Friday, 19 September 2008

Extolling the Virtues of Mass Effect

  • Game: Mass Effect
  • Console: Xbox 360
  • Developer: BioWare
  • Publisher: Microsoft
  • Released: November 2007
As big a problem I have with certain aspects of Mass Effect, I do love it very much indeed. Something I really wasn't expecting from the same team as Knights of the Old Republic. Although KotOR isn't a bad game at all, I seemed to trudge through the 40+ hours of it without ever enjoying any of it, until perhaps near the end. So, no, Mass Effect wasn't a game I ever expected to enjoy as much as I eventually did, which is indeed a rather nice surprise. In fact, I knew I was playing something special as soon as I started Mass Effect, quite the opposite of KotOR. The opening cinematic that introduced the character you'd just spent about 20 minutes creating really set the scene for just how awesome they were going to become over the course of the game. I knew immediately that I could expect a lot better from this than from KotOR.

But enough of KotOR, that's Star Wars territory; Mass Effect is set in our very own galaxy (The Milky Way, in case you didn't know) about 180 years into the future. It's all so very in-depth and rather believable … or most of it is, at least. Mass Effect explains how almost everything in the game works; from your guns, to your shield, to your 'biotic' powers. Reams and reams of text - some of it narrated. Why, you ask? Because this is the kind of thing that gets Sci-Fi nuts hornier than when they see Klingon cosplay porn. But if you don't want to enter the kingdom of the fat, spotty, love-starved virgin 30 year-olds, then you don't have to, as most of this stuff is very easily ignorable. Now, I'm not a complete geek, but I admit I am a completionist (meaning that when I play a game, I want to see and do everything - at least to the limits of my gaming ability), so I read nearly all of it and damn, it's actually quite interesting when it isn't flying over the top of my head at 70,000Kpc/s.

You can land on quite a few planets and check out the scenery. Some of it really is quite stunning.

Then there's the actual game and, boy, is it epic. After the first couple of hours of gameplay, you're given the freedom to choose where you want to go next, provided you know of the system you want to explore. You're given missions that are essential to the plot and side-missions, which, while they lack the cinematic flair and dazzling locations of the plot-based missions, still serve to extend the life of the game well past the 20-hour mark. It's in the plot-based missions where Mass Effect really comes to life, though. The worlds you explore vary greatly in terms of setting, whether you're stranded on a skyscraper laden planet under attack by the self-aware cyborg AI Geth or conducting an investigation into the apparently dubious experiments a shady multi-global company is doing on a freezing ice-world.

It might be an RPG through and through, but the battle system is notable only by its apparent absence. This is a good thing, as there is definitely a battle system in there, it's just that it's completely seamless to the rest of the game, it's played in real-time and, most importantly, it's a shoot 'em up. Yes, there's none of that nonsensical turn-based fighting in this game, it's full-on blasting action. Grenades, sniper rifles, shotguns, assault rifles, pistols, biotic powers, technological warfare; it's all in here, and it works great. There's even a cover-system and recharging health. It's kind of like Gears of War, but without the burly and incredibly ugly men running around and grunting.

See, it's a 3rd person shooter. A 3rd person, RPG, space-opera, conversation-simulation, shooter.

Now, regarding the sex scene - even though it's not particularly titillating, I see it as big step forward for the gaming industry. It's handled pretty much like how films handle it; getting to know each other, flirting, sexual tension and then they get intimate. It doesn't seem contrived, at all. There's build-up to it all the way through the game, leading to your choice between the human male or female or the female alien. Even then, it's entirely optional. If you don't fancy seeing your man or woman making-out with a bald, blue-skinned girl with no ears, then you don't have to. Then there's the fact that there's barely any flesh on show, a bum shot and perhaps a bit of side-boob, but it's mainly just naked kissing. The controversy it garnered is really quite baffling after you've experienced it for yourself, even more so if you wonder how God of War got away with its nipple-showing threesome, replete with button combos and moaning.

The choice over who you make 'the beast with two backs' with is only one of several choices you make in Mass Effect, and each of them has their own consequences. The biggest choice comes at the end of the game, which directly affects the ending you get. Moreover, the decisions you make in the game will carry onto Mass Effect 2, along with your character, and seeing as Mass Effect is set to become a trilogy, these decisions will carry on into, and possibly find closure, in Mass Effect 3. So, even if you have finished Mass Effect, know that it is only the end of the beginning, which is an exciting thought.

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