RELEASED: November 2007
AVAILABLE ON: PC, X360
DEVELOPER(S): Demiurge Studios (PC), BioWare (X360)
PUBLISHER(S): Electronic Arts (PC), Microsoft Game Studios (X360)
Mass Effect is regarded as one of the finest video game franchises of all time. Off the record, a friend of mine who doesn't even like video games that much considers Mass Effect a masterpiece in science fiction - which he on the other hand loves and knows much of. The game was announced by BioWare as their first Xbox 360 game around the time the console launched in late 2005, and originally it was supposed to be an exclusive game, but eventually, the inevitable happened and the game was ported to the PC as well. Mass Effect solidified the 360's strong stature on the market, and became a huge hit among the PC community as well. For a few years, I thought Mass Effect lived on its hype and that only, but when I discovered BioWare's games, I grew intensely obsessed with trying it out. Surviving a rather bumpy beginning with the game, I must say that yeah - Mass Effect is the real deal.
The galaxy needs a Shepard
Mark Meer : Commander Shepard (Male)
Jennifer Hale : Commander Shepard (Female) / May O'Connell
Kimberly Brooks : Ashley Williams
Raphael Sbarge : Kaidan Alenko
Ali Hillis : Dr. Liara T'Soni
Liz Sroka : Tali'Zorah nar Rayya
Keith David : Captain David Anderson
Seth Green : Jeff "Joker" Moreau
Fred Tatasciore : Saren Arterius
Marina Sirtis : Matriarch Benezia
For centuries, and then even millenniums, man looked up to the skies and wondered if there were some other lifeforms out there, somewhere in space. Then, the mass effect was found - a dark energy that allowed humanity to study life beyond the Earth's solar system. Humanity was quickly overrun by several numbers of different, intelligent extraterrestrial species. With such conflicted cultures, principles and values, and desire for dominance, war was inevitable. Since the end of the final war, the dominant races of the Milky Way galaxy have formed the Citadel Council to uphold peace and justice, and are still wary of accepting humans into their ranks. You are Lt. Commander Shepard, a human soldier of the Alliance, assigned as the executive officer of Captain David Anderson of the SSV Normandy. Your mission is to protect your rare kind from being fully exterminated by an ancient evil.
Explaining the story of Mass Effect in just a few words is like running a marathon with no legs. When did you last see a simple, original science fiction story that was made to stand out from the rest? When did you last hear a simple, original backstory for a role-playing game that was made to stand out from the rest and be a new, unique experience? If you are interested in the backstory of Mass Effect and all its subplots, they will be explained to you as you make progress. I love the game's dialogue and storytelling style. Instead of long-ass, boring and confusing conversations, all the people(s) tend to keep their stories really short and comprehensible, but the dialogue sounds authentic at the same time. Honestly, for the first five hours, I had no freakin' clue of what I was doing and why. I was awestruck by several surges of confusing information through dialogue, once again I stumbled on BioWare's very awkward menu navigation system for consoles which made my gameplay experience kind of clumsy (that, and the Xbox controller which just simply does not fit into my hands), and I just could not grasp one tiny bit of fact as to why the game has been hailed as perhaps the greatest game of the 21st century. Luckily I found it intriguing enough to press on, because after those five hours, I was starting to get both the story and gameplay by just playing the game, and the length of my gaming sessions suddenly increased from one to two hours to six or seven at a time. Struggling through the menu is still a nightmare, but Mass Effect is one captivating experience that once again goes to show why BioWare is one of the best and most consistent video game studios of the modern day.
Before I started up Mass Effect for the first time, I had no idea what its story was like. It's of the very refreshing kind. Think about all science fiction games of the past and take a moment to reflect on this: how many original sci-fi games have you seen emerge that do not take the ultra-violent way out, in other words ones that aren't based on some alien invasion and a lot of senseless death? Instead of following the usual trail left behind by Contra two decades before and offering a yet another extravaganza of alien bloodlust, Mass Effect turns out to be a surprisingly political, almost serene game for long periods of time. It's far from a space opera, it's very realistic and humanity's history in the game is at least partly based on real-life historical events. I might be pissing a lot of sci-fi die-hards off with the following remark, but besides obviously reminding me of Dune in more ways than a dozen, the softer side of Mass Effect somewhat reminds me of Babylon 5. There's much time reserved for both vaporizing sentients of the wrong side and dealing with politics involving several quarreling species, and behind it all, is a key item that would grant humanity a future in a constantly changing galaxy. Yeah, it's a Babylon Dune if you ask me.
|The sky is mine...|
In addition to humans, Krogans, Quarians, Turians and Asaris, there are many other species in Mass Effect's version of the Milky Way galaxy. The world of Mass Effect is very immersive and interesting, and I believe there are some people who go to the length of reading each and every Codex file in this game. After all, I know a guy who read all of the Codexes in Dragon Age: Origins, and it had even more of those files. Before I begin the actual review, since we're already talking about Dragon Age: Origins, I must say that I'm seeing a lot of connections between the two franchises behind the initial curtain; sometimes it even feels like the events of the two games take place in the same universe, in a different point of time. Upon (optionally) saving a scientist in the beginning of the game prompts her to yell out "Thank the Maker!". Also, I'm seeing some resemblances between the different species in Mass Effect and different races in Dragon Age. For example, the Asari in Mass Effect and the Qunari in Dragon Age are somewhat alike, except for the fact that the Asari have different personalities, whereas all Qunari speak only when they feel the need to, and are constantly on the edge. There's just something I can't really point out besides their close relation to humans and weird sexual habits, you'll have to judge for yourselves.
The game has great graphics which make it a stand-out title in BioWare's altogether incredible resume. However, investing such a great deal in audiovisual bootlicking takes its toll towards the end of the game, as you first realize that the game's surprisingly captivating story is surprisingly short and secondly: if you took the time to conquer a majority of those sidequests (you can't do 'em all, I dare say), you must've noticed that you've explored dozens of identical buildings and abandoned starships. Like I said, though, the graphics are technically great: I had no idea someone could pull off something like this for the 360 back in 2007, especially BioWare who have made the conscious choice to minimalize looks even more recently. The well-publicized texture loading problems don't bother me much. Compared to the newer Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect looks like a CGI movie. I won't even mention Dragon Age II in this context, since as most of you know, that game runs on the Mass Effect engine.
The music's off the charts when it comes to the modern RPG scene. Very atmospheric stuff, reportedly most influenced by Blade Runner and Dune - I'll sign what they said about Blade Runner, and Dune has already been mentioned a few times as an obvious influence. I probably wouldn't have come up with the Blade Runner comparison myself, but since they said it, I must admit that it is quite valid. The music only gets better towards the end and it's actually memorable unlike in many RPG's that use cued music that's almost unnoticeable behind all the tension. I love the song in the final credits ("M4 Part 2", performed by the electronic rock outfit Faunts), it's actually playing on loop on YouTube as I'm writing this review. The original score was written by a group of four led by Jack Wall, most known for his work on the debated Myst franchise (hence the atmosphere) and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow.
|An intergalactic strip club for those who don't |
Like Jennifer Hale, Raphael Sbarge also returns for a major role after nailing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for BioWare. On top of several dozens of other voiceover veterans who definitely knew their business when they were making Mass Effect - I'm overlooking a few technical mistakes here and there - we have Seth Green, who you might remember from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the Austin Powers series (I remember him most as the voice of Chris Griffin in Family Guy), and two very flashy cameos to have sci-fi fans spinning in their boots. Lance Henriksen, best known as the annoying Detective Vukovich in The Terminator and the misunderstood android Bishop in the Alien series, does the voice of Admiral Steven Hackett. Actually, I didn't know this before I started the game; there was something familiar about the voice and I had to check it up. Marina Sirtis, known to all Trekkers as Deanna Troi in The Next Generation, plays one of the main antagonists, Matriarch Benezia. All in all, what we have here is an amazingly produced cast that does its job remarkably well, and like I said, actually hearing the main character speak does wonders to the experience.
The biggest problem with Mass Effect is that none of the elements of the core gameplay are perfect. Frankly, sometimes I get the very awry feeling that the game is a teaser for better sequels. There's no major flaw in the game, but each element of the gameplay has some minor flaw or a few of them - it's weird. Let's start with the controls. Now this has nothing to do with my personal relationship with the Xbox controller, this is about the structure of it in general; the grenades are very useful, if not most essential, in many combat situations. Well, for some reason BioWare mapped the grenades to the obscure Select button. It's very hard to learn to use the button during intense confrontations. Otherwise, I like the controls. Mass Effect is essentially a gun-'em-down game, so it has way more dynamic controls than most RPG's. There are two radial menus, one's for changing weapons and one's for special skills. In practice, it's almost identical to the system in Metal Gear Solid, with the main difference being that you can assign specific actions for three different people at all times. The straightforward action, on the other hand, reminds me of Uncharted. Very simple, very easy to learn. The Y button serves as a speed-dial for first aid just like in Dead Space, and with the digital pad, you can give your squad specific tactical orders - which do not always work, I'm afraid.
Shepard is all yours to manage, and the support team works entirely according to decent artificial intelligence, if you're not into the manual control of their actions; on the easy and normal difficulty levels, it's really not necessary. "Decent artificial intelligence" practically means that your squad members get in your way constantly; they steal your covers, and tend to step into the line of fire. Friendly fire is not possible - thank the Maker - but their bodies still physically absorb every bullet you shoot towards them, and they simply obscure your visual of the enemy. The biggest grudge I have towards the combat system is that sometimes placing Shepard somewhat "wrong" can result in zero reaction to your hail of bullets by the enemies, even if you're shooting at them point blank, with your crosshair on their forehead. It's some kind of a weird error in programming. In turn, most enemy missiles result in one hit kills regardless of your shield strength, and the combat difficulty level. That's just ridiculous.
|Smurfette's long lost sister Liara!|
Character customization does not end there. You have six different classes to choose from: Adept, Soldier, Engineer, Vanguard, Sentinel and Infiltrator. I'm not too eager to explain each class in detail - besides, all of them have more or less of a traditional RPG counterpart. Soldier is the only self-explanatory class in the bunch. In short, there are three strengths you should consider throughout the game when assembling a squad (party); Biotic Strength, Tech Strength and Combat Strength. Obviously, Soldiers have the most Combat Strength, but they have absolutely no Biotic or Tech Strength. Each time you are given the opportunity to switch to a different squad, a very convenient meter appears to indicate how balanced your group is. If you're heading into a big fight, you should naturally focus on Combat Strength. If you're doing sidequests and you expect to bump into a lot of hidden treasures locked inside chests with digital encryption, you should focus on bringing in any members of the group that have high scientific skills. It's cool, for the most part, but it's quite disheartening to finally make it to a target, just to find out that your decryption skills are not enough without another specialist. What you need to do then is to return to your ship, land on the planet AGAIN and make your way from the landing point to the target AGAIN. You can't change the party on the go. I actually missed one sidequest inside the main storyline, because I didn't have a hacker with me from the beginning; I couldn't return to the planet after leaving, and still, the quest was marked as an active quest in my journal right until the end of the game. Mass Effect acts like a jerk from time to time.
I did a few things with Mass Effect that I do not normally do on the first playthrough of any game that lets me choose a class and has any sort of a karmic system. First of all, I started with a very simple principle; Shepard will be a nice guy. Perhaps too nice for his own good. Usually, I start off as an asshole, because it tends to remove many restrictions; for example, I wouldn't have to worry about casualties, or stealing stuff, and working for the bad guys usually pays better. I learned all of this from Fallout. Secondly - and this is something I've NEVER done before - I opted not to make him a Soldier, but instead, a Vanguard, who's above average in both biotics ("magic") and weapon-based combat, but has no scientific skills at all. After just a few hours and upon starting to hack through those numerous sidequests with even more numerous hidden treasures, I regretted my decision, but luckily the skills and specializations of the potential squad members are designed with such balance that by the end of the game, it really doesn't matter what Shepard's class is; in the end, it's all up to your personal preference. I stand relieved.
Character customization indeed lets you do one more cool thing to your very own Shepard, which kind of foreshadows the origin story gimmick used in Dragon Age: Origins. You can choose Shepard's origin from three different options; either he was raised in a colony, as a child of war within the Systems Alliance or as an orphan down on Earth. Each background option results in an exclusive sidequest, and different bonuses. You also have three choices for a psychological profile, which basically tells Shepard's story up until the events of Mass Effect. These profiles affect both dialogue and the stories of certain sidequests. Finally, you can assign one bonus skill for Shepard outside of his own class. Each class has two specializations (in addition to the mandatory Spectre specialization), unlocked after achieving a certain experience level.
|I rest my case, she IS way too hot to serve the |
When you take your little trips to planets to generally explore and do the sidequests mostly handed to you by the Systems Alliance, you drive a marine battletank known as Mako. The controls of the Mako are pretty horrible, especially in combat situations - it's fitted with a machine gun and a very powerful missile launcher, which takes some time to reload between shots. The crosshair is even more treacherous than during on-foot combat - you can only hit enemies from a certain distance away. Unfortunately, the Mako is very essential against large swarms of enemies and large single enemies such as Thresher Maws (overgrown earthworms with fangs) due to its mobility and artillery. The bad controls of your vehicle are nothing compared to the disheartening geographical structure of some of the planets. The Mako has a six-wheel drive and you can climb most steep hills with it to get to your targets, but sometimes, they're annoyingly steep and you have to drive all the way around whole mountains to find a lousy ammo upgrade from your target. Navigating with the Mako is not challenging; those hills are there just to piss you off and waste your valuable time.
I'll go over a few more things before wrapping this up and eagerly punching in Mass Effect 2. First, I have to talk about the stores - the store on your ship in particular. The stores are really quite useless; you gain the best equipment by simply taking your time to play the game, nail those sidequests and make progress in the story. Besides, you cannot compare equipment aboard the Normandy aside from Shepard's equipment. I bought many expensive armours from the requisition officer because they looked state-of-the-art based on the tier number, then I went to the squad lockers to find out that they were actually obsolete a few in-game hours ago. Then I went and sold them back for half the credits. Very consumer-friendly, ain't it? I ditched the stores altogether at a very early stage, something like 15 hours into the game, and I did just fine without them.
Conversing with the squad itself is not quite as interesting and fabulous as it has been in most of BioWare's games. I hate to bring up Dragon Age once again since it came out two years later, but I absolutely loved talking to my (butt) buddies in that game; in Mass Effect, it's really not that essential to keep up with the thoughts of your squad. Wooing the squad members is possible, but the romantic flame between Shepard and the potential partners for making out is not quite the same, and you can only have some form of a relationship with one single party member. That member's identity is pretty much decided by the game itself, regardless of who you'd personally prefer to get it on with, which was a big letdown.
To end this on a high note, I like the "puzzles" and decryption sequences in the game, although they're more or less button patterns you simply have to follow. Some people call them minigames. There is one bonafide minigame in Mass Effect - Quasar, which can only be played at the Citadel. In these times when everyone is striving to make the most original AND confusing prominent minigame, BioWare took the least original way out and made a very discreet minigame that is as simple as one could possibly be. Quasar is like blackjack without cards. You simply let the game give you random numbers between 1-7 or 4-8, until you're as close to 20 as you can, but if you go over 20, you lose. Quasar is annoyingly addictive, despite being so God damn simple - that's a sign of a decent minigame. I lost interest when I figured out how useless money is in the long run.
|Driving around can be fun. Sometimes it just |
I started writing this review four days ago. In the beginning, I said "Luckily I found it intriguing enough to press on, because after those five hours, I was starting to get both the story and gameplay by just playing the game, and the length of my gaming sessions suddenly increased from one to two hours to six or seven at a time." Well actually, six or seven wasn't enough. Yesterday, I played Mass Effect for a total of 16 hours in a row (rainy day). After I had downed my fifth cup of coffee, I realized that I had grown used to the game's mistakes, and I hardly even recognized them as mistakes anymore. Mass Effect is not a perfect game, but there is some kind of magic within it that places it on the mark of 9... which means that after all these petty criticisms I have towards the gameplay, I consider Mass Effect one of the finest BioWare titles I have played thus far as a whole experience. That being said, I'm burning to sink my fangs into what I am hyped to expect to be one of the most explosive sequels ever made.
GRAPHICS : 9.3
SOUND : 9.4
PLAYABILITY : 8.6
LIFESPAN : 9.2
CONCLUSION : 9.0
GameRankings: 89.43% (PC), 91.15% (X360)
The game was initially banned in India due to the possible lesbian sex scene.
The wreckage of a probe identified as CCCP Luna 23 can be scavenged on the moon. The CCCP Luna 23 was an actual Russian probe that was sent to the moon to gather rock samples in 1974.