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 Something along the lines of "virtual emotional experience" or even the hideously cliché and outdated "interactive film" come a little closer to capturing its essence, but even these terms can't sum up what it's like to play through the adventure.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

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
Brad Gallaway

16
Leave a Reply

avatar
16 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
11 Comment authors
OutfoxedNobadeeftwAnonymousAnonymousJeff Graw Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
Payne by name
Guest

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.

Outfoxed
Guest
Outfoxed

“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.

Nobadeeftw
Guest

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… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

you’re an idiot!

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

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… Read more »

Nick
Guest
Nick

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.

Jeff Graw
Guest
Jeff Graw

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… Read more »

Brad Gallaway
Guest
Brad Gallaway

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… Read more »

Jeff Graw
Guest
Jeff Graw

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… Read more »

Steve
Guest
Steve

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… Read more »

Marathonianbull
Guest
Marathonianbull

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… Read more »

ktchong
Guest
ktchong

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… Read more »

Foshi
Guest
Foshi

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… Read more »

EMAN NEP
Guest
EMAN NEP

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… Read more »

Brad Gallaway
Guest
Brad Gallaway

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… Read more »

EMAN NEP
Guest
EMAN NEP

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.… Read more »