Why play games that release in 2017 when you can play games that released in 2007 instead?
Game: Mass Effect
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (reviewed), PC
I know Mass Effect: Andromeda just released, but I don’t have anything powerful enough to play it, and I thought I should actually play the originals before I get to Andromeda.
Mass Effect is a science-fiction spectacle; an action-RPG filled with ambition. The basic plot context is that in the future, humanity discovers a “mass relay”, which enables faster-than-light travel to other planets, and discover an entire alien coalition, which they then join. The plot of this game revolves around you, as the human Commander Shepard tracking down the rogue agent Saren, who attacked a human colony to gain information about the civilisation that came before ours. Mass Effect is very plot-driven and I don’t want to spoil too much, but the story is just pure great sci-fi, plain and simple.
World-building is a large part of any science-fiction story, and Bioware has not skimped out on that aspect. Examining technology, hacking random computer terminals scattered around planets, and collecting artefacts will unlock entries in the “codex”, the game’s encyclopaedia to the Mass Effect universe. If you love all that background information, there’s a lot here to keep you happy.
Another big part of this game is the narrative system. Now, you are in complete control of Commander Shepard’s story. You not only get to customise the look of your character, like other RPGs (I made my Shepard a little silly-looking with a ridiculous moustache, but there are definitely more nightmarish Shepards out there) but also their actions. This game gives you a variety of dialogue choices, and choosing some options will increase your “goodness” (which the game calls Paragon), and some options will increase your “rogueness” (which the game calls Renegade). You also get a variety of other decisions to make, like saving characters or choosing whether to hack someone’s computer for a shady client. It reminds me a bit of Telltale’s games, but this was before Telltale’s big break, and so this style of storytelling deserves a lot of credit. These decisions will also (apparently) carry over into the sequel, and I have to say, I’m excited to take my Shepard through these games.
The gameplay is mainly combat-focused, but sadly this is where the game falls down a little – the gameplay is just a little too repetitive. I played this game twice (more on that later), once on easy and once on medium, and the game was pretty simple both times. The game introduces you to the cover system in the first level, but I found I never really needed to use cover – I just preferred to run and gun. I was playing as a soldier though, which meant I got access to all the guns in the game, but no tech or biotic (magic). You choose your class at the beginning of the game, and there’s definitely a lot of replay value just for the style of gameplay you choose. If I was playing as a different class, like tech, which only gets a pistol and sniper rifle, I might have used cover more.
There’s about 5 main missions to do in this game, and of these 3 can be done in any order, but there’s definitely some benefit to doing some before others (gaining new squad members, for example). This game isn’t open-world like other RPGs we’ve come to know and love, so even though you can tackle the main quest in any order, the levels themselves are mostly linear (there was one mission that was less linear, in that I did it differently on my two playthroughs, but the outcome will always be the same). My one complaint is that I didn’t quite realise the game was going to end with the final mission (I thought the game still had a while to go) and once the game’s over, you can’t go do any of the side missions (disappointing, as the game keeps this sense of urgency throughout and yet the urgency is all fake and you do have time to go off and do side missions). This meant I felt I hadn’t really experienced all the game had to offer after my one bare-bones playthrough, so I did it all again, and did the side missions. There’s one sizeable piece of DLC included in the PS3 version, which was a nice addition, even if it didn’t add much. I did some exploration and side missions in my second playthrough, but after a while they become so similar and their flaws become so apparent – there’s only so many pirate bases with reused assets I can take before I get bored. While there are some interesting missions here, most of the side missions fall flat, which was disappointing for such a large universe.
The music in this game was quite good, I don’t usually notice music in games but this music was executed perfectly, it’s all your classic 80s synths and it suits the tone so well. The music becomes a lot more dramatic during the climaxes of missions as well, and it really helps the tone of the game.
The game has some general issues which I think are just a product of the time it was released – texture popping (where textures don’t load fully before a scene begins and then “pop” in later) occurs rather frequently, and during one scene my character just disappeared completely, so Shepard briefly spoke as a levitating pistol, which was quite amusing but also distracting as this was a major climax in the game. One time an entire scene was skipped after a mission. There’s also some design issues – it can be tough to figure out where to go – and a lot of the maps are reused, especially on non-essential planets. These aren’t major issues, but it does take away from the game a bit when each planet you visit just feels like a reskinned version of the last one.
Above all though, Mass Effect is solid. It made me care enough to play it twice, which is something I can’t say a lot about most games, just to experience it properly the second time. I had a really hard time trying to decide what score to give it – it falls just short of excellence, but it’s certainly great. I’m giving a 4/5 objectively, due to it’s design issues, and a 4.5/5 subjectively, because I did really enjoy it.
+ Great sci-fi storytelling
+ Great customization options
+ Good variety of gameplay options
– Gameplay repetitive after a while
– Maps reused for side missions
– Fake urgency detracts from ability to do side missions
– Miscellaneous design and graphical issues