Mass Effect (Xbox 360) review
"I hate to say that I regret buying Mass Effect. I don't feel like I should hate this game, it's ambitious and has a great story, epic scope, a great and innovative dialogue system, and an awesome musical score. The truth is though, this game just feels undercooked. It strives for greatness and falls just short, and it affects every aspect of the game to the point where it makes it hard for me to continue playing. There will be many people who will easily overlook Mass Effect's flaws and call..."
I hate to say that I regret buying Mass Effect. I don't feel like I should hate this game, it's ambitious and has a great story, epic scope, a great and innovative dialogue system, and an awesome musical score. The truth is though, this game just feels undercooked. It strives for greatness and falls just short, and it affects every aspect of the game to the point where it makes it hard for me to continue playing. There will be many people who will easily overlook Mass Effect's flaws and call it a classic, but there will be just as many people who will be very disappointed. Unfortunately, I fall in the latter camp, and I'll tell you why.
The story in Mass Effect is most definitely the game's highest point. It's epic, engaging, and practically the only part of it that doesn't change according to your decisions in the game is the very beginning cut scene. This is an RPG through and through, you make your own story, your own character and your own relationships, and many tough decisions along the way. This is what keeps you playing the game and ultimately what holds your interest throughout.
In addition to being an RPG, Mass Effect is also part action shooter. This part happens to be the weak part. At first when you start doing the shooting parts of the game, it seems pretty okay. It feels a lot like Gears of War, has good aiming and controls, and looks nice. Unfortunately, the weakness of the shooting becomes apparent when you see how inaccurate your guns are, go through a few hours of gameplay with them and still can't seem to figure out how you're supposed to upgrade them. Also, when you finally do figure out how to upgrade your weapons, no thanks to the complete lack of any training mode or hints and tips or anything of the sort, you find that when you equip a new weapon, it's exactly the same as your old weapon only it's slightly more accurate or has less recharge time. There is no variety in the types of guns you carry outside the four weapons you get at the very start of the game: the assault rifle, shotgun, pistol, and sniper rifle. It's several hundred years in the future and we've come in contact with countless new types of alien technology and we're still using standard rifles and shotguns. Boring.
Despite this, Mass Effect does give you additional ways to use combat in the form of Biotics, which are basically Mass Effect's version of The Force. This does add more elements to the standard shooting action, but most of the time I would just let my squad mates do the Force stuff instead of me, because I didn't see it as that beneficial when there were swarms of enemies surrounding me. There are also ways that you can control your squad indirectly by ordering them to do stuff, like run to a certain point, or focus on killing a certain enemy, but it's very bare bones and usually doesn't do much to help you in big firefights where there's at least a dozen enemies firing from all sides.
Sometimes the game will require that you drive the Mako, a combat vehicle that has a very shoddy aiming system and feels like you're wrestling with your controller to make it go where you want it to. Usually when you get a sidequest that takes you to another planet, you can expect to have the drive this thing. It's sometimes more difficult than it should be to kill enemies with it because the Mako cannot actually shoot as far upwards as you can aim, so most of the time you have to drive the mako up a bit so that you're level with whatever enemy you're shooting at in order to kill it. It's an annoyance, but a big one that makes it mostly not fun to use the Mako.
The cover system in the game is functional, but not spectacular. There are a few issues, like for instance, when you are standing upright in a battle, and you see a piece of cover half as tall as you and you want to use it, you have to crouch and then press against it to activate the cover. This isn't a huge complaint but it is annoying and not nearly as intuitive as in Gears of War where you would just automatically take cover on it. Also, your allies are usually quick to take cover--quicker than you. If there's not a lot of cover to use and you're not fast enough, your teammates will take cover and you won't be able to push them off. It's really irritating when this happens because sometimes it causes you to die and have to start over as a result.
Dying in this game isn't just a minor mistake in this game. It's a serious crime that you must be punished severely for. There are many things in this game working together to make your first few hours in the game a living hell when you die. First of all, the autosave checkpoints are ludicrously spaced out. Sometimes when you've traveled a great distance from where you last saw a cut scene or saved, you will be taken literally a half hour to an hour and a half backwards to replay all of the same crap again just because you died once. Health is not easy to come by in this game and neither is being able to save. Being within a hundred yards of an enemy means you can't save while they're around, and what's even worse is that the game never wants to save for you even after you've completed a good chunk of a mission. Some boss fights in this game are also frustrating enough to make you want to pull your hair out. Anyone who's played the first boss can attest to that. Now combine this with the lack of tutorials on how to level up abilities, how checkpoints work, upgrading weapons and saving and you have one of the most splendid recipes ever devised for frustrating the living daylights out of an RPG newcomer. This game could potentially make you want to either shelf it forever or trade it back in the day after buying it. My suggestion to anyone about to buy this game? Read the manual. Thoroughly.
The shooting sections in this game make up the majority of the time you will spend in the main story, but when you're not shooting, you're usually talking, and in my opinion this is actually more fun than the shooting. The main story contains many interesting movie-like moments where you have to make decisions that mold your personality and the way the ending will play out. Then there are sidequests, of which there are many. The sidequests often contain interesting, engaging conversations and plotlines that are fun diversions, but most of these are in the citadel. There are some that you will encounter on other populated planets that you travel to during the main quest, but other than those, most of the sidequests you find in this game will tell you to travel to a certain planet, find something, fight some baddies in randomly generated rooms and then go back to report on your findings. It's not very fun and I found myself largely ignoring these missions. Mass Effect is mostly good for its main story and not much else.
The graphics are both hit and miss. When everything is working properly, Mass Effect is a gorgeous work of art. This is effectively ruined by the fact that every time you load a new area or cut scene, you encounter an ungodly amount of pop-in textures. Also, sometimes you'll encounter framerate issues in the game which make it even harder to appreciate the visuals. Only a few specific locations in the game, such as the ones in the main quest, look spectacular. Everything else looks both barren and copied and pasted, with basically the same few designs recycled through numerous different planets. Sure Mass Effect is gigantic, but it's not hard to make such a huge galaxy when you just copy one of five or six planets and press ctrl-v over and over.
The audio presentation is another one of Mass Effect's game-saving features. The voice acting and dialogue are delivered spectacularly and are in huge supply, the music is superb, and everything works together to draw you into the classic sci fi style. Bioware even brought in a few seasoned voice actors to the mix with Seth Green playing Joker, the pilot of the Normandy, and Keith David as Captain Anderson. The game's audio package is overall excellent and really helps sell the story and setting.
Mass Effect's main story is actually a little bit short for an RPG of this type, clocking in at probably about 15 hours if you don't bother much with sidequests. The sidequests are there of course if you really feel the need to complete as much of the game as possible to get the achievements, and then there's the option of a second playthrough to change the story up a bit, since you can either be a good or bad person in this game, which drastically changes a lot of the game. Mass Effect is a title worthy of a second playthrough for certain. There is also promise of downloadable content that adds to the main story, which will stretch out the experience even further. It's overall a worthy $60.
I've spent a lot of this review complaining about the game's many problems, but despite that, it's still possible to recommend this game to people who are either fans of Bioware's previous games or people who want a game with a great story and presentation. I cannot, however, recommend this game to people who are fans of shooters and action games, or people who are new to this type of RPG. There's a lot to like about Mass Effect, but unfortunately there's almost just as much to potentially dislike about it. It all boils down to the fact that Bioware was probably a bit too ambitious with this game, attempting to make it both the biggest and best RPG ever made, and fell far short of both goals. Not only that, but the decision to not include any type of in-game training mode at all hurts the experience for newcomers, making it hard to recommend for anyone outside of hardcore fans of Bioware and sci fi junkies.
Community review by cheezisgoooood (February 29, 2008)
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