Friday, December 7

Mass Effect Review

I played on: PS3
I paid: £20 (Mass Effect Trilogy box set on eBay)
Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Notes: I first played this on the Xbox 360 in 2007 but replayed it again on PS3 for this review.

The year is 2183 and humanity is the newest race to join the galactic community. This is thanks to the discovery of the Mass Effect relays that allow almost instant travel between systems. At the heart of these is the Citadel. A massive space station that acts as the galactic capital to all advanced species in the Milky Way. Already the setting of Mass Effect is a concept with as much potential as something like Star Trek. This has to be one of my favourite worlds to explore and get lost in. I can spend hours just talking to and learning about all the different alien species that occupy this wondrous galaxy. You control a soldier known as Shepard. During the opening, you find a bacon from a long lost ancient species known only as the Protheans that warns you of a forthcoming galactic genocide. The Reapers - a race of ultra-advanced machines destroyed the Protheans and all other advanced life in the galaxy 50,000 years ago. It’s up to you to find a way to prevent this from happening again.

During your mission, you will have to use both aggressive and diplomatic tactics. When things get rough you will have to rely on your weapons and biotics. Guns don’t use ammo but do overheat if fired for too long without a chance to cool down. As well as finding and equipping new weapons you can add upgrades to your current weapons and armour. These offer heat, ice and acid damage as well as ammo that can an deal an extra punch or bypass shields. This along with the basic squad and levelling mechanics creates a simple but engaging RPG system on top of the already fun cover shooting. Biotics act as a form of magic. This, of course, is not magic it’s just a very advanced technology but as Arthur C Clarke said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. I love playing with a mix of guns and biotics so the Vanguard class is my favourite. There is nothing like using your biotics to lift a powerful enemy into the air and then unleashing hell onto them with powerful weaponry. This is a very fun combat system and as such firefights are always a blast.

As the commander of your own ship and crew, it will fall to you to make important choices and decisions. These will not only affect outcomes in this game but also the 2nd and 3rd games. This dialogue system is not as in depth as games like Fallout New Vegas instead focusing on fast immersive conversations with very few unnatural pauses. While this approach fails to work with certain games such as Fallout 4 with Mass Effect it works, for the most part. This is because of the simple morality system. You have good choices known as Paragon and evil choices called Renegade. You pretty much follow one of these sides. While it lacks the depth and role-playing potential of games like the classic Fallouts it fits with its own style of game. This is not a game about having a world you can do anything in, instead, it’s about following a liner but flexible story. Due to the high quality of writing for the main quests, this is not a negative thing at all. The story, writing and gameplay all work together well and create an extraordinary adventure for you get through.

Although there are plenty of side missions to divert your attention I found these quickly become a slog. The information you need for them is hidden behind so many menus and load times that after a few adventures I got bored. This is because Mass Effect has a problem with not giving the player information on these smaller missions often hiding it away within your journal. This is not helped with the same areas being reused so often that they start to feel monotonous. A lot of these will also have you driving your lander called the Mako around planets. Now I love exploring alien worlds in most games, in Elite Dangerous it’s my favourite thing to do. In Mass Effect, however, they feel large, empty and pointless. The Mako handles like it’s made of rubber bouncing all over the place and as such is not that enjoyable to drive. I see what BioWare was trying to do here, giving the player a chance to explore different worlds but it just doesn’t work.

The sound design is also a real mixed bag. The music and voice acting are beautiful and really show off some of the amazing talents behind Mass Effect. This really is one of gamings most iconic and appealing soundtracks. I can’t hear a single track and not want to play this game, it makes me so very happy. Jennifer Hale tops off this audio mastery with some gorgeous vocal work as the female Shepard. The rest of the cast also show their wonderful talent with very high-quality voice works all around. For as good as the voice acting is, however, some of the more optional dialogue feels poorly written. Often it will amount to nothing more than ‘tell me more about X subject’ which given how good some of the other dialogue is this feels lazy. I love how all the alien races have their own sound, it adds a whole extra layer to each of these races. The Hanar are a personal favourite of mine and learning about them was great. They truly felt, well, alien. It’s such a shame then that the audio mixing, sound effects and cutscenes are all very lacking sound wise. It’s not uncommon for cutscenes to be missing sound effects entirely or the voice acting to be buried under music or background noise. This makes the game feel very unpolished and rushed at times as well as just breaking the immersion for the player.

There is more to presentation than just sound, visuals are a very large part of what makes games so great. The art design and worlds of Mass Effect are really it’s most powerful aspect. Each location you can visit feels unique and stunning. Virmire and the Citadel are 2 of my personal favourite places to visit and explore. Virmire itself may be one of the best parts of the series. I remember the first time I spoke to Sovereign and felt myself more drew into a concept than ever before. These mechanical creatures waiting in deep space was something I’d never seen before. Even to this day, deep space is a concept that fascinates me over a decade later and that all started here. The art design brings concepts like these to life in a way that shines through the dated graphics. I love how this game looks, from all the different planets, races, ships and so on. The concepts and visual design on display in this universe are some of gaming’s best. Technically the graphics do feel dated though. It’s not unusual to see textures pop-in or the game stop to load. The framerate will also drop during certain larger firefights. While not perfect visually the art design easily creates a galaxy that’s still enjoyable to explore to this day.

Mass Effect is a masterpiece, but a very flawed one. There are times when the game feels downright lazy or rushed with certain cutscenes being almost silent. Entering the same reused base over and over for a number of different side missions adds to this feeling. But then you get to a place like the Citadel and met some of the other races and start to fall in love with the game and the galaxy it brings to life. Due to this clash of quality, the only way to sum up Mass Effect is as I said – a flawed masterpiece.

Recommendation Rating: 7 out of 10.

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