Monday, October 27, 2008

Mass Effect

I'm on the second play-through of Bioware's Mass Effect, and I figured it'd be high time to review it here. Mass Effect has been out for some time, but I only recently came by a copy, and have been playing it whenever free time presents itself. For most games, I am overly methodical; I can take a game that might take twenty hours to beat and turn it into a fifty hour game easy. Usually I explore every nook and cranny, talk to every NPC, run every side mission and quest given to me, and run through my item inventory nonstop. If you're that kind of player, then this game has your number, because you can do all of the above...and more.

It is a combat oriented game, but where it may look like a shooter, it is most certainly a RPG through and through. It has a somewhat engaging storyline that makes you take note and eagerly await the next chapter...or plot twist. It also sports some impressive voice acting, which goes a long way in a video game. Two of the actors of note that come to the top of my head are Keith David and Seth Green. Star Trek vixen, Marina Sirtis has a role, and "Bishop" from one of my all-time favorite movies, Aliens, is also in there. Voice acting, along with an engaging story, great visuals (not stunning mind you, but good nonetheless) and memorable bad guys (see Saren above) make for a great overall experience. You've got an absolute ton of character creation options and classes, as well as a custom visualizer where you can represent your character in almost any size, shape, and shade you want. You'll acquire a team of humans and aliens to take with you on missions as well, and outfitting these guys 'n gals, choosing which complement your character the best, is half the fun.

Although it is an RPG, there is a lot of combat too, so much combat at times I was hoping the game would make up its mind; be a shooter, or be an RPG. Next to the Halo 3 engine, it pales in comparison, but that's not exactly fair since the two games really are separate genres. The flip side to this is that if you're not the mega-hardcore twelve year old button masher, you won't have your butt handed to you every combat, and can enjoy a frenetic firefight without having a nervous breakdown or throwing your controller at the television.

What really puts this ahead in the RPG department is the use of dialogue trees, shown above. Throughout the game your interactions with NPC's take place using this mechanic, and different choices do make a difference in how the story in revealed. You can take the 'nice guy' route and build up paragon points that will give you additional 'charm' dialogue options, or you can be an absolute jerk throughout the game, building up renegade points that open up all new 'intimidate' options. On the second play-through I opted to be the opposite personality type than I did the first time around, and I can see fairly significant differences in both.

In the end, it's a great game, but it does have its flaws. It's most noticeable in combat, when you'll want more out of the engine, but find it lacking. I can't complain about the storyline or the missions though, the main story moves along well and keeps you engaged. Side missions tend to be redundant, but they are side missions, completely optional however. Playing it a second time is cool because you keep your skill levels and combat bonuses, and the enemies are all scaled to your new (much higher) level, giving you a greater challenge, but it's the exact same game, it's gets a tad boring, the only thing you really get out of it are those nifty Xbox achievement 'dings'. If you like a good story and sci-fi zappy goodness, go pick up a used copy. Out of ten stars, I'd give it a solid seven and a half.

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