Mass Effect Xbox 360 Review

May 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Publisher: Microsoft  Developer: BioWare  Genre: Action RPG  Players: 1  Age Rating: 12+

Other console/handheld formats: PS3

Life is full of hard decisions, some of which will have you deliberating for ages as you weigh up your options, perhaps even sleeping on it before any decision is made. Mass Effect, while not overdoing the difficult decisions, has the sort of open ended story line that will occasionally give many of us pause for thought as we attempt to decide the best option, or what looks to be the best option in the individuals mind.

I first discovered the detailed Mass Effect universe in the first novel (Mass Effect: Revelation) and fell in love with its galactic themes of betrayal, racism and heroics. The book sets up the events of the game in a very admirable manner: explaining how Saren (the main foe of the game) became the traitor, hater of humanity and threat to the entire galaxy that he is. In the game, you assume the role of Commander Shepard, in which you decide what questions to ask and the attitude you respond with during well voiced dialogue exchanges, and you’ll even make decisions that will affect the entire galaxy. Unlike other BioWare games, it doesn’t quite go far enough to give you the freedom to become a bad guy with seriously evil intentions, but it does allow you to have quite the rotten attitude towards everyone and everything around you.

The game begins with some less important decision making: deciding if Shepard is male or female, creating his or her look with quite a decent character creation tool, choosing some background information that may very well find its way into the story somewhere or another, and deciding what class your high ranking future soldier will be.

Mass Effect has various alien races in its vast universe

The story and universe are both rich in detail and BioWare have created something truly special indeed. Many of the conversations are filled with dialogue and every character, planet and alien race has its own story to tell, its own place in this tremendous and vast galaxy. If there’s a more detailed universe in a game, then I haven’t found it yet, and the excellent story, voice acting, characters and planet exploration are all some of Mass Effect’s major driving points.

The game itself is a marriage of action and RPG elements with an emphasis on the action. As Shepard, you’ll be joined by two other AI-controlled soldiers, be it fellow humans or those from alien races – they’ll accompany you into battle and can be ordered around by a simple commands system, although their AI does generally leave something to be desired. The shooting is decent enough and, being part RPG, your accuracy and prowess with certain weapons are governed by stats, although the focus is definitely on the action with a mostly reliable cover system and tossable grenades making it feel much like other third person shooter games.

RPG elements come in the form of levelling up and then being able to distribute points to certain areas of a characters skill set, traditionally becoming stronger as the game wears on. Upgrades can also be fitted to weapons and armour, and skills can be activated to give you an edge in battle. It’s all compelling enough, although it hardly offers the kind of scope that will have avid RPG players in its menus for any long periods of tinkering.

In fact, while the game is a fantastic RPG and action coupling, none of the elements really manage to standout on their own. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both facets immensely, but I didn’t feel that the action was up there with the best, nor did I feel that the RPG elements were implemented to a wholly satisfying degree.

It’s Mass Effect’s extraordinarily detailed universe and plot that really appealed to me. Outside the main storyline, it’s possible to explore uncharted planets, and these often feel eerily empty as you drive through them in your space vehicle. These planets have a good atmosphere and can be explored for specific objects, but there are also missions to involve yourself in as well. While level grinding is hardly necessary to the extent of other games in the genre, the more kills you rack up, the better prepared you’ll be for facing the biggest threat to the galaxy.

Visually, Mass Effect has beautifully designed locations and some of the best character models in a game, although the latter of which have since been surpassed by the likes of Heavy Rain. It’s just a shame that there’s some rather nasty slowdown at times, and other technical glitches give Mass Effect a slightly unpolished feel.

In spite of the odd scattered flaw, BioWare have still created a universe they should be proud of. The story is impressive, engaging and exhaustive in its detail and certainly makes me excited to play the sequel, while the action RPG mechanics do their job in a more than respectable manner. Next stop for me is the second book, and then I’ll be very excited to move onto Mass Effect 2.