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Review: Mass Effect - PC, Xbox 360 (PC Version Review) - 9.3

28 czerwca, 2008

Mass Effect is a triumphant, epic adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat and challenge previously-held beliefs about the inability of a game to tell an epic story...

For those of you haven\'t played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or any other Bioware games, I suggest you stop reading this review and get up to speed. Bioware is a legendary developer in the field of Role-Playing Games, epitomizing the Western approach to presenting and creating such adventures. Where companies like Bethesda present wide-open worlds to explore and interact with, at the expense of losing depth and story focus, Bioware serves up unique and cinematic experiences that often leave you on the edge of your seat and unable to let go of a game until its over. Baldur\'s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, KOTOR, and several others have all been critically-acclaimed for their innovation and gripping immersion. Bioware\'s latest epic, first released late 2007 on the Xbox 360 to critical acclaim and popularity, has quickly made its way to the developer\'s birthplace, the PC. With a score of improvements that challenge the laziness of other developers when attempting console-to-PC conversions, Mass Effect feels like a full-blown PC game built from the ground up. Although there are quirks, some surviving the porting process, Bioware has once again managed to stand out in an industry that has been lately flourishing on all platforms.

Unlike the majority of Bioware\'s games, Mass Effect is a science-fiction epic that spans over 30-40 hours of gameplay for the completionist. Those looking to compare the game to previous Bioware classics should really look at KOTOR as a precursor. As I played through the game, a load of overall improvements, in story, gameplay and graphics, began to reveal themselves one by one.

To start off, the game tells you to pick the premade character that Bioware has been using in all of those trailers, or create your own. You get a ton of choices, from different facial features, to the background of your character as you play. You also pick your character\'s class, which mainly consists of Soldiers, Adepts (who possess "Force" powers), Engineers, Infiltrators, and certain mixes of these. From there, you\'re plopped into a story that spans the entire galaxy. The basic set-up is this: In the early 2100s, humanity found artifacts on Mars which alerted them to presence of intelligent life outside our solar system. After an initial war with the Turian race which got the notice of the rest of the galaxy, humanity became the new kid on the block, trying to fit in and prove itself as a contributive member.

The game borrows heavily from games like Gears of War or GRAW 360 for its movement and combat. You play Commander Shepard from a 3rd person perspective and fight similarly. This is enhanced by the biotic powers previously mentioned, which enhance your characters with Force like moves (Push, Levitate, Stasis, etc.) This showcases some of the more dramatic improvements over the KOTOR series, which was a dramatically-disguised turn-based affair. It feels much more dynamic and fast-paced, which makes the gameworld feel a bit more believable.

The focus of Bioware\'s development is always on the story and the included character interactions. To start off, the story could might as well be featured in a science-fiction blockbuster, but the game format allows it to be stretched and fleshed out over the courase of about 20 hours. This allows Bioware to include many twists and turns which take the story in some interesting directions. The main quest is gripping and hard to walk away from. Unfortunately, the sidequests get a little monotonous, with the standard fetch and slay types representing an overwhelming majority of them. The planets you visit for these quests are often barren wastelands with two or three points of interest and no interactive characters.

Fortunately, the interactive aspect of Mass Effect is also impressive. You get several dialogue choices that can take some story arcs in several directions. They often correspond to Paragon or Renegade behaviors, the game\'s analogue for the Light and Dark side in KOTOR. These don\'t have as dramatic an effect on the story as they do in KOTOR, but they are fun to experiment with nonetheless.

The game uses a modified version of Unreal Engine 3, with the facial animations being surprisingly realistic. Characters are animated believingly, with them gesturing realistically and avoiding the uncanny valley. The voice acting is superb and the music is a nice blend of old school techno and orchestral tracks that helps make Mass Effect\'s universe believingly different from other sci-fi fantasies.

Mass Effect\'s only real problem (besides its lazy side quests) is its inventory system. While improved over the 360 version, the inventory is a pain to navigate through, with no filter or organization options. This makes buying and selling more difficult than it should be, but fortunately doesn\'t detract too much from the overall game experience as you\'ll be constantly finding loot and money.

Bioware has hit another homerun with Mass Effect, a narrative masterpiece that improves on the gameplay mechanics of previous games. While it has taken a while to come to PC and is still a host to several issues, the overall package is a blast to play through and marvel at. The story-telling and character interaction should be used as a model by other Western RPG developers to make their games a more immersive and believable experience. Mass Effect is one adventure you shouldn\'t miss.

Gameplay: 9.0
- Mass Effect offers a successful blend of third-person shooting and RPG gameplay. Unfortunately, the side quests feel like sloppy late additions and the inventory is a pain to use.
Presentation: 10 - An amazing, epic story that stands among gaming\'s best. The Mass Effect galaxy is beautifully fleshed out.
Graphics: 9.0
- Mass Effect\'s character animation and facial expressions are among the best, you don\'t need a high-end rig to run the game.
Sound: 9.5
- Amazing voice acting and distinctive music.
Value: 9.0
- The main quest alone clocks in at about 20 hours. Add in side quests, in-game achievements and multiple playthroughs, and you\'re getting a lot of bang for your buck.

Final Score: 9.3 - Mass Effect is a marvelous narrative masterpiece.

Marcin Skok
The Gaming Corner