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Mass Effect: A Critique

Updated on July 16, 2012

Introduction

Mass Effect was my very first video game review to be posted on the internet under the name of "Greasy Gamer". However that was when my methods of recording and script-writing were as primitive as the cavemen working at Nintendo. But my lack of video reviewing was only partly to blame, because looking at Mass Effect today begs the question, "what in the Hell is this?" Let's face it - I hate this game, you probably hate me for that. That's fine. If I'm making you angry, please leave, because it's not going to get any better, and you raging with your unintelligent insults won't make things better. But for those with two brain cells to rub together may want to keep their traps shut and keep reading, for that would be better for both of us. My apologies.

Like Cheetahmen, Mass Effect had high hopes of becoming a franchise: comic books, action figurines and even a movie is expected. However none could ever hope to stay on par with Bioware's spacebaby, Mass Effect. The game was also developed by Demiurge Studios on Windows PC and they even did the downloadable content. Don't worry, they'll get flak too. The game was released on the XBOX 360 on November 23rd 2007, and was released nearly a year later on the PC. It recieved generally positive reviews mostly for its story, character development, diplomacy and its world design. Even I have to give credit to that. But it was flawed severely, and spontaneously combusted on my video game shelf in order to apologize to me. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a refund and claim it was broken.

While I do rant and rave about a game that supposedly revolutionized dialogue choices and cinema-quality graphics, I have a place in my heart for this game. It's something I'm not too fond of for its poor combat, terrible squad commands and lack of replayability (and general length), but it still did some things right. But the cosmetic pros don't justify the virus-laden innards of this game that can make it virtually unplayable and completely boring at times. I'll give credit where it's due, but I'll rage where no critic has bothered to. And no, this isn't because I'm one of the few who admired Bioware's attempts at ending the video game trilogy. Grab your krogans and your quarians, this is my Mass Effect review.

Blood for the Blood Lord! Lore for the Lore Freaks!

This game has more lore than anyone bothers to read through, and it's way too much for a game that is a huge gamble. It has codexes full of stuff that you're not going to care for on your first playthrough, and with the text size being so small you're not going to like sitting through one lengthy read about "spacegrass". If Bioware didn't make the ending sequel bait, all the design and attention to detail would've been for nothing. I have to admit though, this is a great way of showing that you dedication to your game.

A brief rundown of the story

For the most part, I'm clueless about what the story is about. While it's set out to be a linear "humans go into space, discover aliens, humans win" story, it's a lot more than that. It remains true that humanity discovered space travel not long after this game was made, and it happened at a much faster rate than usual. Throughout the games, the humans' technological advancement is accelerated greatly thanks to other races bothering to help them. The humans aren't at war with many sentient races but are sure hated by nearly all of them, mostly Turians. And no, I won't make the obvious complaint about America being the only humans in space, for I've made enough complaints about this already. Actually, the game talks greatly about racism and all that (or specism, in this case) but never really about the other people of Earth. In fact, what happened to the rest of the planet in the third game (never played it, so I'll never know).

Players take control of a Commander Shepard who is either male or female, and choose his/her background, cultural background and what made him a hero during the.... oh dear. The.... the Blitz? Bioware, do you know how offensive that is to your British audience? I don't mean to sound like a political maniac or some anti-American campaigner, nor a racist. I'm not nitpicking here - the moment I saw Blitz, which was an event which took thousands of lives during the World War 2 era, I just gasped in shame. Blitzkrieg, in essence, means total destruction. Slash and burn on a much faster and brutal scale. You couldn't make something like that up. There, that's your story.

"You instantly feel you've been doing 17 levels with starter gear!"

Character Customization

So after wiping my tears on the red, white and blue, I've returned once more with tea and crumpets to talk about character customization. While the first part is to sit through this huge loading screen about corrupted data files and all that technoBS, the rest is to some extent enjoyable. Changing every feature from nose length to the number of eyelashes. From the many hairstyles to scars, you can make this Shepard your Shepard. But the big question is why? Why go to all the trouble of changing a perfectly attractive guy or girl, a face you want to see throughout every scene swearing for the sake of it, and being a smooth talker to save the universe? To make something original takes forever and that's why many just make a random character like a Picasso painting, or just give up and stick with the original.

Throughout the game you'll pick up weapons and armour which is interesting, but sometimes they'll be too expensive to buy, or there's just too few in general. Most armour isn't for your race, so you need to give it to a member which you probably won't even bother to use again. The balancing issues with armour and weapons are bad. You'll find few weapons in the beginning better than your first few pickups, and then all of a sudden you have massive power ramps! You instantly feel you've been doing 17 levels with starter gear! While I do like to see the stats of weapons and say "Wow, that's OP", you gradually lose that feeling as the enemies get tougher. By this time, you've finished the game. Oops!

Players also get the chance to invest in talent systems, or "space talent trees", whatever. But much like Alpha Protocol, a mod for Mass Effect on a seperate disc, you'll barely notice the changes. There seems to be no point in giving teammates "First Aid" when they don't use it, and there's no point in upgrading your damage done by Assault Rifles even though you use them for everyday household chores. If it doesn't work, pray tell me why it's here.

Overall, the character customization is a wonderous feature which could've done with more work. But for three games we've seen so little of it, that there's almost no point in it.

General Gameplay

Combat

Unfortunately, you do have to fight the forces of evil and stop Saren - an evil Turian - from bringing a mysterious power to the planet. This power is known as the Reapers, and one of their leaders is Sovreign (mistaken as Saren's flagship). To do this, players must use their Shepards to guide the blind AI sheep known as your teammates in a squad of three (you and two squaddies). Here's why I complain: this is the most butchered use of the Unreal Engine I've ever seen in my life! Where's the physics, the explosions, the gore?! Oh, never mind. I forgot you were the makers of Dragon Age, one of the bloodiest games on console! Players must use only two weapons - the assault rifle and pistol - to survive. Using anything else means total loss of accuracy and a certain and fast doom. Add to that terrible enemy AI which has tonnes of health and armour which just charge toward you. As John McClane said, "It's a huge shot sandwhich, and we've all got to take a bite". Let me summarize combat for you:

  • The accuracy is terrible
  • The damage is terrible
  • The armour is terrible
  • The cover mechanic is terrible
  • The ammo mechanic is terrible
  • The squad command system is terrible
  • The AI is terrible
  • The fights are lengthy and I wish I was playing Call of Duty Multiplayer.

It's an uninteresting fight sequence where one person shoots and the other takes cover. Rinse and repeat for around 45 seconds, possibly 3 minutes. That's if your enemies aren't running at you saying "I WILL DESTROY YOU!"

One of the better fight scenes in the game, where a raid upon Saren's laboratories takes place.
One of the better fight scenes in the game, where a raid upon Saren's laboratories takes place. | Source

Dialogue and Morality

Many have said that your choices in this game matter, and impact the game greatly. WRONG! The only time you'll really make a difference is when a life is at stake and it's laid out in front of you. Do you kill Urdnot Wrex because he wants Nilus dead, or do you talk things out? Do you sacrifice Alenko or Williams? In the end it's just the same phrase said with a "grr" or a "yay" at the end. Morality doesn't have much of an impact in this game, and while in others it matters and the differences do a great deal, here it's just choosing text in blue over text in red. So in all, all this did as make dialogue choices more visually appealing and make it seem like it was an important aspect of the game. But compared to Ultima 1 through 5 which allowed you to use any word you liked and get a different response for each time (well, not each), Mass Effect is only a flashlight put to the rays of Heaven. I suppose however this is a nice feature to those who haven't seen it in video games before.

Character Development and Crew Members

There's so many crew members in this game, but few of them are memorable or important. Not once have I changed my active squad members from Garrus and Wrex, who have some hilarious dialogue during the elevator sequences of the Citadel. I just don't find anyone else after those two, or even before them interesting in the slightest. They're droll, cliché characters. One is the hot girl with glasses and the other is just a general shy nerd. That's all there is. But for some reason, I fell in love with the tribal, brutish style of Urdnot Wrex and his burning hatred for the genophage (made the Krogan sterile, "no more beebees"). Or what about the film noire-like detective-personality Garrus Vakarian? He was a great guy who - although an arse licker - still had this brilliant attitude. In ME2, he's even more kickass when you find out he's--, no, I won't spoil it. I'll let you be as amazed as I was. My favourite character of all was Saren, the antagonist. He is the rival who no matter how bad his crimes are, you can always admire him. When I went against him from the start of the game, even in our first verbal showdown, I felt like I knew him. I was once his friend.... Even trying to persuade him that the Reapers were indoctrinating him got me emotionally involved. I actually shouted at the screen once going, "SAREN! DON'T GIVE INTO THEM!" I felt tears in my eyes for one of the few times in my life as a gamer, knowing that such an "evil" character was being forced like a puppet. A great antagonist who reminds me of the Master of old Doctor Who episodes.

But other than those characters, there's no story about them. They shy away, telling you not of their past. Sure, the other races will speak of their traditions and ways, my personal favourites being the Krogen and even Quarians with their pilgrimages to adulthood. It's an amazing concept that with some more work, could've been perfect. But only Saren really had it - a respectful antagonist who wasn't all that he was made out to be.

Soundtrack and Graphics

While the soundtrack isn't that memorable it still had an impact on me. I'm not talking World of Warcraft: Culling of Stratholme or any other of Arthas Menethil's tracks though, as these are much forgettable. The thing is, the most I remember about the music is the map screen tune, which always gets stuck in my head everytime I'm observing a map of Cyrodiil or Liberty City. It could've done with a lot more Phantasy Star: Online rather than its petty "tralalalah" tunes. Many have said it's overpowering, but I was mostly overpowered by silence and boredom.

The graphics however are very good, if not excellent. Character models at the time had never seen so much animation until then, but they were only bested by L.A Noire and its animation technologies. The framerate gets choppy during cinematic cutscenes, and this is on every single disc on console, so don't give me the whole "duh-huh iz ur disc lawl" excuse. It's buggy, it's slow and it gets annoying. But outside of combat, everything looks beautiful. The Citadel, the places you're about to destroy with plasma weapons and even the dusty surfaces of distant planets. It's wonderous, and just goes to show what an art team can really do.

Conclusion

To end my review, I'd like to say that my experiences with Mass Effect have been good, but not wholly brilliant. I was let down by several things after letting a few months past, and when the fog had cleared I'd seenthe flaws which shone like crystal. Mass Effect has some amazing moments such as its storytelling, the voice acting, the dialogue itself, the lore and its environments. These are things that are good, but beside the storytelling and lore, these are only cosmetics. They only enhance the mood, but what the mood really is, is a desert barren of life. The combat is poorly designed and barely engaging. The enemy and friendly AI is shocking, acting more of a burden than an aid. Everyone is suicidal, charging toward each other as if they haven't got rocket launchers for arms but daggers on the end of each finger. Not to mention that the game is only 7 hours long without side-quests. With side-quests you can possibly stretch the time out to 12-18 hours. That's with over 90% of side-quest. The game is incredibly short and there's few reasons to go back other than achievements. It feels like a boring journey a lot of the time, and the more you replay it, the less you want to do those first parts over and over again. However at the mid-section and beyond, you'll have a truly amazing experience. The ending was sequel bait and the final battle before it was terrible, as it required zero strategy (nothing in this game did), and could've been done a lot better, much like the second game.

In all, I give this game a 7 out of 9 with no accolades. I think that's fair considering every flaw that exists and didn't seem to show any signs of ironing out attempts. It's not a terrible game but it does leave a lot to be desired. With improvements to character development, more to do in general instead of playing "galactic beat cop" and lifting your teammates off the floor more times you do the gamepad, this game could be a masterpiece. It's an OK game, give it a rental or heck, get it for under £15/$20, but no more. If you want a really good game, get the sequel.

Just remember before you start commenting, "you can paint a turd gold, but it's still a turd".

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  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

    Thank you for this great overview.