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Mass Effect – Review

Brad Gallaway's picture

Mass Effect Artwork 

Perfection in videogames, as well as life, is impossible. There will never be a truly perfect game, flawless in every aspect and irresistible to all players. Putting aside the fact that some people will dislike Mass Effect for no other reason than it's not their cup of tea, what's actually wrong with the new blockbuster science fiction opus from superdevelopers BioWare?

The textures during certain scenes can take a few seconds to load, resulting in a distracting "pop-in" as the game adds the details. The framerate drops during crowded firefights. A player's inventory can become bogged down with too many duplicate items, and there's no quick way to clear them out. The nondescript title lacks a certain pizzazz, and the in-game elevators are quite slow. That's about it. Oh, and by the way... those issues? Utterly insignificant.

Besides the things listed above, Mass Effect is as close to perfection as a game developer working on modern consoles could realistically hope to come. I honestly can't remember the last time I was so hopelessly addicted; so completely drawn in to a game that I started to neglect responsibilities and push all other activities aside for the sake of carving more game time out of my schedule. To a been-there, done-that, seen-it-all jaded critic like me, immersing myself into Mass Effect felt like falling in love with games again for the first time.

Considering what it does and the approaches it takes, I almost hesitate to call Mass Effect a videogame, really. Something along the lines of "virtual emotional experience" or even the hideously cliché and outdated "interactive film" come a little closer to capturing its essence, but even these terms can't sum up what it's like to play through the adventure.

Mass Effect Screenshot

Anyone who's spent time with BioWare's previous efforts like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or Jade Empire (both excellent) will recognize the structure in Mass Effect immediately. The game is clearly built upon the bones of its predecessors by putting the player in the shoes of a customizable main character and surrounding them with a cast of interesting personalities that can be engaged to a depth that's extremely rare on consoles.

Although the plot may not revolutionize the science fiction genre in terms of originality, the relationships that develop between the player and the characters are the heart and soul of the experience, and the one thing that the house of Greg and Ray does better than any other developer in the industry today. Simply playing the game and saving the universe would be enjoyable enough, but when coupled with BioWare's undeniable ability to make real connections with those holding the controller, Mass Effect transcends expectations to deliver something that has no equal.

Throughout the game, the player is surrounded by endless opportunities to take in and explore a universe filled with diverse life that's been developed to an unparalleled degree. By being able to believe in the situation, the opportunity arises to believe in the characters—and these characters are the best-written I've ever seen. Despite being set in a fantastic future amidst circumstances that are pure fantasy, every single face, whether human or alien, has depth and resonance. Their logic, emotions, and attitudes all ring true. From the naïve researcher to the prejudiced squad member with something to prove and everyone in between, each portrait painted through conversation and camaraderie contains real slices of the human condition.

Although similar to other efforts with "good/evil" or "light/dark" paths for players to follow, the quality of the characters is reinforced by the fact that many of the moral situations to navigate have no "right" answer, only a hard decision that must be made. With the peerless scripting and dialogue that happens along the course of the game, making some of these choices is agonizingly painful because the consequences possess a gravity and relevance that are in a class all by themselves. It's not hard to relate to what happens onscreen, and I was surprised several times by the level of emotion that was elicited. It's not very often I feel paralyzed by a choice I don't want to make, but it happened time and again in Mass Effect.

Mass Effect Screenshot

Additionally, I want to recognize BioWare for consistently furthering the cause of "mature" games. As in previous efforts, there are romantic subplots completely nonessential to the experience to be discovered, and the way this subject matter (including sexual content) is handled is a perfect example of what games could be like if more developers would steer away from the lowest common denominators and address the topic with some sophistication and good taste.

Intellectually satisfying to an unbelievable degree, Mass Effect follows through in every other aspect by crafting a game that is a joy to play, completely apart from the characters. The graphics showcase a level of imagination and artistic ability that rivals anything in any medium and the level of energy and excitement generated by the events in the dramatic arc are second to none. Although the critical path leading from the strong start to an amazingly explosive blockbuster finish can be whipped through at a breakneck pace, it's just as satisfying to get off the rollercoaster for a while and explore the vast array of planets and celestial clusters at will, discovering unexpected surprises in uncharted corners of every galaxy. For those wanting a little more purpose, following any of the game's plentiful sidequests will lead to interesting situations and people that all significantly contribute to the Mass Effect canon and strengthen the ties holding its world together. No matter how play time is spent, it always feels rewarding and rich.

An incredible effort from any perspective, Mass Effect sets the new standard for story-driven games, and has unquestionably surpassed all others to become the preeminent science fiction franchise today. As far as I'm concerned, nothing else can hold a candle to it, and the great minds at BioWare should be extremely proud of what they've created. I was honestly sorry when the game came to an end, although in a way, I'm glad it did. I'll start showing up to work again, and my pets will finally get fed. I'll just have to console myself with the knowledge that this disc is the first of a planned trilogy—and if the next two are even half as good as this one, it will make the torturous wait to return to the Mass Effect universe well worth it. Rating: 10 out of 10

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360  
Developer(s): BioWare  
Key Creator(s): Greg Zeschuk   Ray Muzyka  
Publisher: Microsoft  
Genre(s): Role-Playing  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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A perfect game? I don't think so . . .

I'm a bit disappointed by your review. How can a gameCRITIC possibly give this game 10 out of 10 stars when there are the following glaring problems . . .

1) The sniper rifle shakes way too much to be effective in combat.

2) The Mako looks cool, but its controls and physics are laughable. I can drive off a huge mountain and fall umpteen dozen meters and still land with zero damage (unless it's scripted). And I understand that this is science fiction, but having a "jumping vehicle" is plain silly. This is not BlasterMaster from my old Nintendo.

3) The planets are absolutely breathtaking . . . at times. But so far, EVERY underground location on any sidequest planet has the same basic layout. Surely a little map diversity couldn't have been that hard to implement.

4) A minor gripe, but the environments look too sterile. Looks like Ikea is a booming business in the future, because every room is spartan to the max in regards to furniture, wall hangings, etc. There is no clutter that makes the places look lived in.

5) Some of the NPC's look bored to pieces, as well, sitting by water fountains contemplating suicide, probably. And Chora's Den was a pretty sad attempt at a futuristic bar/club. No strobing lights? No catchy space-techno-trance mixes playing? No smoke haze from all the clients smoking their cigars? Please. This game lacks the small, minor details.

6) The soundtrack surely could have been better. The only noteworthy track I've heard so far is the galaxy-viewing theme and even that is pretty repetitive and basic. Tracks along the line of the "Wing Commander" (movie) opening theme would have sufficed.

Don't get me wrong, I wanted to love this game as much as the next guy, but those few things have significantly detracted from my enjoyment of the game.

Thanks for the comments and

Thanks for the comments and questions, i'll do my best to answer.

>>I'm a bit disappointed by your review. How can a gameCRITIC possibly give this game 10 out of 10 stars when there are the following glaring problems

To start off with, i did try to make my stance clear at the beginning of the review, basically saying that no game is totally perfect and that the things that i did see as problems weren't significant. everybody's mileage will vary, of course.

>>1) The sniper rifle shakes way too much to be effective in combat.

well, i've never used a real sniper rifle so i can't vouch for whether it's accurate or not, but there are mods to increase weapon stability. besides that, i found it still usable, though it was never my weapon of preference.

>>2) The Mako looks cool, but its controls and physics are laughable. I can drive off a huge mountain and fall umpteen dozen meters and still land with zero damage (unless it's scripted). And I understand that this is science fiction, but having a "jumping vehicle" is plain silly. This is not BlasterMaster from my old Nintendo.

i don't see a problem with having jump jets on it since the game is so far into the future. i mean, if it's getting dropped off from the air and holds up to planets with low/no atmosphere, small jumps don't really mean a lot. the stability of the thing was just slanted that way to make it playable, i would guess. i never saw the Mako sections' physics as one of the main points of the game.

>>The planets are absolutely breathtaking . . . at times. But so far, EVERY underground location on any sidequest planet has the same basic layout. Surely a little map diversity couldn't have been that hard to implement.

i actually agree with you on this point, and i would have liked to see more variety. however, one thing to think about is that these quests could be viewed as analogous to "random battles" in standard RPGs. when you consider how many times you fight the same group of enemies on the same background in any standard RPG, the repeated labs and mines aren't a big deal to me, especially since almost all of them are totally optional.

>>4) A minor gripe, but the environments look too sterile. Looks like Ikea is a booming business in the future, because every room is spartan to the max in regards to furniture, wall hangings, etc. There is no clutter that makes the places look lived in.

i'll leave that up to BioWare's artists to answer. ; )

>>5) Some of the NPC's look bored to pieces, as well, sitting by water fountains contemplating suicide, probably. And Chora's Den was a pretty sad attempt at a futuristic bar/club. No strobing lights? No catchy space-techno-trance mixes playing? No smoke haze from all the clients smoking their cigars? Please. This game lacks the small, minor details.

i agree, but again.. this was a pretty minor detail in light of the vast amount the game gets right. for example, the way the sidequests all tie together with the main plot events was well above and beyond what most game designers shoot for. some of the random story bits and such were quite entertaining as well. i'd rather have that sort of quality than have the creators spend time on a few minor graphic details, but i see your point.

>>6) The soundtrack surely could have been better. The only noteworthy track I've heard so far is the galaxy-viewing theme and even that is pretty repetitive and basic. Tracks along the line of the "Wing Commander" (movie) opening theme would have sufficed.

I liked the music, but YMMV.

>>Don't get me wrong, I wanted to love this game as much as the next guy, but those few things have significantly detracted from my enjoyment of the game.

well, you aren't wrong in what you say, but for me it was more about the game getting everything right where it counted than nitpicking the smaller things which were really just peripheral to what the game was trying to achieve. i've only given out one other ten in the nearly eight years i've been a critic, and in that case (San Andreas) it was the same thing... lots of little flaws and problems, but a tremendous success when viewed at from the larger, big-picture perspective.

A few more thoughts . . .

I've heard alot of people fussing about the Mako controls. Personally, I think it handles fine . . . as long as you're on flat, even ground. Unfortunately, the planets sport mostly mountainous, uneven terrain. I think this is also why they implemented the unrealistic "jump jets"--they foresaw gamers getting their vehicle stuck in some tight spots or suffering "Austin Powers Syndrome" (vehicle stuck sideways in a hallway). Both of which have happened to me pretty frequently.

Hmm, okay, I see what you're saying about the similar underground layouts being like the random battles in other RPG's, but still, it irks me that they couldn't have at least changed things up a bit to avoid the Deja vu feeling.

As I haven't completed the game yet, I'm not sure what I would rate it. Not a 10, but high enough that I'd tell others to buy it.
What bothers me the most (and many other gamers, too, I'm sure) is when you play a game that has some aspects that detract from the player's enjoyment, yet they could have easily been fixed if given the proper attention.

As a side note, I like alot of the references this game makes to the SF community. For example:

The Mako looks like a 3D version of the tank in the NES game Blastermaster.

The Maw Thrashers are clearly inspired from Frank Herbert's Dune Chronicles.

The soundtrack I realized is trying to sound like "Blade Runner", but IMHO, whoever did the music is no Vangelis. So far, the music doesn't make me feel EMOTION like so much of Nobuo Uematsu's work does.

The Rachni are clearly their nod of the head to "Aliens", but the environments lacked the tense, dark and scary atmosphere to make them something to be afraid of.

This game is a good start in the right direction. With a bit more polishing, I think the second game in this series is going to be a treat for SF RPG gamers.

I have agreed with nearly

I have agreed with nearly every review on this website until I read this. This game has massive problems and doesn't even come close to living up to the hype that has surrounded it. For a first effort in a new franchise it does more right than wrong but it's problems cannot be overlooked.

I could only call the story engaging if I wasn't a big fan of science fiction. Mass Effect's story is interesting, but it doesn't go anywhere. It lacks emotion and surprise. None of the characters come off as right. You can have Shepard be a horrible person or a true hero but the characters will still follow you and while they may question you they won't leave or turn on you although you may eventually kill them if you choose.

Gameplay wise it was quite standard. Nothing overly exciting or intriguing going on. Enemy A.I. is lacking and the only real challenge is playing the game on Hardcore or Insanity and then only because the enemies can kill you in a couple hits. The combat isn't engaging at all. Taking cover is sluggish and weapon aim is slow and accuracy is all over the place. Driving around in the Mako is pathetic. Not only are the controls horribly designed it doesn't add any fun to the adventure.

Side quests are an artificial lengthener of a quite short campaign and mostly boring run and gun affairs through the same exact environments on every planet you visit both interior and exterior. Where is the animal lie on these planets? It's not there but in a few rare instances and what is there lacks any kind of imagination. Absolutely ridiculous and lazy on the developers part. My first play through lasted twenty hours with a majority of the side quests finished and achievements unlocked. Paragon and Renegade have no affect on anything. They are both interchangeable and don't affect each other in the slightest. It's possible to have both max Paragon and Renegade but they still don't affect anything worthwhile.

The overall polish was also incredibly disappointing. How long have they been working on this game now? So many frame rate issues and texture breaks that at times its uglier than PS1 games. On my first play through of the game these frame rate and texture issues didn't bother me as much, but on my second play through they were more than enough to make me want to stop playing. Then there is the loading issues. An ungodly amount of loading goes on in this game. Even during the heat of battle the game will load for up to 10 ten seconds. It's like they couldn't fit all of the game on a DVD or something and they just had to go back and break some stuff to get it to work.

The dialog tree is nothing impressive.Other than those big story driving scenes where your choices affect the outcome the choices you make have little to no effect on the actual story. If you play through the game as a true hero on one play through and then as a baddass evil doer on a second play through you will see little change in the actual story except for the ending and almost everything that you do and say is identical for both play types.

This game was a disappointing mess. Not even close to GOTY material. For a first try with a new story Bioware was able to make a suitably epic galaxy with a story, that while not very original does have room for growth. This isn't a game playing type of game because what is here is repetitive, sometimes boring, and at other times stupid but this is a game to play for those who want to explore a galaxy that is vast and enjoy a story may surprise those not accustomed to science fiction.

I don't know how you can say the problems don't add up. They are glaring out of this game at every turn almost as bad as Assassin's Creeds problems. If Bioware thinks Mass Effects game play and story can carry them through two more games in the trilogy then they are sorely mistaken. I will have no interest in the next game to this franchise unless some substantial alterations are made. This is easily one of the most disappointing games of the year and I was so looking forward to it being a true next generation game by blending intense and strategic third person shooting with Bioware's KOTOR style RPG game play, I was so dissapointed.

I wouldn't bother too much

I wouldn't bother too much with all the negative comments in here. The real problem here is the Sony fanboys who are REALLY angry and bitter at all the recent Xbox 360 titles have been getting 9s and 10s reviews, while PS3 titles have so far fallen short. That's why they are attacking any reviewer who dares to give BioWare, Halo 3 or Mass Effect a 9 or 10. This is just fanboyism talking.

I personally have very little interest in BioShock, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, and The Orange Box because I'm just not a big fan of FPS. However, being a fan of Western RPG who has played games from the genre since Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, I can truly say this game does set the highest standard for Western RPGs. Now I can never go back and play as a generic, emotionless, voiceless playable character and interact with NPCs that lack any emotion or body language. I was playing Witcher the other day, and the characters in it just look... awful, because Mass Effect has spoiled me.

Although I personally wouldn't give Mass Effect a 10, I'd give it at least a 9 - simply because it has changed what I expect from Western RPGs from now on.

In Brad's defense!

I don't know Brad. He's not a relative, not my friend either. But in the last 10 years or so, he's been a true lighthouse in my video games choices! I know that graphical marvels are not his soft spot, and that meaningless-to-lukewarm scenarios even in the presence of the most agile FPS or RPGs are not his thing either. Sorry for my awful English, anyway... Brad is always right about one thing: fun or not fun games, and THAT is the question! A 10/10 means definitely yes, whereas a 7 to 8 means somewhat. Read his reviews, then read IGN's or Gamespot's so as to realize that nothing comes close to reading pure emotions. Listen, Brad has REALLY liked this game and that comes from the heart.

Don't worry about it.

I'm not a hardcore gamer. I've never been to this website before today. I have never sat down and played through one of the great RPG's. I'm more of a multiplayer guy, and that's how I've always been. Now, granted, this game has its flaws. A truckload of them. But don't get me wrong. I completely agree with Brad's review. 100%. Where this game misses the mark for some people is not the issue. It's whether it hits the mark that BioWare intended. Brad, congrats, this is the truest review I have yet to read of this game. Why focus on all the glitches when they don't detract from the gameplay? Even with the shitty mako controls, crappy AI, texture loading, elevators, UCW's being a little bland, and Par/Ren having little significant impact on how people treat you, yes, even with ALL OF THAT....well let's just say when I finished this game, I had to snap back to reality. You know a game is good when they give you a final choice or two, and instead of going "Oh it's just a game, I'll just pick (a)", you have to stop and actually think about it like you're in the shoes of the main character. Fabulous game. Fabulous review.

My experiences with ME so far.

I've just started playing the game, and so far I only have two gripes with it.

Story: Why did the main enemy (I can't remember his name at the moment) not destroy the beacon after he had used it? And why was he so surprised and mad when Shepard found and used said not destroyed beacon? That was pretty much completely stupid.

Dialogs: Some Bioware style fake "non-dialog choices" and the occasional dialog option that means something completely different than you thought it would.

Most of the aliens aren't too unique and behave with very human emotions. Bioware could have done a better job here, and it would have greatly improved the game to have some more "alien" aliens.

As for inventory, I think it's fine. You can convert non-needed items to omni-gel which really clears everything up quite fast.

Besides those three minor gripes I can't find too much wrong else with the game so far. If the story has more brain farts in the story I'm not going to enjoy it much as you need a good story to make an exceptional RPG.

I feel (strongly) that comments like:

"An incredible effort from any perspective, Mass Effect sets the new standard for story-driven games, and has unquestionably surpassed all others to become the preeminent science fiction franchise today. As far as I'm concerned, nothing else can hold a candle to it, and the great minds at BioWare should be extremely proud of what they've created"

Shouldn't be written until the game is more time weathered and some of the initial shock and awe has subsided. As for setting the new standard for story-driven games, well, from what I've played so far I don't see how any intelligent person could possibly take themselves seriously saying that if they've also played Planescape.

Hi Jeff, thanks for the

Hi Jeff, thanks for the comments.

>>>Bioware could have done a better job here, and it would have greatly improved the game to have some more "alien" aliens.

i actually agree here. i wouldn't have minded more bizarre logic and behavior from some aliens. the classic example of such in my mind would be Star Control 2, and this is one thing i'd like to see improved. (super-nitpicky: i did think the Asari were too human-looking for my taste, too. maybe funkier eyes or something would have worked.) ; )

>>>As for inventory, I think it's fine. You can convert non-needed items to omni-gel which really clears everything up quite fast.

i would have agreed with you at the beginning of the game, but by the end i was feeling bogged down, especially when trying to clear out the mods for armor/weapons/ammo. the cursor kept jumping to the item i wanted to keep, and it was a hassle to get it all cleared out. i eventually just stopped picking up certain items rather than trying to clear them later.

>>>Shouldn't be written until the game is more time weathered and some of the initial shock and awe has subsided. As for setting the new standard for story-driven games, well, from what I've played so far I don't see how any intelligent person could possibly take themselves seriously saying that if they've also played Planescape.

i hear what you're saying. my only response would be that i've played pretty much every signifcant sci-fi themed game on consoles for the last twenty years or so, so i feel like i have a pretty good grip on it from that perspective. however, i do concede the Planescape point you bring up. i've never been much of a PC gamer so i've never had the chance to play it, although it is on the short list of PC games i intend to get to.

and thanks to everybody else who chipped in on this thread as well, the comments are appreciated. = )

Yeah, since I've gotten

Yeah, since I've gotten further in the game I gotta agree that the inventory is starting to become a pain, especially when I'm forced to scrap items that I don't want to.

As for Planescape, yeah, it's pretty much required reading... Err... I mean playing... for any truly hardcore RPG player. It's the War and Peace of video games... but perhaps more so. At 800,000 words Planescape's script is about 60% heftier than W&P or LoTR (which both clock around 500,000). To be fair, you're only going to read a fraction of the script on any play through, but it's still quite a commitment. If you like a good read, Planescape is for you. Think of it as a giant choose your own adventure book strapped onto the infinity engine!

Good review, I agree with

Good review, I agree with you about the problems. They are there but do not take away from the game enough to warrant a lower score. No game is perfect, does that mean no game can ever deserve 10/10?, of course not. This is in my top three games this year with Bioshock and COD4 (online portion of the game). 2007 has been one hell of a year for gaming, I can only imagine what the next couple of years will be like, Ninja Gaiden 2, Mass effect sequels and RE5 ect.

Amazing times ahead.

Some of your comments make

Some of your comments make it glaringly obvious you don't know what you're talking about...

the Sniper Rifles are as steady in Shepard's hands as they are in Jason Bourne's as long as Shepard is trained in it... this inst a standard shooter, its an RPG - you don't get to be the best from the very beginning!

The Mako can fall off ledges and get you killed, but the whole design of the vehicle is to enable interplanetary landings, that thing is SUPPOSED to take a fall and be fine.

and you can hardly criticize the game for it not having the same vision of the future as you do!

you're an idiot!

you're an idiot!

Mass Effect Review

I have played through this game twice as both a male and female character completing every side quest 100%. I can easily say that this is one of the better role playing games I've seen in years. The main story is purely epic itself. I have seen a lot of small complaints on here about different parts of the game; but, this is all trivial stuff as you can easily beat all aspects of the game with no problems.

The Sniper Rifle: I can definitely see the frustration here. Sure, having to apply skill points would make it more accurate and playable; but, where is the logic? Being a veteran of the armed forces for 8 years I know for a fact if a person can hold an assault rifle steady while firing in full automatic they wouldn't be holding a sniper rifle like they were drunk. I had already stated this to the developers. This game is suppose to be in the far future, you'd think they would have something to stabilize the aim hundreds of years from now, considering we already have that technology now in the real world. You can easily beat the game by not using the Sniper Rifle, granted there are very few opportunities to really utilize the weapon to make it even practical.

I really had no trouble with the MAKO at all. If you drive it slow and steady over rough terrain like you would with any all terrain vehicle its much easier to control. Why can you jump off a mountain in it and survive? Probably the same reason it can be launched from orbit from a fast moving ship and survive intact. It was built to take a beating obviously. Also there were a few times were I took a bold jump in the vehicle and ended up damaging it, so its not entirely invincible.

About the different planets all seeming the same. All the planets did not have the same layout and they all had completely different environments, I cannot say there was once where I felt like I was repeating a point in the game.

All that being said, the game works fine for those who are able to adapt. If someone couldn't play through this game it's purely user error.

"No true Scotsman" saith the

"No true Scotsman" saith the gamer, hands poised over the warm digits of his keyboard.

A few points, mostly regarding story:

#1. The Infinity engine is dreadful. The only draw for games produced with it is the story.

#2. Some of us have indeed played Planescape: Torment. And Mass Effect's story is better. End of story.

Cracking review

Stellar review Brad. I felt pretty much exactly the same. You've managed to convey most of the emotion that I felt whilst playing it.

Halo:Combat Evolved was MY best console gaming experience but ME1 is the best game I've played on the Xbox360. As you say it was such an emotive experience.

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