Mass Effect

What can you say about Mass Effect? It’s just one of those games that defined the sixth generation of consoles. Initially released in 2007 exclusively for the Xbox 360, Mass Effect was one of the biggest games of the year. It was created by famed RPG maker, Bioware who had previously worked on Boulder’s Gate and Dragon Age and was sort of a departure from the games the company was famous for at that point. As opposed to a Medieval Fantasy world with a focus on swordplay and magic, Mass Effect was to be a great big space opera in the vein of something like Star Trek. Normally that would be a turnoff for most people but in the end, it didn’t really matter as Mass Effect was just a monster of a game. Within just a week of it’s release, the game sold over 1.6 million copies and before long it found itself ported over to the PC and PS3. It would also be followed by two sequels, building a Trilogy that would become one of the most beloved of the era.

Mass Effect was a series I was personally very late too. Though I was eager to play it, I was strictly on the PS3 and Wii and because I didn’t want to play the sequels without playing the original since they were interconnected via memory, I was basically out of luck. Thankfully, the trilogy was rereleased as a collection in 2012 and it included a version for the PS3. I picked it up and had a good old time. The Mass Effect Trilogy really is a series that lives up to it’s reputation. I repeat: As a TRILOGY. Though none of the Mass Effect games are really bad, on their own they are pretty underwhelming, especially this first game. Why is that? Let’s find out.

Story

Mass Effect takes place in the year 2183. After discovering a cache of alien technology on Mars, humanity suddenly has the means to travel further out into the far reaches of the space. Before long, they linked up with various other alien races and became part of a collective group of galaxies known as Citadel Space. In the game you take the role of Commander Shepard, a character whose occupation and backstory can be selected by the player. Given his history, Shepard’s name has been put up for consideration to become a Spector. The Spectors are a group of peacekeepers who work directly for the high council and if Shepard is accepted, he will become the first human Spectre. A big leap forward for the Human Race who are often looked down upon by other races in the galaxy. As a final test, Shepard is paired with a Spector while on a mission to collect something called the Prothean Beacon but the mission goes south when a rogue Spectre named Saren kills his comrade and destories the beacon. However, as the beacon is destroyed, it gives Shepard a vision indicating that Saren has allied himself with a hostile race known as the Geth with the intention of bringing back The Reapers, a group of aliens that destroyed all life in the galaxy thousands of years ago. With the threat looming, Shepard is given Spector status and is dispatched to find and stop Saren anyway he can.

It’s kind of hard to summarize the story Mass Effect which is usually an indication that the story is very complicated but really it’s not. It’s actually a rather basic with a typical hero versus villain story. There’s nothing really wrong with that if it’s done well and thankfully it’s done really well. This is mostly due to just how deep the world of Mass Effect is. There are lots of compelling characters, lots of interesting lore and some pretty neat culture among the various alien races. It’s a really well realized world and one of the game’s strongest aspects.

Probably the strongest aspect of the story is how much influence you can have over it. In most of cutscenes, you are given a selection of options as to what Shepherd can say and the choices you make affect the overarching story. It will also affect how your crew reacts to you, how the people of the galaxy will view you, you can even romance characters if you want. This is really the game’s biggest claim to fame because very few games at the time let you affect the story this much. The choices also aren’t black and white and more often than not, you will be forced to make some really tough choices.

Overall, while the story is basic, it’s deep world and player influenced story makes for a great piece of videogame storytelling.

10/10

Graphics & Sound

Mass Effect isn’t what I would call a graphical powerhouse. The character models and animations are basic, the textures are kind of bland and it’s full of all kinds of graphical glitches. It’s also a very slow running game. The framerate frequently drops and the game is notorious for it’s slow load times. Seriously, a lot of the time I’m just sitting around watching Shepard and the crew riding on a elevator. Yeah, it’s better than a loading screen but it’s still really boring to look at. I’m also not a big fan of the art direction. Though I will praise the designs of the aliens, I’m not not big on the super clean Star Trek esc future setting as opposed to the sort of space western kind of worlds you’d see in Star Wars or Firefly. It just looks dull to me but that’s merely a matter of preference. I know there is an audience for this kind of world, it’s just not me. Still doesn’t change the fact that the game runs like total s***.

At least the sound design is good. This is a very dialogue heavy game and thankfully they hired some really good voice actors. It all sounds good though I can’t help but feel that the characters are often speaking the in the same tone of voice as opposed to emoting. The sound effects are decent as well but they have a nasty habit of cutting out which can lessen the impact of certain events.

Overall, this is a pretty average game in terms of graphics and sound.

5/10

Gameplay

Mass Effect is an RPG that mostly takes the form of a cover based 3rd Person Shooter. Generally how it goes is you are given leads on your current objective and then you have to travel to a certain part of the galaxy to investigate the lead. At times that leads to situations where you have to be diplomatic while other times you will end up in a firefight. There will also be times where you aren’t directed to a specific planet and will have to explore a certain part of the galaxy until you find something, which often involves you exploring the surface of a planet using a tank like vehicle called a Mako. It all sounds like it would be a fun game but as you keep playing you start to realize that Mass Effect is just full of problems.

First of all, the RPG elements are pretty shallow. Upgrading your character really doesn’t effect the game all that much and just to see if it would effect anything, I played through the game once without upgrading my character at all and it was the exact same experience as when I first played it. You also have the option to play the game either as a gun fighter or a Biotic user. The Guns are self explanatory and the biotics I guess are kind of like the psychic powers in System Shock 2. However, I found the Biotic powers to be really ineffective so I just stuck to my guns.

Unfortunately, the shooting isn’t very good….at all. The controls are very sloppy, the cover system is finicky and the guns are really unsatisfying. It feels more like I am shooting people with a super soaker as opposed to an advanced alien firearm. Another thing that really makes my piss boil is that the enemies have health bars and it doesn’t matter where you shoot them. This is a common trait in a lot of RPGs with guns like Fallout 3 and, again, System Shock 2 and I really can’t stand it. It shouldn’t take a full clip from a gun to take down a basic grunt. If I shoot the bastard in the head or a point blank range with a shotgun, THE GUY SHOULD BE DEAD!!!!

Then of course there are a lot of little things that annoy me. I hate that everytime I leave my ship that I have to drag two of my crew members with me. Why? Why can’t I just go in solo? Yeah these guys do help you out by taking down enemies but most of the time they just get in my way or push me out of cover and into enemy fire. I also really hate navigation in this game and I could spend forever talking about that crap but we gotta move on.

Mass Effect has a good foundation for a great game but it just doesn’t play all that well. Granted there is nothing in the game that doesn’t really work but there also isn’t anything in the game that functions all that competently.

6/10

Difficulty

Mass Effect isn’t really a hard game but it does have it’s fair share of frustrating moments. Most of these come about as a result of the piss poor controls and the incompetence of your AI partners but there are often a couple of side missions where you have to take a diplomatic approach and if you say the wrong thing, the mission can’t be completed, no matter how many times you go back and talk to these people. It really gets on my nerves and there are a lot of moments like that in the game.

7/10

Content

For an RPG, you’d expect Mass Effect to be a long game but it’s really not that long. It only lasted about 12 to 15 hours and that’s me taking part in the various side missions as well. I’m not sure if there is something I am missing but even if there is, 15 hours is still enough for me and there is replay value here.

10/10

Verdict

Mass Effect is a game that really got a lot of praise when it first came out but really, I don’t think it’s as good as a lot of people would have you think. Though it’s player influenced story is awesome, it’s graphics aren’t all that great and the gameplay kind of sucks. Does all that completely ruin the game? Not really. As a whole, Mass Effect is still a decent game, coming in at a 7.6 out of 10. If you are a fan of RPGs like this, maybe you’ll be a little more forgiving of its faults than me but I’m not going to let it slip. Thankfully, the games do get better so stay tuned.