Mass Effect (2007)
Impression published on Saturday, 2011-04-23 | Videogame | 4 stars
So what we have here is, essentially, KotOR HD (or Jade Empire HD, if you like).
I mean, sure: the gameplay/combat-metaphor changes from turn-based, primarily melee combat to (nearly) real-time over-the-shoulder shooting, but the game design and the plot are essentially unaltered. Navigating from point to point in the game is identical to KoTOR. Interacting with NPC's is identical. The campy, good-boy/bad-boy morality of the quests and scenarios is identical.
And, just like every other Bioware game, Mass Effect's recapitulation of the stock Bioware Plot, world and quest structure is a largely hit-or-miss affair. As far as what hits, there is a wealth of really great, really nerdy background/source material that you can read about the game world, a super-cool lo-fi/presets techno soundtrack and, if you set the difficulty on "Hardcore" or "Insanity" (neither of which is either, to be frank), some decently challenging over-the-shoulder shooter setups embellished with fun (if somewhat sloppily implemented) squad and cover gameplay.
As for what misses, there is a disastrous inventory management and equipment socketing interface1, a collection of hilariously one-dimensional (and fundamentally uninteresting) NPC's and the embarrassing tendency of Mass Effect to present response options during the interactive dialogue portions of the game that, when selected, do not change the PC's response.2
Ultimately, Mass Effect is business as usual, as far as Bioware releases are concerned. And if you're interested in what Bioware is selling, then you won't regret a single minute of the 80+ hours you're guaranteed to sink into this game.
- I've discussed this with a few people, and most of them were left shrugging their shoulders and scratching their heads, same as me. After half a dozen implementations of a nearly identical equipment- and socket-managing UI's, Bioware is still making a horrible hash of it. Even more incomprehensible is the fact that these sorts of interfaces and systems have been implemented elsewhere, successfully, for over a decade. In light of how many times they've attempted it and how many of their peers have done it successfully, the massive failure of the inventory UI in Mass Effect is simply inexplicable.
- It is one thing to present the player with options that, while they earn good or bad karma, do not affect the outcome of the plot: believe me when I say that I am totally at peace with the logistical impossibility of implementing a story where the PC is given frequent opportunities to de-rail the plot. It is another thing entirely to present the PC with three or more distinct options for how to respond and then play the same recorded text no matter which one he chooses. Mass Effect does this frequently and, to be honest, it rapidly inspires apathy. For most of my second play-through, once I learned to detect when a false option was being presented, I found myself frequently selecting responses at random and rolling my eyes at the shabbiness inherent in such design.