Mass Effect Review (Late To The Party)

I looked forward to Mass Effect for years before its launch last november. Then it finally came out for the Xbox 360… and literally the next day our daughter was born. Fatherhood took scary & wonderful precedence, and the game ended up in my Pile O’Shame.

Recently, I had the apartment to myself for two weeks while my better half and our daughter took an extended holiday up north. Let’s just say I didn’t work much on my tan while they were away. “Time to play through Mass Effect!”

First off: this game is far from flawless.

The user interface ranges from functional to horrible. Inventory management basically amounts to a single flat list of items, without even the most rudimentary sort options. Prepare to scroll through pages and pages of text when you buy, sell and manage items.

Bioware opted for realtime, action-based combat with prominent cover and squad gameplay mechanics. Though competent enough, these action bits feel nowhere near as polished as the Rainbow Sixes or Gears of War.

Finally, side quests aren’t nearly as interesting as the main story missions. You quickly discover that most of the optional quests obviously recycle a limited set of mission objectives, art assets and room layouts.

However. All this is quickly forgotten when you’re a few missions into the main story.

Mass Effect is an astounding roleplaying game. While the narrative of the game may not be Nebula winning material, it still stands heads and shoulders above most narrative-driven video games.

The plot is fairly straight-forward; artificial, mechanical beings turn on their makers and then try taking over the galaxy. Sound familiar? Yeah, not the most original premise.

What makes the game so enjoyable is its mood. If you like classic science fiction movies, you will absolutely love this game. The music sounds like it fell straight out of an old Vangelis soundtrack. The universe of the game is detailed and feels well thought out. Voice acting is top notch throughout the game. The developers even added graphical grain filters to mimic those classic movies (well, most of them are probably digitally remastered and visually crystal clean these days, but you get the idea).

The story, while not very innovative in itself, builds to a very cool climax toward the end of the game; along the way I had plenty of “Wow!” moments. The game often nails that sense of wonder that good science fiction is so capable of evoking.

In short, if you are even the slightest bit interested in video games and science fiction, you should run out and buy this game. Just make sure you have a chunk of free time to play through it - it’ll take a solid 20-40 hours to finish.