Mass Effect

Distributed By: BioWare

Reviewed by Firedancer34

Facts and Stats:

            Mass Effect is an action RPG (role playing game) developed by BioWare and released in November of 2007 for the X-Box 360.  A PC version was released in March of 2008. It is the first in what will be a trilogy series with the second installment expected out sometime in 2009. It is a single player game with no option for co-op play.

            The game took the gaming community by storm as it was one of those games that could appeal to both RPG gamers and FPS (first person shooter) gamers because it combined the best of both worlds. The game won many notable awards and consistently received high marks from the gaming community. But its success was not without criticism due to its mature content. The game was, appropriately, given a Mature Rating in the United States for Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, and Violence.

            What is 'mass effect'? According to the game's Project Director, Casey Hudson, it's a term that was coined for the game based on what real physicists are referring to as 'dark energy'. It is phenomenon that has properties similar to gravity and electromagnetism. In the game, humans have recently learned to harness the powers of this mass effect phenomenon, and the humans who have learned to manipulate it with the aid of implants, are referred to as biotics.

The Game:

            The game starts the player off with the choice to choose the generic quick-start character or the option to create your own character. What appealed to me right off the bat is that BioWare realized that there are a lot of us girls out there gaming now and they give you a choice to choose between a male or a female character. If you decide to create your own character, you have the freedom to manipulate their entire facial structure, skin tone, hair pigmentation, and eye color. Your can give your character a first name, however, your designation is Commander Shepard and regardless to whether you are male, you will be referred to either by rank or just as 'Shepard' through out the game.

            The basics of game play involve choosing what kind of upbringing, military background, and specialties your character will have. These choices will affect your skill with weapons and armor abilities, your biotic abilities and your tech abilities. They can also be good indicators as to how you will emotionally play out your character. That is one freedom you have in this game that appeals to many players: the choice to be nice and charming or the choice to intimidate and bully your way through the game.

            With each mission you are also assigned two teammates and you can choose to either let them be their own independent people and use their biotic abilities on their own, for defense only, or you control them completely. You can also control their movements during a firefight to help keep them out of harm's way or take the heat off you if need be.

            As you wander around, you can choose to take up side missions for money and XP's, and you gain XP's by chatting with people and learning more info on various races, worlds, etc. Leveling up is achieved by both exploration and use of tech, biotic and weapons abilities. Another freedom the player is given is to let the computer auto-level you up according to the skills you have just used, or to control your leveling distribution.

            As the game progresses and you gain more money, you can buy better weapons, upgrades, ammo and armor for you and your team. It should be noted that the further into the game you get however, your explorations should lead you across many weapons lockers and so forth that will provide you with many of these upgrades for free should you or one of your teammates possess the proper level of decryption and electrical skill to open locked items.

            The game is story driven, weaving many themes and plots together, culminating in the big battle at the end. Out of the box, the game has levels from noob to veteran. Beating either normal or veteran will unlock the Hardcore level and then beating that will unlock the Insanity level. There are 45 Achievements to be had on Mass Effect, several of them revolving around completing the game on the harder levels and then completing it twice through.

The Story:

            The year is 2183A.D. Thirty-five years earlier, human colonists on Mars came across advanced technology left behind by a race known as the Protheans. The Protheans were wiped out centuries before by an unknown force, but their technology is spread through the universe, and such technology is what allows humanity to finally travel outside of our solar system and start exploring and colonizing further around the Milky Way.

            The game starts you as a Commander aboard the SSV Normandy, a prototype ship built in joint effort by Humans and Turians. You immediately are given a feel for the fact that humanity still has a great deal of mistrust and animosity towards the other alien races, because they feel that the Council, who governs the whole galaxy, is holding humanity back and denying them certain privileges.

            One such privilege is to be a Spectre. Spectres are the long arm of the Council. They are not bound by any laws, and can use any means necessary to do the bidding of the Council in their efforts to maintain peace throughout the galaxy. What is supposed to be just a shake-down run for the ship and crew, turns out to be an audition for you. A Spectre is aboard your ship to take you on a secret mission to recover a working Prothean beacon, so he can see you in action because your name has been put forward to become the first human Spectre.

            But the mission goes horribly wrong when a massive ship lands on the world before your ship gets there and a horde of Geth (machine like creatures) devastate the colony. The Spectre assigned to you, Nihlus, is murdered during the mission by one of his own: another Turian Spectre known as Saren who has obviously gone rogue.

            Before you leave the world, you are exposed to the message contained in the beacon, which infuses graphic and confusing images into your mind before self-destructing. You wake up back on board the Normandy and thus your journey begins. You and your companions must first fight to make the Council see that Saren is a traitor and in the process, you add a few more aliens to your team. Once you expose Saren and prove your worth before the Council, you are made a Spectre and set loose on the galaxy with the Normandy as your ship.

            You travel the galaxy to find Dr. Liara T'Soni, the daughter of Matriarch Benezia, who is a powerful Asari believed to be the right hand of Saren. Once you have T'Soni , your intrepid crew explores the Traverse to accomplish side mission (should you choose to do so), and track down clues as to what Saren is really up to and put a stop to it.

            One of the subplots is romantic in nature, and you can find yourself caught in the middle of a love-triangle depending on the conversational choices you make with certain characters as the game progresses. If you are a female, you can have the choice between the female character Liara T'Soni or the male Lt. Kadian Alenko. If you are a male, you are given the choice between Chief Ashley Williams and Liara T'Soni. This particular subplot came under the most criticism from religious advocates for not only including a choice that allowed sex between two women, but the scene, regardless of who the participants were, was rather revealing. Your outcome for this decision however, can be affected by a choice you have to make just a little prior to that when you are forced with the decision to sacrifice a team member on one of the final missions.

            You finally catch up with Saren, and find out that his massive warship is really a Reaper. The Reapers are an ancient race of malevolent beings that were the responsible for wiping out not only the Protheans, but all life in the galaxy time and again over the eons. Think The Matrix meets Battlestar Galactica's Cylon race. The ship calls itself Sovereign and it is merely a sentinel- but his capabilities and mission could be the undoing of humanity and the Council races alike.

            It is up to you and your crew to decipher what you saw in the message from the Prothean beacon- for that is the key- and using that knowledge to stop Saren and Sovereign.

My Opinion:

            This game absolutely ROCKED! Again, RPG's aren't my favorite, but this was another game that had enough action and an in-depth storyline that caught my attention immediately. I am also a sucker for any game that allows you the 'good vs. evil' approach to things. And let me tell you, some of the Renegade approaches were just outright hilarious if not a little rude or brutal.

            It took me a little while to get used to the controls and as you leveled up you added more tech or biotic abilities to each of your characters to control. I had to play with it a little bit to determine what worked best with the enemy I was facing as some abilities worked well, while others were simply ineffective. Overall, I thought the characters were pretty responsive, and the aiming controls for all weapons were realistic (if not a bit frustrating at times), with stabilization and accuracy improving with experience and upgrades. The only real controller issues I had were with the tank-like Mako. Granted it's virtually impossible to flip it and it self-rights even if you do, plus it's fairly durable and can crawl up some amazingly steep slopes. But it's a nightmare to drive, especially on rocky and uneven surfaces. For anyone who has played Halo, it makes the Warthog's performance look spectacular. The Mako is squirrelly, difficult to maneuver in tight quarters, and has a clunky close-up sighting system.

            I was engrossed in the characters, their own back-stories, and the Mass Effect world as a whole. The game made me think, and not just in side-mission exploration parts. Every step of the way you have to make choices that could effect the outcome of the mission and your effectiveness in a battle. During my first play through, I found myself constantly forgetting to change the types of bullets or upgrades I had in my weapons, thereby making them less effective against the enemy I was up against. By my second time through the game, I had finally learned to constantly recheck and gear up everyone's inventory before we went out on any kind of mission.

            The graphics were pretty clean with all sceneries and structurals (ships, building etc.) In fact there is one point where I was driving around on the moon and climbed up this little hill and was looking up at Earth. I actually paused or a moment because the picture was absolutely amazing and beautiful. The Aliens were nicely designed as well, but I found the humans in the cut-scenes to be a little rough. Nothing so terrible that it turned me off to the game. The only real complaints I have for the game are small actually: the loading times are a bit long, there is no co-op feature, and the elevator rides! Seriously, humanity can jump from one end of the galaxy to the other and yet it takes forever to ride in a friggin' elevator? My great grandmother could climb the stairs faster than it takes for you to ride from one floor to the next. What's worse, is you are subjected to annoying news clips, pointless chatter amongst your teammates, or the ultimate torture....the cheesy elevator muzak. The loading times and no co-op I can handle, but I sincerely hope BioWare does away with the horrific elevator rides players were subjected to in this first game.

            The soundtrack was also very well done. Lots of sweeping synth-filled arrangements that were appropriately haunting throughout the game. It was perfect for a sci-fi based, military-styled game. Two of my favorite pieces were, From the Wreckage and the Love Theme. From the Wreckage was just absolutely beautiful for the cut-scene it was used in, truly capturing every emotion of that whole moment. And while the Love Theme is used during some of the more romantic cut-scenes, it is just haunting enough to be used in a few of the other more solemn moments as well. A very versatile piece indeed. The romantic subplot was a good addition to the storyline, and I liked the little wicked twists they threw into it. I will even admit that the 'skin scene' was pretty hot, but yeah....I can see why it raised the ire of some folks. Hence the need to limit sale of the game to adults only. The game was challenging on many fronts and really pulled me into the story. There are a lot of themes and issues that are addressed in the game too. One of the primary ones is being able to overcoming prejudices to work together to defeat a common enemy. It was a theme I felt was very appropriate given the state of the world these days.

            The game ends with you defeating Saren and Sovereign of course, but Sovereign was just one ship of an entire race of Reapers. They’re out there, beyond the borders of the Travers, lying dormant as they have for thousands of years until the time was right to wage war on all life in the galaxy. The battle was won, but the war is obviously just about to begin. BioWare is currently developing the second installment to the Mass Effect trilogy, which should be due out some time in 2009. It is another sequel I am looking forward to with great anticipation. Overall, it is one of my favorite games and definitely worthy of several replays to get all the achievements. If you haven't played it yet: Go buy it. Now.


Rating on a scale of 1-10

Overall Gameplay: 10
Music: 9
Story: 10
Controls: 7


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