Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios and EA
Sorry this review is a tad late folks. I got this bad Larry for Christmas and as I popped it in, my 360 pissed in my face. Two 360’s later, around 10 hours of dialogue and one poorly rendered sex scene I am finally done with Mass Effect. I can only describe the feeling as bittersweet. This is a solid game but I can’t help feeling Mass Effect was pushed out the front door before BioWare got a chance to polish it. There are so many annoyances that are immediately evident that it makes one question if there were more than one or two amazingly stoned beta testers reporting the bugs. I am getting ahead of myself. The problems are small, if abundant. Let’s focus on some of the positives for a second, because I like this game. I really do.
Mass Effect is the sort of sprawling, galactic soap opera that gamers have not seen the likes of on a console. The game was developed by the same folks that brought you the first Knights of the Old Republic game to much fanfare. What they have done with Mass Effect is create there own universe with force like powers called Biotics and multiple alien races for fans to cosplay and jerk off to. And much like the first Star Wars movies fans will fall in love with the design (warts and all) because the universe is so expansive and inspiring. Mass Effect, above all else, is a success story of intriguing and engulfing video game narrative. Sadly the graphics, AI, control, and sound all lag behind.
Unreal Engine 2.5
When your character and crew stand still, this game looks great. Issues arise when you move. The frame rate is horrendous. I wish Microsoft would just allow all developers to require a hard drive. They allowed Burnout Paradise to require one. Just bite the bullet guys, console games need hard drives! In between the frequent drops in frame rate are frequent drops in pixel rate. That’s all in addition to frequent pauses for load times. This game could kill an epileptic. So if twitchy Tommy is pissing you off, toss a controller in his hand and say hello to life insurance.
Combat can be great fun in Mass Effect. The battles take place in real time, but you have the option of pausing the action by pulling up a screen and choosing certain tactics. Whether it is using your Biotics or just switching a weapon. You can toss folks around like rag dolls or even lift them in the air and shoot them in the face with a shotgun as they float past you. This pause in the action takes a little getting used to, but it is great fun and a welcome addition to RPG combat that I hope to see again. While this screen is up you also have the option to tell your squad mates what to do and what techniques to use, which honestly is the only thing that they are good for (Minus looking at the ladies’ behinds on the frequent and excruciatingly long elevator rides. What can I say? I roll with a harem.).Your teammates are pretty useless, especially during the first several hours before they level up.
People will be quick to compare the combat to the pop and stop of Gears of War, but in reality it is much closer to the control of the original Manhunt once you get a gun. All the battles are almost identical. You hide, you tell your squad to run out and draw fire (because if you don’t they block your path and get you killed,) you use your special skills, you shoot, you win, you level up and get more shit to use. It’s fun. I started out playing on veteran level, and I just can’t recommend it for first play though. It is extremely hard in many areas, which is fine. I have been gaming for a while, I can learn a pattern and adapt with the best of them, even if my character runs like a 1950’s Cadillac.
What I can’t deal with is sloppy save points. Once you enter a combat scenario they don’t allow you to save until the battle is completely over. It’s a terrible design, but fine. I can learn to deal with it like I had to deal with the terrible save points in Dead Rising. For the love of God though, give the player a chance to save before an extraordinarily hard battle but after two pointless conversations and an overlong elevator load screen. This game made me the most frustrated I’ve been at a video game since I used to bite my hand over SFII’s cheap AI. I was literally pacing around the room trying to focus, making odd growls waiting for the battle to start just so I could die again. It may have only taken two minutes to get back into the shit, but it felt like an eternity, and it could have been fixed with just a little foresight.
Luckily, most of the game play is based in conversation not combat. There are multiple choices that you can make during your interactions with the npcs and these choices have the ability to greatly affect the outcome of each narrative thread. Characters live and die by the choices you make. The dialogue system works to great effect in this game and there is a lot of it. If you are not a plot player, avoid this game. It is the only truly successful part of the game play.
Pew Pew Pew
The sound design for the game is passable, but by no means stands out like the sound in say, Call of Duty 4. The orchestral music is poignant, if not a little underused in some of the more tense moments of the game. Once again, the highlight in the sound department has to do with the narrative. The voice acting in this game is some of the best I have ever heard. Lance Henriksen gives his best performance since Pumpkinhead. No, I am not kidding. The voice acting is believable and engrossing. It is nice to finally hear a game that takes itself seriously and not just a caricature late 80’s action films (Unreal Tournament III anyone?).
The openness of Mass Effect’s world is inspiring and your ability to land on uncharted planets is great fun (even if your car drives like a lawn mower). Towards the latter half of the game you may get a little tired of the fetch and grab missions that the npc’s send you on. A little more variety in side quests would have been much appreciated. I guess that can be said of all games. Mass Effect is one of the best games to reach a console in the past two year, which feels weird to type since I just spent the whole review bitching. Even with all of its glaring issues, Mass Effect is worth you time and love. It could have been so much better if they just spent a little more time on it and didn’t rush it out for the holiday season. It truly leaves you wanting more of almost every aspect of the game. Lucky for you we have at least two more of these bad boys in the pipes coming to us. Let’s hope BioWare has a little more time to fine tune the sequel, because they could have a timeless classic on their hands.
[8bit Take]: Worth your time and love