Mass Effect (Xbox 360) review
"Mass Effect isnít a game that deals just in moralistic black & white. These choices, while straightforward enough at first, are often draped in an ugly shade of red."
Before you stands a terrible alien intelligence thatís survived uncounted millennia burrowed deep within the earth of a sterile planet. Itís not evil by nature, but itís tainted by previous contact with your kind. It extended trust and was consequently used like a tool and discarded without a second thought. Itís not happy, and it holds a plethora of sentient life in its hands.
Itís up to you to save them. You can try to talk the creature down through smoothed-tongued diplomacy or you can make with the vile threats. If neither work nor appeal, you and your two armed-to-the-teeth troops can wade through the seemingly-infinite horde of talon-wielding plant-like servants and blast the uncooperative bastard with your sci-fi arsenal.
But before that.
Return to Zhuís Hope, a fractured human colony, and find yourself under heavy fire from forces that only mere moments ago were friendly. Asking why youíre being shot at by people you recently considered trustworthy is a considerably less pressing concern than finding a way to dodge the constant stream of bullets being ploughed into your position. It takes more effort, but you can take every single hostile down without spilling a single drop of blood. Or decide that, for the crime of firing the first shot, you should slaughter each and every one of them.
But before that.
Feros is not the holiday hotspot InGen would have you believe. Said company's invested considerable funds into a network of human colonies -- but itís far from an act of charity. In return for the corpís investment in their brave new life, the colonists are expected to help excavate long lost alien artefacts.
But the planet has gone cold. Communications are down and all the outside world knows about the situation is a lone distress signal sounding out desperately into the claustrophobic silence of empty space.
But before that. Yes, there is always a before.
The geth happened before. Once docile AI-driven robotic servants to the quarian, they were built too smart, too fast. They rebelled, leaving their former masters on the brink of extinction, then, freedom in hand, vanished to the fringes of the universe, never to be seen again. Until now.
Eden Prime certainly isnít as grand as its moniker makes it sound, but in a story based so strongly in the before, itís as good a starting place as any. The geth chose to re-emerge here. Itís your job to stop them.
Mass Effect is filled with befores, but for Sheppard, the game starts now.
Welcome to The Normandy. A highly advanced spacecruiser built from a joint venture of human and turrian technologic cooperation and home to one Commander Sheppard. Tasked with bringing the geth insurrection to a crashing halt, Sheppard and crew have not only the lives of Primeís colonists to protect, but a leading council of alien races to impress. Sooner rather than later, Sheppard will be planetside flanked by a rookie marine and a biotec soldier capable of hurling targets from across the battlefield with a thought. Evaluating the platoonís performance is a Special Forces turrian commando, sent along to observe Sheppard and decide if the humans are yet ready to have one of their own join the SPECTRES, an elite rank he holds position among.
But, again, thereís a before. Because Sheppard isnít going to walk a single step until you make the build.
Custom building your protagonist is nothing fresh, but Mass Effect manages to throw in a few new tricks. While youíre always going to be stuck with a brown-haired soldier (with rugged beard or shapely breasts depending on choice of sex) youíre also able to shape more individual aspect of their personality. Did they start life as a gang runner on Earthís meanest streets or grow up an army brat? Are they a remorseful lone survivor of an alien attack or a bloodstained berserker with a chip on their shoulder? Whatever the choice, expect things to proceed accordingly.
Then itís off to Eden Prime where unfortunate players will spend too long gawping at the alien planetís landscape, a rocky barrage of outcrops set against a humming golden dawn displaying overhanging twin moons. They'll find themselves the victims of armed drones that lurk behind the looming boulders and within the deep set crags in numerous rock faces.
Cover needs to be employed, allowing soldiers to pop out of the side or over the top to fire volleys of bullets at attackers. Survive a handful of well-placed ambushes, and find the corpses of a platoon impaled upon ten-foot-high chrome spikes. Only one member remains alive and fights a desperate battle against the odds to keep herself that way. Lend her a hand, and youíll find her an emotional wreck, blaming herself for the demise of her comrades.
Console her. Tell her it wasnít her fault, it couldnít have been, there was no way of knowing that the geth would suddenly reappear here and in such huge numbers. Or condemn her as a coward. Tell her if she was any kind of soldier she would have died alongside her squadron trying to watch the backs of every last man and woman who bared arms with her. Then invite her to continue the fight with you or tell her to stay the hell out of your way.
Mass Effect isnít a game that deals just in moralistic black & white. These choices, while straightforward enough at first, are often draped in an ugly shade of red.
Land on a snow-flaked rock in the middle of a dead galaxy after discovering the dying threads of a fading distress signal leading you to a hidden research lab nested in the snowy crags. Touch down, and your MAKO, an all-terrain rover, is soon set upon by a swarm of biological mutants. These can do nothing to harm you while youíre inside the MAKOís iron belly (and makes for acceptable target practise with the vehicles potent cannon and machine gun combo) but once you locate the lab, you need to continue on foot.
Here, the mutants can and will hurt you. Enclosed in a series of claustrophobic corridors which lead to pockets of equipment-chocked rooms, they charge you in number. The battle is not easy as they swarm past cover, are not stationary enough for grenades to be effective and need long burst of gunfire to suppress Ė enough to overheat your weapon, leaving you completely defenceless for long, agonising seconds. Acidic talons tear through shields and armour, infecting flesh and draining stamina. Win the gruelling battle, and find a cowering lead researcher flanked by a handful of survivors and some low-rent mercenaries locked and barricaded in one of the back rooms. The danger past, sheís open about her illegal research: how she let the rest of her team die at the hands of the mutants so she could collect data. Then the group makes to brush past you with naught but a hollow sounding word of thanks.
You could kill them on the spot for being so bloody rude. Theyíre easy targets and you can obliterate the entire team in seconds. Of course, if youíre looking for the moral high ground, block their path. What they did was unquestionably wrong and they need to answer for it. Tell them so, and they disagree, pull their weapons on you, and you end up having to kill every last one of them, anyway.
The only way to resolve the issue without wholesale slaughter is the walk the middle ground. Point your gun at someoneís head or start the lecture long enough to be offered a huge bribe. Then take it.
Those wishing to play the saint will find a number of people not willing to play along. There are fanatics and kidnappers you can talk down aplenty, but there are also those less willing to listen and more keen to see how many shotgun blasts it takes to shut you up. People Ė and aliens, it seems Ė can be selfish like that.
And so trying the same approach all game will not always garner you the results you wish for. Killing off two thirds of a dangerous crime syndicateís management may reveal some honour amongst thieves when the remaining member agrees to quietly disband the posse upon your request, but when you set your sights on an item much wanted by a galactic antiques dealer, you find yourself in a warehouse full of heavily-armed personal guards with cutting edge firepower. Before that, youíre fighting seventy foot high worms that couldnít care less how well you negotiate, and, before this, a heartless AI that has wormed into life support and is carrying a running stopwatch and a thermonuclear bomb.
Only in a game as seemingly limitless as Mass Effect can there be so many befores. Thereís enough to get forever lost in.
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