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Luke Mitchell
20 Nov, 2007

Mass Effect Review

360 Review | Massively effective.
BioWare undoubtedly has one of the biggest cult-followings in video gaming. From the Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights games through to original Xbox titles including Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, fans of the talented developer have been anxiously awaiting their next ‘big thing’. Ever since it was announced, Mass Effect has been one of the most anticipated games to be released onto the Xbox 360. Promising a compelling story and deep gameplay, the potential for a fantastic game was great. We’re happy to say that the game is successful in its goals, and while there are some issues, it has been put together with such skill that it will be an experience talked about for years to come.

Mass Effect begins quite simply, with an introduction to our main character, Commander Shepard. We’re briefly filled in on his past and what he is like as an individual, quickly given the brief to a mission and dropped in a colony called Eden Prime to investigate an invasion by a race called the Geth, while simultaneously introduced to the basic forms of gameplay and the setup for the rest of the narrative.

You can start with the Shepard that has been pre-made as the standard for the game, or you can choose to alter your character's facial features and class to suit your style of play. The facial customization is fairly detailed, but the body stays exactly the same, although it’s still good to be able to choose the basic look of Shepard. Once happy with your look, you get to move on to your choice in class, including the combat Soldier and the technology-focused Engineer, among others. The choices you make here will directly impact how the story plays out, with certain characters responding differently to you if you’ve chosen to be a woman, for example.

"I... really like your helmet."

"I... really like your helmet."
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Mass Effect is an RPG with some action elements. At a glance, gamers could be fooled into thinking this is an action game, but it is more about the role-playing than it is about the shooting. As you progress through the storyline, you will meet other characters who you can have in your squad, and each one of them comes with their own set of unique abilities and talents. They will level up and gain talent points to spend at the same pace that you do, and are able to wear any equipment you find throughout the game.

Your main character and squad will be able to carry all types of weapons, including an assault rifle, sniper and a shotguns, but to use each type of weapon effectively you’ll need to train each character in that particular area, which is done by adding points to those particular talents. Along with the weapon skills that you’ll gain as you level up, there are a myriad of other talents available to you, depending of course on which class you choose to be. Things like your ability to override locks on computers as well as shields in combat are some of the talents that you may wish to focus on as you build your character.

Combat in Mass Effect can be a little difficult to grasp at first, as the in-game tutorial doesn't offer a lot of help. Apart from a few blocks of text describing the basics, it’s left mostly up to you to work out, and so you can probably expect to die a lot in the first few hours of gameplay. It’s not a major issue, and once you get a grasp on how everything works, it all flows smoothly, but that initial learning curve could be a little frustrating for some, and you may want to save the game frequently until you get the hang of things.

"Commander Shepard. Hero. Can I buy you a drink?"

"Commander Shepard. Hero. Can I buy you a drink?"
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Once you're in a combat stance (which conveniently happens automatically when enemies are nearby), you aim and shoot with the right trigger while using the left trigger to zoom in slightly on your target. Changing weapons and using your squad’s talents is delegated to the left and right bumpers respectively, where you then select with the left stick your choice from a wheel, and all action in the game pauses temporarily as you make your decision. This is useful in situations of intense combat, but it does slow down the gameplay a lot, taking you out of the action. It does however allow for interesting use of the talent wheel; when selecting your talent of choice, you can still move around your aim. This means that if you have a talent that’s a projectile, you can literally pause with the right bumper, take your time to aim carefully at the enemy, and then fire for an almost guaranteed damage hit. It is very effective, and you’ll have to wait for the cool-down period to use the same talent again, so it isn’t overused.

The AI of the squad is somewhat lacking, partly due to the controls required to order them around. There is no way to order each squad member around separately, which means if you want one to move forward, they’re both going to have to. Their responses to your commands are sometimes a bit slow, and on occasion they get stuck standing behind some NPCs, failing to simply walk around them, which of course requires you to go back and literally lead them around the right way. It’s only a minor issue and doesn’t happen frequently, but it shouldn’t happen at all.

When it comes down to it, though, combat is only a part of Mass Effect, and it’s not the part that people will remember it for. BioWare have done an excellent job at creating an in-depth and compelling narrative that’s built on solid foundations, including a surprisingly deep back-story and appealing characters. Shepard is an important figure for humanity in a crowded galaxy, and every conversation you’ll have in the game requires you to think carefully about what you’re asking and what you’re going to say next. You can be intimidating or charming, or just straight down the middle. While there is no way to really be ‘evil’ per se (which wouldn’t make sense, given that the main storyline is about you saving the galaxy), you can be tough in your choices, doing what you need to do rather than doing what is right. It’s a great morality system, and although it doesn’t have a long-term effect on the rest of the story, the choices you make do directly affect what is going on at the time, and some decisions you will seriously have to consider, as they blur the line between what’s right and what’s not.

The character models really do look incredible.

The character models really do look incredible.
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A lot of work has been put into the writing of this game, and it shows. The story is well told, with a series of climaxes that will have you on the edge of your seat. There are multiple endings based on certain decisions made during the game, and at least 20 hours worth of side-quests which have all been given the same amount of care as the 20 hour long main storyline. Every piece of dialogue in the game has voice-over recorded for it, which adds a lot to the experience. Every character has something to say, and if you’re willing to look deep enough, there is an huge amount of detailed history that the main characters will be able to discuss with you if you ask the right questions. Along with the rest of the audio, the voice-acting is absolutely top-notch, and has set a new standard for voice and character interaction in videogames.

Visually, Mass Effect is initially very impressive. Every cut-scene and conversation plays out like a movie, with different camera angles and plenty of cuts to keep the scene interesting and the storyline flowing. The lip-syncing in the game is well done, and every character model (including the many different types of alien) looks fantastic. The animation in the game is also noticeably detailed, with Shepard running differently depending on which surface he is on, and characters realistically shuffling around when they stand or sit, which may be subtle but makes the look of the game so much more effective. Unfortunately, the game suffers from some graphical glitches that detract from the experience. The frame-rate drops constantly; if it was every now and then it might not be a big issue, but it’s frequent to say the least. Textures don’t always load properly either, and we experienced the game locking up on occasion for a few seconds at a time, which can be extremely frustrating, especially in combat.

Mass Effect is undoubtedly one of those games that will be talked about for a very long time. BioWare have set a new standard in storytelling, and if you have even the faintest interest in RPGs or science fiction, then this game simply demands to be played. While there are some technical issues and awkward gameplay decisions that are hard to ignore, when it comes down to it, Mass Effect is so compelling that most people will be able to push the issues aside and immerse themselves in one of the most detailed game worlds every created. A story of this quality should be experienced by all Xbox 360 owners.
The Score
Mass Effect is a tale worth telling and is easily one of the best games of the year. While more appealing to RPG or Sci-Fi fans, the story is enticing enough to be enjoyed by anyone, and is a game that will be talked about for a long time to come. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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18 Comments
6 years ago
about what i expected, though i'm surprised the Lifespan "only" scored a 9.0. i'd have thought 9.5 at least.

i've never had the game pause to load during combat though. that makes me a little wary. (i assume that's what you mean by locking up? like it pauses with "Loading" in the centre of screen?)
6 years ago
Nice review. If there's one thing I'd disagree with however, it would be:

Review wrote
Apart from a few blocks of text describing the basics, it’s left mostly up to you to work out, and so you can probably expect to die a lot in the first few hours of gameplay.
This is largely dependant on the class that you choose. If you choose a focused tech or Biotic class, you might have a harder time until you figure out a lot of the nuances, but using the skills you're given is a fairly straightforward task (equip a soldier with a sniper and they're a pretty dependable ally). Choosing any combat-oriented class presents very little difficulty at the games' beginning, provided you've played a console shooter before.

Aside from that, a myriad of graphical issues and odd design decisions (I was about 4 hours into the game before I figured out how to equip different types of ammo to weapons) don't detract from the brilliant experience. I'd have given the Lifespan a straight 10 given the 40-hour estimate in the review and the fact that I can easily see at least 2 more playthroughs upon completion.

Edit: it seems to pause and load very occasionally when you're rushing through an area, but its usually brief, and hasn't occured during combat yet. In fact, unless you're in an elevator, the loading times are all very short. I'd rather they padded them out slightly if it meant you didn't have to look at the textureless models half the time.
6 years ago
Cerebral wrote
odd design decisions (I was about 4 hours into the game before I figured out how to equip different types of ammo to weapons)
i was the same - i assumed initially that the game must use the best ammo for the current situation, but then i RTFM and discovered how to equip it.
6 years ago
The particle effects do slow it down, which is annoying because i use the shotgun, which is particle central. Still though, love it, perhaps an update to lower the use of particles.
6 years ago
Cool. I really want this game but can't play it. icon_sad.gif

One thing this new sci fi RPG has sparked in me though is the abundance of overused "humanoid" models. I would love, just once, for a sci fi game to involve a party of a wide assortment of creatures, and no, just because they have different coloured skin, or wierd shaped heads doesn't make them all that different. I'm talking six legged reptiles, or giant butterflies or something. Mix it up. I think the only games that have made an effort in this regard were the Fallout titles and even then it was maybe a single member was of a less than human design (generally a dog).

While I haven't played Mass Effect so I don't know if it has really broken the mold but the images and videos don't really do much to alleviate my woes.

There's a billion and one possibilities available to the modellers and yet we're forever getting stuck with two arms and two legs with a goofy head on top and maybe a tail. I'm talking about playable characters by the way, not creatures you meet (although generally they're bipedal as well). In a way I blame films like Star Wars and the like, where it was difficult for creators to make main characters who weren't humanoid in appearance because they only really had the facilities to make "active" aliens, by suiting up. But by crikey if I don't want Jabba the Hut in my party one day.

(Oh, and don't think I'm just picking on Sci Fi either, fantasy titles offer the same problems, Elder Scrolls comes to mind, as well as many others).
6 years ago
^

i want a sci-fi movie that doesn't involve humanoids or humans at all, at least star wars wasn't based around the planet earth though(which is starting to become highly annoying). Strange how we get better effects for films everyday, but be damned if it is set away from earth. Any recommendations for sci fi films not involving earth?
6 years ago
Well, it's not Sci-Fi but The Dark Crystal is a fantasy that doesn't relate to Earth in any way shape or form. Can't think of anything else, but then I haven't seen a lot of Sci-Fi.
6 years ago
I think I might go into EB tomorrow and pick this up

Or I could wait until the 22nd and pick it up at JB saving $20...

I don't think I can wait though!
6 years ago
Sin Ogaris wrote
One thing this new sci fi RPG has sparked in me though is the abundance of overused "humanoid" models. I would love, just once, for a sci fi game to involve a party of a wide assortment of creatures, and no, just because they have different coloured skin, or wierd shaped heads doesn't make them all that different. I'm talking six legged reptiles, or giant butterflies or something. Mix it up. I think the only games that have made an effort in this regard were the Fallout titles and even then it was maybe a single member was of a less than human design (generally a dog).
you mean like the Star Wars universe, with Hutts (giant slugs), geonosians (giant bugs), Dug (creatures that walk on their upper limbs, while their lower limbs are essentially their arms), Bouncers (essentially a puffy thing that floats around, almost like a Jellyfish, but not in water), Ithorians (walking hammerhead sharks) and variety of non-humanoid droids (R2-D2, for example) - and these are just the Sentient creatures. (lets not forget the Sarlacc or Rancor)

i agree actually, and thankfully ME has a few non-humanoid races around, but a Krogan is the closest to this description you'll find in your party.
otherwise look at:
Elcor
Hanar - this doesn't do it justice. that's it's head, which appears about 8-10 foot up on long tentacle limbs.
as well as Rachni and Keepers, though i didn't find pictures of them.
some of the Geth (the synthetic antagonist race) are not humanoid either, but since they're robots, it's understandable (like SW Droids).

of course, there's a theory that our intelligence stems from our basic configuration, so if this is the case, it stands to reason that by-and-large, other evolutions would progress in a similar manner.
6 years ago
I love the Elcor and the way they talk. Awesome race.
6 years ago
bradc1988 wrote
I think I might go into EB tomorrow and pick this up

Or I could wait until the 22nd and pick it up at JB saving $20...

I don't think I can wait though!
Go to JB - get catalogue (assuming you dont already have it)
Go to EB - buy game and get them to price match JB catalogue
Save $20 and play the game today.
6 years ago
Fetidchimp wrote
^

i want a sci-fi movie that doesn't involve humanoids or humans at all, at least star wars wasn't based around the planet earth though(which is starting to become highly annoying). Strange how we get better effects for films everyday, but be damned if it is set away from earth. Any recommendations for sci fi films not involving earth?
Dune & Starwars are about all there is.

The problem you propose is, Hollywood is dominated and driven by the concept of the "movie star", thus having a big budget movie involve no humanoids would never get funding unless it was a Pixar film or something to that effect.
6 years ago
he said he doesn't want humanoids at all.

Dune (and The Dark Crystal, mentioned earlier) both clearly have humanoids in them.
(my bad, i didn't fully read the request for Science Fiction films not featuring Earth.)

i can't think of any examples myself, but if i do i'll post it. i doubt an example exists, except perhaps as an Anime, or animated film.
6 years ago
Oh, of course!

S.P.O.R.E!

So can't wait for that game.
6 years ago
Newbie wrote
bradc1988 wrote
I think I might go into EB tomorrow and pick this up

Or I could wait until the 22nd and pick it up at JB saving $20...

I don't think I can wait though!
Go to JB - get catalogue (assuming you dont already have it)
Go to EB - buy game and get them to price match JB catalogue
Save $20 and play the game today.
I don't think my EB would price match JB as there isn't one in the same suburb let alone the same centre.

I think I'll just wait it out and go into the city and pick it up on the 22nd.
6 years ago
Attention all viewers: JB HiFi in Perth CBD has stock, going for $79.

Got mine today icon_smile.gif
The fact that they sponsored an episode of Battlestar Galactica was the decider icon_biggrin.gif
6 years ago
I picked mine up from JB Monday arvo in Sydney.
6 years ago
A reasonably fair review, except I would have given the game a 10 in Lifespan. There are technical issues arising from the UE3 engine, but nothing that really impacts on what is the most fantastic gaming experience this year.

Go get this game people! we need a sequel icon_lol.gif
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  22/11/2007 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
Publisher:
  Microsoft
Genre:
  Action RPG
Year Made:
  2007
Players:
  1

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