Mass Effect

Posted on November 10, 2008

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Unfortunately, I do not have the type of income that affords the purchase of every enticing video game upon its release. I wish I could run down to GameStop for all the month’s best releases like the Yankees during free agency, but I have to pick my spots. Bioware’s Mass Effect slipped just past my reach when it hit stores. I’ve never liked the ‘pick and watch’ RPG style gaming, so seeing that this was an Action/RPG, I wrote it off, even though the game had a fantastic look and I had a good feeling about it. But, nonetheless, I let it go.

When I finally got to purchasing it, I immediately regretted not ponying up the $60 and keeping with the Jones’ (if there is such a thing in gaming). This is a complete video game.

Story: The story is deep and colorful. Whether choosing the high road or low, the dialogue branching opens up enjoyable interaction with non-playable characters (NPCs) and valuable missions. You’re constanlty choosing to help or hinder or ignore some helpless soul. Your integrity as a soldier is often put to the test and your morals as a sentient are constantly forced from a netural gray to a harsh black or benevolent white. The main story hits all the high notes. You won’t know whether to pity or despise the villain, Saren…you will probably feel both at some point in the game.

Mass Effect writes the book on drawing emotion out of everyone in the game. Your superiors will oppose you and YOU, along with the character you play, will scowl at them. You will feel like you are actually disobeying yourself, which makes the process of choosing a path that much harder and that much more exciting. Your squad will be put to the test and in harm’s way…you WILL feel the impact of your decisions…from victory to the casualties of war.

Bioware gave every single NPC a back story and motivations. This leads to additional missions and dialogue options along the way.  From a story perspective, Mass Effect rivals rivals Star Wars’ KOTR and GTA IV. My cousin, a 12 year-old with all the A.D.D. to be expected of kids, couldn’t stand sitting through the depth prescribed to the storyline. But I could, and it only enhanced the combat and the struggle.

The game is a marathon. And while its deeper than any other game I’ve played on 360,  the side missions are all the same: Find and explore a planet; find and exeterminate a stronghold. Even the lairs are repetive and look more like paintball arenas than villainus bases: two-floored space forts with cargo box cover. The main missions, though, are solid. They too have similar themes to them, but the territories are much bigger and the skirmishes put you to the test. And each of the main missions unfold a huge, addicting bit to the story.

Combat: I expected to groan a bit when carrying out the skirmishes. As mentioned earlier, I was hesitant to bring Mass Effect home because of the combat. Interacting with AI in realtime instead of playing chess against it has been one of my main motivations behind gaming for as long as I can remember, and Mass Effect pulled off an enjoyable combat system mixing combat assignment, tactics, and blowing your foes to bits. As I mentioned, I found the repetitive mission-types much more boresome.

You can master weapons or special Mass Effect abilities (which just so happen to resemble another intergalactic blockbuser: Star Wars), or you can have a mixture of the two. Shooting feels smooth and the weapon upgrades enhance the fun. The cover system is simple and effective (not to mention vital). The special abilities are fun to yield and create tactical advantages. Squad members are hot and cold. Sometimes they just can’t find cover or go gung-ho into battle. They’ll save you a few times; you’ll save them a bunch of times. Selecting the proper team is also an important part of the game as certain characters upon up unique dialgue during missions.

The upgrade system merits attention, as it is a stremlined and imperitive part of the game. Whether enhancing armor, weapons, bullets, or abilities, the game did a great job of making these modifications felt. If you become bored to death of shooting things to death, adding simple mods to your ammo changes the action and tactics. Upgrading your squad to compliment your player is a skill in itself, and a great way to unfold action that your characer may be incapable of executing.

NPCs: Supporting characters in Mass Effect are so much like supporting actors, as in they serve the story and drama. I’ve seen tons of games that shove a NPC down your throat without explaining his or her significance. The NPCs in Mass Effect feed directly into the drama. In doing this, you’re not merely taking a mission from an assumed superior officer and leading a virtually anonymous gaggle of aliens and military personnel. You’re leading a merc trying to turn a new leaf; a frustrated officer looking to make a real difference; a disabled pilot proving his mettle…so on and so forth. They’re rendered entities and it gives Mass Effect three dimensions. You can not look past the importance of their backstory to the gameplay. Rather than refreshing the combat environments or the foes to keep you on your toes and enjoying the levels, helping a NPC you’ve come to know (for better or for worse) fills the gameplay with meaning.

I recommend this game to all gamers. Even if you can’t stand dialogue and story branching, this game has more than its share of blockbuster moments, jaw-dropping graphics, and playability. But if you don’t like this story, you flat-out don’t know what a good story is.

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Posted in: Op-Ed