With Mass Effect 2 on the horizon, I doubt anybody really cares about my thoughts regarding the original title. After all, we’re talking about a game that was released way back in November 2007, and by now, anybody that had any remote interest in the game has already played it through numerous times and has since put the game back on the shelf to collect layer upon layer of beautiful dust.
Fortunately for you, dear reader, I simply don’t give a damn that this review is woefully out of date. Yes, much like my notoriously late Fallout 3 review, I’m gonna tell you what I thought of the game anyway, simply because I can …
That is, if I can finally decide what I actually thought about the game.
You see, Mass Effect is a tough nut to crack … it did so many things awesomely right, while at the same time doing so many things terribly wrong, that it all blends together to form some sort of bizarre mutant hybrid of good and evil that, despite its flaws, you simply have to see all the way to the very end. You know, like Bob Saget doing stand-up.
Anyway, in no particular order, here are a few things that I particularly liked and disliked about Mass Effect:
The Incredible Detail of Commander Shepard
If there’s one thing Mass Effect got right, it was the game’s protagonist, Commander Shepard (especially compared to the generic Lone Wanderer found in Fallout 3). On the surface he’s pretty much your run-of-the-mill Bald Space Marine, but through a combination of remarkably competent voice acting and the subtle effects of the initial character creation that can be found throughout the entire game, Commander Shepard really comes to life.
While not very in-depth, the choices made at the start of the game regarding Shepard’s upbringing and military history really flesh out his background and provide an additional layer to the game’s narrative. There are no amnesia-riddled angsty teens here — people are well aware of Shepard’s past and will bring it up on numerous occasions through the game, opening up new dialogue options, cinematics, and mission objectives based on what you decided had happened to him before the story begins. This level of detail really gives the impression that this is a living, breathing character who belongs in this world — and not just some random jerk that they pulled off the street to play the role of “hero”.
The Empty Husks of the Other Characters
Outside of Commander Shepard, however, I never really gave six shits about any of the other characters found throughout the game. In particular, Garrus, Wrex, and Tali all join your party within a few minutes of one another near the start of the game — but I’m thinking, who the hell are these people (er, aliens) and why did they decide to join me? The game spends so little time introducing you to these characters before they become part of your squad that it is truly impossible to care for them or understand their goals / motivations.
Of course, I can already hear the fanboys whining that everything you need to know about the characters can be gleamed from the completely optional (and tremendously boring) conversations aboard the Normandy between missions. While this is somewhat true, it would have been much more effective to show the stories and personalities of these characters through action rather than words by having them more actively involved in the main story missions. Only once does this really happen (the scene where Wrex freaks out on Virmire) — a little more of that sort of thing would have been greatly appreciated.
Spectacular Graphics — Most of the Time
Even on my small, non-HD television, it’s easy to see that Mass Effect has incredible graphics. Well, after they’ve completely loaded, that is. Then again, seeing the layers of detail appear one after another as the game loads the environment does provide an interesting glimpse into how the designers created the characters and worlds …
Driving in Space — Not Nearly as Fun as You’d Think
While the main story missions are a lot of fun, the sidequests are … well … not so much. The first step of nearly every sidequest is to land on an uncharted planet and drive your awesome looking tank, the Mako, across the most boring terrain ever conceived by a video game developer. Seriously, each planet consists of a single colour of rock and nothing but bumpy, jagged mountains. No rivers, no trees, no animals, no caves, no lakes of fiery magma … nothing. I suppose they are uncolonized planets for a reason, but still, the driving sections really sucked a lot of the fun out of Mass Effect simply because they were so mind-numbingly boring, tedious, and utterly lacking in the lush detail found throughout the rest of the game.
Of course, what happens when finally climb over that jagged-ass mountain and reach your destination?
Research Outposts — Now Available in Bulk Orders!
Well, on each planet there is either a research outpost, a lab, or a mine. The first time you reach one of these structures, it’s pretty neat. The next time you reach one, however, you get this very uncomfortable sense of deja vu. Wasn’t I already here, you ask yourself? Would BioWare actually be so lame as to actually recycle the floorplan for every single research outpost in the game? Yes. Yes they would.
Perhaps there is a single trusted supplier of research outposts and mining structures that all mercenaries and scientists in the galaxy feel compelled to purchase from, lest they be mocked and heckled by their peers? Or maybe the intergalactic Martha Stewart has discovered the ultimated, undeniable feng shui layout for research outposts?
If there is any upside to the tedious and repetitive nature of these sidequests, it’s that knowing the layout of each type of structure ahead of time made the battles much quicker and easier, since you already knew exactly where the enemies would come from and where the crates would be with which to take cover. Not that the battle system needed to be made much easier, mind you …
The World’s Greatest Elevator Simulator!
Do you like elevators? I mean, do you really like elevators? Then you’ll love Mass Effect, where loading times between areas are “masked” (and I use that in the loosest sense of the word) behind thrilling elevator journeys! Can you feel the excitement? BECAUSE I CAN!
Yes, the game has its flaws (and I didn’t even get into the incredibly frustrating inventory system, or the fact that money is pretty much useless throughout the entire game, or the fact that the game isn’t as long or as open-ended as you’re led to believe). But despite these flaws, I still found Mass Effect to be a very enjoyable adventure. The story was solid (and easily accessible for people like myself who aren’t massive sci-fi nerds), the combat was acceptable (albeit rather repetitive at times), and the method of navigating through dialogue trees was extremely intuitive. Plus, it actually had a climactic ending with a decent final battle (unlike the letdown that was the final chapter of Fallout 3), so that already bumps it up a few points in my book.
In conclusion, Mass Effect gets a definite thumbs up from me. Now, which ancient game will I unearth and review next?