, jellyfish aliens, mole aliens, hot slut aliens, Steve Buscemi aliens. Mass Effect creates possibly the most dense and compelling original video game universe ever. Playing Mass Effect feels like a blend between reading Barlow's Guide to Extraterrestrials and reading speculative non-fiction astrology books from the 1980's (in particular [u]National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe[/u]). The design of Mass Effect comes from a time when space was fun. It's the Star Trek and Star Wars design philosophy. It trades the modern prevalence of apocalyptic-Martian-Hell-space-marine-Ridley-Scott atmosphere for a cities-on-the-moon, Ziggy Stardust daydream. It's a design philosophy that speaks to the wonder of the unknown, not just the fear of it.
This game easily joins the ranks of Sam and Max Hit the Road
and Day of the Tentacle
as one of the best acted games in history. Even bit-part NPCs are incredibly well voiced. Combine the wealth of voice talent with a facial modeling system that allows for coherent variety in even the most alien characters and you have a universe of digital duders who actually feel like different people. Forget whole races with the same voice and peasants delivering rehashed dialogue with different accents. Mass Effect sets a new standard for unique interactive video game populations.
If you go into Mass Effect thinking it's going to be Gears of War you are either going to be ecstatic or severely disappointed by the combat. It all depends on your perspective. If you're a TPS fan looking for G.R.A.W. with dialogue trees, you're fisting the wrong space babe. If you're an RPG fan looking for K.O.T.O.R. with real-time aiming, you're going to love it. The lack of satisfying melee weapons is regrettable, but the feeling of blasting a Geth into a pile of rag-doll circuitry with your shotgun more than makes up for it. The combat still follows the classic RPG arc from overwhelmed weakling to godly destroyer and by the end of the game you will be relishing the more combative side-quests.
Deer with Arms.
On the overly pollinated planet in the Maroon Sea Cluster you can find some cute little deer with tiny t-rex arms and slaughter them.
Unlike the basic combat, Mass Effect's version of Force Powers feel deflated. Throw, Lift and Stasis feel sufficiently devastating, but I was missing the awe inspiring carnage of abilities like Force Lightning from K.O.T.O.R. Nothing compares to walking alone into a room of soldiers and burning them all to the ground with a single blast of evil energy. Mass Effect's replacement for Force Lightning, Warp, is a limp excuse for an area effect magic attack. Not only is it visually impotent (hurling a nearly invisible blue sphere at a target that will most likely move out of range before it reaches them is somehow less satisfying than watching a whole gang of tugs twitch under your electric wrath), but the damage-per-second never amounts to much, even at its highest level. I do like the implementation of recharge timers over the tired Magic Point system of other action RPGs. And did I mention that Lift is fucking hilarious?
Mass Effect suffers from Foundation Disorder. As the first entry in a proposed trilogy, this is unsurprising. Foundations excel in depth, and Mass Effect is deep like a zebra dick in a newborn baby. You can spend hours learning trivial facts about the Mass Effect universe in the practically endless Galactic Codex. From who the major manufacturers of weaponry are to the number of testicles on a Krogan male. What the first entry in the Mass Effect story lacks is breadth. The main plot feels distinctly like a prequel and the space the adventure will occupy in your mind is disappointingly small, but the groundwork it lays for the grand story yet to come is gripping.
I actually really liked driving the Mako ATV around the many explorable planets of Mass Effect. The design of the vehicle and the bounding motion with which it moves across rocky terrain are very shark-like and navigating steep hills becomes a fun sort of environmental puzzle. It's a little bouncier than you might expect, and you are essentially fucked if you manage to roll yourself upside down. I got brutalized by a Thresher Maw in that position many a time. The vehicle combat is the real sore spot here. Your main gun feels like a pee shooter against larger enemies and you will find yourself in a rince, wash, repeat cycle against most serious foes: Pee shooter, pee shooter, pee shooter, rocket, jummmmmp, pee shooter, pee shooter, pee shooter, rocket, jummmmmp. In the end, the good parts of the driving and the fact that it helps pay the game pay homage to Starflight
and Moon Patrol
save it from being burdensome.
Never before has a game so realistically captured the boredom of riding in a slow ass elevator. I guess these were added to give the world a seamless feel, but when the first thing you encounter after getting off is a pause accompanied by a little disc logo that says "Loading" under it, the whole "seamless world" idea sort of gets chucked down the shaft like a rape victim's wallet.
It sucks. Add to this the constant delayed texture loading and the brutal chugging sounds of the 360 hardware while you play the game and suddenly your lean, mean Xbox feels like a fat retard chasing a butter-coated birthday cake up an endless flight of stairs. Mass Effect essentially buttfucks your 360 into submission. It's the Rocco Siffredi of video games.
Mass Effect: "You like-a dat 360?"
360 (Groans): "Nooooooo"
Mass Effect: "You do like it. You do."
Thought the dialogue in Mass Effect is the most watchable, engrossing, cinematic dialogue of any BioWare RPG, the idea that steering those conversations requires any sort of nuance is simply false. Want to be the good guy? Choose the top right response. Want to be the bad guy? Choose the bottom right response. Somewhere in the middle? You got it, choose the middle right response. In most cases your dialogue choices fall into two categories. You can either respond as the infallibly virtuous party-pooper, or the scurrilous dick wad. Only in rare circumstances do the choices amount to anything more than Right Answer / Wrong Answer. The stand-out dialogue is actually a completely optional side conversation about bioethics. It's one of the rare cases where each side has compelling arguments and the dialogue choices amount to more than "A: Everyone should be nice to each other" or "B: Kill all the fucking aliens!"
The Bottom Line:
Mass Effect is the kind of game that can carry a metric ton of faults and still be great. No matter how many small nuisances and imperfections mar the game, the overall experience is so mind-consumingly good that it never dips bellow greatness. In the end, Mass Effect is a gorgeous game with fun, RPG-steeped combat, a virtual universe fit for comparison with that of any great sci-fi novel, endearing and complicated characters, and the foundations of a genuinely epic story. The most amazing thing about Mass Effect, though, is the fact that it is a 25+ hour RPG (if you're doing all the side quests) that never once feels like a slog. The onus now is on the games to follow. Without the benefit of novelty, Mass Effect 2 and 3 are going to have to up the anty with regards to story breadth, quest variety and moral complexity. For me, that can't happen soon enough. read