Mass Effect (PlayStation 3) review
"Mass Effect tells an exciting sci-fi story with great gameplay, memorable characters and a compelling setting."
The Mass Effect series is one in which I have been interested for some time, but for whatever reason never got around to playing. I finally played the games in the trilogy, and, at least in this first entry, I found an adventure filled with novel gameplay, memorable characters and an engrossing setting.
The plot of Mass Effect seems a little rote at first, but develops into an interesting mystery that makes you want to learn as much as you can about the issues your characters face and the setting in which they live. More importantly, you are provided with meaningful choices that impact the story and the relationships within it. The game rewards choosing diplomatic solutions (or attempts at them) by increasing the player's Paragon score, which can then be combined with a charm skill to increase dialog options and provide new avenues for developing the plot or resolving tense situations. Likewise, choosing aggressive or violent speech or actions increases the player's renegade score and provides the opportunity to increase an intimidate skill with similar effects.
Mass Effect's gameplay is part shooter and part RPG, with real time cover based third-person action mixed with power usage that stops game time to allow targeting (or time to think). Different classes have access to different equipment and skills, and the leveling system provides points to spend on increasing and expanding the skillset of your character and the other members of your team. Finding fitting combinations between your player character's abilities and those of the other two squad members you choose before each mission is an enjoyable exercise, and thanks to the relatively low difficulty of the first half to three quarters of the main game experimentation is easy and fun. Of course, you could easily choose characters to accompany you based solely on their personality and design and figure out a play style that works for any combination.
In my first play through, I played a character in the soldier class who had no abilities that directly affected enemies, but the ability to use strong weapons and abilities that boosted the effectiveness of those weapons. During a section involving intense fighting of several waves of enemies near the end of the game I chose two teammates who used extensive abilities that slowed down or stopped enemies directly. I found myself taking cover and firing in an equal proportion to ordering my squadmates to use their abilities to take out stronger enemies or immediate threats. I began drawing fire away from them by popping out of cover, or baiting strong enemies into charging headlong into their ability range. It was an exhilarating mix of strategy and action and one of the more memorable gameplay experiences I have ever had.
On a second game I did the opposite, playing the engineer class with its extremely limited weaponry but extensive tech abilities and having direct combat squadmates accompany me in this section. I ordered them into fire to draw out, and strategically hacked powerful enemy units to turn on their allies and used other highly leveled abilities to bring down tough units. Again, it was a truly exciting gameplay experience. I should point out that if this kind of play does not interest you, you can set squad power usage to “active” in options and the AI of your squadmates will do a competent job.
I did encounter a few small problems. Perhaps I have become spoiled by the generous checkpoint systems and constant autosaving in most modern games, but the first time I lost all my progress in a long level by dying in the last firefight I wanted to slam my controller into the nearest BioWare employee. I actually mainly play older console games with no saving at all, but at least they are tuned with multiple lives and a level of repetition that creates mastery. In this game I felt like the checkpoints should be there, but were missing. In one instance I lost over 90 minutes of progress when I actually did cross one of the relatively rare checkpoints and a glitch caused the game to not autosave.
Still, these frustrations are not enough to greatly lower my opinion of this game. They are moderate annoyances of which one should be aware before playing, but nothing that should make you consider not playing.
In the same way Shenmue delivered an RPG integrated with a fighting game, Mass Effect delivers an RPG integrated with a TPS, albeit one with interesting strategic elements. In fact, running around Mass Effect's major non-combat area, the Citadel, reminded me a lot of Shenmue's Yokosuka, oddly enough, in that they both seem like believable places filled with activity with or without the presence of the player.
To be clear, whenever I compare something to Shenmue, it's high praise. I love Mass Effect.
Community review by Germ (January 24, 2014)
Jeremy plays video games, sometimes.
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