Mass Effect Review - 14/01/2007

There's been a lot of hype surrounding Mass Effect, and now we've got our hands on it, we can tell you that it doesn't quite live up to it. It may still be one of the Xbox 360's finest games of last year, but it suffers from an identity crisis of a similar ilk to John Malkovich during his body's possession.

Is it an RPG or an action game? Clearly it could be both, and it probably is, but the main issue is while the RPG elements are by far the best part of the game, the action is always there in the backgound. It lurks around like the elderly relative you know you have to visit, something that has to be done, but in the end isn't that enjoyable. It's repetitive, like a conversation with said relative, and the combat engine and controls are clumsy, like said relative.

Back to the beginning though, and Mass Effect puts you in the shoes of Commander Shepard. You can customise his appearance, even gender, and change his first name ('teh real next-gen'), and in fairness, while the customisation options are restricted, he or she does look pretty damn good throughout. As soon as you pass the customisation screen and the tutorial level, you will fall in love with the game if you've ever enjoyed BioWare's KOTOR games or Jade Empire.

Though the game is set in space, there is a central hub, called the Citadel. As soon as you set foot on the station, BioWare's inspirational, sometimes humorous character design is put on show for all to see yet again. Each species is wonderfully different, and the voice acting is immense. Much like the hilarious robot from KOTOR, which would state the type of sentence before saying it, (e.g. 'Question: Why did we need to go to a real-time combat engine?'), there's a species which states its emotion before each statement, like 'Bemused: I like the real-time combat...' - a conversation between the two would be superb...

The bemused and hilarious alien mentioned above, an Elcor.

The conversation trees that had been much lauded ahead of the game's launch are indeed impressive, and there are hours of flawless dialogue and various meaningful results of certain choices in conversation. More options open up as you increase in rank. While all this is great, there's nowhere near enough of it (at least, not interesting dialogue anyway).

The action sections rear their head for hours at a time, and while they're not terrible, you just feel like getting back to the vibrant civilisations that you've left to go and kill some bad guys. The story's a lot more sophisticated than that though, and you do feel a duty to complete each mission, but in KOTOR you seemed to have ages to skulk around chatting up the locals and such. Actually doing some investigative work would be nice, work that doesn't involve shooting, that is. Fortunately you can instruct your team to use the admittedly great powers (throw and lift are the highlights) automatically, and because it's all real-time this is pretty much essential for the first half of the game. The difficulty can be a bit intense until you rank up sufficiently, and while your team do help with their powers, they leave themselves exposed to enemy fire on regular occasions.

It plays a lot like every other third-person shooter. An over-the-shoulder view, a camera shaking sprint button, grenades, choices of sniper-rifle, pistol, shotgun, assault rifle (all are carried and shown on your characters' backs) - it's pretty feature full. The cover system is a little dodgy, and movement seems clumsy, but it's not terrible - just not great.

FIT! Sorry, but the human in the romance side-quest is a bit of a dog.

The game only uses automatic pausing when you're changing weapon or selecting abilities - other than that, it's all in real-time. Clearly this was to attract the Gears of War audience to the game, and while the change is freshening for BioWare, it still seems like it was designed for turn-based combat. With that said, it shares more with Jade Empire than Knights of the Old Republic, despite the sci-fi setting, particularly in terms of length.

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Microsoft GS.
Xbox 360