoot them without risk. There is also a tech class where your character can sabotage enemy equipment, and a few hybrid classes. The gunplay is surprisingly good, and the game is very competent as a shooter, although some enemies like to run up to your face and start hitting you even when they have guns. A nice feature is that when an enemy gets close enough, your character will automatically switch from shooting mode to melee, which is convenient in some of the more frantic battles. You also control 3 party members, and while you cannot take direct control of them you can order them to move to specific places and use specific powers at any given time. If any of your party members go down during a battle, they will be automatically revived once you kill all of the enemies in that area.