2008 Reviews

Mass Effect

  • Review Date: 2014-03
  • Release Date: 2008-05
  • Developer: BioWare
  • Rating: 8.0

I've been saving up Mass Effect for a special occasion. One of those games that was a massive hit; a long first person sci-fi shooter, epic story and length, decent BioWare-style RPG elements, and many game of the year awards.. I waited so long that I'd already played everything from 2007, 2008, 2009 and was starting on 2010, before finally going back to play Mass Effect. ME was released in 2007 on consoles, so I almost have to compare to other 2007 releases, although the PC version didn't come to fruition until early 2008. The changes, however, were minimal.

So how does ME stack up against some of the best of 2007? The likes of Crysis, Modern Warfare, Bioshock, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and TimeShift. Well to be honest, it's not quite as good as I was expecting. It has some fantastic features, but equally important features that are average.

I'll begin with everything that went wrong. Because I'd played Dragon Age: Origins already, I was well-acquainted with BioWare's style of RPG, how it works; even the quirks such as not being able to save while enemies are nearby (which has never worked very well). But in ME, the RPG elements and level-ups didn't really feel like they were making any difference. I didn't use any of the special attacks, apart from bringing my team-mates back to life a few times. I don't know even know what most of them did, and really couldn't be bothered figuring it out. The game was already easy enough as it was. I was playing on normal. I'm not a player that likes a challenge, so even in a tougher game, normal can become frustrating at points. But damn, ME takes "normal" difficulty to new levels of newbieness. Most of the time you can just run in blindly, stand right in front of enemies and shoot them with the shotgun. The only times you'll die are when some unknown rocket son of a bitch catches you off-guard and kills you in one hit. Even by the end of the game the biggest enemies such as Krogan Commanders were going down in just a few shotgun hits without even bothering to strafe or avoid them. My team-mates were utterly hopeless and just about every battle at least of them would be dead. But even with all that, for most of the game I had a lot of unspent skill points, at one point up to about 20 I hadn't even bothered to use! The special mods you can apply to your guns I didn't spend much time on, not even figuring out how until probably halfway into the game. The weapons themselves I wasn't strict on constantly upgrading, especially on team-mates who played with their starting weapons for a long time.

So all these fancy RPG elements, but they're not really any use when the game isn't kicking your ass without them. Not like Dragon Age, which while at times was easy, at other times was quite tough and you needed to keep upgraded as much as possible. Or Borderlands which becomes a baseball bat to the nuts if you don't keep your skill up enough. I think only if you play ME on the harder difficulties might RPG upgrades become more useful.

You'll have noted I mentioned the shotgun a few times, this is because it's overpowered compared to other weapons. With a couple of mods it kicked everything's ass. The pistol was pointless. The sniper was possibly the worst scoped sniper rifle in any game, ever. It sways all over the place, doesn't have a good enough indication of what you even hit, zooms in way too much, and takes an eternity between shots. The machine gun was the only other semi-useful weapon, but it was only slightly more accurate than the shotgun, and after a bit of a burst you'd have to stop and wait before resuming otherwise the accuracy turns to throwing diarrhea at a wall. So there's really only one useful weapon in ME, the rest are useless and not fun to use.

But you also have some pretty bad A.I. in ME. Sorry if this is sounding very negative, but come on, these enemies don't even compare to Crysis. The Krogans, which were one of the most difficult enemies in the game at first, became piss-easy when you realise they'll just stand there in the open while you shoot away from a distance. If you get close enough they might charge. Other enemies, even Destroyers and other equally huge mothers, would sometimes just stand there while you duck in and out of cover over and over again, often only two metres away from them, but they're too stupid to walk around the wall you're standing behind.

I can positively say there is a good variety of enemies, and most of them look great.

But wait, there's more... while the combat was very, very average, I was also left quite disappointed in the design. The grandness and scale of some of the scenes was fantastic. Walking into the citadel and seeing the huge towering structures looming overhead. ME really excelled at grandiose set-pieces and stunning skyboxes. It gave a feeling of sci-fi with a darkish tone, a bit like a cleaner Bladerunner.

But then as soon as you leave that galactic sunset behind and head indoors, suddenly everything becomes very fucking bland. Large corridors connecting to rooms connecting to corridors, all with very little detail and often just straight one-brush walls and floors. Many of the environments just don't feel real, instead feeling like a series of rooms in a video game setup for combat. Even the citadel has all these strange sequences of corridors and environments that don't seem to serve any purpose, or be livable, realistic areas. At one point I looked in the map and was in what they called a "plaza". Well it was the coldest, most unwelcome, un-lived in plaza I've ever seen. This was okay in the 90's, but levels need to have more of a sense of realism in 2008. In fact, this is one of the most under-detailed games released in 2008 on PC when it comes to AAA titles. It reminds me of the first Halo, actually. Which makes me wonder how much inspiration BioWare drew from Halo, which got away with some shoddy level design. ME isn't all bad, sometimes it does work and does have plenty of detail, it's only half the time it's under-detailed. Your spaceship looks great!

I think the randomly placed boxes, crates and other objects inserted purely to use as cover doesn't help in ME. It doesn't help in any game, frankly. What I can see is BioWare came a long way from ME to Dragon Age the following year in adding detail to its levels. Dragon Age had no such problems.

That about covers all the negatives! Well, there's always the odd thing, such as not being able to skip cinematics, unclear story progression. And, an important one for me was being unable to use the mouseclick in the goddamn GUI. I had to use enter. That was simply a poor port that perhaps didn't allow for proper remapping of the mouse buttons. Then the map wouldn't allow panning around without glitching. Overall, the GUI is average.

Oh, and I won't go into the driving sequences other than to say the handling of vehicles is laughable.

The positive of ME is quite simple - the story. In under 20 hours it tells a fantastic story, does a great job of introducing all the characters and giving them their own personalities, and very importantly creates an entire universe mythology. Many different species, a long history, an intriguing war and the humans introduction into this universe. This is what BioWare are very good at; creating an entire mythology and franchise to build on. There's no ripping off Star Trek or Star Wars.

One final criticism; the DLC "Bring Down The Sky" is pretty poor. It might introduce a new species, mission and great looking skybox. But the design isn't up to scratch. Outdoors is very bland. Indoors - you get three copy/pasted small buildings with different arrangements of crates inside, and a final large arena that was the only thing worth looking at. The second DLC isn't worth the effort when there's no new levels.

Overall, I have to give it to BioWare for creating such a large, complex game. It wasn't long ago that games were really just walk-and-shoot for under 10 hours. But BioWare creates a rewarding experience, with a fantastic story, a mix of RPG and shooting. But I can only wish the shooting and combat was a bit better. The level design needed a bit more detail close-up, to feel more like a real world. But I'm sure the sequel will fix that issue because not much looks plain in 2010.

Mass Effect

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