Mass Effect Xbox 360 Review

Space… is big, really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. It is this wide open playing field that is without doubt the main draw of Mass Effect, thus letting you paint your own elaborate story in a much larger and more complex way than Bioware has ever let us do before. So, with sights set on such grandeur it’s hard to admit that Mass Effect is not everything it could have been. In fact, if you look past that big draw a huge amount of limitation has been placed upon what was once thought to be a thriving galaxy. Indeed, the universe that has been created could very well make a lot of people very angry, and even be widely regarded as a bad move. Don’t panic though, Mass Effect is not a bad game, in fact it is far from it. It could even be argued that it is the exact opposite, as after some solid time playing it’s clear to see many of the wrongs have been righted that people had with the slightly off-kilter Jade Empire. However, with a collection of bugs, texture pop-in that rears it head every time a cut scene loads, and the repetitious nature of the planets on show it is hard to have complete reverence for what Bioware have accomplished.

However, if you look past the surface imperfections – without even digging very deep – it is blatantly obvious there is still a great game on show. The core third-person action orientated gameplay thankfully works very well, and even though some action aspects seem to lack the visceral impact of most of today’s shooters it’s still solid enough to remain satisfying throughout the 30-or-so hour lifespan. Initial choices are interesting, with the option to pick and choose from a selection of distinct classes. There are three main choices on show as to how you initially start of your character – Soldier, Engineer, and Adept – each offering a different extreme on how you will approach the game. However, there is also Infiltrator, Vanguard and Sentinel choices are available, which is a mix of two or more of the above options, thus making the game a bit harder due to the limitation that puts on you. Still, it is hard to label the game as a very difficult one, as the AI is prone to rush attacking you, thus meeting an untimely end from your weapon of choice. However, what they lack in smarts they certainly seem to make up in number, so there is still a bit of a challenge there as you face the hordes of enemies on show. Of course, when not fighting you can upgrade all of your squad’s stats, making them anything from top notch shooter with max skills from a selection of your four main weapons, a master of adept skills, letting you use ‘lift’ and ‘throw’ to clear groups of enemies, or even up your main character’s charm and intimidation to give you extra options when conversing with other characters in the game.

Speaking of conversation this is definitely an area where Bioware has raised the bar, with the introduction of a radial menu lets you select your response in a more intuitive way than ever before. As usual, there is never a right or wrong answer to any given situation, but now each type of answer has its own place on a radial menu. For example, if you are playing a peaceful cooperative type character then pushing up and to the right will always make your character give the kind of response you want, then down and to the right results in a more aggressive rebuke to a question, and so on. From there you basically approach the game in typical Bioware form, letting you level up (to a max of 60), meet new characters and integrate them into your squad, labour to equip them with the best equipment and weapons, be amazed at how deep the vast the selection of NPC’s are, and take on as many side quests as you want to when working your way through the story driven main quest. Nevertheless, it is sad to see that the limitations of many of the non-story centric planets are still glaringly obvious, with an almost copy/paste approach to layouts and missions that remain a nagging disappointment that’s hard to dismiss throughout your quest.

However, if there is one part of Mass Effect that Bioware have gotten exactly right – and I do mean spot on – it is the characters, and more importantly their evolution throughout the game. There is so much to love about them. Firstly, they are deep, really deep, and the more you play the game the more you learn about them. Also, none of them seem overly clichéd, which is a godsend for a video game in this day and age. The cherry on top of this are the many mature themes are hit upon, and dealt with well as the story unfolds, with some characters even showing a nasty xenophobic side to other members of your team later in the game. Along with this many other themes such as coming-of-age and the meaning of faith play a big part in the game. Most importantly, the game makes it really easy to care about the characters in your squad, so when it comes to making the big decisions later in the game it should be very hard for you to decide what path your story will go. When speaking of the characters, if I was to give you one tip before you start playing it would be to play as a female Shepard instead of the male version. The reason for this is simple one, and it’s that Jennifer Hale seems to have put in a much better performance voicing her character, and thus gives many of the games poignant scenes a little extra oomph. Sure, both versions of the character have pretty much the same lines throughout the game but there is no denying that Hale brings that extra spark to her character due to her ten years worth of experience she has behind her.

So, in the end Mass Effect is yet another fine effort from Bioware, and overall is a top notch game. However, I have to say that for me – and I fully admit this could be chiefly down to the nostalgia factor – I enjoyed KOTOR more. When playing that game a few years back I was continually astounded by what was on show, with every new scene, character and shocking twist feeling truly special. Yet, as much as I wanted to feel the same with Mass Effect it never seemed to kick in. Yes, it is still a good game – I have reiterated that countless times – and yes, at its core it’s laced with immense quality, but unfortunately as you play you can’t seem to shake the feeling that it all could have been so much better. The tone of the game is just about perfect, but was it to much to ask for a bit more structure?

Bioware working their magic yet again, although they missed a trick or two.

8 out of 10