Game Review: Mass Effect

Mass Effect
8.8 of 10
Platform: Windows (also available on Xbox 360)
Developer: BioWare


BioWare has been one of my favorite PC game developers since I've played Baldur's Gate during the late 90's. Lately, however, they've turned sour on my tongue as they've continued to tease me with their games. First, they announced Dragon Age but seldomly updated its progress, leaving fans like me in the dark. Then, they announced Jade Empire as an Xbox exclusive game only to be released on the PC almost two years later. Lastly, it was Mass Effect, which, like Jade Empire, was also announced as an Xbox 360 exclusive but saw a PC release earlier this year. Don't get me wrong though. I am grateful that BioWare released this space opera on the PC. But, please, stop with the teasing already.

Unlike so many RPGs, who often start you with a nobody, Mass Effect gives you the chance to play an established hero, Commander Shepherd, from the beginning. A marine that has proven himself/herself on numerous occasions, Shepherd has been offered a candidacy to become a Spectre, elite agents that works under the intergalactic government. His first mission as a candidate is to simply pick up an unearthed beacon, an ancient artifact of an extinct advance civilization, from a human colony. But things got more complicated when the colony was attacked by Saren, a rogue spectre, who is also interested with the beacon.

Saren, the Sith...err, Rogue Spectre.

The moment you start the game, you'll immediately know that Mass Effect offers a sublime story. However, I couldn't help but notice its resemblance to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. There's the Spectre, a figure of galactic authority, which equates to the Jedi. Then there's the Rogue Spectre which also equates to the Sith. Also, let's not forget the "Council", which they never even bothered to change its name. But, nevertheless, other than being a Star Wars copy cat, the story of Mass Effect will astonish gamers with its plot twists and a universe teeming with political and social intrigues that reflects our own reality.

Before you can experience the wonderful universe of the game, like all RPGs, you must create a character first. In Mass Effect's case, BioWare added a little flair to make the character creation as a part of the role-playing by letting you connect to the Alliance Military's database and fill-up a profile. Character creation isn't as complicated as compared to other RPGs. It's very simple, in fact, and all you need to do is type in your first name, select your background and psychological profile (both of which don't give out bonuses but will minimally affect the dialogue in some parts of the game), and your class. Choosing how the way your character will look like, however, might take up some time depending on your vanity. A quick-start character is also available if you're really itching to play the game.

Suck on this, synthetic scum. Suck on this.

After you clear the character creation, you'd get to roam inside the SSV Normandy -a pretty nice looking ship with advance stealth systems- and cavort with your crew. Conversation choices is pretty straightforward in Mass Effect, as it usually gives you only three types of responses that will determine your moral alignment: The good, the neutral and the bad choice. Choosing the good responses will give you Paragon points, and choosing the bad responses will net you some Renegade points. Dialogue options, like most BioWare games, also affects the game. But it is often limited to avoid combat or persuade/intimidate a non-playable character to pay you more. The conversations doesn't carry any long term effects, however, unlike in games such as The Witcher.

If you're done walking and talking to your crew, you and your squad will be dropped off immediately at the combat zone. Combat is probably my favorite part of the game. It's fast paced and exhilirating. Although, I admit, I found it to be confusing at first with all my enemies and my sqaud creating this pandemonium around me. But once I figured out the "how to's", especially commanding my squad, it just blew me away. The utilization of covers, combined with squad control, is something I enjoyed the most. I know it is pretty much common in first-person shooters. But to actually see your character taking cover, all ducked with his/her back to a crate or cliff wall, while poking occasionally to get a shot, is just pretty entertaining to me.

Commander Shepherd, taking cover behind a container.

But with all its niceties, there are some things I didn't like about the gameplay. Mainly, the skills. First of all, there aren't many skills to play with in the game, losing its replay value. In addition, most skills have almost the same effect. Sure, their uses may have been differently explained on paper. But on actual combat they all seem to do same. Sometimes, I wonder if I used Sabotage or Overload on an enemy. The other thing I don't like is the lack of Stealth. This game would've been perfect with a stealth skill. There are plenty of instances in the game, especially in a bunker setting, that I would've loved for my Infiltrator to sneak in a higher spot and just pick out the bad guys.

Graphics and Sound
Unfortunately, there aren't many eye candy in Mass Effect. Most of the designs and the models that were used, I felt, were recycled from Knights of the Old Republic. But Bioware did spice it up, of course, with some film grains and motion blurs (which I have to turn off in order to take nice screenshots) to make it a bit up to date. Nonetheless, some designs were pretty cool. Especially the alien models such as the bellicose Krogan and menacing Turian. I liked the weapons too, and how they are strapped at the back of your armor, even the models were too few.

The Sovereign, Saren's mothership.

The sound, however, is another pleasure in Mass Effect. The weapon effects, especially, is masterfully done. I often times find myself running while shooting at nothing just to hear my pistol sing. The voice acting, too, is sterling. That is because BioWare spared no expense in hiring good actors to portray all the character's voice. Actor Seth Green even played Joker, the uber-passionate pilot of the SSV Normandy. The music, while most of the time buried under the cacophany of gunfire, is also magical and can exponentially enhance the space opera experience.

BioWare is doing well with their intellectual properties, and Mass Effect is no exception. Although its universe and story bears a similarity to the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, I'm still happy of how the story turned out in the end. I also had tons of fun with its adrenaline pumping combat, despite the lack of good set of skills. However, even though Mass Effect is a great game, it doesn't scale up to the older BioWare titles such as Baldur's Gate or Knights of the Old Republic. Nonetheless, I'm grateful that this game was released on the PC. But now that it's out of the way, I hope BioWare will focus all their effort to make Dragon Age: Origins an even better game than this one.

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gillboard said...

I'm missing my xbox more... haven't finished this game yet... This game's addicting!!!