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Mass Effect – XBox 360

Mass Effect – XBox 360

Mass Effect Box ArtPlatform:  Xbox 360

Developer:  Bioware Corp

Publisher:  Microsoft Game Studios

Release Date (NA):  November 20, 2007

Genre:  Role Playing Game / Third Person Shooter

Nerd Rating:  8 out of 10

Reviewed by:  Variand


Space: the final frontier.  These are the voyages of the starship Normandy.  It’s 3 game mission – to explore strange blue girls, seek out ancient evil computerized civilizations, to boldly drive up some vertical cliffs.

If you didn’t say that entire bit in the proper cadence, then you just got a demerit on your nerd card.  Either way, it’s time to suit up, and take to the stars with Commander Shepard.

Having already appeased the Star Wars fans, Bioware released a second Sci-Fi themed role playing game that would make Star Trek fans feel more at home.  Mass Effect follows Alliance Commander Shepard as he is considered for a prestigious promotion into the Galaxy’s Special Tactics and Reconnaissance (Spectre) group.  This could be an important moment for not only Shepard, but also the human race, as the induction of the first human Spectre would be a great boon to the (human) Systems Alliance as it tries to prove itself to the well-established Galactic Council.


Character Creation of a FemShep

Character Creation of a FemShep.

Bioware has been known for giving players plenty of choice in developing their characters, and Mass Effect starts early.  Players can not only choose to play as a male or female versions Shepard – lovingly dubbed “FemShep” by the gaming community, but get to choose their looks, class, and both their “Pre-service History” and “Psychological Profile.”  These allow you to choose why you joined the Alliance Military, and how you made a name for yourself while in the service.  While you only have a few choices in both categories, this helps you feel more immersed in your character right from the start, and will result in missions and events specific to your choices down the line.  Beyond the normal conversational choices that have become a staple of Bioware RPGs – redesigned to be a “Radial Menu” interface – you’ll be given moral choice options, highlighted in Red and Blue to denote their alignment.

To be or not to be… an Asshole.

Paragon choices will appear on the top in blue and Renegade will show up on the bottom in Red.

Paragon choices will appear on the top in blue and Renegade will show up on the bottom in Red.

While you can’t play an RPG nowadays without the presence of a giant bar showing how evil or good your character has been, Mass Effect took a slightly different turn from the good and evil.  Good being replaced by “Paragon” and Evil replaced by “Renegade.”  This morality scale goes away from the usual Mother Theresa vs. Baby Eater to something more like John Lennon vs. Dick Cheney.  That is to say, playing as full paragon is to be the King of Hippies dancing through the galaxy singing Kumbaya, and playing as full Renegade would essentially make you… well… Dick Cheney – King of the Assholes.

Reviewer’s Suggestion:  While you might not agree with some of the actions of a Renegade Commander Shepard, it’s worth playing through the game at least once as a renegade.  The experience will be liberating, and the expert writing for the game will have you enthralled by how Shepard can be the total BAMF most of us wish we could be.  He won’t be the hero the galaxy deserves, but he’ll be the one it needs.  (Yeah, I just said it)

Sci-Fi Storytelling

The SSV Normandy will be your ship as you trek across the galaxy.

The SSV Normandy will be your ship as you trek across the galaxy.

As with any RPG, the story is one of the most important parts of the game, and Mass Effect delivers.  At the beginning, Shepard is starting the review process for joining the most elite Spec Force in the galaxy – where your background choices during character creation are instantly brought up as the powers that be discuss your worthiness of candidacy.  On the mission where you were to be reviewed, all hell breaks loose.  The colony is destroyed by a race of machines, a rogue Spectre killed the Spectre reviewing you, and an ancient artifact is lost after beaming its garbled message of the galaxy’s destruction into your head.  What follows is a trek through the galaxy as you chase after the rogue spectre, and an attempt to prevent him from completing his goals.  You’ll of course meet several interesting aliens on your travels and invite several to join your crew on the ship you’ll be given.

Asking questions is a great way to find side missions

Asking questions is a great way to find side missions.

The story itself is strong and very well written, but where the real meat of the storytelling lies is in the subplots.  Each major character has a fully fleshed out backstory their own reasoning for joining you.  And being the Nosy Nancy that you are, you are fully welcome to dive into their personal lives, which usually leads to side missions.  When the main story gets going in earnest, it can really toy with your emotions.  One story event in particular does an extremely good job with not only the character reactions, but even the music, which set the mood so well that it’s forever ingrained in my memory while retaining the same impact every time I play it (I’ve played through Mass Effect start to finish 9 times to get different ending scenarios.  Why?  I’ll explain in another section.).

Captain Kirk would be proud!

Blue alien love anyone?

Blue alien love anyone?

There are three romanceable characters in the game though only two are available to you depending on your player’s gender.  Ashely Williams is a headstrong, Alliance military woman with a massive chip on her shoulder.  Kaiden Alenko is a reserved telepath – also with the Alliance military – who tends to keep to himself.  And then there’s Liara T’soni, a bookworm of an Asari – a long-lived, all female, Blue-skinned alien race – that needs to work on her social skills, but has an innocent ignorance about her that grows on you if you let it.  If you’re playing as Male Shep, you’ll be able to spark a relationship with Ashley and Liara, and if playing as FemShep, you’ll be able to find love with Kaiden and Liara.  The game does a fairly good job with the romancing aspect of the conversations, and if you play your cards right – and don’t try to two-time them – you’ll be rewarded with a single night of passion with your consort.  And while bumping uglies with one of your own species is generally more productive biologically, Kirk championed the cause of bedding every alien color in the rainbow.  Why shouldn’t you?

Ignorant slander by people who'd never even seen gameplay footage.

Ignorant slander by people who’d never even seen gameplay footage.

While the romance aspect of the game was generally well accepted by gamers, there was a bit of backlash as well.  Firstly, in the LGBT community, it was bashed for only allowing a female-female homosexual relationship, being called the sexist design choice of immature men.  Then, in early 2008 (an election year), a couple of blogs made outrageous and false accusations that the game was a customizable sex and sodomy simulator.  Later, Fox News would claim that Mass Effect showed graphic depictions of sex and nudity when the game barely shows a bare bum and some sideboob during the Liara romance.  This caused a huge rift between the apparently news-starved media and the gaming community.  During this time, several gaming media personalities, such as Geoff Keighley and Adam Sessler, acted as champions of gaming, often going on various shows to counter the ignorant spewings.  See the Mass Effect Wiki for more information on this.

Star Trek Fan Pandering?

Even the lens flares are here, though they can make seeing a hassle.

Even the lens flares are here, though they can make seeing a hassle.

Bioware had already created one of the most successful Star Wars franchises, and this game does have a feel that they tried to copy that flare to make Trek fans equally as happy.  Despite being able to nail blue aliens Captain Kirk style, there are also two cameos by Star Trek actors.  The Asari Matriarch Benezia is played by Marina Sirtis, Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Councilor Deanna Troi, and several Salarians, including the Councilor, are played by Armin Shimerman, Star Trek:  Deep Space 9’s Ferengi Bartender, Quark.

Shooter with RPG Elements?

Third person shooting gameplay just feels right.

Third-person shooting gameplay just feels right.

No, it’s a fully fledged RPG with third-person shooter-style gameplay, and the two have been merged seamlessly.  That being said, it might make shooter fans feel a bit annoyed at first.  With normal RPG’s, you start weak and without skills, and build them up till you are all omnipotent.  However, the shooter genre generally tends to rely more on player skill rather than character skill level.  This will jostle many people as when you first start your character, you’ll be about as useful as stormtroopers trying to hit a Tatooinian farmboy.  When most gamers are used to being able to nail a headshot from across the map, to come in and not be able to hit a drone at point blank range might turn them off from the game.  However, the more you upgrade your gear and skills, you’ll be able to lay on the trigger for minutes at a time with each shot landing a bullseye.

In like fashion, those who are used to the combat in Bioware’s previous titles might find themselves a bit on edge if they’re not used to the more action-oriented game style of shooters.  Luckily, they thought of this, and when you open your powers menu, you can still move your reticle to target enemies.  This doesn’t help with aiming your weapons (much), but it can slow down the action enough to get a more tactical feel for the battlefield and see from where you’re getting shot – or find a good spot for cover.  This is also useful when ordering your party to use their powers as well.  So the game merges two great genres fairly well, using elements from both to bolster the weaknesses of the other.  The tactically shallow gameplay of shooters is given a boost from the powers and party system, and the sometimes stale and subdued action of an RPG is given a shot of adrenaline to make it more exciting.

Commander Shepard will return  (marvel reference anyone?)

If he survives, Fisk is a character that could come back in the sequels.

If he survives, Fisk is a character that could come back in the sequels.

Besides the other outstanding features, Bioware made a few other lofty promises that the player’s character, choices, and more importantly, the consequences could be imported in into the next game, and those of the next game into the one after that.  Mass Effect was a planned trilogy in which your story follows you into each sequel.  A severely large undertaking to account for all the main story decisions, and even more so for all the side missions and bit characters.  It was a promise many would love to see come true, especially for consoles as it could have a significant impact on the console side of the industry.  As I’m only reviewing the first Mass Effect here, I’ll not go farther than that.  Check out the Mass Effect 2 Review for how it worked out!

The Mako will not return.

The mako will not be coming back, and that might be a good thing.

The Mako will not be coming back, and that might be a good thing.

There are some things that might have done more to hinder than help Mass Effect, and prevent me from giving it a perfect score – namely, the Mako, a six-wheeled armored personnel carrier with a turret and machine guns.  While I honestly did enjoy the Mako for the most part, there are many times when it just became tedious.  When traveling to a target, it could often become a problem to traverse the many cliffs, valleys and sink holes that littered every landscape, and while the Mako did an amazing job climbing the most vertical of cliffs, it would stop just short of reaching the crest.  If you slipped, you’d fall all the way back to the bottom, and have to start all over again.  While I like the Mako as a vehicle and found the missions that required it fun and engaging, there could have been some better level design for the various planet surfaces it would be traversing.  Instead, the Mako now either stands as a martyr of realistic planetary exploration, or haunts the nightmares of gamers as if they were Sisyphus forced to drive a Mako to the top of a steep mountain, only to have it roll back down again.

The override minigame will get a severe overhaul.

The override minigame will get a severe overhaul.

Also, the first section of the Citadel left many players bored to the point that they could no longer continue.  Though the section can be completed in only 40 minutes (probably faster) when you do not know what you are doing, it can take hours of running around a very large area trying to find out what you are supposed to do.  Also, while there is an argument for realism as to why everything looks the same since everything would likely have been prefabbed, I have a hard time getting into several of the side missions’ action when every bunker and “dungeon” is identical with just different box (cover) placements.  With so many alien races, there should have been more variance in the environments.  Instead, just about everything had the same sterile tile walls that look identical to the floors.  While this isn’t quite as noticeable on the main story missions, you’ll notice the side missions have only a few different building types.

And this would be the last game (until Star Wars: The Old Republic) that would use the Towers of Hanoi puzzle after it had been used in the previous two titles (Jade Empire and Star Wars:  Knights of the Old Republic).  A tombstone in Dragon Age had an epitaph mocking the death of the puzzle’s use.

Looking forward to the sequels.

The promise of a continued story in the sequels was something for which everyone could get excited.  Not only could you continue your character and story for two more games (if you don’t mind the wait for them to be released), but Bioware had a chance to gauge player feedback from this title to add, embellish, or remove features in the sequel.  And with the new trend of DLC beginning to take off, Bioware could use DLC to test out elements before implementing them fully in the sequel, preventing false steps and possibly ruining the next game.

What were you looking forward to the most in the sequel?  Did it deliver on your hopes and dreams?  Did you play Paragon/Neutral/Renegade?  Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Variand


Agree or Disagree with something? Want to request a review a specific game? Just want to troll? Leave a comment, Twitter @Variand, or email me at Or feel free to find and frag me on Xbox Live (GT: Rukhan), PSN (Variand), or Steam(Variand99).

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  1. THEbipolarBear says:

    I just wanted to say that I really appreciated your intro. Very well done, sir!
    Also, what was your opinion on Mass Effect 3?

    • I’ve been trying to find time to review both ME2 and ME3, as well as a couple other series, but time is a very hard to find recently.

      I felt ME3 was a good in the sense of pure gameplay, and I did enjoy it. That said, I do not feel it was enough, and the experience as a whole was disappointing. Even the ending itself felt more like a Hollywood cop-out (Almost as bad as the ending to Lost or Contact) regardless of how much I agree with what they TRIED to do. The game also lacked significant polish and the blaring glitches only served to break immersion.

      It was nice to see a great deal of Payoff in stories and character relationships, and the Citadel DLC had some great moments.

      Ultimately, however, the game suffered greatly from its 3-game story, as the amount of choices and character style (since I hate calling this a “Role Playing” game in the later states). I felt almost as if the story got WAY too far away from them in ME2, and it was more than difficult to try to pack everything back into a definitive endgame experience that fit for everyone. Because of this, I think the fiasco with the ending was destined to be doomed from the beginning, and their (read: EA’s) influence to try to have a DLC that EXPLAINED the disappointing ending backfired in the best way – their ability to eat it early and get the “Fix” out there faster.

      In Summary, ME3 was fun and had a lot of merit, though several “key” gameplay features were ultimately pointless (Galactic Readiness). It lacked the requisite amount of polish to really allow me to hook into a game, and would leave me feeling disappointed in the lack of “growth” from ME2 (see “Mentionable Failures” on Item Number 2 in my Top 10 Games list – ). And the ending was doomed to be disappointing as the story paths were much too wide spread with the number of choices to cohesively bring them back to a single ending without there being monstrous amounts of continuity errors and plot holes (where there were already so many).

      I would still recommend the series to people as the games do offer plenty of good gameplay in a genre/theme that is so often. The ME series is a great one to analyze as it has some of the best and worst moments moments in gaming. A true gem for study from which we can learn much about not only game design, but also our own personal choices and tastes in gaming.

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