Product Type: Microsoft Xbox 360 games
Newest Review: ... Shepard and his hand-picked crew are left to deal with this latest menace almost single-handed; reliant only on the few allies they... more
Gears of KOTOR
Mass Effect (Xbox 360)
Member Name: Wolfzilla
Mass Effect (Xbox 360)
Advantages: Great story, nice merging of shooter and RPG
Disadvantages: a bit short, some minor things that ruin it a little
The reasoning behind this would be the game's developers Bioware. While not their first game, the software house shot to fame with Star Wars - Knights of the Old Republic (known to those gamer types who like abbreviations, and me for the sake of my keyboard as KOTOR) for the original Xbox. KOTOR made gamers stand up and take notice for many reasons, the fact it actually made unique and good use of the Star Wars license, allowing you to make decisions to affect if your character turned out Jedi or Sith, an in-depth and captivating story that put the prequel trilogy in the shade and a huge gaming world to explore with your party of various aliens and robots. Though there is an official sequel, it wasn't Bioware who made it, as they had jumped ship to make Jade Empire - basically KOTOR with a martial arts twist. Jade Empire's big appeal for somebody who predominantly hates RPGs like myself was that it took advantage of the martial arts setting and actually gave you real time combat - making it almost a cross between an RPG and a Beat 'em Up (or a more polished version of those X-Men - Legends games) Mass Effect would be the company's first foray onto the Xbox 360, and it was hyped to the max. Talk of vast galaxies to travel that dwarfed KOTOR, hundreds of alien races and fantastic real-time combat. Given that KOTOR and Jade Empire managed to do what was prior thought impossible and actually get me to not only sit through, but thoroughly enjoy, a role playing game, naturally I was quite excited. I'm old and cynical enough to know not to believe the hype, but at the same time Bioware had yet to disappoint me.
Without wanting to give away too much of the plot, as it is one of the game's main draws, it takes place in a far flung future where humanity is the latest species to attempt to join an intergalactic council. The council is based in a giant space station known as the Citadel, a relic from an extinct civilisation known as the Protheans. The majority of technology used in this time comes from uncovered Prothean technology. Your character varies depending upon how you set he or she up, but either way they are thrown into the thick of a galactic conspiracy when a rogue secret agent sabotages a mission to retrieve a newly uncovered Prothean artefact.
While that may be more than a bit brief, Mass Effect's plot really is one aspect of it I'd recommend playing the game for. The game does a fantastic job of building itself up a fascinating universe of species and technology, and while some scenarios will have Star Wars fans feeling a distinct sense of Déjà vu, it does enough to feel overall unique. It also manages to come up with several complex and compelling characters to actually make it's story a good focal point - you actually seek out plot development rather than just going through the motions between action sequences. It's not a particularly deep or World changing plot mind, it is just a Science Fiction Adventure story, but it deserves credit for being a damn good one, and one with more depth than the majority of games on the market today.
The gameplay is somewhat like a cross between KOTOR and of all things Gears of War. In most respects it follows the KOTOR route. You start off customising your character, male or female, you select what class they are, soldier, technician etc, customise their image a bit choose their history (which is pseudo relevant) and get into third person perspective to wander around collecting and equipping weapons and armour and getting into conversations in which you choose the answers. Being a Bioware game naturally how you answer your questions dictates if you are good or bad. Or in Mass Effect terms a 'Paragon' or a 'Renegade'. However, unlike KOTOR there really isn't a great deal of point in this feature in Mass Effect - as far as I can tell there is no way to end up truly 'Evil', just a bit of a smart-mouthed, uncaring tosser. That and the majority of responses you can choose from often end up with the same result, making no difference. Naturally you bump into some aliens and humans to recruit into your party and interact with/equip gear on/back you up in fights. Theres species-to-species disharmony to try and cool down, romance on the cards and bitter former experiments to make up your motley crew of space-faring heroes.
Where things deviate from it's Star Wars flavoured predecessor is when it comes to combat. Learning from Jade Empire's best point, that real time combat is just that bit more fun than turn based, dice rolling nonsense, Mass Effect actually becomes almost Gears of War jr. when it comes to battles, mainly due to the implementation of a cover system. Across the game's levels there are many debris and pillars your character can duck behind to pop out and take pot shots at your enemies from. It doesn't work as well as in Gears, you have a far more basic arsenal and your team-mate AI is nowhere near as good, but it's still a solid combat system that made me feel a lot more immersed in the game than doing things turn-based would.
As you traverse the galaxy, you'll also find the need for some wheels, which come in the form of the Mako cruiser. Inspired by Halo's vehicular stints, the Mako parts of the game control horribly, but at the same time provide a somewhat amusing diversion from the main third-person part of the game. It's mainly used for the side quests on uncharted planets, so how much you use it is really down to you.
That is one problem I've heard many people level at Mass Effect, and to an extent I agree. The main story -driven quest only lasts around 15 hours. While I'm not an RPG person who wants a 100 hour monotony fest, I felt Bioware could have squeezed another 5 hours at least out of it. You are presented with this expansive galaxy, but only really have reason to explore around a quarter of it. There are numerous side-quests to bolster the running time a bit, but the fact is they are almost all complete rubbish "find 10 of x" run-arounds that grow tiresome after the 2nd or third foray. It somewhat dilutes from what has everything going for it to be a truly epic experience.
Because make no mistake, for the most part Mass Effect's gameplay works. Sure its combat system may be a bit simple, but coupled with the expansive story it manages to do what seemed to be beyond developers for years - combining a good plot that is based around exploration with a proper action game style engine. As brilliant as KOTOR was, how much better would it have been to have a real-time lightsaber duel with Darth Malak? While Mass Effect may not be perfect, it's a big step in the right direction.
One aspect of the game that I don't believe anyone can gloss over is the loading times aka Elevator sequences. The game seems to require a break to load on an irritatingly frequent basis. Sometimes this is done simply by freezing the screen and a "now loading" message. Others a conventional loading screen. However, what has really come to characterise the game is it's habit of 'disguising' loading scenes in elevators. After the 2nd journey this doesn't fool anyone, and in fact just ends up making the levels seem poorly designed. They probably should have penned something into the plot about the Protheans loving lifts.
Aesthetically Mass Effect is classic Bioware. In otherwords fantastic and flawed all at once. It looks brilliant, realistic textures, spectacular explosions and some of the most fluid character animation ever seen...let down by the pop-up that's almost become a running joke. It's an irritant, but not enough to take the sheen off what is in general a great success. Sonically things are even better. The score veers between kitschy early 80s techno style bleeps and sweeping orchestral scores brilliantly, knowing when to play the Battlestar Galactica or 2001 angles perfectly. The voice actors are also of a high calibre, many of them holdovers from KOTOR, and including John Carpenter favourite Keith David and semi-legend Lance Henriksen amongst their ranks.
Mass Effect is a somewhat frustrating game. It has so much going for it, the epic story, the great visuals & sound and the genius idea of fusing an RPG and a Third-Person Shooter...but it ultimately falls short of perfect due to a collection of small flaws that really could have been avoided. It's still a damn good, engrossing game that I'd recommend to near enough anyone, especially those who enjoyed Bioware's prior games, but it's not as perfect as it could have, and probably should have been. It does offer replay value through different endings and achievements to chase, but personally I think I'll wait for the sequel and hope Bioware iron out the bugs, because if they do, it will be a truly classic game.
Summary: Mass Effect is a very good game. Not perfect, but definitely a worthwhile purchase for any 360 owner